I don’t know about you, but I always seem to have a to-do list that never ends, which leads me to feel like a “hamster on a wheel” much of the time. Even when I have what could be called a very productive day, I feel like I have barely scratched the surface of the many, many things I need to do. What makes the situation all the more challenging is that I have quite a few other days when I feel like I’m slogging through quicksand to get much of anything accomplished at all.
When I look around at those people who I consider “successful,” I think that they must be super productive every single day. They must accomplish considerably more to-do list items than I do, and that’s why they’re so successful. This makes sense on the surface, but I recently read an article that gave me a whole new perspective on the concept of time management. In today’s post, I share the key concepts from that article, how I’ve been putting them into practice this week, and the way it has positively impacted my life.
The Myth of “Successful” People
Tim Ferriss is the author of multiple best-selling books, including The Four-Hour Work Week and Tools of Titans. Despite the fact that he wrote about working only four hours a week, I always thought he got a lot more done than me with far fewer days of floundering or spinning his wheels. It’s no big surprise that I thought such things, as “successful” people like him are typically portrayed as superheroes by the media. We think they don’t experience the same types of challenges that we mere mortals do, but we’re wrong.
I came across an article Tim wrote titled “Productivity Tricks for the Neurotic, Manic-Depressive, and Crazy (Like Me),” and of course I was intrigued. After all, at least one of those descriptors applies to me much of the time. Reading the article, I learned that much like I do, Tim has some dysfunctional habits and behaviors. Sometimes he hits the snooze button multiple times, surfs the internet too much, or holds a negative attitude toward life. Still, he manages to accomplish some larger-than-life goals despite these types of self-defeating habits. Fortunately, he shares some of his secrets in the article.
How to Maximize Efficacy
Many of us place our focus on the wrong objective. We think we need to be efficient, which means doing as many things as possible and getting them done in the fastest amount of time. However, what really leads to success in life is efficacy, which means doing the right things. Maximizing efficacy is what helps people like Tim Ferriss achieve the type of success they’re known for.
Tim presents his 8-step process for maximizing efficacy in the article, but here it is in a nutshell. Each day, before you look at your smart phone or computer, get out a pen and paper and write down the three to five to-do list items that are making you most anxious or uncomfortable. These are usually things that you’ve been putting off from day to day because you fear rejection, conflict, or failure should you take them on.
For each item on your list, ask yourself two questions:
- If this were the only thing I accomplished today, would I be satisfied with my day?
- Will moving this forward make all of the other to-dos either unimportant or easier to knock off later?
Consider only those items for which you answered “yes” to at least one question. Then select just one item and block off two to three hours of uninterrupted time to focus on it today. Set all of your other seemingly urgent but less important tasks aside and work on the task you’ve deemed most important. Everything else will still be there later or tomorrow.
This simple method is how Tim has been able to create big outcomes despite his propensity to procrastinate and engage in time-wasting activities like we all do. If he tried to accomplish ten tasks each day, it’s likely that none of them would actually get done, but he feels confident that he can work on one must-do item for two to three hours each day. Efficacy over efficiency…
Tim states that “being busy is most often used as a guise for avoiding the few critically important but uncomfortable actions.” He believes that the following is the only rule we need when it comes to time-management:
“What you do is more important than how you do everything else, and doing something well does not make it important.”
An “Aha Moment” and a Plan…
Tim’s words really resonated with me, and like the prescription for a happy life that I wrote about last week, his “productivity tricks” feel doable. After reading the article, I realized that I don’t need to do all the things. In order to move forward in my life and feel more successful, I just need to determine the most important thing each day and do that.
I decided to give Tim’s method a try beginning this week. It’s only been five days so far, but I feel significantly better about my productivity for the week than I usually do. I’ve ticked off some important but long procrastinated upon to-do list items and I feel a great sense of accomplishment as a result. Even on a day like today that got off to a rough start and included a fair number of unproductive activities, I still accomplished my most important task of the day, writing and publishing this blog post. Where I faltered today is that I failed to block off a specific time period for blogging, thus I procrastinated until later in the day. Although there’s room for improvement in my implementation of Tim Ferriss’s approach, I can still consider today a success because I’ve done what I deemed was most important.
Sometimes I procrastinate writing these posts because I’m still “rusty” with this type of writing after not having done it for almost a year. I’m also unsure that what I write will be good and/or well-received. I want to make a difference through my words, and my identity as a writer is something that’s very important to me. Therefore, it’s not too surprising that I have a tendency to put off sitting down to write. However, I never regret having done so and I usually feel a sense of pride when I hit the “publish” button and send my writing out into the world.
It Doesn’t Have to Be Two to Three Hours
Not all of the tasks I procrastinate on are as important to me as writing. Some of them are tedious activities that aren’t much fun but do need to get done. They don’t all require two to three hours, either. Sometimes what we dread most is making a phone call or sending an email that may only take five minutes, but we put it off for days, weeks, or even months. Using the simple process that Tim Ferriss laid out makes it far more likely that we’ll stop procrastinating and finally get our most critical actions done, be they big or small.
I plan to continue using Tim’s process to help me maximize my efficacy, and I highly recommend it for anyone who feels they’re always busy but aren’t making headway on their goals and dreams. I know that not everyone has two to three hours to dedicate to a key task each day. While Tim’s method may be most easily implemented by those who are self-employed or have a lot of unscheduled time, I feel that it can be modified for use by most people. Even if you can only dedicate half an hour per day to work on a to-do list item that’s making you anxious or uncomfortable, those small time segments add up! As I wrote about in “The Power of Small Steps,” those baby steps can lead to big changes if they are the right steps. Tim’s simple process can make it easier for you to determine what those are.
Now I’d like to hear from you:
- How do you think using Tim Ferriss’s process would help you to maximize your efficacy?
- What modifications, if any, would you make to the process?
- What time-management techniques have been most effective for you?
I welcome your thoughts on these topics, as well as any other insights you want to share related to this post.