Updated: Jun 13, 2020
A guide to efficiency. Why “I don’t have time” is never an excuse.
Check out this article on Medium.
“Holy shit, how did I drive this thing?”
I stood underneath my car in a garage in London, looking up at a steering column that had been fused by rust. I chipped a flake of rust off the oil pan and stared at my brand new coilovers bolted up to a rear subframe that looked like it was about to disintegrate.
My 2008 Audi A4 had been a good deal. I bought it 2 months after moving to London in 2019. The car was from Scotland. The previous owner lived on the northern Scottish coast. The exhaust had holes in it when I bought it. I was blinded by my love of cars and excited to buy my own, the day after getting my UK Driver’s License. This car seemed perfect to my dumbstruck eyes.
4 months and 3,000 miles later, I finally got it on a lift and discovered just how bad the rust really was. I went from loving the car to wanting nothing to do with it in about 2 seconds.
My next thought: “Fuck. I want a bigger car budget. I’m sick of being poor.”
Just a year earlier, I had just bought my third car in California, and was freely spending money on new parts to pursue my racing hobby. The move to London was very expensive and I took a 40% pay cut with my new job.
I was already writing a book, but on that day in February 2020 I decided to start a side hustle.
I’m writing this in June 2020. I quit my day job last week to work full time on my automotive strategy consulting, career coaching, and t-shirt businesses, as well as write a second book. I’m doing what I love and making money doing it.
A question I hear often is: “You have so much going on! How do you juggle all of those things?”
I hope this brief guide can give you an answer.
The past 4 months is not the only time I’ve heard this question. I am a glutton for punishment and seem to thrive in taking on the maximum amount of work that I can in order to push myself.
Until recently, that work hadn’t been financially driven. I have not achieved financial success yet.
This guide should be used strictly for learning efficiency. That is the only topic for which I’m claiming a small level of expertise.
I identified four practices that strongly contribute to my efficiency. Use them all in combination to give yourself a good chance of accomplishing the maximum amount in a short amount of time, while living a somewhat balanced life.
The below tactics are very detailed. I am not suggesting you follow them exactly. In fact, for some people, my tactics will not work. Use my tactics as a guide to employ your own efficiency tactics that work for you.
Let me know what I missed by shooting me an email: firstname.lastname@example.org
I wake up at 4:30am 6 days per week, on average. I go to bed between 9 and 10 6 days per week, on average.
On day 7, I’ll sleep in till 5:30 or 6:30am, depending on how late I go to bed. Or I’ll get up at 4:30am because I have shit to do.
When I first started working full-time, I put my alarm clock on the other side of the room, forcing me to get up and turn it off. I have used a real alarm clock since my sophomore year of college. They’re much more reliable than our phones.
Get a $15 digital, wired (battery-powered only as a backup) alarm clock off Amazon, put it out of reach from your bed. Now, identify what time you want to start working. By “start working” I mean:
- Leave the house to start your commute;
- Open your laptop to start working on your day job (or school) from home; or
- Start working on your side hustle from home.
Set your alarm for 2 hours before that time. I’ll address “why 2 hours?” in a later section.
Now, work backwards to when you need to go to bed. How much sleep do you need to be alert and productive during the day? For me, it’s at least 6.5 hours: alarm time (4:30am) minus 6.5 hours equals 10pm.
The key to sleep discipline is consistency. Remember, you’re doing this to unlock free time in your life to do more of what you want. If you cannot exercise discipline to go to bed at a consistent time and wake up at a consistent time to gain efficiency, this practice is not for you. Do it for 2 weeks. The first week will be a hard adjustment. The second week you’ll start to see just how much free time you have.
Adjust this time for when you feel most alert. Do your most challenging work at that time, usually right when you wake up or right before bed.
Routine and Daily Tasks
When I moved to London, I spent 3 mornings falling on my face with my routine. On day 3, I wrote down, step by step, every single task in my morning routine, including feeding the cat, changing into workout clothes, and roughly 16 other things.
What are you doing daily to maintain hygiene, health, and home? Do it as soon as you wake up. For me, living in London, it’s the following:
- Turn off alarm
- Change into gym clothes
- Feed the cat
- Use the bathroom
- Start kettle for tea
- Take supplements
- Put away dishes in drying rack
- Make tea, put on table
- Take smoothie from fridge, unscrew lid and put cup on table
- Rinse lid, rinse face, wet my hair
- Back to bathroom, dry and comb hair, brush teeth, shave
- Sit at kitchen table, read one page daily reflection, morning journal — three principles to focus on throughout the day
- Check phone, clear all notifications (don’t actually do anything besides respond to easy texts) while drinking smoothie and tea
- Rinse cups, put on jacket if needed, go to gym (7 days per week)
In 20 minutes I have set up my day with a clean house, fed pet, healthy and groomed body, and clear mind.
What do you need set up your day? There are plenty of “morning routine” resources out there to give you inspiration. Write it down and practice it.
The night routine is shorter, thankfully…if you made it through that last list, I hope it was less uncomfortable to read as it was to write.
These are my non-negotiable tasks to accomplish before I get in bed:
- Make smoothie
- Pull out one serving of supplements
- Write to-do list for tomorrow
- Wash all dirty dishes, put away all dry dishes
- Night journal — reflect on the day, gratitude list, “today I learned,” and answer “what could have gone better?”
- Brush teeth, get in bed
Again, figure out what will allow you to go to bed satisfied, comfortable, and content. Do not let yourself skip them for the sake of getting into bed 2 minutes earlier. It’s worth it.
Apart from non-negotiable routines, I maintain a daily tasks list to make sure I’m making tangible progress towards my goals (see later section). For me, these are:
- Workout (7 days per week)
- Post on LinkedIn (5–7 days per week)
- Connect with my wife for 20 minutes (7 days per week) — we’re both busy but make more time for each other on the weekends
Identify high-value, low-effort tasks that you can aim to complete every day. Make sure they are independent of location (so they can be accomplished while traveling). Write them down.
Regardless of what else your day throws at you, you’ll know you can always make progress towards your goals. Putting these non-negotiable tasks into a routine will get them done way faster than if you need to find time to do each task.
Every minute counts
When I was in college, I would read my textbooks on the walk from my dorm room to the train station. Podcasts on commutes are a great form of education and entertainment.
The real point here is: switch fully on and switch fully off. When you’re meant to be focusing, focus. When you want to take a break, put your work away.
Take the mentality of “every minute counts” when you’re meant to be focusing. Your to-do list should be granular. You should know every little task you are aiming to accomplish during the day. You should never be at a loss for work to do.
I am guilty of sometimes getting distracted. But I know that my most efficient days are those when I do not let myself get distracted and give myself a sense of urgency. You’re employing this tactic to accomplish as much as possible on a daily basis. If you are doing things you care about, you will push to accomplish your goals. Tap into your drive to get the work done and tell yourself that every minute counts.
You can accomplish so much when you really push to do something you care about. Don’t let anything hold you back. Make the most of every minute.
Goals, planning, and reflection
Every month, I write down goals. They follow the S.M.A.R.T. criteria. I break my goals into categories:
- Mental health
- Physical health
When I’m writing, there is a separate book category. For my 100 page blueprint to building your dream career, my goal for January was “finish the outline and get it reviewed by 10 people.” For February, it was “write the first draft, at least 1,000 words per week.” For March, it was “finish two review cycles.”
You get the idea.
What categories do you need for your goals? I recommend everyone put mental and physical health. The rest is up to you.
Identify what tasks you need to accomplish to reach your goals. Do you need to do those tasks daily? Weekly? What principles do you need to follow?
For me, this looks like my daily tasks and routines. Need to change an old habit? Write down what you need to do in as much detail as possible. Detail is an incredible antidote for procrastination. If a physical health goal involves doing 100 pushups in a row, here is a possible set of daily tasks:
- Do 100 pushups every day at 6:30am, no matter how many rest breaks it takes
- After those pushups, stretch your chest for 1 minute each side against a door frame
- After stretching, do some preventative wrist exercises to reduce the strain from the pushups
You’re on your way to 100 pushups in a row.
Perhaps your goal cannot be accomplished by doing the same thing every day, and you need to take steps. A mental health goal example: Schedule two “similar peer” support group meetings.
Let’s say you’re looking to create a podcast highlighting female success in consulting. That will be a separate category for your goals. However, in the process of creating the podcast, you’re struggling to stay motivated in the face of rescheduled recordings, technology issues, low listener engagement, and a frustrating hosting platform. You decide to form a group of women who have started business podcasts to meet once per month to share successes, frustrations, and best practices.
Your plan to achieve your goal of two scheduled meetings would involve a variety of steps:
- Identify female business podcast hosts
- Design group meeting format
- Create pitch for generating involvement
- Contact potential group members
- Generate interest, qualify and secure members
- Schedule first meeting
Unlike the pushup goal, this one involves several steps. Plan them out throughout the month to ensure you’re staying on track and not pushing right up to the deadline to meet your deadline.
At the end of the month, revisit your goals. Did you accomplish them? Was it easy?
One characteristic of goals that I fail more often than not is that I rely on other people to buy from me, review my book, or uphold their end of a task.
What can I learn from these failures? A couple of things:
- People are always going to be unreliable. These are your goals, after all. They are not accountable to the same objective. Design your goals to rely as little as possible on other people.
- Learn how to align your goals with value delivered to others. If your goal is “sell $10,000 in consulting work this month” then your efforts should be targeted to delivering value to customers. However, if you find that in order to get customers to listen to your value, you have to publish some thought leadership blogs first, then your goal should be “write 10 blog posts.” Don’t get ahead of yourself and make sure that your self-awareness is high, so that you can predict the reaction of other people.
Reflect, revise for the next month, adopt a new plan, and take forward your lessons learned. This will enable a high degree of efficiency in your work as you keep striving forward.
These four tactics work incredibly well to accomplish big goals in a short amount of time. They promote discipline, create structure, and allow creativity and creation to thrive. The goals you set should be huge. I started my own consulting firm and published my first book at 25. I am confident in my success but I’m not there yet — that doesn’t mean I won’t learn and create value for others even if I “fail” to achieve my goals.
Go do exactly what you want to do. You have the time.