"Hey, quick question … " "Just wanted to check in … " "Can you confirm … ?"
If you're like most entrepreneurs, email requests like these are so common you barely even notice them anymore. You'll shoot back a quick response and return to your task--only to receive another "urgent" message minutes later. While you're typing a response, the phone rings. Then an employee swings by your desk to ask a question.
Before you know it, the day is over, and you've gotten nothing done. But it doesn't have to be this way. It all comes down to understanding there are a vital few and a trivial many when it comes to tasks.
You've probably heard of the 80-20 rule--the concept that a few inputs are responsible for the lion's share of outputs. Too often, people assume that the greater the input, the greater the output, but they gloss over the quality score.
The result is a flipped equation: spending 80 percent of their time to move the needle 20 percent. But if you measure and analyze the outputs of each input, you can eliminate all but those with the most potential.
My investor, Mark Cuban, lives and thrives by the 80-20 rule. While he doesn't specifically tout the concept, it's obvious in his practice. He doesn't use the phone, but he personally answers all emails. This practice isn't limited to power players like Cuban, though. The 80-20 rule can help you find startup success and more free time.
Here are five ways to maximize results in the minimum amount of time:
1. Go with your gut.
You probably have a decent intuition about which of your daily tasks squelch productivity. Pinpoint these by asking yourself, "What's the stupidest thing I'm wasting time on?" You'll be surprised at how easy it is to cut out these activities. Set parameters for when you can accomplish these activities (such as answering your email once a day), and eventually, you may be able to cut it out of your workday entirely.
2. Embrace laissez-faire management.
Management from afar is a difficult task to master, but it can make all the difference. When you're absent, it forces you to identify expendable activities. You'll find that it doesn't really matter if some things don't get done. On the other hand, other things can affect your bottom line when left unfinished. Once you figure out how these things affect your business, you can double down on what matters and systematically minimize--or even drop--activities that don't.
3. Learn to say no, and put a price on your time.
Say it with me now: "No." Saying no to most things will help you focus your efforts. The more successful you become, the more your time is worth. You'll have a lot of people asking you to grab a cup of coffee so they can "pick your brain." That's great, but they need to know that your time isn't free.
Set up an account on Clarity, a pay-by-the-minute site for phone calls with experts. Some people set a rate of $1 a minute, while others charge $100 a minute. With a Clarity account, you can naturally redirect those brain pickers to schedule a time that works. They'll realize you're not saying "no" but that your time is valuable.
4. Master interrupting interruption.
Tim Ferriss coined the phrase "interrupting interruption" in his book The 4-Hour Workweek. The idea is that if you can identify the interruptions, you can systematically interrupt each before it interrupts you. Techniques like batching can be powerful. Instead of answering your phone, just check your voicemail twice a day. Instead of updating your blog daily, schedule a week's worth of posts in one sitting.
5. Measure everything.
Meticulously analyze your inputs and outputs. Time your efforts, and document everything. This might seem like a waste of time at first, but once you see how valuable performance data is for driving productivity, you'll start measuring everything.
It's easy to panic when you see a list of unread emails stacking up. But by considering each task in the grand scheme of your broader work and trusting your intuition about what should take priority, you can cut down on activities that are wasting your time--and start exploiting that supervaluable 20 percent.