Like many entrepreneurs, I’ve learned the hard way that you only have 24 hours in a day—and not all of them are going to be filled with amazing, productive work. I’ve also learned that just because you have time available to you, doesn’t mean you’re going to use it wisely.
In this chapter, I’m going to share with you some of the strategies and methods I’ve used to manage my time smartly and improve my focus during the time that I’m actually trying to work. Because in the end, if you can’t make the most of the time you’ve got, then… what have you got?
Here's what to expect in this chapter:
- When You Only Think You're Working
- How to Make Better Use of Your Time
- How to Become Indistractable
- Push Back the Content Deluge with Just-In-Time Learning
- One Skill That Will Gain You a Ton of Time
- Close Your Eyes: The Power of Meditation
[Disclosure: Some of the links in this chapter are affiliate links, which means if you make a purchase after clicking the link, I will earn a commission at no additional cost to you.]
When You Only Think You’re Working
When I was in architecture school at Berkeley, my classmates and I suffered long, hard nights at the studio drawing massive plans, building detailed models, and drinking lots and lots of caffeine.
Some of our semester-long projects required over sixty hours of work per week, in addition to our actual class time for both architecture and general education courses. It was nuts, and because we had segments of the semester-long project due about every two weeks, I often found myself pulling all-nighters, crashing on a nearby couch or in a sleeping bag under my desk.
Most of my classmates were right there with me, pencils in hand. But there were a few select students who seemed to never be around until the last couple of days before each deadline.
My studio mates and I always thought, “There’s no way these people are going to finish in time. We’ve been here for almost two weeks straight, and they come in with two days left before the deadline with nothing.”
Well—when the deadline came around and our graduate assistants and professors looked at our work, some of the “procrastinators” always seemed to get the better comments.
Truthfully, it bugged the crap out of the rest of us! As a result (sadly), those students were segmented from the rest of the group because we couldn’t stand how they could get so much good work done in such little time. It just didn’t seem fair. They weren’t in the studio much to talk to, anyway!
Fortunately, I ended up becoming good friends with one of the “procrastinators” because we were both in the marching band together. I eventually ended up talking to her about why she would come in with only a few days left before a project was due.
This is what she said:
“There are a few reasons. First, I know if I spend all of my time in studio with you guys, we’ll chat all day and all night and probably get nothing done. I’m actually glad the rest of you feel this way about me, because then you won’t talk to me when I do come in, and I can focus and get my work done.
“Secondly, it’s because the deadline works in my favor. It forces me to be extremely focused, because I have no other option but to be focused. Putting things off and not making decisions doesn’t become an option anymore, and I can get more done.
“Third, I have so many other things to do, and so many other things I’d much rather be doing than spending all my time in studio. No offense, Pat.”
Here is what I (and hopefully you) can take away from this kind of mindset and approach:
- Just because you’re spending time doing something doesn’t actually mean you’re getting things done. Yes, I was basically living in the studio and doing “work”—but was I focused and doing work the entire time? No.
- Minimize distractions to maximize efficiency. More on that in a little bit.
- Be smart about your time. Time is something we cannot get back, so being efficient and smart about what you do with your time matters a lot. Stay laser-focused.
- Understand what makes you laser-focused. For my marching band friend, it was an approaching deadline. For you, it may be something different. Force yourself to be focused when you want to get things done. This combines perfectly with number 2.
- What she said about “…not making decisions doesn’t become an option anymore” really struck a chord with me. Many times, we find ourselves working on projects, websites, and businesses, and not following through because there’s something “just not right” about it, or it’s not perfect. Well, nothing good will happen until you launch, until you actually finish your project and make those decisions.
- Understand what you want in life, set your priorities, and do what it takes to make it happen.
There are two types of procrastinators in the world: the lazy ones who waste time, and the smart ones that control time. Luckily, I met a smart one and learned a lot about how she utilized her time and forced herself to stay focused.
Now, should you be a procrastinator?
Should you strive to be efficient, maximize your effort, and stop wasting time, so you can spend time doing other things you love?
Let’s talk a little more about how you can do just that.
How to Make Better Use of Your Time
Back in 2010, I asked the following question on my Facebook Page and on Twitter: “Which do you need more of: ideas, or time to implement your ideas?”
Within twenty minutes, I had received over fifty responses. Ahh, the power of social media.
Ninety-five percent of the respondents told me what they needed was more time. Here are some direct quotes from a few of the respondents:
“Time, by far. I have ideas by the minute.”
“Definitely time. It’s always easier to just stand at the staircase, than climb it.”
“…Ideas come and go, but time…blessed time!”
“Time…the precious commodity.”
Obviously, this was not a formal survey. It was just a question I asked my followers on two social media platforms—so don’t think that 95 percent of all people in the world would have responded the same way. I think the thing to take away from this is simply that time is something we all wish we had more of.
Imagine what we could all do if there was just one extra hour in each day.
Unfortunately, we’re stuck with twenty-four hours, so how we utilize those twenty-four hours becomes the important factor that determines how successful we will be, with whatever it is we want to achieve. Luckily, there are things we can do to improve how we utilize our time and get more work done in a given period of time.
Here are some things you can do during the day to get that extra hour (or more) that you need to work on your own business:
1. Know When You Work Best
This tip came from a good friend of mine who was wisely hacking his time to start his own online business, so I can’t take credit for it myself.
If you work a 9-to-5 job, you know that during some parts of your work day, you’re super productive and on point, while at other times of the day, you’re sluggish and don’t seem to have very much energy to do anything. Take note of when you’re the most productive, and utilize that time for your online business.
During this peak performance period, take time off of working for “the man,” and start working for yourself. Spend thirty minutes or an hour on your own stuff, and make up the time in some other part of the day.
Many people find that they are the most energetic and productive when they first get to work in the morning. However, “work” doesn’t seem to start until an hour later anyway because people are coming in late, checking emails, or chatting about last night’s game.
What if you came into work and instead of doing all of those things, concentrated on your own stuff instead? I’m sure many of you, like my friend, will find that you can get a lot more done for your online business at the start of your day, rather than at the end of it after a long day’s work.
Of course, you’ll have to make sure that you are allowed to make up the hours you work for yourself later—maybe by cutting down your hour-long lunch, skipping your fifteen-minute breaks, spending more time at work, or a combination.
2. Don’t Waste Your Dead Time
Dead time is time you spend doing something that doesn’t require active thought. We’re talking about things like:
- Running/working out
- Taking a shower
- And other mundane, repetitive tasks
Dead time by itself is wasted time. Time you can never get back.
(And yes, I know—you need your brain to drive, but driving eventually becomes so second nature to us that we aren’t required to constantly think about how to do it.)
If your commute to work is thirty minutes, that’s an hour each day spent in your car. Are you doing anything to make that time more useful?
The easiest thing is to educate yourself with either podcasts or audiobooks. Whenever I drive alone or go to the gym, I play a business-related audiobook or podcast on my iPhone and just soak it all in.
Search through the iTunes directory for podcasts (which are free) and audiobooks (most you have to pay to get) related to internet business, blogging and whatever your niche is about, to spend those extra 300+ hours a year in your car doing something useful for your business.
3. Sacrifice Something
If you really want to succeed and you really don’t have enough time, you’re going to have to make some sacrifices to make it work. Here are a few things you could cut from your daily routine to find that extra hour a day you need:
- Video games
Do you really love video games that much?
That said, don’t sacrifice things you love and that are truly important, and that you might be inclined to add to this list—like time with your spouse or kids, or sleep.
4. Be Open to New Ways of Working More Efficiently
This is an obvious statement, but many of us are so used to doing things a certain way that we never consider that there may be an easier way. Some of us may even know that there are easier ways to do certain things, but we don’t do it that way because we’re either too scared to figure it out (aka change is bad), or we’re too stubborn to learn something new.
If something might improve your business and your output, shouldn’t you at least try it?
5. Have Fun
If you’re having fun with what you’re doing, you’ll be able to get more (and better) work done.
You like what you’re doing, and you’re excited to see the results, so there’s nothing holding you back. Remember this the next time you’re struggling with a blog post, or trying to figure out your next move with your online business.
How to Become Indistractable
The above five tips have been incredibly helpful for me over the years in maximizing the time I have available to get work done. But if you’re like me (and many, many other people), it’s not always easy to stay focused on the thing you should be doing.
If you work from home, or even in an office, you know how easy it is to pop open a new browser tab and get lost on YouTube or your favorite blog.
Here’s a question for you: how many times, even just today, did you not do the thing you told yourself you were going to do? Or something got in the way and derailed you from the thing you should be doing? Maybe it was a notification on your phone about a new podcast, or a Slack message from a coworker.
No matter the specific reasons, those delays and distractions can add up and ultimately impact our ability to hit our long-term goals.
It seems like there’s more mindless content out there than we could ever consume, and more ways to distract us than ever before. Yes, it’s so easy to get derailed in this day and age of tons of content and multiple devices that are always on and always connected.
So what can you do about it?
Dealing with your behaviors and becoming indestractable isn’t just about a thirty-day tech cleanse or shutting off the internet at a certain time. It’s really about addressing the root of the problem of why you’re not working on the things you say you want to work on.
The Four Keys to Indistractability
My good friend, the brilliant Nir Eyal, is the author of Indistractable: How to Control Your Attention and Choose Your Life. He’s developed a four-step framework to help you understand and deal with potential distractions so you can focus on what’s important:
- Master our internal triggers. Humans are driven to avoid uncomfortable emotional states like stress, anxiety, uncertainty, or fatigue—which can drive us to distraction as a way of escaping them. Mastering these responses is the first step in becoming indistractable.
- Make time for traction. Traction is the opposite of distraction. Traction includes the things that pull you toward what you want in life, things that you do with intent.
- Hack back external triggers. These are the pings, dings, and rings—all of the things that prompt us to distraction from the things we should be doing.
- Make pacts or pre-commitments. These are ways to make it harder to become distracted from the things we should be doing. An example Nir gives is setting a timer that turns off your internet router at 10 p.m., so you’re forced to get your online work done earlier (and spend your late-night time doing non-internet things).
I highly, highly recommend you listen to this episode of the SPI Podcast, in which I interview Nir. He even helps me out with a little Slack distraction problem of my own!
Push Back the Content Deluge with Just-In-Time Learning
Yes, there’s a ton of content out there that exists to distract us without filling us with anything nourishing. But what about the good content out there? You know, the content that can help us improve ourselves and grow our businesses?
There’s a lot of great content out there that can help us move forward in life and our businesses. But for many of us, it’s actually too much. Unless you have a filter in place, you’ll be stuck reading, listening, and watching more than you’re actually doing.
One method I learned a few years back that has helped me tremendously is something called just-in-time learning.
A Content Junkie, But Not Content
Back when I was still pretty new to online business, all the way through 2013, I was a content junkie. I subscribed to dozens of blogs, several dozen newsletters, and about ten different podcasts. I also read a ton of books and watched a lot of YouTube videos on the topic of online business.
I loved to hear about all of the new strategies and tactics I could implement in my business. I loved hearing all of the success stories. I dove into all of the emails I received from my subscriptions looking for examples of how to sell well.
Eventually, I found that I was taking in so much great information, but I was hardly getting anything done with my business. Yes, I made progress in my business because I did block time out for implementation, but when I consider the hours and hours of time spent learnings things I’ve never implemented or didn’t even need to know, it makes me cringe a bit.
When I heard about just-in-time learning, it blew me away. It made so much sense. Here’s how it works. It’s quite simple:
Only allow yourself to consume information about the task and project you’re working on right now. That’s it!
Some of you may be where I was at back then, consuming a ton of information about all different kinds of things that aren’t actually relevant to what your next task is and what’s important right now. But when you time-shift your learning to only what’s important for now, you get more done. Period.
The hard part about this is that there’s so much amazing content getting pumped into our attention stream right now. Every social media feed is full of articles we want to read, videos we want to watch, inspiring people we want to online-stalk. We don’t want to miss out on it. We have a fear that maybe we’ll never see it again.
Just-in-time learning is not about completely avoiding everything out there—because there is a lot of great content being produced that we don’t want to miss—and we shouldn’t. Rather, it’s about taking that post, podcast, or video and storing it away in an organized place so that when it’s time to actually take action on things related to that content, you’ll have it ready for consumption and implementation, and you can easily find it.
But here’s the key: until that content can help you complete the next task or project you’re focusing on, don’t consume it.
This might sound funny coming from a person who’s made a living producing thousands of blog posts, podcast episodes, and videos, but I also know that each one of those pieces of content isn’t for everyone at the same time.
Personally, I read one or two blog posts a week (again, related to the task(s) I want to complete), and one or two podcast episodes—and that’s it.
You may have your own preferred tools for implementing the JITL strategy. Bookmarking things into different categories is the minimum. Maybe you begin a spreadsheet with all of the links and topics. For me, it’s a combination of Evernote and Evernote Web Clipper (a browser extension).
I schedule certain times during my work hours for being on social media and looking for useful content around the web. When I see an article that seems to have gained a lot of momentum on a topic that isn’t relevant to me right now, I use the web clipper to save it for later into a topic-specific folder in Evernote.
This strategy has opened up several hours of my time for me to dedicate elsewhere, including the implementation of topics that I’m working on right now. Plus, because I’m not getting my attention pulled into topics that aren’t relevant yet, I’m more focused on the work I’m doing and able to complete tasks even faster, with more quality.
One Skill That Will Gain You a Ton of Time
Cutting back on distractions is great. And so is just-in-time learning. But how do you get even more value out of the time you do spend on things you should be doing?
There’s one skill that’s had a dramatic effect on not only the success of my business, but many other aspects of my life too.
This skill has:
- Helped me earn more time. How much time? Approximately 200 hours per year, which is equivalent to five 40-hour work weeks. Imagine what you could do with an extra month of time in your calendar year.
- Helped me learn and execute faster. In a very Neo-like fashion (that’s a reference from The Matrix, in case you didn’t know), this skill has made me able to more quickly consume information, understand it, and put it to use.
- Allowed me to help others—my audience, readers and subscribers, as well as my family, friends, and people around the world—even more effectively.
So what’s this skill?
Perhaps you’ve guessed it already, but if not, it’s speed reading.
Speed Reading: Why Reading Faster is Important
If you want to increase your productivity, it’s important to become more efficient and shave time (even seconds) off of repetitive tasks because over time, those tiny savings add up. We read things every single day. You’re reading this right now, and there are countless other things to read in a single day: emails, news articles, books, instructions, paperwork, etc.
A few years ago, I stumbled upon a video by an amazing person, a learning expert named Jim Kwik. The video was about learning to read faster:
In a Forbes article featuring Jim, he talks about how reading fast is an incredible superpower, and I agree. Reading faster means learning faster, which means being able to make a difference faster. The article even mentions how Warren Buffett once said, “I’ve probably wasted ten years reading slowly.”
Although speed reading wasn’t a new concept to me, it wasn’t until watching Jim’s video, however, that I was motivated to actually give it a shot. What really got me thinking (especially because my son had just started preschool and was learning to read), was when Jim asked: “When was the last time you took a course on reading?”
For most of us, it was probably in elementary or grade school. The school system teaches us these incredible things as we grow older, but they don’t teach us how to read and learn faster beyond elementary school level.
I found out that my crutch was that I was reading only as quickly as I could talk, because I was saying the words in my head as I went along. That’s how I learned to read, and it had never changed. After testing myself using Jim’s strategies (actually, it’s just one tactic that takes just moments to practice), I found myself reading almost 50 percent faster in just a few minutes.
Give it a try—you might be surprised how much faster you can read.
What About Retention and Understanding?
Reading faster is one thing, but what about retaining and understanding what you're reading? It’s pointless to read faster if you can’t understand and recall what you’ve just read.
I tested Jim Kwik’s method again on a book I was reading. I read the introduction the old way at a rate of about 25 lines per minute, which equates to 192 words per minute (WPM). Using the technique Jim teaches for chapter one of the book, I was reading at a rate of about 35 lines per minute—about 280 WPM.
That’s a 46 percent increase in WPM—and I got even faster as I practiced. And here’s the coolest part: not only did that shave a ton of time off my reading, but I actually understood the content even more, and could remember more of it!
It’s weird to say, but I felt more “in tune” with the book, and there in the story too.
When we read faster, we can consume much more information and actually have the time (and understanding) to take action on that information.
Sometimes, though, we need a way to get away from all the information coming at us. We need to give our minds a chance to rest and reset so we’re primed to keep going and keep up with all the demands of being an entrepreneur. That’s where the power of meditation comes in.
Close Your Eyes: The Power of Meditation
I want to close this chapter by changing speeds a little bit and talking about something else that can be really helpful when it comes to maintaining your focus and maximizing your use of time: meditation.
I used to be skeptical of meditation. I couldn’t wrap my head around the value of sitting still for so long, thinking about nothing. But I’ve come around. In fact, meditation has transformed my life. It’s improved my focus and well-being, and it’s altered my workday productivity radically.
No joke. And don’t just take it from me—meditation has changed many peoples’ lives. There’s even scientific research to back up its positive effects on your ability to focus.
I started meditating using an app called Headspace. If you’ve never meditated before, it’s a great and economical way to get started. It lets you access guided meditations across a range of categories, from sleep to anxiety to patience or self-esteem. I highly recommend Headspace if you’re looking for an easy to way to get into meditation.
But it wasn’t until I started using a special meditation tool that my meditation practice really took off and started paying huge dividends for me in terms of my ability to concentrate and center myself throughout the day.
That’s me, in my “meditation chair” in my office (which is just a regular chair, but that’s where I meditate), wearing an electronic brain sensing headband called Muse.
(And yes, I took a selfie with my eyes closed, lol.)
Although Headspace was a great way to get into meditation, I struggled to get into a good routine with it. The biggest reason for the struggle was not knowing if what I was doing was working.
If you’re like me, you need some feedback, something to tell you if you’re doing things right—and this weird piece of headgear is doing the trick.
Here’s how it works…
You put on the Muse headband, which has five sensors that can read your brain activity. With headphones on, you open up their app (called Calm), and then you can start a three, seven, twelve, or twenty minute session.
During a session, you simply close your eyes and breathe, and what you hear tells you if your brain is calm or active.
When your brain is active, you hear wind and crashing waves. When your brain is calm, you hear calm waters and no wind. If you can stay calm consistently for a certain length of time, you might even hear a bird or two chirping in the distance.
It’s an amazing experience, and it’s great to get immediate feedback on whether your brain is calm or not, and it’s interesting to see what you can actually do to calm yourself down. Different breathing patterns and focusing on the count of my breaths seem to work best.
Also, after starting with Muse, I began to realize just how active my brain was most of the time. While in a session, I usually catch myself thinking about a totally random thought and no longer focused on my breath, and that’s when the rushing waves come in.
It also spits out some pretty interesting data for you, which I love. Quantifying and gamifying the meditation process helps me stay on track, and motivates me to keep doing it every day to see if I can improve.
The big question is, is this actually having any impact on my life? Or is this just a weird way to spend time?
Yes! I am seeing positive results from it. When I’m working I can actually catch myself getting off-thought and get back on track faster, and I feel a lot more focused during my work too, especially while writing.
You can learn more about my meditation routine in the video below:
Managing your time and focus are a key element of the topic we’ll cover in the next chapter, which is all about balancing your work and personal life.