My “Doing-It-All” Hacks
Real-life tips and tricks for leading a productive, yet happy life
A few years back when I was at Google, I read a brief interview that was taped on to one of the bathroom door stalls. It was about one executive and how he got things done. The piece was supposed to be inspiring… at least I assume it was, but I found it to actually be pretty depressing. The takeaway seemed to be, if you want to be a leader, be prepared to sleep less, be constantly on your phone and have little quality time with your family.
As a startup founder, I intimately understand that there are only so many hours in the day and sacrifices must perpetually be made to achieve whatever it is you want to achieve. But I also think there is better advice out there for getting things done. And far better advice when it comes to leading a balanced and fulfilling life!
Recently, I’ve gotten the chance to think much more about this topic because my fashion recommendation startup, Affinity, is geared towards working women who are “doing it all.” This month, specifically, we’ve been developing dedicated content around that theme and throughout this process, I started looking at my own life — as a solo startup founder, homeowner, daughter, sister, wife, friend, and soon to be mother — and how I (at least attempt to) get things done, all while leading a life I actually like.
Although I’m very much a work in progress, I’ve picked up a few tricks that work pretty well in my life that I thought I’d share more widely. But since there are so many articles out there with general advice on getting things done, I’ll focus on my personal “hacks” — specific practices I have that enable me to lead a productive, yet happy life — that aren’t necessarily part of conventional wisdom or advice.
Alright, enough lead-in… here goes:
Get good at making decisions
Lots of people agonize over decisions. I just try to make good, efficient decisions and also realize when the decision might not even matter!
- Assess if the decision even matters: I think the first step in making good decisions is just understanding how much a decision actually matters. If a decision isn’t likely to make that big of a difference for my business, my life, etc., I generally just go with my gut and move on.
- Have clear goals (and metrics): After I decide if I should even be spending time thinking about a decision, I always go back to my goals. I find having clear goals and supporting metrics to begin with helps me make good, quick and consistent decisions. I can look at options and evaluate what I think best supports our goals, decide and move on.
- Give yourself rules or constraints: I use this strategy more often in my personal life. When there are so many options, it is easy to be overwhelmed by choice. To cut down on the time I spend trying to decide, I often make up general rules — this can be about what I eat, how I spend my weekend, what brands I buy, whatever. I try to remember that time = money, so spending an 3 hours trying to decide which vacuum is best, when they are comparably priced and both have 4 stars on Amazon, is probably not the best use of my Saturday morning.
- Take the decision off the table: Along those lines, I also often enlist the pre-set or non-decision. For instance, I more or less wear a uniform, a weekly exercise routine and even standing social events (e.g., a monthly dinner with friends). This allows me to focus on the things I need or want to focus on and not the decision making process.
Become a planner
This advice isn’t so unconventional, but it is very critical to my productivity, so I’ll just quickly mention a few things.
- Have a daily/weekly/monthly/quarterly/yearly plan and goals: It is easy to just have a reactive approach to getting things done, but I find that to be pretty dangerous. I usually start with my big long term goals and roughly break them down into quarters and then months and weeks. This allows me to create a daily todo list that relates right back to my goals and prevents me from taking on tasks that aren’t mission critical.
- Have a personal and professional todo list: Before I had this practice, I often ignored important personal todos. But since I added a personal section to my todos, I generally get a couple personal things crossed off my list every day.
- Do things in batches: Throughout the week and month a lot of ad hoc tasks come my way. It can be tempting to do things (especially small things) first-in-first-out, but I try to do as much as I can in batches (mail, accounting, outreach, similar tasks, etc.). Doing similar things together sometimes makes for extended periods of time doing a boring task or means you have a slower response time, but it definitely is a more efficient.
Listen to your body
Our body doesn’t always tell us what’s going on inside, so when I feel a certain way (tired, sick, not in the mood to do something, etc.), I tend to listen to it. In the long run, I think listening to what the body needs is critical to both health and productivity.
- Sleep without an alarm: I obviously can’t do this everyday, but whenever possible, I let my body decide when to wake up. I sometimes sleep a little longer than I wanted, but I have a clearer head and a happier state-of-mind.
- Do the right task for your moods: I try to keep my todo list varied and give myself some freedom to choose my task depending on where my head is at. I find the more I match the task with my current frame of mind, the better (and more efficient) work I do.
- Make time for spontaneity (or just doing nothing!): For me, dedicated times where I have nothing planned is very important. Not only does it make me feel happy and human, that space allows me to decide what is best for me at that given moment. Sometimes that means alone time, but other times it means spontaneous time with friends, exploring some creative outlet or relaxing on the couch watching TV with my husband.
Be socially picky
Over the years I’ve gotten good at saying no to things. It can be extremely hard, especially for social events I actually wouldn’t mind going to… but with a busy life, social decisions have to count.
- Don’t spend low-quality time: Social time with friends is special, so I rarely spend it doing something where I can’t actually have a good conversation. For instance, I avoid seeing movies with friends because it is time consuming without actually being quality time.
- Say no to things you don’t love: I used to go do anything with a friend just because I liked spending time with them. These days, I am pickier and make sure I only say yes to things I (actually, we both/all) want to do. I still spend a lot of great time with friends, but it is time better spent because I actually enjoy the activity and the company.
- Avoid things that are inconvenient: Living in the big, traffic-y Bay Area, travel time has to be a consideration. I will often say no to things that take too long to get to. That doesn’t mean I don’t leave my neighborhood. I just try to be strategic about not spending my entire day in transit.
Master the meeting
On the whole, I’m not a huge fan of the meeting culture. They should help for communication, but they are often just a waste of time. So after working for a big company for 3+ years, I came up with a few strategies/tricks make them as painless and productive as possible.
- Have a “meeting day” or a small “meeting window” every day: For me, frequent context switching is terrible for productivity. I need big bulks of time to get meaty stuff done. To help with this I do my best to schedule all my meetings on one day, and then reserve only a small bit of time on the other days to fit in meetings. This allows me to have solid chucks of productive work time every single day.
- Cancel meetings that can be replaced by email: This was huge for me, personally. A lot of routine meetings that end up on your schedule are really unnecessary. I would always look at my meeting schedule for the next day and see which I could cut with a quick email update. You’d be surprised how often this works!
- Require prep for meetings: Along those same lines, I would always require my team to prep or at least put notes in a Google Doc for a meeting before the actual meeting. After reading, we could decide if we actually needed to meet. And if we went on to have the meeting, we had a very clear and efficient agenda.
Kill two birds
Who doesn’t love being able to do two things at once? I don’t mean multitasking. I actually think most people, including myself, are pretty poor multitaskers. Instead, I’m talking about finding ways to do one thing, but accomplish two goals.
- Cook with friends: This is actually three birds for me. I like to cook, I need to eat and I love spending time with friends!
- Work with people you like: I tend to spend a lot of time working, so it is very important for me to work with people I enjoy being around. It makes the work itself feel less like work and when you need to take a break (a walk, lunch or just a small social diversion), you have a friend right there to do it with.
- Make activities active: Have a dinner to go to? Walk there. Have a 1:1 that doesn’t need to be in the office? Take a stroll. Catching up with a friend? Do it over a hike. We sit so much these days, I try to do what I can to make activities that don’t require a computer more active.
Always be ready for a party
As a busy person who values spontaneity, always being ready for a party is key. You never know what life will throw at you, so I prefer to be prepared.
- Dress up: Since I was a little girl, I’ve always loved dresses. The great thing about wearing them daily (besides the fact that they are a super-easy uniform) is that you will never be underdressed for the impromptu cocktails-after-work or dinner party. And in the cases where you are overdressed, people think you just put a little effort in. Which isn’t a bad thing!
- Have ingredients for a cheese plate: If I have a little extra time on a weekday evening, I like to invite friends over. Always having the ingredients for a cheese plate handy make it super easy to pull off without any fuss.
Don’t do it alone
Finally, one of the best ways to get more done is to actually have more help. There is some limit to efficiency, so if in effort to scale myself, I try to enlist others.
- Outsource low-skilled, time-consuming tasks: You can often outsource miscellaneous small and medium sized tasks pretty cheaply (e.g., researching restaurants with private rooms for an upcoming party you’re planning or searching for content to post on your business social media). There are tons of services and platforms out there for finding people with different skills and skill levels — from Amazon Turk to Craigslist to Upwork to 99Designs — so it is just about figuring out which of your tasks make sense outsource.
- Choose a supportive partner: I think this is an especially important callout for those aspiring female leaders out there. Don’t underestimate the importance of a partner who is supportive of your career and an equal contributor when it comes to family and home. “Doing it all” is a lot harder when you have to pull the majority of the domestic weight on your own.
Well, that’s all I have for now. If you like the post, please recommend below. And if any of you reading this have your own “doing it all” hacks to share, definitely write a response and help us learn from your experiences!