Let’s imagine that this year, you made a major resolution to improve the quality of your life. You’ve read all about the benefits of leaving work on time, so you hunker down and say, “Okay, I’m gonna leave the office by 6pm every day, no matter what!”
I tried that last year, and here’s how it panned out:
- Day 1: Work like crazy, leave work at 6.01pm. Still have 50 emails left unread but that’s ok
- Day 2: Try to deal with the 50 emails I didn’t get through yesterday. My to-do list is rapidly snowballing. Leave work at 6.30pm with plenty of tasks undone.
- Day 3: Boss drops a bombshell on my lap. There’s no freakin’ way I can leave on time. Leave work at 9pm.
At this point, I’ve given up all hope of leaving the office by 6pm, along with any semblance of a social life.
We have more technology at our disposal than any point in history. We know more about the psychology of habits and productivity. And yet, why is it that we never seem to have enough time?
What We’ve Tried (And Failed)
Failed Productivity Trick 1: Efficiency
First, we tried becoming more efficient. We viewed our tasks like items in a factory: The quicker we could process them, the better.
This was the era of productivity systems like David Allen’s Getting Things Done. In recent years, a whole ecosystem of apps like Google Calendar, Evernote, Trello and Todolist have sprung up to help us schedule and process our day more efficiently.
Yet, the work just kept building up. No matter how efficient we got, no matter how optimised our routines were, we just couldn’t clear our to-do lists. Which brings us to:
Failed Productivity Trick 2: Prioritisation
Realising that we could never “get it all done”, we turned to prioritisation. We divided our tasks into the 4 familiar quadrants: 1) Urgent And Important, 2) Urgent But Not Important, 3) Important but Not Urgent, and 4) Not Urgent and Not Important.
Then, we prioritised and tried doing the “Urgent And Important” tasks first. But that didn’t work either – somehow, everything was “Urgent And Important”.
And worse – because we didn’t have time for the Important But Not Urgent tasks, we neglected all the long-term projects that could make a real difference.
None of the earlier productivity methods seemed to work very well. Maybe having “work-life balance” was a luxury from a different era – like steam-powered engines or A&W in Singapore (mmm.. root beer floats!).
There’s simply no way we can do our work effectively and still leave the office on time… or is there?
Applying The Investing Mindset To Productivity
Why investing? Well, if you think about it, time and money are actually pretty similar:
- They’re both limited resources
- We can decide how to spend them
- Most people don’t use them very well
And just like money, we can spend our time on two things: Time Expenses and Time Assets
Time Expenses are simply things that take up our time.
On one end of the spectrum, you have “time-wasters” like Facebook, Candy Crush, or binge watching Korean dramas. These are enjoyable, but they suck on our time like vampire investment bankers (sorry, I couldn’t resist putting those two images together).
However, Time Expenses can also be perfectly legit: Emailing clients, scheduling meetings, or writing reports. They’re “useful” activities, but they still take up our time. And once we spend time on them, we can never get it back.
Time Assets, on the other hand, are things that take up our time now, but will SAVE us time in the future.
For example, let’s take GIRO-ing your credit card bills. It may initially take you 30 minutes to fill in a GIRO form and mail it. However, it saves you 10 minutes a month going forward because you won’t have to manually pay your bills ever again.
In this case, it takes just 3 months to “break even”. After that, this activity generates 10 minutes of “free” time every month for you… forever!
These concepts are familiar to anyone who’s given any serious thought about money:
- People who stay poor or middle class see money as something to be spent – i.e: they spend their money on expenses
- People who become rich see money as something to be invested – i.e: they invest their money in assets
- People who’re always strapped for time see time as something to be spent –e: they spend their time on Time Expenses
- People who get an amazing amount of stuff done in business and life see time as something to be invested –e: they spend their time on Time Assets which multiply their time
This may seem a little abstract, so let’s check out a couple of concrete examples.
How To Build Time Assets In Your Career
Let’s take a salesperson who sells IT consultations.
Her job naturally includes plenty of Time Expenses: Cold calling clients, setting up meetings, processing paperwork, etc. If she’s not careful, she’ll get stuck spending ALL of her time on these activities, which will just snowball once she gets more clients.
But what if she just took an hour a day to work on things like:
- Creating case studies and presentations that she can use to pitch clients over and over again
- Creating a spreadsheet of notes on her prospects which she can easily pull up on her phone
- Drafting an autoresponder sequence to send her clients to keep them engaged
Each of these activities are Time Assets: They may cost her some time in the short run, but they’ll save her way more time in the long run. More importantly, these things will exponentially multiply her results – with very little additional effort.
In my previous job, I had this monster report that used to take 2 days of pure effort to run. (No kidding). It involved massive amounts of cutting and pasting data and was a real pain in the butt.
I spent a week building a spreadsheet that automated 80% of the work, and managed to cut down the report to just 2 hours a month. Still a pain, but now I’ve gained 1.5 days every month. That spreadsheet was a Time Asset.
No matter what your job is, you can build time assets:
- Analysts: Spreadsheets to help you automate different reports
- Engineers: Checklists to ensure that you cover all critical processes with zero errors
- Executives: A step-by-step screencast you can give to people you delegate tasks to
- Bloggers: Ebooks you can use over and over again to welcome new subscribers
What Time Assets Can You Build?
In short, the secret to being more effective in your day isn’t to build as many Time Assets as possible. The more you have, the greater the multiplicative effect on your time.
However, let’s face it – in reality, we’ll still spend most of our time on Time Expenses. We can’t avoid meetings, emails and reports (as much as we’d love to).
But what if we had a whole arsenal of Time Assets at our disposal? What if we could get stuff done, impress our bosses, and leave the office by 5.30pm?
It might take a couple of months to build, but it’ll definitely be worth it in the long run.
Today, I want you to think about 3 Time Assets you can build that will help you in 2016. And then schedule some time this week to start working on them.
In my next post, we’ll talk about the best time to work on your Time Assets (I’m running a little experiment on this very topic right now).
What Time Assets can you build this week?
Credit: Blogpost was loosely based on How To Multiply Your Time – a TED talk by Rory Vaden