Many of the posts in this series so far have highlighted the importance of focusing on what is absolutely essential in your life, rather than just taking it all on and struggling through your day. If you’re feeling overwhelmed, “crazy-busy” and out of control, you’re going to need to begin to cut out some of the tasks on your current to-do list before you feel any sort of peace in your life. And my guess is, there is plenty on your list you can stop doing (if you look hard enough). You have a few options to lighten your load:
• You may be able to eliminate some of the activities on your to-do list altogether.
• You’ll also have some items that you can automate so it still gets done as needed, but doesn’t require your personal attention.
• Then there will also be a category of tasks that can be delegated to others.
The remaining items on your list should be the “essentials” in your life that you need and want to focus on. Here are the steps to minimizing what you have on your daily to-do list:
1) Create Your “Master List.”
Sit down with a pen, some paper, and anything you might need to remind yourself of everything you do in a given week (your daily planner, calendar, schedule, list of weekly errands, to do lists, etc.). Create a list of absolutely everything that you personally have to do each week. Don’t worry about the order right now, or how much time you actually spend on these activities. Everything should be added to this list, no matter how infrequently you do them, how little time you spend doing it, or how insignificant it seems (it all adds up!). Include activities you engage in on the weekdays, then the weekends. Include work activities you engage in with your family, at work, and in your personal/social life. After you’ve exhausted your weekly to do lists, add anything that comes up on a monthly, quarterly, or annual basis at the end. Just do a brain dump and get everything you can think of on this Master List.
2) Identify everything on your Master List that you can ELIMINATE.
Here are a few questions you can ask to determine whether an item on your list can be eliminated:
• What items on your list don’t absolutely need to be done?
• Which items do you do because you think you “should” and not because it serves any particular purpose?
• What do you do for others out of obligation or guilt?
• Which activities do you do simply because you’ve always done them, even though you may not need to anymore?
• What do you do because you’re afraid you’ll disappoint someone?
• What are you doing because you’re afraid to say no?
• What do you do mindlessly, without intention (hello social media…)?
Think very hard about the things you do that aren’t absolutely necessary. Re-evaluate everything. If it doesn’t absolutely need to be done, consider adding it to this list of items to eliminate from your life.
Here are some of the things I have eliminated from my Master List:
• Responding to sales pitches from outside vendors offering non-relevant business solutions.
• Engaging in extracurricular business events that aren’t essential to my career (cake on Fridays, Halloween parties, pizza parties, etc.).
• Watching the morning news (I get the information I want on a newsfeed instead).
• Spending time with people I’ve admitted I don’t like or who bring me down.
• Sending handwritten thank you notes for every gift my son receives (they get a sincere thank you when he receives the gift now, or a call, email or text instead).
• My 3-hour train commute!!
Some of the things I listed above truly are NOT important to me in the grand scheme of things. Your values or etiquette rules may be different than mine, so make sure you aren’t eliminating things that are important to you. Just realize that whatever you leave on this list represents a trade-off of your time. The more time you spend doing things that aren’t necessary, the less time you have for the meaningful things in your life. Be relentless about eliminating activities that you don’t absolutely need (or want) to do.
3) Identify everything on your Master List that you can AUTOMATE.
Once you’ve removed absolutely everything from your list that you don’t personally have to do, next take a look at the items on your list that can be automated. There is a lot of technology these days that can help you streamline your life. Take advantage of programs, services, and apps that allow subscriptions, automatic payments, and reminders. Pay special attention to things you do regularly that doesn’t require special skills or knowledge from you to accomplish. Here are a couple of examples of ways I use technology to automate my life:
Amazon Prime: Amazon has saved me as a mom. For an annual fee, you can order items on Amazon (using their App) and they’ll deliver it within 2 days with free shipping. You can also sign up for their “Subscribe” program, or the “AmazonMom” program for items you need on a regular basis (paper towels, diapers, shampoo, soap, razors, etc.). You’ll save 5% and once you set up the subscription, those items will magically appear on your doorstep without you even thinking about it. Automate delivery of household items directly to your door as you need them, and you’ll cut out countless hours running errands. Diapers.com has a similar program for baby-related items. I also have a list that I keep for random items that we need but not right away (new shoes for Beckett, an air mattress, toys or DVDs for an upcoming trip, etc.). Every week or so I’ll sit down and do a Prime order for those items while I’m finishing up dinner or watching TV. Boom. Done.
Mobile Banking: If you’re a member of a large bank, odds are there’s a mobile app you can download to deposit and transfer money and manage your finances on the go. Set up a bill pay system to pay all of your monthly bills so they’re never late and you don’t have to spend time writing out checks or going onto every merchant’s website to pay bills individually throughout the month. You can also sign up for Mint, which keeps track of all of your finances in one place. Automate your finances as much as possible (just remember to check in periodically to make sure you’re on target with your budget and goals).
Food Delivery: When I was a new mom, I used the Safeway app to do (just about) all of my grocery shopping. I sat on my couch late at night after the baby went down and ordered all of the items on my grocery list within 10 minutes while I watched TV. Delivery is free if you schedule a four-hour delivery window the following day, and if you order over $50 worth of food (uh, no problem). They delivered the food directly to my kitchen, and it saved me at least a couple of hours a week running to the store (it also relieved me of the stress of taking my newborn out and risking a meltdown). The next time I ordered food, it had all of my previously ordered items already catalogued, so I could just sort through that list and select items I needed again. I was in LOVE with the Safeway app. Check your local grocery store to see if they have a delivery program, and sign up to cut out another couple of hours a week! Many areas also have companies who will deliver fresh produce and prepared meals directly to your home on a weekly basis. I haven’t tried these options, but this could be another way to save time during the week.
If This Then That: This is an app that allows you to create “recipes” so various activities happen automatically when the trigger event happens (if THIS happens, then THAT happens). It is linked up to just about every other app out there (many I haven’t heard of). Basically, if you can do it yourself using technology, you can probably set it up to save you time. Get as creative as you want! For example, I have a recipe set up where if I post a picture or am tagged in a photo on Facebook, it is archived for me (no more organizing or backing-up baby pictures!). I also have a number of recipes where I will receive a text with a reminder to do something at a particular time (wrap things up at the office so I can leave on time, call a friend, order groceries, etc.). You can set up filters for your email so you’re only alerted to the important ones. The options are pretty much endless.
Get creative as you go through your list, and try to automate as many of your activities as you possibly can. It’ll save you time, but it’ll also save you from the daily stress and added mental energy of keeping track of a million little things that you really don’t need to worry about anymore. Set it and forget it!
4) Identify everything on your Master List that you can DELEGATE.
Your Master List should be getting shorter by now! Next you’re going to sift through your list and identify anything that you can hand off to other people. This is usually the most difficult step for most people. Personally, I spent most of my life as a perfectionist who hated giving up control by delegating to others. But once I had some success handing off various projects and responsibilities to other people, I realized giving up control was much easier when I found someone capable and reliable. Here are the basic steps to delegating both work and personal activities effectively (meaning: it gets done right and doesn’t end up back on your plate, costing you additional time):
Identify the right person who can help.
Spend a little extra time in the beginning to find someone who has the right attitude and skills to assist you the way you need it. They don’t necessarily need to know how to do everything off the bat, but you should make sure they are capable of picking things up quickly, and following directions accurately. Also try to choose someone who will be available when you need them. What’s the point in training someone well if they aren’t going to be able to help when you need it? Think outside the box also. Look into using eLance, oDesk, Fiverr, or recruiting a local high school or college student for help. All of these options can be extremely cost-effective, especially when you factor in what your time is worth.
Show them how you do it.
Go through your process and give thorough and clear instructions. Take time before you delegate to identify the system you use to accomplish various tasks, and provide written instructions, a video tutorial, an instruction guide, and/or a screen capture for their reference as they learn so they know what you expect. Set aside time early on to answer questions and re-direct them if necessary. The earlier they get it right, the less time you’ll spend fixing errors in the long run.
Focus on the outcome, and let go of the process.
I’ll give it to you straight: no one is going to do things exactly the way you do them. Try not to worry about how they get to the end result, as long as they accomplish the task the way you like it. They may not be as fast as you either (especially in the beginning). Try to give people time to do the work in their way, and in the timeframe they need to get it right.
5) Evaluate what Remains
Once you have combed through all of the items on your Master List, have crossed off the items that can be eliminated altogether, automated using technology, and delegated to responsible and trusted helpers, you should have one short list left: Your “Essential Few.”
Next week I will talk about how to more efficiently manage the items that you truly do need to focus on so you maximize your time as much as possible.
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