How to Do More by Doing Less
Like many entrepreneurs, I have a low attention span and a great number of interests, causing just about everything to stick to my snowball as it rolls down the hill. One of the questions that I need to continually ask myself, therefore, is, What can I shed? It’s important for me to be constantly shedding the interesting but not necessarily urgent or important tasks that I seem to pick up unknowingly along the way. The concept of doing the very most important things and not wasting any time on anything that’s even marginally important, is the art and science of shedding, and will help you do more by doing less.
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It seems to go against the Puritan work ethic with which we were raised that we should even think about doing less. But, I’ve seen this proved in client after client that, by focusing on a much shorter list of much more important tasks and initiatives, you can actually accomplish more.
Most people when they’re promoted drag with them everything they used to do into the new job, along with everything they’ve been promoted to do. This tends to happen even in the highest positions, such as among presidents or CEOs, in part because it’s a habit and they tend to be ultra-responsible and ultra-conscientious, and also because they have not honed the art of delegation.
To practice the art of shedding, consider first your effective hourly rate, or EHR, which can be determined by dividing your net annual business income before interest, taxes and depreciation, by the number of hours you work a year. So, for example, if you’re making $200,000 a year and you work 2,000 hours, then your effective hourly rate is $100 an hour.
Now that you have calculated your effective hourly rate, delegate or shed all tasks that someone else can do better, faster and cheaper. For example, at $100 an hour, you shouldn’t be doing clerical work that you can hire someone else to do for $20 an hour.
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Again, the key is this: Once you’ve calculated your effective hourly rate, delegate, outsource or shed your tasks to others who can do them better, faster and at a lower effective hourly rate, freeing up your time to do the things that only you can do.
So, how do you identify which tasks to keep and which to shed?
Take a daily inventory of all the tasks you perform over a typical week. If you can’t do a week, then try for at least three days. After which, reflect on your list of tasks and identify the most important ones for which you are uniquely gifted.
As an example, one of my clients owns a successful real estate development company. After tracking his daily activities for a week, he discovered that there was one thing he was doing that had the biggest impact on his business. That activity was driving around and looking at land. He had a particular gift for sizing up a property’s potential.
Approximately 95 percent of all his other activities were then delegated or outsourced to people who could do them better, faster and cheaper, or were deemed unnecessary and abandoned entirely. By focusing exclusively on where he can provide the most value, his company’s profits have soared.
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Once you’ve assembled your list of tasks you do on a daily or weekly basis, you’ll find two or three tasks for which you are uniquely qualified and enjoy doing. The more you are doing these two to three tasks and the less you’re doing of tasks that others can do better, faster and cheaper, the quicker you’ll grow your business.
For small and medium-sized businesses, it may seem logical for the owner, founder or president to wear lots of different hats and perform lots of different duties. While it’s certainly true that the founder needs to be fluent with all aspects of her business, it is actually detrimental to her business for her to be doing too many tasks.
I use the analogy of putting rocks, pebbles and sand into a glass vase. The only way you can get all of them in that vase is by putting in the big rocks first, the pebbles second and the sand last. If you try to put the sand in first, followed by the pebbles, the big rocks won’t fit. What we need to have at any one point in our business careers is a couple of rocks that we focus on daily, and on which we spend the vast majority of our time. Once we do that, we will still be able to accommodate a few smaller pebbles and even a little sand, but we really strive to have as many rocks, or in other words tasks, that are worthy of our effective hourly rate and that reflect the special talents and gifts that we have.
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In Gary Keller’s book The One Thing, he teaches that there’s one thing that will do the most for your company or initiative at any given moment. There’s one activity you can be doing right now that will knock down more dominoes or have more total impact on your business than any other.
By focusing on that one thing, you will move your company much farther, much faster and much more profitably.
So, I invite you to do the shed exercise and to be conscious and deliberate about how you’re spending your time for ideally a full work week, and then take stock. Find out where you are really spending your time and how many hours a week you’re spending on tasks that could easily be delegated or forgotten about altogether, and delegate, outsource or shed them. By doing so, you’ll be doing less of what you shouldn’t be doing, and more of what you should. In other words, you’ll be doing more by doing less.
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