When I started my business besides my studies, working 12 to 16 hours per day was normality.
During my last year at university, I did a full-time internship, passed my final exams, hosted personal development workshops, wrote more than a hundred blog posts, and created a dozen online courses.
Back then, working a lot was necessary because I had no idea what I was doing. I didn’t have a strategy, but I had lots of energy and a strong desire.
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I had a vision, big goals, and the excitement to create a life I loved. Yet, unfortunately, I spent the majority of my time working on unimportant tasks and projects that were meant to fail.
After wasting hundreds or even thousands of hours, I realized I needed to make a few changes. Over the past two years, I tried almost any productivity technique I came across: To-do lists, the Eisenhower Matrix, time blocking, you name it.
And while all of these methods can help you to be more productive if applied correctly, I realized it’s the following three strategies that helped me save most time:
“It’s only by saying “No” that you can concentrate on the things that are really important.”
— Steve Jobs
Your inability to say No probably already cost you hundreds of hours.
While saying yes to an unimportant phone call might not sound like a big deal, it unquestionably is a big deal if you do it too often.
Saying “No” will not only help you to save time, but it’ll likely also help you save energy and probably even money.
One effective strategy I apply to decide whether to say yes or no to an invitation for an event is by pretending it would take place next week.
When we’re asked to attend events that will take place in the future, we often say yes because our calendars look empty and we believe it’ll be a stress-free time. That’s why we often accept invitations even though we are not thrilled about the happening.
Whenever I can’t decide if an event is worth visiting, a person is worth meeting, or an invitation (e.g., for a podcast interview) is worth my time, I pretend it’d take place next week.
If it’s exciting, I’d make time no matter how tight my schedule is. But if the happening doesn’t excite me, I wouldn’t say yes if it took place next week, so I decide to say No, even if it’d take place in a month.
Another strategy I use is preparing “No-Templates”: To make saying no more comfortable, I created email templates I can easily copy-paste when rejecting an offer, a collaboration, or an invite. Through this approach, it only takes me a few seconds to adapt the message and I’m much quicker in responding to irrelevant emails (if I respond at all).
Additionally, I have templates to copy-paste for standard questions I receive frequently.
Answering to a mail or message usually doesn’t take more than a few minutes, yet, if you add it up, you can save lots of time with these No-templates.
Bonus tip: If you don’t want to upset people or don’t want to sound too harsh when saying no, add a sentence explaining why you need to say no. If you sincerely communicate the reason, most people will understand and accept your decision. And those who don’t respect your choices don’t deserve your time and attention anyway.
“Start by doing what’s necessary; then do what’s possible and suddenly you are doing the impossible. “
— Francis Of Assisi
Increasing Your Energy
While your time is valuable, your energy is even more precious. Imagine being sick and not able to get out of bed or being hungover: In both cases, time is not of value because you lack mental and physical energy to be productive.
Time management strategies are nice, but they are useless if you lack energy and mental clarity.
Instead of rewriting your to-do list for the 10th time in a row, do these:
Schedule strategic breaks: Nobody can be highly productive for too many hours or days in a row. Don’t push your boundaries. Instead, take breaks to recover your mind and body before it’s too late. Otherwise, you might be forced to take a break once your body starts striking.
Practice mindfulness: Being more mindful will help you to make quicker and better decisions and to be calm, even when difficulties arise. A 10-minute meditation might not sound like a big deal, yet, if practiced regularly, it can indeed have a significant impact on your wellbeing and productivity.
Improve the quality of your sleep: If done correctly, sleep can be the ultimate performance booster.
Nourish your body with high-quality food: Your nutrition is the fuel for your body. By consuming too much junk food, you’ll not only feel sluggish but also lack mental energy. Instead, opt for a clean and nutritious diet.
According to Brian Tracy, checklists are the most high powered productivity tool ever discovered.
No matter if you’re an entrepreneur, writer, student, employee, or whatsoever: You might have daily tasks and routines you repeat over and over again. That’s why I write checklists for almost anything I do frequently.
Checklists are simple yet incredibly useful to save time and be more productive.
Additionally, by writing checklists, you’ll realize if there are any tasks you could easily outsource to someone else. Checklists are the first step to automating processes, and they help to find out whether a process is well-structured and efficient or not. You can use these types of lists in your work, but also in your private life. I even have a checklist for packing my gym bag because I forgot my bottle, towel, or padlock so often in the past.
Unfortunately, there’s no secret tool or technique to be a more productive individual. While most strategies work if applied correctly, productivity, at its core, is all about a few simple rules.
By saying no, increasing your energy level, and creating checklists, you’ll not only get more done, but you’ll be able to focus on relevant tasks.
If done correctly, saying no to time-wasters will help you to spend your time and energy on tasks and projects that truly matter.
By increasing your energy level, you’ll be able to get more done in less time.
And by setting up structures and creating checklists, you’ll make sure never to forget essential steps in your workflow and to save energy, which you can invest in more important tasks.
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