Not every day can come with an extra hour attached — so for the rest of the year, we’ll have to figure out how to create our own.
I use RescueTime to keep track of how I’m spending my day, and the RescueTime blog recently shared a post about using “time multipliers” to reduce the amount of time it takes to get things done:
A time multiplier is a strategy or tool that creates more free time for you in the future. It’s the time management equivalent of sharpening your axe.
The “sharpening your axe” metaphor comes from a quote attributed to Abraham Lincoln, in which our former president stated that if he were given six hours to chop down a tree, he’d spend the first four sharpening his axe. Most of us don’t spend our days chopping down trees, but the principle is the same: by sharpening the tools we use to do our work, we can spend less time labouring over tasks.
What does that mean in reality? Well, here are some of the most effective time multipliers I’ve picked up over the years:
PLANNING MY DAY BY THE HOUR
Every morning, I start my day with a list of what I hope to complete and the timeframe in which I hope to complete it. Yes, I know that this kind of schedule might change as the day progresses, but having a sense of “here’s what I need to get done and here’s how much time I can spend doing it” helps me stay focused.
Setting up internal, self-created deadlines also creates a sense of urgency that keeps procrastination at bay. If I need to get this piece done within the hour, for example, I can’t spend this time doing anything else but writing it.
BATCHING ADMINISTRATIVE TASKS
Administrative tasks are time-consuming, no matter what those “it just takes two minutes” people tell you. (If you have 10 tasks that each take two minutes, that’s a minimum of 20 minutes gone—and that’s before you factor in the time it takes to transition between tasks.)
So I batch administrative tasks, like sending invoices or reconciling expenses, and complete as many as I can during the first hour of every workday. I also have a two-hour “process and admin” slot scheduled every Monday, to take care of the overflow.
I also batch email, by the way. I know that not everyone has the ability to close their email client while they complete project work, but only checking and responding to email during specific times of the day is an extraordinary time multiplier. Probably the biggest one I’ve got.
Learning how to say no is such a useful way to reclaim your time that it’s the first item on RescueTime’s time multiplier list. Obviously, there are situations in both your work and personal life when saying no isn’t really an option—you’re not going to say no when your boss gives you another assignment, and you’re not going to say no when your kids have a soccer game or marching band event—but when you do have the option, use it.
The Derek Sivers “hell yeah or no” framework works well here. If a new opportunity presents itself and it’s not a hell yeah, say no. I also use the “one in, one out” method of limiting my commitments; if I take on something new, I’ll ask myself if there’s something else that I should quit doing. It’s a good way to keep things balanced.