3 Practical Steps: Get More Done in Less Time and Create Time to Enjoy Your Life

“What’s it going to be?” I mused blithely to myself as I rummaged through the gift bag. “A 21st century shaving kit? A manly hunting knife? Perhaps some Under Armour Boxers*?”

I was seated at the rehearsal dinner for the wedding of my eldest brother, Brian. The dinner and celebratory toasts had recently subsided, and Brian had just made his rounds passing out the gifts to his groomsmen, me being included in the bunch. As I extricated  The 4-Hour Workweek by Tim Ferriss from my gift bag, I had no clue of the impact it was about to make on my daily living.

Upon holding the book in my hands, perusing through the table of contents and the back cover, I was honestly a bit dubious of the book’s promises and claims. I had heard of Tim Ferriss and his book (as probably most of you reading have, too), as Ferriss had quickly launched into semi-celebrity status in the sphere of lifestyle design and blogging upon the release of The 4-Hour Workweek. However, I’m not typically a fan of “Self-Help” materials, which is what I thought this particular book embodied. I find that 95% of the people who read self-help books may, yes, genuinely enjoy what they’re taking in during the read, but they then typically walk away and do nothing about it; they fail to implement any of the nifty solutions to their problems. And as we know: Education without action is just entertainment. Nothing more than that, really.

But at the same time, I knew that Brian had read (and applied) the concepts in The 4-Hour Workweek himself in order to successfully create his own business, shortly after he made the decision to leave a steady and “safe” position he held at a company ranked top 100 on the Fortune 500. Not to mention, he was now living and working according to when he operated most productively (as opposed to the non-negotiable 9-5 workday most corporations enforce), and enjoying the convenience of working from home.

So I decided to give the book a shot. I was looking for a new book to read, anyway…

350 pages and a few action steps later, I realized that the 4HWW was far from your ordinary feel-good, lets-sit-holding-hands-in-a-circle-singing-kumbaya self-help book. No, this was a book chalked full of practical, real-world strategies that anyone – be they an employee of a large corporation, an entrepreneur, a business owner, or manager – could immediately follow and see instant results.

Taking myself for example, I’ve already found myself experiencing an extra two hours of free time per day, more enjoyable weekends, and increasingly productive work periods in which I produce more output in less time. And I’m just getting started. 

And so I wanted to share some of the information here, to help those of you reading who may be in need of a bit of lifestyle redesign.

-Are you perpetually buried by the incessant and stubborn flow of emails?
-Do you check your Facebook 15 times per day  (I’m being generous here by lowballing this number…), and wonder why you can seemingly never complete anything?
-Does your To-Do List add items to itself faster than you can check them off?
-Do you feel like you never get to do the things you actually ENJOY doing?

Now, before I continue, let me be clear that I have absolutely no intention of working only four hours per week; I simply love my job too much and personally prefer to be actively and intimately involved in what I do on a daily basis: Teaching athletes and regular people how to move and feel better. (If you hate your job, maybe it’s best to reevaluate what you’re doing as a career before we even think about moving further with this topic.)

Nor do I pretend that the majority of you could achieve a realistic 4-hour workweek, even if you followed all of the steps in the 4HWW to a tee.

But what I do think that all of you reading can (hopefully) agree with is this: We should work so that we can live, NOT live so that we can work.

And my wish is that these steps can at least help you get started walking down the right path.

1a. Check and Respond to Email Only Twice Per Day

Email (and I’ll throw Facebook and Twitter into the mix, too) is perhaps the greatest time waster in modern society. With large thanks to the invention and widespread use of the smartphone, email has become a flighty temptress that people can’t resist checking into at every possible moment: first thing in the morning, every 5 minutes during the work day, standing in line for coffee, walking down the city street, in between sets of squats at the gym, right before bed and even during dinner with family. Heck, when I was working as a personal trainer, I had a client who insisted that he carry his phone with him during every session, checking the incoming email as soon as his phone buzzed.

With instant access to each other and instant access to information, we have created this false sense of urgency that the world is going to end unless we check our email and/or social media accounts every few seconds.

Why does this really matter, and how does it pertain to the title of this article? Accomplishing critical tasks in less time (and thus freeing up extra time in your day) requires complete focus on the project at hand, with as few interruptions as possible. Quoting Ferriss:

There is a psychological switching of gears that can require up to 45 minutes to resume a major task that has been interrupted. More than a quarter of each 9-5 period (28%, or 134.4 minutes) is consumed by such interruptions, and 40% of people interrupted go on to a new task without finishing the one that was interrupted. This is how we end up with 20 windows open on our computers and nothing completed at 5pm.

In fact, a psychiatrist at King’s College in London performed an IQ study in which he determined that people stoned (under the influence of marijuana) actually performed HIGHER on IQ tests than those who were “under the influence” of distracting email! You can read the story HERE.

I love what Ferriss points out later in the book:

Multi-tasking is dead. It never worked and it never will. Intelligent people love to sing its praises because it gives them permission to avoid the much more challenging alternative: focusing on one thing.

Here are a few steps I’ve employed to reduce my frequency of email interruption down to just two times per day. Guys, I really can’t emphasize enough how this has RADICALLY altered how much more I accomplish in a day, and even (which may sound counterintuitive) how much more punctual it has made me with responding to emails.

A. Turn off the audible alert that lets you know when a new email has come in.
B. Turn off the automatic Send/Receive feature that delivers new email as soon as it’s sent to you. 

I don’t know anyone who can honestly say they can resist the urge to pull up the email screen as soon as they hear that oh-so-familiar “Ding!” that rings every time new email comes in. It creates an unnecessary distraction, and it’s the virtual equivalent of crack.

Or, for those of you Mac users (I have one), you know how hard it is to resist perpetually checking the notification on your dock informing you of how many unread emails you have.

 

C. Only check email TWICE per day. This, for me personally, has been the greatest difference maker. 

Ferriss recommends 12noon and 4PM, as he says that these are the times that provide the greatest likelihood of ensuring you’ve received a response from a previous email sent. I personally use 11AM and 2:30PM because of my schedule, but it’s really up to you.

In fact, while I follow this policy for my business email, I now only check my personal email once per day, at 11AM.

Paranoid that you’re going to receive something so critically important that it can’t wait until your allotted email checking? Use an autoresponder to let people know of your new policy, such as the example Ferriss provides:

Greetings All,

Due to high workload and pending deadlines, I am currently responding to email twice daily at 12pm ET [be sure to indicate your time zone] and 4pm ET .

If you require help with something that can’t wait until either 12pm or 4pm, please call me on my cell phone at 555-555-5555.

Thank you for understanding this move to greater effectiveness.

All the best,
Tim Ferriss

The beauty of that is you are providing your phone number for those that genuinely need to immediately reach you for an issue that’s actually important or time-sensitive. You can see another example of a more “boss friendly” autoresponder HERE.

You know what a surprising side effect of this new policy has been for me, personally? I’m now actually MORE productive and punctual with responding to people via email!

Since I know that (if I’m doing my 2:30pm email check) I won’t be on my email for the rest of the day, I can’t use the “Oh I’ll respond to them in 30 minutes” excuse, which as you know, can quickly lead to a stacking of ‘Marked as Unread’ items in your inbox, stressing you out to no end.

1b. Don’t Check E-Mail, Texts, or Facebook First Thing In The Morning

This habit alone has changed my life. Checking email used to be one of the very first things I did every single day, even on the weekends. I’d wander out into my living room, pet my cat good morning (you can see her picture below), and then flip open my computer and check my email. I don’t know what it is, but I think that most of us are now programmed to check email whenever possible, and not even out of necessity, but out of mere habit.

And I don’t have a smartphone, but I can only imagine those that do probably check their email and/or social media while lying in bed. C’mon’, admit it, I know you do!

After refusing to do it for a couple weeks now, I’ve experienced firsthand why checking email first thing, while a seemingly innocuous habit, is actually quite detrimental:

1. It will automatically cause you to get caught up and distracted by whatever you have seen arrive in your inbox. Say goodbye to a distraction-free morning, and hello to immediate saturation of seemingly uber-important, really-can’t-wait-another-minute matters.

2. You will now have your thoughts occupied by the emails that arrived, dramatically hindering the real, important tasks you had to accomplish or work on that morning.

3. It can subconsciously sets the tone for the day of checking email nonstop. As we’ve seen  above, we want to avoid this at all costs.

4. It can take up a deceptive amount of time (especially if you throw Facebook and Twitter into the mix), erasing hours from your day before you even knew what hit you. This can be especially dangerous during the weekends, pulling you away all morning from things that, oh I don’t know, involve you doing something fun with the people you care about the most?

Some of you may be sitting there thinking “This would be impossible and impractical for me to do.” And you know what, I thought the same thing. But I dare you to try it. You can thank me later, don’t worry.

I realize I’ve only covered Step 1 out of the 3 practical steps I promised you in the title of this post, but I’ll be back on Friday with Part 2. (**Update: You can view Part 2 HERE**)

 
*The inventor of those can have my firstborn son.