I’ve spent the last 20 years trying to figure out how to maximize efficiencies in my life. I thought that some of the things I’ve observed and learned might also be useful to a few of you. Heaven knows that every entrepreneur could use a few more hours in their day, right? Right. So with that, I’ve listed the top five things I’ve learned to do in order to run at my most efficient, and fastest, speed.
Email. The bane of every entrepreneurs existence. No matter how hard you try, your email box is just a never ending piece of thread that you continually tug at, only to find more, and more, and more. I’ve struggled with it just like you. However, a few years ago I figured out, for me, how to manage email and make it a very minor efficiency detractor. Here are my three simple steps to email freedom (note that the word freedom is preferably said in the Mel Gibson ‘Braveheart’ voice):
- Send less email. When in doubt, throw it out! Don’t send it unless you really, really, really need to. Email begets more email. Send less = receive less. Simple, but it works. Go look at your sent box for a few different business days. Get an average number of emails sent. Now cut that number by 75%. Yes, 75%. Set a goal to not send more than that number each business day. I bet you can do it.
- Do not go to bed at night until your inbox is under 10 emails total. Yes, you read that right. Every single night, no sleep, until the total inbox count is under ten. How do you do this? It takes time. Keeping it under ten (or getting it to anywhere close to ten) might take you awhile. Keep chipping away at it. Once there you must never, ever break the rule. You’ll eventually learn to get and keep it under ten primarily thru two simple methods; delete more emails, more often and reply with shorter, direct responses. These two concepts will help you hit the bedtime rule more quickly.
- Do not ask people to email you. If you can, ask them to Tweet or DM you. It is 140 characters or less and it makes for a much lighter and quicker conversation. I bet you’ll be surprised how often you tell people to “email you” once you start to listen to, and avoid, that phrase.
- Remove unnecessary people from the list of recipients. More people in the email chain = more email. Cut it down to a single recipient whenever possible.
Phone Calls. I’ve trained most people not to call me on the phone, and I’ve pretty much trained everyone not to leave me voicemail. This sounds really impersonal and cold to some. However, to anyone that knows me, I’m pretty sure impersonal and cold aren’t what they’d describe me as. I love people. I love talking to people. I just don’t like to do it at random. I rarely answer my phone for calls that aren’t scheduled. I have a rhythm and a random 30-minute phone call can screw up my day for a lot longer than 30-minutes. Phone calls out of nowhere, about topics unrelated to my work of the moment, can really screw up my mojo. So I don’t take calls. Please don’t take this as a snobbish approach. Remember, I’m just telling you how I’ve become more efficient. Using the phone only when planning to do so (excluding family and some friends of course) has helped free up a lot of time and kept me focused when I need to be. In addition, I use a transcription service for voicemail. All voicemail comes to me as a transcribed email (with an audio attachment if I really must listen to it – which is VERY rare). I simply forward that email, with their voicemail attached, and answer whatever it is they talked about on their voice message. Over time they learn not to call me but rather to quickly email me with their question. While this increases my email, I’d much rather increase email than increase random phone calls.
Technology. Yeah, I know — what a generic thing to list. Of course technology helps increase efficiency. Duh! However, there are a few very specific pieces of software and hardware that I’ve found to be critical in my zest to be as efficient as possible. Namely:
- Evernote. I use this across all of my devices. It keeps my written notes from meetings, my voice notes while driving, my photos of whiteboards, my articles of business posts I want to read/access and it does it all in a light and easily searchable user interface. This is my go-to app for everything that is related to meeting details I need to remember.
- Bufferapp.com is a tool I use every single day. Buffer allows me to schedule social media updates on three networks (Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn). I come across content and think of social media updates throughout the day and night. Buffer allows me to queue them up and then delivers them according to a pre-determined pace. It makes social media content very manageable.
- YouMail. As noted in my previous time saving suggestion, I’d highly recommend you sign up for something that transcribes your voicemail into email. I like how YouMail makes it easy, is data rich, and their transcriptions are really accurate.
- If I can put something on auto-renewal (Amazon Prime for toilet paper), I do it. There are a number of repeated purchases and actions that you take in your life. Sit down and make a list of them. Then find ways to automated those functions. Amazon Prime and reorder is one. IFTTT.com is another — set up rules for certain things to happen between different programs and accounts. I’ve got dozens of rules setup and eight or nine recurring orders set up as well.
Meetings. Everyone has them and everyone hates them at one time or another. The reason most people have such a dislike for them is because they last too long. When things last too long, by definition, they are in fact wasting time. In my experience I’d say that 95% of all meetings can and should last less than 60 minutes. Most can be done in 30 minutes really. It takes discipline and effort to make sure meetings are completed in this amount of time. However, once you get used to the 60 minute (or less) meeting, you’ll wonder how you ever did without out. Here are a few tips:
- Make sure all attendees know in advance that it is a 30 minute meeting. Let them know that all business will start and end in that time frame so to plan accordingly.
- Note (in a nice way) when you are approaching the 30 minute ending time.
- Be sure to take the direction back on track when it waivers too far off of it. Meetings often last longer simply because tangents take discussions too far into an unrelated direction. Sometimes this creative flow is great! More often it is a time suck that you can never get back. Look for the difference.
- Say no to meetings that are scheduled to last longer. Train others to be more efficient in their meeting times whenever possible.
- Schedule another meeting or phone call, or some reason to end the meeting at the 30 minute mark. This will force your hand, but you’ll have to plan ahead to make sure this occurs.
Say no more often. As an entrepreneur you probably get invited to do a lot of things. Speak on a panel, go to a conference, join an advisory board and other types of fun volunteer and networking opportunities. While it is important to keep connected, meet new people, even build your personal brand, this kind of stuff can get out of control in a hurry. I see way too many of the same entrepreneurs at events. I see others on Twitter traveling the World, going to every conference, speaking on every panel and generally spending a lot of time out of the office. Business travel is important, but nothing beats working with your team, in the office, together. If you want to be more efficient, you’ll have to say no more often even though you really want to say yes. I’m not suggesting you be a selfish jerk, but there is a time and season for all of these types of things. Some entrepreneurs use these options as excuses to get away from the daily pressures and grind of building a business. That is a yellow flag if you ask me. Needing to escape now and again is healthy. Doing so with any regularity might signal a deeper problem. So stick with your daily business; say no to more and down the road, after everything works out, you’ll be able to say yes to all of these things and more.
What types of things make you more efficient? I’d love to learn what you do to make things go more smoothly and quickly in your daily life and business. Make some comments below and share your experiences, I’d love to hear them. (credit alex lawrence, forbes)