Kyle Young
Apr 19, 2017 · 5 min read

It’s insane how busy we are.

Work follows us home. Our cell phones never sleep. And for creative people with big goals, such as writing or entrepreneurship, our side hustles suck up whatever energy we have left.

Stressful doesn’t even begin to describe it.

And according to the Mayo Clinic, “Stress that’s left unchecked can contribute to many health problems, such as high blood pressure, heart disease, obesity and diabetes.”

Crazy busy is the new normal. But it shouldn’t be. It doesn’t have to be.

You have the power to take control of your schedule and make time for what matters. You can be there for your family, work towards your goals, and get the sleep you need to thrive.

In this post, I’m going to walk you through a simple exercise that will help you take back your time.

We’re going to cut the fluff from your schedule and look for time saving shortcuts to give you the margin you need to do what you love.

Phase 1: Take Inventory

Ready to dive in? Grab two sheets of paper.

On the first sheet, quickly list everything you’ve done in the last 48 hours.

I know this is a tall order, but obviously we can’t shorten your to-do list without knowing what’s on it.

So take two minutes to create your list.

Now that you’ve written what you’ve done, add any activities you meant to do, but didn’t have time for.

For example, maybe you meant to stop by the gym or go on a date with your spouse. Take 60 seconds to add those activities to the list.

Finally, take 60 seconds to list any other common activities you didn’t happen to do in the last 48 hours.

Awesome, now that we understand the scope of the problem, we can work towards a solution.

Phase 2: Draw a graph and plot out your activities

Take your second sheet of paper and draw a a horizontal line. Then split it with a vertical line.

Your paper should look something like this:

You’ll notice I’ve added some instructions in blue. You’re free to copy them or just reference my picture.

Here’s the way this little chart works.

The top right quadrant is for High Time/High Reward activities. They take a lot of time and give a lot of reward.

The bottom right quadrant is where you’ll put activities that are Low Time/High Reward. They take a little and give a lot.

The bottom left quadrant is for Low Time/Low Reward activities. They’re easy, but they don’t produce much value.

The top left quadrant is for High Time/Low Reward activities. They take a lot and give a little.

It’s time to add your activities to the chart.

Go through your to-do list and put each activity in one of the four quadrants.

You’ll have to decide what is high value versus low—same with time. And the key is to ask good questions.

Is this really bringing me high value?

Is this really taking a small amount of time?

Phase 3: Eliminate, automate, delegate, batch

Now that you’ve taken inventory and filled out your chart, let’s look at the four types of activities and what to do with each of them.

Low Time/High Reward — more please!

These are the no brainers. The low hanging fruit. No way should you eliminate these winning investments.

But…you might be able to automate or delegate them.

Could another person or a piece of technology do this job as well as you?

If so, it’s time to pass the torch and free up your time.

You should also consider batching.

For example, instead of scheduling social media posts media daily, you could spend an hour on Monday knocking out the whole week’s worth.

Batching drastically reduces your switching costs—the loss of energy and focus that comes from transitioning from one task to another.

Do This: Go through your Low Time/High Reward activities and look for opportunities to automate, delegate, and batch.

Pro tip: Use different colored highlighters or pens for batching, automating, and delegating to make your chart more visual.

High Time/High Reward—worth it!

Generally, you won’t want to eliminate these activities either because the payoff is worth the investment.

However, a weakness of keeping this exercise somewhat simple (only 4 categories) is there’s room for some wonky placements.

For example, if you have a valuable activity that takes you a whole month to complete, the work might outweigh the reward—and you might want to consider eliminating the task.

Batching usually doesn’t make sense for High Time activities because you’d fall behind on everything else.

So for the most part, automating and delegating are the keys to rocking this category and taking back your time.

Could another person or a piece of technology do this job as well as you?

Do This: Go through your High Time/High Reward activities and look for opportunities to automate and delegate.

High Time/Low Reward — abort, abort!

If you’ve located any High Time/Low Reward activities, it’s time to grab your favorite ax and start chopping. These to-dos are swamping your schedule and crippling your productivity. They have to go.

The caveat: If your boss is assigning you this type of work, you obviously can’t just stop doing your job. But you might consider showing her how your time could be better spent if the task were eliminated, automated, or delegated.

Here’s a template you can use:

“If I wasn’t spending so much time on THIS, I could be doing THAT.” (Make sure “THAT” is pretty compelling.)

Do This: Go through your High Time/Low Reward activities and look for opportunities to eliminate.

Low Time/Low Reward—not worth it!

Here lie some of the most persistent thorns in our schedule. Even though they aren’t big time drainers individually, together they add up and just aren’t worth it.

Again, the name of the game is eliminate. Grab that favorite ax and start chopping.

A question you might be asking is “What about fun? A round of golf doesn’t bring a high reward, but I don’t want to give it up either.”

The goal of this exercise is to make time for what matters. Fun is a big part of that. And fun is rewarding because it rejuvenates us. Simply put: Make time for fun.

Do This: Go through your Low Time/Low Reward activities and look for opportunities to eliminate.

Conclusion

The process you just learned requires commitment and follow through, but it’s necessary if you want to protect your time and invest it well.

I recommend repeating this exercise 2–4 times per year.

And when a new activity pops up, pause to ask yourself what category it belongs in and take the necessary actions right away.

Want to go deeper?

Do you have big goals you long to achieve? The biggest threat to your success is simply giving up.

Become a finisher with my short book QuitterProof: The 5 Beliefs of Highly Successful People.

Download your free copy right here.

The Mission

A network of business & tech podcasts designed to accelerate learning. Selected as “Best of 2018” by Apple. Mission.org

Kyle Young

Written by

Contributor for HBR, Fast Company, and CNBC. Helping creative people achieve big goals that matter.

The Mission

A network of business & tech podcasts designed to accelerate learning. Selected as “Best of 2018” by Apple. Mission.org

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