Studies show that successful people get up early. In fact, more than one study has shown a direct relationship between how early executives rise and how far they go up the corporate ladder.
Getting up early and using that extra, undisturbed time well may be the single most important thing you can do to get a leg up on everyone else. An hour’s worth of productivity in the early morning is usually worth two hours of afternoon or evening work.
It’s often been suggested that you give yourself a jumpstart on your day by setting your alarm clock an hour earlier. But there is more that you can do. You can squeeze out at least 90 extra minutes each day by adopting the following five practices.
Take Control of Your E-Mail
On a typical day, I may receive about 100 work-related e-mails, some of which have large documents attached. This could take me about four hours to handle. Nowadays, I seldom spend more than 90 minutes on it.
Here’s how to do it:
- Read and answer e-mail only twice a day.
- Never read e-mail until you’ve accomplished at least one important thing on your task list.
- Don’t write e-mails that convey criticisms, complaints, or condemnations. Instead, handle all difficult discussions personally or, at worst, on the phone.
- Keep your e-mails as short as possible. (Never more than a single screen page.)
Take Control of Your Phone Conversations
Like e-mail, phone conversations can be wasteful and emotionally draining. Although a necessary part of doing business, phone work should be managed with the same care as e-mail. Here are some of the ways to keep phone work down to less than 30 minutes a day:
- Except for emergencies, do all your phone work once a day. Manage that by informing callers (either through voice mail or an assistant) that you return phone calls at a certain (specified) hour. And, stick with it. By bunching calls together, you can be much better at keeping each one short.
- Whenever possible, head off a lengthy phone conversation by sending out a preliminary e-mail that outlines what needs to be said. Sometimes, this eliminates the need to speak in person.
- When beginning each conversation, announce the subject. (“I was hoping to talk to you about three things, John. The January property tax bill, the new marketing assistant, and . . .”) I also indicate the maximum length of time I want to spend on the phone. (“I have another call scheduled for 10:30, John. But I think we can say everything we need to say by then.”)
Delegate Better (and More Often)
It doesn’t take a productivity expert to know that a great way to add extra time to your day is to become a better delegator. Some people have problems letting other people do the work. This has never been much of an issue with me. Still, I’ve learned to become even better at delegating.
- While planning each day’s activities, ask yourself, “Who could do this as well as me?” By identifying beforehand who else might do a given task, you will find it much easier to give the work away when the time comes.
- Have this be your goal: get someone else to do every time-consuming task you are responsible for.
- Even when you can’t find anyone as good as you to do a task, ask yourself, “Who could do this job adequately?” And I give it to that person (of course, you’ll need to supervise and/or follow up depending on the nature of what’s delegated).
- Encourage your team to delegate, too. That gives them more time to take on progressively more challenging tasks from you.
- For several years, I taught a class to business professionals about the importance of delegation. If you’re interested in learning more about how to be be a better delegator, feel free to contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Reduce Time Spent on Personal Maintenance
When I explain these five time-saving techniques, this one is the least popular. But, you can probably save 30 to 45 minutes each day by spending less time on the following:
- The Morning Ritual. You don’t need to spend 15 minutes each morning under a hot shower. It wastes water and energy. 5 minutes is plenty. Dressing should take no more than five minutes if you’ve (1) simplified your wardrobe, and (2) planned what you will be wearing the night before.
- Personal Phone Calls and E-Mails. Do your socializing (and your social media) after work hours. If you must handle a personal matter, keep it to the minimum, a couple minutes. Except for emergencies, there is no reason to spend time on personal correspondence (or social media) during working hours.
- Interruptions. When people walk into your office or space to have a chat, smile and ask them when they’d like to schedule a time “to talk about it” and how much time they think it will require. Do this a few times and the interruptions will slow to a trickle.
Learn to Say “No”
For many, this is the most difficult task. When you spend a lifetime taking on virtually any challenge offered, it can take a long time to learn to say “no.” But in the process of learning to say no, you may learn this valuable lesson: Many of the things you have have said “yes” to in the past may not have been all that productive after all.
You can’t expect to find and keep extra time in your life if you continue to fill up the time you have doing work that accomplishes other people’s goals. So the next time someone asks you to do something, say, “That sounds like an interesting/great challenge/idea. Can I think about it briefly and get back to you with an answer by (deadline)?” Then ask yourself:
- “Is this something that advances my goals?”
- If it isn’t: “What specific benefit could I get from accomplishing it?”
- If none: “Who could I delegate this task to?”
- If no one: “What is the best way to say ‘no’?”
Use Extra Time To Do What Matters Most
Somewhere inside you is a core desire, your deepest, truest idea about what you’d like to do . . . the person you’d like to become.
If you can create space in your life for that desire to grow, it will give you the energy, imagination, and boldness you need to make your life full and rich and satisfying.
By getting up early each morning and making those early hours, as well as the rest of your day, more productive, you can help make your life into what it should be. What it should be, of course, is different for every person. Only by digging down deep and finding out what really motivates you, by identifying your core desires, can you find that which will fuel your future.