I’m going to borrow from Tim Ferriss today. If you’re not familiar with Tim, he wrote a book called The 4-Hour Workweek back in 2007, which for years I didn't read--because it sounds kind of scammy. But it’s really just a productivity and the 80/20 rule book. So it’s actually fairly useful and a good book.
If you want to read that or if you want to check out Tim Ferriss, he’s got a blog and a podcast, he's a very thoughtful guy. But today this blog post and associated podcast episode came to mind because of the idea of things that I don’t do anymore.
So I certainly don’t follow these nine things very well all the time but I they are kind of inspiration to me and I think well worth reading. So I’m just gonna rip them off, when I say rip them off, I mean read them off, not as in steal them, with a few comments on each.
You can read the article and listen to podcast and hear Tim outline this probably better than I do but since you’re here, let’s go through them. So The Not-to-do Lists Are Often More Effective Than To-do Lists For Upgrading Performance -- that’s the headline from his post here. I think he’s republished this a few times because it’s sort of evergreen content, still valuable no matter when he wrote it.
1) Do not answer calls from unrecognized phone numbers. If you listened to my episode on tools that I love, one of my favorites is Google Voice. Google Voice allows me to do this almost with 100% accuracy. So if someone calls me I put it in my google voice context and next time they call, it shows their name. Just like your cellphone or any other phone system where you can do that.
I guess the lesson I would take from that is if you don’t have some system at your office or wherever you work most of the time that has caller ID and an ability to easily save and store context, I would highly highly recommend that. I know in traditional landlines that may not be something that we’re all used to doing all the time like we do on our cell but I would highly highly recommend it. Google Voice is very compatible with a landline. I use my landline at my office with Google Voice. So I feel very well qualified, if anyone has trouble I can help you troubleshoot that on how to use Google Voice. If there was any money to be made I would start a podcast or a course on how to use Google Voice effectively because I love it. It’s great and one of the big things it allows me to do is to not answer calls from unrecognized phone numbers or if there are particular organizations like the Five Star wealth manager people. They’re very persistent. I don’t need to talk to them when they call forty-seven times so they go straight to voicemail. So that’s an example of a “great hack” as they say that Tim Ferriss puts at the top of his list so I highly recommend that.
In the 1% or 5% of the time that somebody new calls me, they leave me a voicemail and I call them right back. In this day and age anyone that calls is a problem for, I probably don’t want to be talking to them or it just wasn’t meant to be at worst case.
2) Do not email first thing in the morning or last thing at night. He says the former scrambles your priorities, i.e. doing that first thing in the morning, and the latter gives you insomnia. So he says email can wait until 10 AM. I don’t really follow this very well myself but I understand the concept. It’ll be a great habit to try and develop to focus on our own priorities first thing in the morning. And then he says check email, at least wait till 10 AM which I think makes a lot of sense.
3) Do not agree to meetings or calls with no clear agenda or end time. I’ve been notorious with my business partners at times for saying meetings are not very smart, not in phone calls are I guess better because we don’t have to travel to be there. And I think what I haven’t articulated well is we need to have a purpose for our meeting and then let’s see if there’s another way to accomplish this meeting.
Luckily I’m in a position where the nature of our industry, you know most meetings are one on one with clients, and I’m not in a position where I’m in meetings that I did not call. And usually if I am, I’m able to opt out or leave if the agenda is not defined or things drag on or the rest of the meeting is not applicable to me. So one, I’d say try to stop your life where you don’t even get invited in those kind of meetings. Number two, I like his. Number three, which is do not agree to meetings or calls with no clear agenda or end time.
4) Do not let people ramble. I’m laughing as I’m reading that because I tend to ramble, hence this podcast. Ferriss says forget how is it going when someone calls you. Stick with “what’s up” or “I’m in the middle of getting something out but what’s going on?” A big part of GTD which is Getting Things Done are popular, you know, productivity system. A big part of GTD is GTP, Getting To the Point. I tend to do this when I’m not sure where we’re going and I try to be polite but I think it’s easy to say “how can I help?” or “what’s going on?” or skipping the “how was your weekend?” talk is always one way to shorten that path.
5) Do not check e-mail constantly -- “batch” and check at set times only. I think this has been fairly popularized. I know a couple people I’ve e-mailed last year, I get an auto-responder. There’s one firm in particular that seems to have trained its advisors to use that or must get a hold of this list to say “hey I’m working with clients”, “I’m on the phone”, “I’m doing this”, “I’m doing that”, “I’ll get back to your email when I have a chance.” I think this is the kind of thing that you can set expectations with clients or whatever constituencies that you deal with on a regular basis, make that part of your expectations in working with new clients or establishing with existing clients.
E-mails are great tool. I love it. Send me your questions, concerns, thoughts, but my response time is gonna be within 24 hours so if it’s more urgent than that make sure you call me. Something like that. And I love email despite its flaws because the ability to do a synchronous communication where someone can send a written request or thought and I can respond, compose my thoughts, but it doesn’t have to be right on the spot. And I think for most things we do that works well.
6) Do not over-communicate with low-profit, high-maintenance customers. Again this could be a whole episode to itself of how to find the people that value what you do and work with them, give them the best support possible, and therefore hopefully engender more clients like that. We’re all familiar with the 80/20 rule and burning your book and those sorts of ideas. The idea is not anything more than pure profitability measure so time spent on clients that don’t generate a lot of revenue or profit more importantly, you don’t want to encourage that kind of behavior or relationship. And in general if you subsidize something, in other words you spend time on it, pay attention to it, you tend to get more of it.
So that’s why sometimes when you’re dealing with small children you have to ignore them even though that’s nearly impossible. If they don’t get the attention, often the behavior goes away. If you have prospects or clients who are taking up a lot of your time and they don’t seem to appreciate the time and they’re not generating significant amount of revenue now or in the future then this is great advice. Do not over communicate with low profit high maintenance customers. Ferriss says there’s no sure path to success but the surest path to failure is trying to please everyone. So, well said.
7) Do not work more to fix overwhelm -- prioritize. Great great advice so we all have certain amount of time and you can always work more but working smarter seems to be a far more effective way to approach this challenge that a lot of us have these days. Tim says if you don’t prioritize everything seems urgent and important. If you define the single most important task for each day almost nothing seems urgent or important. I love that idea. I’m not good at doing it and when I do sometimes I still don’t get to that task. But I think it’s a great goal to prioritize and just define the most important thing you get done. And preferably do that first.
8) Do not carry a cellphone or blackberry (I think this was written a few years back) 24/7. Take at least one day off of digital leisures per week, i.e. don’t carry your phone on Saturday or Sunday for example. I’m not always good at this, I try to get better. When I get home my goal is to leave my phone outside in the garage so it’s not distracting me doing kind of that most critical time I’m with my wife and kids but it’s hard sometimes when not only is it a work device.
It’s an entertainment device. It’s kind of a mindless reading device or serious reading device, you know, reading books on my phone, etcetera but certainly that’s great advice to not carry it 24/7.
9) Then the last one is some deeper stuff: Do not expect work to fill a void that non-work relationships and activities should. Work is not all of life. Your co-workers shouldn’t be your only friends. Schedule life and defend it just as you would an important business meeting. Never tell yourself “I’ll just get it done this weekend.” Review Parkinson’s Law in The 4-Hour Workweek and force yourself to cram within tight hours so your per-hour productivity doesn’t fall through the floor. Focus, get the critical few done, and get out.
E-mailing all weekend is no way to spend the little time you have on this planet. So again great advice. It says a task will expand to the time it is allotted. I’m paraphrasing and that’s off the top off my head but I believe that’s the case so if we know we only have an hour to get something done, we get it done. Sort of the idea of if you wait till the last minute, it only takes a minute and Tim Ferriss’ idea is don’t do that in an emergency, do it on purpose. So only allow one hour a day for “x”. Only allow five hours a week for “y” and stick to it and then you’ll train yourself to make that time effective just by practice. And I think that’s true, we all have times in our life where we’ve been the busiest but somehow we’ve gotten most done, at least I have. And also times where we have a fairly leisurely schedule but we still don’t get sort of the few things done that we’re looking to get done.
If you have any questions or thoughts about this list or my take on it, let me know!