I read Tim Ferriss’s book, The 4-Hour Workweek, when it came out 10 years ago because I was intrigued with the notion of working only four hours a week (spoiler alert: I’ve never come close to that goal). Ferriss had some great ideas, which I implemented, to boost my own productivity and focus. And I’m listening to it again now in search of ideas to become even more efficient.
He shares some good reminders that I think are worth revisiting here, for anyone who finds the official work day ends long before their writing work is done:
- Don’t open emails first thing in the morning (it’s a big time suck and can distract you from your most important tasks for the day, he says). Instead, let everyone know – via autoresponder – that you will be opening and responding to emails at 12:00 pm and 4:00 pm each day. Then make time at noon and 4:00 to take a look at all the emails that have come in and deal with them.
- Create barriers to distraction. Software programs and apps, such as to, which Ferriss recommends, help to discourage you from surfing the internet, social media, or apps. You can set time limits in blocks, to allow you the focus to get your work done.
- Say “no” often. “I’m sorry I can’t help you with that” needs to become a common refrain in order to avoid filling your schedule with activities that take you off-task. If your goal is finishing up your client’s book project by the end of the month, saying “yes” to professional organization meetings and volunteer opportunities is not what you need right now. So just say “no.”
- Determine what two big tasks need to be completed today and make them your sole focus. There are a couple of lessons in there. First, that putting 10 to-do items on your list for today is futile and will only result in having you transfer 7-8 of them to tomorrow’s agenda at the end of the day. And second, that you need to keep those tasks or projects top-of-mind in order to prevent being distracted by other urgent, but less important, tasks.
- Avoid in-person meetings at all costs. I live by this rule, actually, because I found in my previous corporate life that meetings are often a complete waste of time. Few discussions need to happen in person, if you think about it, and with today’s video technology, you can be face-to-face from your home office even when you’re thousands of miles apart. Ferriss recommends aiming to discuss and resolve issues by email, phone, and in-person meeting – in that order.
- Fire clients who require too much of your time. He cites the Pareto principle here, or the 80/20 rule, which says that 20% of your clients will take up 80% of your time. So figure out which ones are the biggest time-wasters and look for ways to either reduce the amount of hand-holding you have to give them or up your fees to compensate you for all the time those clients require. However, keep in mind that 20% of your clients also account for 80% of your income, so try not to ditch all of your income-generators at once.
- Outsource as much as possible that doesn’t require your involvement. As the CEO of a product-based business, I suspect that strategy was easier for Ferriss to implement than it may be for a ghostwriter who is responsible for producing original prose for clients. However, there are still tasks that others could do for you, including: scheduling appointments, conducting online research, transcribing interviews, photo research for blogs and articles, editing, and proofreading. List all the things you do regularly that do not really require your expertise.
In addition to Ferriss’ suggestions, I’d add batching as a tactic to try. I try and group like activities together, such as online research, phone calls, and appointments out of the office, so as to reduce the stopping and starting that inevitably happens when you switch from one type of task to another.
But don’t try and cram your days full of writing, writing, writing. That doesn’t make for a quality product. We all need mental and physical breaks every 45 minutes or so; just don’t work for 45 minutes and take a break for 60. That won’t help you achieve improved productivity.
Because I don’t have time to sit down and read regularly, I’ve started buying and borrowing books on CD, which is how I’m reviewing Ferriss’s book. Perhaps that’s another tip that can help you continue to build your skills without cutting into your already busy day.