Your time on earth is finite. The seconds are ticking by and they won’t replenish. What you do with your limited days here matters. Conquering everything on your list won’t happen by accident, it requires intention. Bumbling along hoping to achieve your goals is an inferior strategy to making a plan and seeing it through. But most people are approaching their days in a suboptimal way.
I believe that with these tools, you can get a lot of stuff done and be world class at what you do, potentially in multiple areas of your life and work. Rather than being average at a load of things, which no one wants, direct your attention narrower to make a bigger impact. Here’s how.
Audit your schedule and subtract
Business owners are doing far too much and it needs to stop. They are saying yes to too many invitations, juggling too many roles and shipping too many products. Adding resources, rules, habits and responsibilities means falling for addition bias, which says that in response to a problem, our tendency is to add. But adding isn’t always the right option.
Traditional productivity training teaches you how to fit more in. To cram your days full, stack tasks, outsource and use neat little hacks in order to get more done. But that’s not solving the problem at the root cause: we’re adding without subtracting.
Subtracting means pulling up your schedule and conducting an audit. Key words: stop and less. What can you stop doing and what can you do less of? Stop doing things you don’t want to do or have outgrown. Stop doing things other people want you to do. Stop reading the news, watching Netflix, scrolling social media. Less time spent worrying, speculating, gossiping, shopping. How much space could you free up if you audited your schedule through this lens?
Once your schedule has been audited, notice the space that remains. The next problem is that other people will try to fill this space. They will try to fill your schedule with their priorities and you have to not let them do this. The phrase to get good at saying is, “I’m not doing that.” Not only is there huge opportunity cost to doing things you don’t want to do, but you can often be just as kind to someone by supporting in a way that doesn’t compromise your time. Send a link, record a voice note, direct them to an FAQs page or simply respond slower so they have chance to find the answer for themselves.
Define your profession, obsession, and decompression
The only three things that should be in your life are your profession, your obsession and decompression. Your profession is your work; how you make money or how you make impact. Your profession includes only that which you can do, as the CEO or artist. Your profession doesn’t include things other people could do, such as scheduling, setting up, admin and pointless meetings.
Your obsession is the main thing you do outside your profession, that you love doing and find flow doing. For some people this is a sport or serious hobby, or their kids, gaming, reading books. Finally, there’s decompression, which means intentional relaxing. Decompression is not simply the time not spent working or training. Decompression is not running errands or organising and tidying. It’s not the time that happens to be in between commitments. It’s intentional recharge time and intentionally switching off.
Your profession and obsession should not be the same thing, and decompression shouldn’t include time spent thinking about work or sport. Think of these three elements of your life as a Venn diagram and picture the areas of crossover. These areas are where multitasking happens and are to be avoided at all costs. Multi-tasking means thinking about your obsession when working on your profession, or carrying out small tasks for your profession (like sending emails or taking quick calls) when doing your obsession. It means elements of your profession or obsession creeping into your decompression practice. Multi-tasking is not the goal, because no one wins when it happens. Each element is simply deprived of full attention, which costs proficiency and gains.
Trust your default mode network
When your mind is not actively thinking about something, it’s being processed by your unconscious mind. This is your default mode network, which whirrs away in the background non-stop. Ever had a great idea in the shower, or been hit with the answer to a huge problem right before you go to sleep? It’s because your default mode network has come up with it. It’s sorting through masses of information, categorising everything you have taken in consciously and subconsciously, to find patterns and answers.
Defining and separating your profession, obsession and decompression means your default mode network is working when you’re doing other things. If something is always in your conscious mind, it never gets chance to be in your subconscious mind, so your thinking is limited.
Someone who never switches off to their work never gets the benefit of this powerful tool. Someone who multitasks between their three areas doesn’t either. Put your default mode network to work by guarding the space between the three elements of your life and see what it comes up with. Let it do its thing. Make it your superpower.
Design your perfect repeatable day
Imagine you had to live every day with the exact same structure. What would you do with every hour? Think of this in terms of your profession, obsession and decompression, because these are your immovable pillars.
The traditional workday follows a simple pattern, profession from 9am to 5pm with 30 minutes to an hour for lunch, a commute home plus a couple of hours of obsession, perhaps, followed by one or two hours of decompression before bed. Intersperse this with multitasking; messaging friends throughout the workday, checking emails while relaxing and thinking about work while training, and blurred lines are everywhere.
Rather than accept everyone else’s default pattern, choose your own. Make your own default day based on your immovable pillars and which you are optimising for right now. Put your first pillar in when it makes the most sense, which might be a yoga class in the middle of the day or meditation and journaling in the afternoon. It might be doing deep work between 6am and 9am followed by a long run and a massage. Block your time in chunks. Design your perfect repeatable day from scratch and make it one you would enjoy living on repeat.
Choose a cadence
It’s likely that you don’t want to carry out this default day every single day, because you want adventure days and days off. But getting stuff done and achieving success on a grand scale takes months and years, so what you need is a sustainable cadence.
The cadence for most of the world is 5:2. Five default days followed by two days off, in the traditional weekday/weekend pattern. But this is merely a social construct that might not match how you want to spend your time. Reimagine your cadence based on your own life, energy and preference. Perhaps you run your perfect repeatable day for four days at a time and then have four days off, perhaps you choose 6:4 or 7:7, or even 1:1; one day on one day off, repeat. There will be a perfect formula in there for you, so experiment and find it.
You might think that you don’t need structure. You might think that you need spontaneity and hours of unstructured time to spend as you please. But it’s likely not true. Creativity happens within boundaries. Discipline equals freedom. Carving out time for creativity and putting your default mode network to work is how to get your art done and not be a starving artist, of which there are plenty.
Become less available
What happens when you make yourself available to your team and suppliers? They ask you questions. They don’t develop resourcefulness because they don’t need to. They have no reason to figure anything out for themselves. Being too available is worse than being unavailable. Most business owners are guilty of being too available, especially at the start. Your team or your clients being able to click their fingers and summon you will mean your entire default day and cadence falls apart.
One solution is having “office hours” where the team and customers can contact you, but outside of these hours they know you won’t respond. Another solution is sufficient training, a rule of thumb for case-by-case decisions they may encounter, or a comprehensive FAQs resource. Whatever you can put in place to mean you can be uncontactable and in airplane mode for most of the day, that’s the thing to do.
But what about emergencies? In reality, there are very few emergencies. It’s only an emergency if it’s urgent and important and needs you specifically; nothing else counts. Competent and conscientious teams can deal with all sorts of problems while their manager is away, if only their manager would go away and give them chance to prove themselves. Being unavailable is a powerful tool and it matters for the success of your profession, obsession and decompression.
Get more stuff done by auditing your schedule and subtracting. Define the only three things that should be in your life, your profession, obsession and decompression, and put them back into your perfect repeatable day within a structure that becomes your default. Then decide on the cadence you want to run and fiercely guard your time and boundaries against other people’s priorities that hijack your day. If you can make this default a habit it removes the need for willpower, and you will be perfectly wired to get stuff done. It will be easier to get stuff done than to not get stuff done.