How to Be 10X More Effective in Your Life (Well, Almost): The 4- Hour Workweek and Effectiveness Management

Tim Ferriss wrote a best-seller, The Four Hour Workweek. The premise of the book is that it is possible to improve your effectiveness and use the Internet and Social Media tools to create a lifestyle where you work only four hours a week, instead of the usual 40 hours. This then gives you the time to do the interesting things that you have always wanted to do: travel, learn, have free time. I recommend the book as an excellent read with a lot of insight and some good suggestions.

In this blog, I share some of the quotes and key insights from the book about being more effective in your work, adding some of my own. These thoughts are applicable and useful to all of us as business leaders struggling to be more effective at how we spend our time (even for those of us with a dream lifestyle that includes building a winning business and thus working more than four hours a week).

  1. Introduction
    1. Our culture tends to reward personal sacrifice instead of personal productivity.
      1. Think of the startup overwork ethic that people wear as badges of honor
      2. Think of the “rites of passage” of medical interns and residents, first and second year lawyers, and investment bankers
  2. Be Effective
    1. The key is not efficiency; it is being effective, which is doing the things that get you closer to your goals.
    2. What you do is infinitely more important than how you do it. Doing something unimportant well does not make it important. Requiring a lot of time does not make a task important.
    3. On a micro level, effective time management requires limiting the number of items on your to do list and using impossibly short deadlines to force immediate action while ignoring minutiae.
  3. Prioritize and Eliminate
    1. “It is vain to do with more what can be done with less.” William of Occam (1300 – 1350), originator of Occam’s Razor
    2. Remember Pareto’s Law: 80% of the outputs result from 20% of the inputs. Thus, work hard to eliminate the time you spent on the other 80% of inputs.
    3. Lack of time is actually a lack of priorities. Being busy is a form of laziness – lazy thinking and indiscriminate action
    4. Commander’s intent: if this is the only thing I could accomplish today, will I be satisfied with my day?
    5. Increased output necessitates decreased input. Most information is time-consuming, negative, irrelevant to your goals, and outside of your influence. I challenge you to look at whatever you read or watched today and tell me that it wasn’t at least two of the four.

      i.     Master the lost art of scanning and skimming to get the gist of what you are reading and move on.

      ii.     If you feel it essential to read the newspaper or magazine, then set and obey strict time limits (“I will read the Wall Street Journal for 15 minutes.  After 15 minutes, even if I am not done, I will throw it out.”) If you feel the need to read more than the time limit, do not consider it working.  It is just entertainment.

      iii.     As Iain Tait suggests, when you do read and consume information, “try not to eat from the same table as your colleagues and competitors.  Find strange and inspiring corners to learn from.”

    6. “Learning to ignore things is one of the great paths to inner peace.” Robert J. Sawyer, Calculating God
    7. If you can’t define it or act upon it, forget it.
  4. Effectively Use your Time
    1. Time is wasted in proportion to the amount available.
      1. Am I being productive or just active?
      2. Am I inventing things to do to avoid the important?
    2. Parkinson’s Law dictates that a task will swell in (perceived) importance and complexity in relation to the time allotted for its completion. It is the magic of the imminent deadline. If I give you 24 hours to complete a project, the time pressure forces you to focus on execution, and you have no choice but to do only the bare essentials.
    3. To increase productivity, limit tasks to the important to shorten work time (80/20) and shorten work time to limit tasks to the important (Parkinson’s Law). In short, identify the few critical tasks that contribute most to your goals and schedule them with very short and clear deadlines.
    4. To avoid repetitive calls or E-Mails, learn to propose a solution.

      Apply the less is more concept to E-Mails. Go to great lengths to ensure that you are as clear and concise as possible. Only communicate exactly what is needed to the right audience and not to the world.

      1. “Can we meet at 4:00 pm on Thursday at my office on Elm and Grove? If not, please advise three other times on next Thursday or Friday afternoon that work for you.”
    5. Leave voice mail messages that actually say something so that the other person can think about the solution or response before calling you back.
    6. Especially as a leader, remove yourself as an information bottleneck and empower others.
      1. “The vision is really about empowering workers, giving them all the information about what’s going on so they can do a lot more than they’ve done in the past.” Bill Gates
      2. It is amazing how someone’s IQ seems to double as soon as you give them responsibility and indicate that you trust them.
    7. Avoid meetings as much as possible; especially avoid all meetings that do not have a clear objective.
      1. Meetings should only be about making a decision; they are not to define the problem.
      2. If you have to have a meeting, go in with a clear set of objectives and define the end time.
        1. Copy Wal-Mart CEO, Mike Duke, who is known for walking out of meetings at the end time, even in the middle of a discussion
        2. By sticking to and respecting short meeting times, this ensures that the next meeting will be more productive especially at the beginning when most meetings get immediately bogged down
    8. Avoid “Urgent Distractions”
      1. Reduce the number of times that you check E-Mail. Check your E-Mails at set times only so as not to distract you from your current task when the “New Message” chime rings.
        1. To resist the temptation, this means exiting your E-Mail completely at the other times.
        2. If need be, set up an Auto-Reply that says that you are only checking your E-Mail a few times a day
      2. A big part of GTD (getting things done) is GTP (getting to the point).
        1. When on a phone call reduce chit chat and get down to business.
        2. Do not let people ramble.
      3. Beware senseless pseudo work procrasterbating.
      4. Master the art of refusal, especially with regard to unimportant tasks
    9. Get the Important Done First
      1. What’s been on your to-do list the longest? Start it first thing in the morning, don’t check E-Mail and don’t allow interruptions or lunch until you finish.
      2. What we fear doing most is usually what we most need to do.
    10. Batch your activities and communications
      1. Beware that there is an inescapable setup time for all tasks, large or minuscule in scale. It is often the same for one as it is for one hundred. Thus, you need to batch routine menial tasks to prevent postponement of more important proposals.
      2. Aggregate your communication; send out one voice mail message or E-Mail covering five items rather than five different messages or E-Mails each with only one item
    11. Do the small things quickly
      1. Learn to make nonfatal or reversible decision as quickly as possible. Fast decisions preserve usable attention for what matters.
      2. Oftentimes, in order to do the big things, you have to let the small bad things happen. This is a skill we want to cultivate.
      3. Not everything has to be perfect
        1. Most endeavors are like learning to speak a foreign language: to be correct 95% of the time requires six months of concentrated effort, whereas to be correct 98% of the time requires 20 – 30 years.
        2. Likewise in business, to respond back at a 90% correct level may take a few minutes, whereas to respond back at a 98% – 100% correct level may take 5 days.
        3. “Perfection is the enemy of good. By this, I mean that a good plan executed with great vigor now is better than a perfect plan next week. Success is a very simple thing; and the determining characteristics are confidence, speed, and audacity – none of which can ever be perfect, but they can be good.” George Patton
  5. Automation
    1. “The first rule of any technology used in a business is that automation applied to an efficient operation will magnify the efficiency. The second is that automation applied to an inefficient operation will magnify the inefficiency.” Bill Gates
    2. Use virtual assistants to perform many menial time-consuming tasks. [See the book for a list of virtual assistant / outsourcing websites].
  6. Manage Your Attention
    1. How much attention you can pay to different items or tasks is not a renewable resource; you have a limited amount of attention
    2. Dedicate yourself to the more difficult tasks when your attention meter is higher.
      1. For example, if you’re a morning person, don’t spend the morning doing E-Mails. Knock out the important and difficult tasks first
    3. Be focused on work or focused on something else, never in-between.
    4. As tempting as it may be to “just check E-Mail for one minute,” Don’t do it. We all know from experience that any problem found in the In-Box will linger in the brain for hours or days after you shut down the computer, rendering “free time” useless with preoccupation. Is your weekend really free if you find a crisis in the In-Box Saturday morning that you can’t address until Monday morning?
      1. Likewise, do not check your E-Mail to pass the time while watching your kids’ soccer or whenever you are waiting. Relax and stop feeding the addiction
      2. Also, do not check your E-Mail the last thing at night or the first thing in the morning.
      3. In the same vein, do not carry a cell phone or Crackberry 24/7. Enjoy a “Sabbath”: take at least one day off digital leashes per week.
    5. Free your mind and your attention span; don’t think or deliberate about something before you can take action on that something.
  7. Create “Not-to-do” lists
    1. “Not-to-do” lists are often more effective than to-do lists for upgrading performance.
    2. The reason is simple: What you don’t do determines what you can do.
    3. Note: Jim Collins, author of Good to Great, and the late management guru, Peter Drucker, have the same core belief in the power of “Not-to-do” lists.
  8. Conclusion
    1. Do not expect work to fill a void that non-work relationships and activities should. Force yourself to cram within tight hours so your per-hour productivity does not fall through the floor. Focus, get the critical few done, and get out.
    2. “The new American dream is the freedom to enjoy the most precious resource we have in life…our time on this earth.” I. Barron

Until Next Time.


About David Shedd

David has been a President - CEO - COO of an up to $350M group of manufacturing, distribution, specialty retail and services companies, having led 22 different businesses from turnarounds to start-ups to fast growth companies.
This entry was posted in Perform / Execution, Personal Success and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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