The value of your time
Poet Carl Sandberg had a great view on how we should treat our time:
Time is the most valuable coin in your life. You and you alone will determine how that coin will be spent. Be careful that you do not let other people spend it for you.
If you want to figure out how to calculate an estimate of how much money your time is actually worth, look no further than James Clear, a master of time management. He highlights some examples in his excellent article on how to calculate the value of your time:
If you know your time is worth $25 per hour, then you should never wait in line for 30 minutes to get a $10 gift card.
If you know your time is worth $60 per hour, then you should always pay $49 for shipping instead of spending one hour shopping at the store.
If you know your time is worth $80 per hour, then you should always buy the direct flight that saves you two hours even if it costs $150 more than the flight with a stopover.
Of course, these examples assume that every minute of our lives is being monetized, which of course is not the case. Read the full article (or at least part 1) if you want to understand how and why our “hourly equivalent” is often far lower than we expect it to be, and how to work within that reality.
Are you hunting antelope or field mice?
Politics aside, consider this question from Newt Gingrich:
A lion is fully capable of capturing, killing, and eating a field mouse. But […] a lion can’t live on field mice. A lion needs antelope.
Figure out which tasks will move your business forward the most—and ruthlessly prioritize those tasks above others when planning out your day.
This way, you can actually plan our your day in a way that makes your time more valuable.
Ask yourself at the end of the day, ‘Did I spend today chasing mice or hunting antelope?’
Examples of possible antelopes:
- Prospecting and reaching out to new, high-value clients.
- Asking satisfied past & present clients for referrals.
- Implementing processes to save you time (like onboarding a virtual assistant).
Examples of field mice:
- Checking personal emails or texts.
- Checking social media and replying to comments.
- Checking Google Analytics.
- Corresponding often with low-value clients, or doing far too many revisions.
Another, similar concept is the 80/20 rule. Also known as the Power Law, this rule states that
80% of your results come from 20% of your efforts.
An easy way to identify this rule as a freelancer can be found by asking this question:
What 20% of clients generate 80% of my income?
James Clear points out the possible value of a long term view in his article:
Should you spend this week working with a client that will pay you $2,000 right away or working on a business idea that could generate $20,000 over the next year?
While it may not be exactly 20% of your clients generating 80% of your income, discerning the top 3 or 5 performing clients will get you close to this number. The idea is to figure out who your best clients are, to invest more time into them and finding others like them.
Keeping tabs on this figure weekly or bi-weekly allows you to ruthlessly prioritize the time you invest into each client, and might lead you to let go of those lower value clients.
Now that you know how to prioritize bigger tasks that will push you forward faster, let's talk about how to execute them more quickly.
Parkinson’s law: another secret for time management
The essence of Parkinson’s law?
Your work expands to fill the time you set aside for it.
The idea is that, if you set aside 30 minutes to send a quick email to a client, it will take that long because you're allowed to get distracted. However, if you set aside 30 minutes to send 10 emails, you'll be forced to do the minimum that will move things forward.
In other words, push yourself to set tighter deadlines. Hard deadlines drive focus. Focus is an amazing tool to make your time more valuable, and one of the best ways to stimulate focus is to not give yourself the time to be distracted.
Tim Ferriss describes the effect of Parkinson’s law well in The 4 Hour Work Week (highly recommended reading) in this excerpt:
If you haven’t identified the mission-critical tasks and set aggressive start and end times for their completion, the unimportant becomes important.
So the order of operations can follow as such:
Identify your antelopes.
Minimize the field mice.
Set aggressive (but realistic) deadlines to accomplish the antelopes.
And only then start to execute them.
So how can we estimate how much time tasks will take?
Ideas for planning & focusing your time
This is super useful, especially if you like using a visual calendar like Apple or Google Calendar. →
The idea is to block out specific times to do specific things, and then update them throughout the day. If you want the full effect, be anal about updating them.
You can learn how long tasks actually take, and get better at estimating future ones.
I have used this method religiously for 2 years now, and have gotten extremely good at estimating how long tasks will take me!
So however you use time blocking, make sure to record your actual times to improve your future estimations. It’s incredibly useful.
The Pomodoro technique
As Alan Henry describes, this specific recipe for time-blocking has amazing benefits:
It can help you power through distractions, hyper-focus, and get things done in short bursts, while taking frequent breaks to come up for air and relax. Best of all, it's easy.
Think of it like “reps” at the gym. Do 4 reps in each set.
In three short steps, a rep is:
1. Choose a task to be accomplished and set the (timer) to 25 minutes
2. Work on the task until the Pomodoro rings
3. Take a short break (5 minutes) & repeat
That puts you at 30 minutes total. Repeat four times for a two-hour chunk, or as you prefer.
After each set of 4 Pomodoros, take a longer break (15-30 minutes)
You can also do double-Pomodoros, meaning reps of 50 minutes ON, 10 minutes OFF.
Spend as much time in flow as possible.
How to stay in flow (avoid task switching)
When you schedule out your time, make each block of time specific to one task. For example, instead of scheduling 1 hour for emails & social media, be specific in scheduling 20 minutes for email, and 20 min for social media. This way, you’re being can block out everything that isn't the single task i'm focused on. Warning - this is hard to execute on at first. But you'll get there with the help of these methods:
It can take 15 minutes or more to get fully immersed in something. Focus is power—whenever you switch your attention between multiple trains of thought, you lose power.
Tips to stay focused
- Set expectations for people that you don’t always answer messages right away. Commit to always replying within a certain timeframe and people will trust you.
- Mute notifications for periods of time during your day, so they can’t distract you.
- CLOSE browser tabs or use Auto Tab Discard to discard them. Use tools like Workona to organize them.