Being a surgeon and running a business has meant that I've become a time management ninja and I've read nearly every book on productivity and time management out there.
I try and be as efficient with my time as possible and so here are 10 things that I use everyday to help make my time management more efficient and I've even included a bonus 11th tip at the end.
Own Your Time and Prioritise
Tip number one is really about mindset and it is to understand that you own your time and are in control of how you spend it. You have the power to prioritise doing whatever you want to do. I went to the gym this morning because I made a commitment to go before doing other tasks because I wanted to get it done and then focus on other things. Equally on other days I might dive straight into writing and go to the gym later in the day or not go at all and spend time reading or relaxing if that is what I think will get me to my goal the fastest. When I was a surgeon I prioritised time before and after work for keeping fit and working on my side business so even if you have responsibilities you can always make time for things. You own your time and you can make time for things you feel are important whether that time is spent relaxing or getting work done is up to you, so don't say you don't have time for something when actually you mean you're just not prioritising it. On this channel we talk about health, wealth, love and happiness as part of human performance and I try and balance my time each day between all these elements. These aren't always perfectly in balance as I'll focus on certain elements depending on what needs taking care of, for example I might work deeply on a project for 2 weeks to prioritise it and then grab a vacation and focus on relaxing. Balance is the key as is having insight into areas you are neglecting.
Protect Your Time
Tip two is to set boundaries and understand the value of your time to both yourself and others. As you grow you will be presented with more opportunities and it can be easy to fill up your calendar with meetings. My diary was busy when I was training and working as a doctor and when I started running a company it filled up with requests for meetings, opportunities to collaborate and more. My top tip here is to say yes to things that really excite you and no to anything that doesn't. We often want to please people and saying no can be difficult as we don’t want to come off as rude or miss out on opportunities. The book The Art of Saying No outlines how being assertive and polite when turning down opportunities helps people to respect your boundaries while not offending.
If I receive an email or opportunity the first thing I think is "Does this need me or can someone else in my team do it as well or better than me?". If it is something only I can do I then consider whether it will be fun, whether I'll learn something and whether there is value to myself, my team or to anyone else. I'll also consider how much time and effort is required and try to keep any meetings or calls to less than 30-minutes since I know that my time is valuable to both myself and my company. If something isn't worth your time or you won't enjoy it it's fine to explain that the offer isn’t a fit for you right now while thanking the person for thinking of you.
With prioritising and protecting your time covered tip three is all about delegation to help free up your time. As you start to plan tasks to do think about what repetitive, time-consuming tasks you can delegate to others to free up your time. It can be easy to take everything on yourself but outsourcing and delegating things you don't enjoy will mean you can focus on the things that only you can do and the things you enjoy the most. I've previously shared my top tips on how to delegate effectively which includes thinking about when to delegate and practical steps to ensure success. When you are starting out you might immediately think "I don't have money to delegate or outsource" the best way to get around this thought-process is to set a monetary value to your time and to then think if the price of outsourcing is similar or less than this. If it is you should absolutely do it. Delegating tasks such as cleaning your home will often have a compounding effect on your performance since not only do you no longer need to spend time cleaning but you will have a more tidy and productive workspace. I routinely delegate to team members and have a virtual personal assistant who helps keep my inbox at zero and who helps with general life admin, all to allow me to focus on what I enjoy.
Plan Using a Diary
Often we get distracted or procrastinate because tasks seem they will take too long or are too hard. Tip four is about breaking down tasks and setting goals to help focus your time.
Several years ago I started using a diary planner that allowed me to map out my personal and professional goals for the next 12 months and then break these down by quarter, month, week and day. This allowed me to set goals for larger projects such as improving my fitness with a new gym routine or growing business revenues over a set period. This helps to keep me aligned on my main vision and mission to focus my time. I like to use a physical diary planner that allows me to write down the tasks I'll be working on each week and each day. The diary I use also reminds me to think about what I'm grateful for each morning and to reflect on my wins at the end of each day. I then store these diaries when full and can reflect back on them at a later date. I like planner diaries so much we even made one for all of the employees at Virti which aligns to the company mission and features daily inspiring quotes.
There are lots of great physical planner options available including the BestSelf Journal and wall planners and lots of great digital tools like Grid Diary and digital to-do lists like Things and Evernote.
Tip five is something that completely changed my productivity and focus. When I was younger I used to use basic to-do lists where I'd work through a generic list of tasks and add new tasks to the end of the list. There was no prioritisation and I tried to simply get as much done each day as possible. As a doctor I got used to writing down jobs that needed doing on my patient list and then prioritising depending on how unwell the patient was focusing on the key tasks first. This was fine until my to-do list started to get longer and the projects I started to work on, like scaling a company, got larger. By using a Planner Diary rather than a to-do list I now set a single goal for each day and a maximum of three tasks that are prioritised to hit that goal. If you are currently using a to-do list a quick time management hack is to go through the to do list and re-arrange based on priority.
In the book "Make Time" by Jake Knapp and John Zeratsky this principle is called the daily highlight and represents the one thing that day that must get done. If you get it done you have won the day and should feel satisfied.
Start The Night Before
Tip 6 is to plan your week on a Sunday and at the end of each day to reflect on what you achieved and to plan your goal for the next day. By doing this the night before it means that you will firstly give yourself a well-deserved pat on the back for what you accomplished during the day and also means that the following day is planned-out for when you wake up.
I sometimes even start tasks the night before so that I can immediately jump into them the following day and I always make sure my desk is tidy and set up for when I wake up.
Time Blocking For Deep Focus
Blocking out time in your calendar and diary planner is Tip 7 and is a strategy loved by Elon Musk and outlined in Cal Newport's book "Deep Work". The idea here is to proactively allocate time in your calendar for working on projects. This prevents others booking in meetings and holds you accountable to work on that task during a set time period.
I don't use this for every single thing that I do but I do tend to block off mornings to work on my key daily goals to get them done early in the day and because I know I am naturally more productive in the morning. This means I'm not spending ages in my calendar but does mean I have an allocated, undisturbed time to focus deeply on my work. This has been great for me and means I'm excited to get up to start my day and know exactly what I'm doing. I'll also add other things into this time like going for a walk or grabbing a coffee so it's not just work but does mean I'm not disturbed and I can perform at my best.
This concept applies to your personal time too. I try to protect time for fitness, relaxation, socialising and fun so that time for these is not reduced by work. I don't usually add these to my calendar but I'll plan to take breaks, hit the gym and socialise when planning my day or week.
Tip 8 is to be efficient and focused when completing tasks to reduce the time you spend on them. Efficiency is defined as output divided by input and in The Economist in 1955 Historian Cyril Parkinson articulated a concept now known as Parkinson's law which states that "work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion".
So for example if you set a deadline for the end of the week to write an essay it will likely take you the whole week, whereas if you set a shorter deadline chances are you'll get it done. The learning point here is to set yourself artificial deadlines for tasks and try and challenge yourself to get things done quickly and not try to be perfect or spend ages on tasks.
I use this tip all the time, I don't necessarily need to get something done by a set date but I set a very short deadline so it frees me up quickly. This is especially important when working in a team as if you can get even a rough draft to a colleague who is waiting on it as quickly as possible the overall task will likely be completed quickly too.
Do Things In Bulk
Tip 9 follows on from the previous tips on time blocking and efficiency and is about bulking similar tasks together to reduce preparation time and focus on tasks of a similar type. I do this when writing blogs; rather than researching a blog then writing it and then publishing it I might do all the research around a few topics on one day and then spend another day writing the actual articles. As well as focusing my time this helps me to get into a flow state and concentrate on writing. I also do this with meetings where I'll try and have all meetings in the afternoon close together and with podcasts where I'll record a number in bulk before the team edit them in bulk and then they are scheduled.
For things like podcasting and filming YouTube videos this can be hugely time efficient since setting up podcasting or filming equipment can take time and therefore it makes sense that once set up it is better to record multiple episodes rather than having to setup and take down equipment around each individual recording.
Automate Anything Repetitive
Tip 10 is to automate what you can to save time. Things like booking meetings can be automated through tools such as Calendly or Hubspot where you can proactively set your availability for calls, meetings or when you'll record a podcast and then allow people to book in to these available slots through a link. You will then receive a link direct to your calendar with the meeting details. Similarly I will use common email templates and responses for things like sharing information as outlined in my video on the process I used to raise $10M for my company Virti.
I use an email client called Spark which allows for email templates and as you grow a business there are lots of tasks you can automate from social media posting using tools such as Hootsuite to marketing using Hubspot and email follow-up workflows. If you want to get very technical you can even use tools like Zapier to create workflows between digital tools such as having a google form automatically populate a spreadsheet to save you time exporting information. In practical terms think about anything you are doing repetitively like trying to arrange a meeting or sending emails and try and automate this or use templates to save yourself some time.
BONUS TIP: Celebrate The Wins
My bonus tip 11 is to remind you to be kind to yourself and to celebrate whatever you achieve during the day. I mentioned using a Diary Planner that has a section to reflect on what you learned during the day and what wins you achieved. This helps to keep me grateful and happy where I usually complete a task and then immediately move onto something else. Equally if for whatever reason I don't complete a task I don't beat myself up about it but I simply celebrate the progress or what I learned from the process and then plan to finish it off another time.
With any time management or productivity system it can be easy to try and cram as much into your day as possible or wake up extra early to get things done. Remember you want to balance health, wealth, love and happiness to perform at your best and it's important to allow for downtime and rest as well as socialising to stay at your best.