How to achieve more without increasing the amount you work: the power of understanding ‘types of tasks’
‘I don’t have time’ ‘I’m too busy’ ‘I’ll do it one day’
These are all phrases we either hear or say every single day. Whether we’re at work or out with friends everyone seems to be so busy all the time. This doesn’t really work for me, I don’t want to live a busy life. I want to live a life of purpose and action but not to have that feeling that I’m rushing around all the time making it impossible to fit the important things in. Often, we’re busy for the sake of being busy, and we aren’t actually doing the tasks which are going to level us up and move us forward because we’re ‘busy’ with all the crap which makes us feel like we’re achieving something then wonder why we’re in the same place as we were 6 months ago despite having ‘worked really hard’.
I’ve spent the last year trying to really understand the best way for me to manage my day to mean I get the most enjoyment, achievement and satisfaction. What I’ve learnt is that actually, if we properly split our tasks into ‘types’ and prioritise effectively we don’t need to rush around and ‘be busy’. What I’ve also learnt is that every single person has their own most effective way of working. Some are great early morning, some are great last thing at night so by trying to fit into what someone else does because that’s the ‘done’ thing is like trying to wear someone elses jeans and wondering why they don’t fit.
We live in a world of 9-5, where we are expected to work this daily structure because this makes the most sense however there are many people who operate on a totally different internal schedule making the 9-5 arbitary and painful. We’ve all heard someone say ‘I’m not a morning person’ or ‘I’m useless after 3pm’ or ‘I don’t sleep until 2am because that’s when I’m most productive’ but those people are made to slot into the 9-5 work day because this is what the world requires of us.
What the successful people do
Moving to Bali one of the first things I realised that one of the main drivers of people moving here, apart from the sun, sea and food obviously, was that people wanted to have control over their time. The perception may be that people don’t work out here in Bali, they just surf and drink Bintangs but actually over the last year I’ve met some of the most creative, entrepreneurial, dedicated, hard working people I’ve met in my professional career. The difference between them and the people I worked with at Accenture? They run their own time schedule. They know they’re awesome at 5am but finished by 3pm, or they know they’re a night owl so they work with US clients while in the Indo time zone (12 hours difference for the East Coast and 16 for the West Coast) so they can work through the night and rest in the day. These remote individuals have identified when they’re most in their flow and when is the best time for them to rest, exercise, read, create, socialise learn or whatever it is that they enjoy doing in their spare time.
I’m from a family of morning people, we love waking up early, seizing the day and have often achieved more before 9am then most have by lunch time. My Mum has always said that she loves the fact the world is still asleep, it keeps her calmer if she has a more hectic work schedule then normal and because a lot of us work for ourselves, it means we can start early as there is often no need for a commute! Recently I spoke to my cousin, a very successful entrepreneur about working hours, he said he’s best to work from 12pm into the evening, then have dinner and rest. This absolutely would NOT work for me, as I’m best when I get going early and finish early and spend the rest of my day creating, resting and reading.
This issue? I see 3:
- Guilt: if we aren’t working constantly, then we don’t deserve success and happiness. Life is a struggle, struggle along with it. Sleep when you’re dead.
- Adaptability: we have to adapt the way we are, when we work, when we rest, around the construct society has given us. Now I’m not saying I think entire companies should suddenly move to a morning or evening schedule and it makes sense that the 9-5 is the ‘average’ but I do think companies would get a lot more out of their employees if they were able to adapt to those who like to be in early but then leave early.
- Hustle Culture: The word Hustle actually brings out an allergic reaction in me. I find it cringe and painful and it gives me that panicked feeling in my stomach because I won’t ever be able to ‘Hustle enough’ to achieve my goals and my dreams. Again, I am not suggesting we don’t work hard but what I do suggest is that we work SMART. We accept when we’re awesome, when we’re not, we accept that rest and recuperation is as important and hard work and focus. We spend time with people who give us energy, not drain it and we spend more time on the tasks we love and less time on the tasks we hate.
So, where can we start with getting a bit of control back over our time and busyness whilst actually achieving what we need to achieve?
At the beginning of this year I decided I wanted to get more awareness of my working day and the time I was spending on certain types of tasks. I knew that if I could fit my tasks around me, rather than me around my tasks, I’d be able to gain some control and ensure I was getting enough done. We all know that feeling of being in ‘flow’ where we’re doing the thing we’re awesome at, which is what sets us apart and levels us up but we rarely reach it because we’re bogged down with the crappy tasks of life. SO, I went through all of the tasks I needed to do and decided to split them into 3 categories: do, think and create. I also started to put a little *star* next to the tasks which were going to enable me to ‘level up’, for example to learn and apply a new marketing strategy.
Let’s go a little more into the 3 types of tasks
- Do – these are the tasks you could do with the TV on in the background, or with your Laptop in bed (although that’s not great for your back so I’d avoid it!). These are the mindless, repetitive, just get it done tasks. Maybe your expenses, maybe tidying up and organising your folders, emails, maybe doing something you’ve done a million times before. This doesn’t really require your brain energy, or your creative energy, it just requires you to DO it. As time goes on and you start doing a task over and over again, something which might have once required a lot of your mental energy and focus becomes second nature, and it falls into ‘do’.
- Think – these are the tasks which require your brain but not your creative energy. This may be building a proposal for a client, setting up your or a clients sales funnels, doing your accounting, reviewing a piece of work, writing a contract. These are the tasks which have to be done by you and require your brain. It might be learning and applying something new, it’s where you need your left brain really IN gear and working.
- Create – the tasks which light you up, that mean you’re in your flow. I bet you just thought of something immediately, if you did, write it down! We’ll need it shortly. The definition of ‘create’ does not mean draw or paint or sculpt it simply means ‘to bring something into existence’ it means new, it often means exciting and it’s (usually) our favourite tasks. Creating means different things to different people, when I’m doing creative things I may be writing a blog, I may be working on a new brand and website, I may be planning a new business idea or I may actually be designing a process – not what a lot of people would class as create but for me, it is. Make a note of your ‘create’ tasks now, the tasks which make you smile, that you look forward to but you often don’t get to because the ‘do’ and ‘think’s take over and you assume that because you enjoy your ‘create’ tasks that they must not be as important.
In our day we need a blend of all 3 but weighting too heavily on one type of activity is likely to make us unhappy and unable to get to where we want to get to. Additionally, we need to ensure we do the most important task (the ‘level up’ task) FIRST. We have a certain amount of focus and willpower in a day and we use it up as we go, like fuel in a car. SO, if you spend the first part of your morning in ‘do’ ie. emails, organising, admin, you’ve got no fuel left for think and create and THAT is when we stop levelling up. Do your think or create tasks first, then put you ‘do’ in the afternoon (or whenever your brain is needing a bit of rest).
So how can we apply this to our lives to increase your productivity, output and ‘level up’ without making ourselves busier?
The following exercise is the exercise I did:
- Keep a ‘done’ list in order of the day for one week – like a to do list but with ticks on it.
- Keep track of time waste tasks aka scrolling on your phone. Put all distracting apps into a folder and call that folder ‘intentional use only’ – only use these apps actively (ie. doing an instagram story for your followers) and never passively (ie. scolling through someone you went to school with when you were 6’s engagement photos).
- Keep track of how you feel throughout the day, when are you energised and creative, when are you ready for a rest
- At the end of the week, go back through and identify if tasks are do, think, create and put a star next to level up tasks (if there arent any, get some on there).
- Now split your tasks into do, think, create and star for level up and split them out through your day. Put your think and create in your most energetic, effective times of the day (normally first thing) and your ‘do’ tasks in the place where you normally fancy a nap and a chocolate bar.
- Keep repeating until your week and your tasks fit around YOU and we you are the best.
The level up rule:
Aim for ONE level up task per week. Level up tasks are the ones we put off: writing blogs, reading books, building our personal brand, start that project but they’re the ones that help us get to where we want to get to in the next 6 months, year or 10 years. Do them FIRST, once or twice a week. Watch your life level up.
Once we start accepting that there is no ‘one size fits all’ method, we can start moving towards fulfilling our potential. Having an awareness of your time and when your best in the day means we’re setting ourselves up for success. Remember: doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results is the definition of insanity.