Goins, Writer

On Writing, Ideas, and Making a Difference

A Simple Way to Carve Out Time in Your Week for What Really Matters

For seven years, I worked for a nonprofit, managing teams in various departments and communicating with team members and colleagues. Inevitably, this meant a lot of communication with a lot of different people.

A Simple Way to Carve Out Time in Your Week for What Really MattersI felt like I was being productive, but in fact it was the opposite.

This is one of the biggest challenges facing any growing organization. As you get bigger, you create systems and hire people to help you scale for growth. But with each step towards bigger, you increase your distance from the work you set out to do. Or at least, that’s the temptation.

In my case, I was spending four to six hours a day in my email inbox, on the phone, and in meetings. And I wasn’t getting any of the real work that needed doing, done. It all felt so overwhelming.

Some days, I just went from one meeting to the next. Others, I’d send and receive hundreds of emails, ending the day with a false sense of accomplishment, like my worth was tied up in my ability to reply to everyone else’s needs.

I was busy doing many things but wasn’t accomplishing the most important things.

The difference between busy and productive

The difference between busyness and productivity is this:

Staying busy is what happens when you are caught constantly responding to the most urgent needs around you.

Being productive is the result of actively addressing the most important items on your own to-do list.

The latter takes discipline and a good deal of saying no, but it can mean a lot less stress and anxiety for you and a lot more of the essential stuff getting done.

Most everyone I talk to is busy. We all have more than enough to do on our plates. We can’t possibly respond to every need that comes our way. So being intentional about how we do respond to the daily demands on our time is essential to doing work we can be proud of.

But this is much easier said than done. The main areas people struggle with this are:

  • Having too many things to do.
  • Constantly responding to other people’s requests.
  • Talking about doing things instead of doing them.

A simple way for you to stop being busy doing so many things and start focusing on the most important things is for you to regain control of your schedule. The fruit of such a decision can be nothing short of life-changing.

When you start making your schedule work for you instead of the other way around, you begin to focus on what matters most. And you leave the rest in the “someday” category. It can feel pretty liberating.

Three daily disciplines to master

So let’s go back to my days at the nonprofit and how I regained control of my day-to-day. There were a few things I did, but in a nutshell, I stopped reacting to my day and instead starting attacking it with intention. Here’s what that looks like:

  1. Decide to do one important thing every day. Having a daily to-do list of a dozen items that each take at least an hour to accomplish is going to leave you feeling frustrated and overwhelmed. Instead, set one absolutely important task for the day that you have to do. Everything after that is gravy.
  2. Wait an hour before checking email. Use this first hour of the day to focus on your most important priority. And here’s the kicker: actually do it. Don’t procrastinate or wait; just get the deed done. You’ll be surprised how much momentum you feel throughout your day after doing this. (Pro tip: check email once in the morning and once in the afternoon.)
  3. Batch your meetings. Even on days when I only had a handful of meetings, I noticed that it was hard to get into a productive groove when every couple hours I had a meeting or phone call. The disruption made it difficult to focus. I was drifting from one thing to the next, being ruled by other people’s schedules, but wasn’t getting my own stuff done.

That’s it. Don’t react to your day; attack it. Make your schedule work for you, not the other way around. [Tweet]

Still struggling? Start here…

You don’t have to be amazing to get started. I struggle with these things on a daily basis. One of the most embarrassing parts about being a full-time writer is that I still have to fight for time to write. Every single day.

But if I don’t schedule it and prioritize it, it doesn’t get done. And I know I’m not the only one. So if all this feels overwhelming or like too much to handle, just pick one discipline to start: Try waiting to check email or schedule anything for that first hour of the day, and then do the same for the last hour of the day.

That alone would give you back an extra 10 hours a week (one hour at the beginning of the day and one at the end, times five). And this is just the beginning of a whole world of possibilities.

Note: This idea of shaving 10 hours off your work week was originated by Michael Hyatt.

What could you do with an extra ten hours a week? Share in the comments.

About Jeff Goins

I write books and help writers get their work out into the world. I am the best-selling author of four books, including The Art of Work. Each week, I send out a newsletter with free tips on writing and creativity.

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  • DS

    Great tips here Jeff. I started with a template from Michael Nichols -https://www.michaelnichols.org/ideal-week/ and another from Michael Hyatt – https://michaelhyatt.com/ideal-week.html – Creating Your Ideal Week. Both have been helpful in my journey to plan my time, instead of allowing others to plan it for me. Nice post!

    • Love those guys. Smart dudes right there.

  • Nice article! Another tip for me is to maintain strict organization, but ONLY allow myself ten minutes of planning/organizing per day. If I don’t set a limit, I will never get a word done!

  • Finding time to write is quite a challenge. As a father of 6, student, and worker of a full time job, I struggle to eek out 10 minutes here, 20 minutes there. Waking up at 4:30 a.m. has been one solution. I will put into practice your ideas to further success. Thank you for this post, Jeff! I always enjoy your writings! 🙂

    • You’re welcome, Timothy! I also believe in snatching up little pieces of time throughout the day. Some of my best writing gets down this way, instead of waiting for the perfect opportunity.

  • Great idea Jeff. Now, when do I clean the litter boxes?

  • Really enjoyed this post! Got to read it in my email while pretending to be productive. Time to go accomplish real work now!

  • Excellent tips Jeff! With an extra ten hours this week I would spend them with my family, and maybe doing some creative projects ( photographing the hidden gems in my town).

  • In a webinar I attended, Mike Vardy said that email is an alert, not a command. I try to check my email at only specific times every day.

    • Man, that’s so good. Mike is a genius. 🙂

  • Krithika Rangarajan

    Well, it’s clear you wrote this for me! 😉

    I can’t get anything important done in the morning without first taking care of the not-so-important tasks of the day 😛 Clearly, this attitude needs to change because in a bid to tackle the insignificant, I always forego the significant! LOL

    As I was doing the dishes this morning, I wondered about how much time I spend planning my To-Do list and how little time I spend ‘attacking’ my priority task!

    Over-thinking your tasks is a fabulous way to get nothing done 😉

    Thanks for this very timely reminder. I am on the verge of making some momentous decision that require the kind of discipline I have never possessed in my entire life!!

    But now’s the time to live. And I plan to enjoy it, not just endure it 🙂

    Thanks again, Jeff #HUGSS

    Kitto

    • Over thinking tasks… haha, I do this too! Incessantly. And sit there paralyzed, wondering why I can’t just move and do something, anything. I feel you sister! x Ritu

  • Janelle

    Again you not only help us but empower us. Thank you! Not only is there community in our successes but in the quirks we struggle with. Its comforting in some odd sense to know you, a famous published author, struggles and wrestles with what us unknowns face.

    • Well said, Janelle. If there is community in struggles, then I could build a whole city. 😉

  • Great advice Jeff. I actually follow a similar plan! Every morning while journaling I write down 5 things I want to get done for the day and then from that list I determine the one thing I want to get done for the day. I have a personal policy that I can’t check email until that one thing is done. Since I have such a strong urge and curiosity for my email, this challenges me to get that thing done!

    • Thanks, Jonathan! You’re such a pro at this stuff. I have a lot to learn.

  • Batching my meetings… that might be the biggest thing I take away from this post. I feel like I need the injection of energy and inspiration that I get from social meetups or productive work related meetings but you are right. I do often use them as a distraction, and worse, an excuse not to write.

  • Great advice, Jeff. I also like to “batch” one than one task when convenient. For instance, I was waiting for a prescription to get filled and used that time to read emails and respond!

  • Denise Speer

    Excellent article…thank you for some simple techniques to be more productive…and less frustrated! Thank you Jeff!

  • Kathleen Jaeger

    What a brilliant idea!

  • Batching Meetings! Thanks for the reminder of the importance of this. I will be starting a podcast in the new year and I will definitely need to batch my interviews to stay productive. I have also been working on waiting till later in the morning to check my email. This is a definitely a challenge since I do all my reading on my iPad. However, the more I understand how important this is the easier it is to stay disciplined

    • Someone who does a great job at this, Brian, is Cliff Ravenscraft. John Lee Dumas is really smart about the way he batches his interviews. Doing one per day, you’d have to be!

  • ares0926

    Start your day at 7 if possible and have a meeting then. Meet for breakfast or coffee. The lunch meeting can sometimes zap the entire momentum out of the day. Be at the office by 8 and then don’t check e-mail, even on your phone, until completing 1 task.

  • Maria

    I have been getting up by 5:30 every morning, and spending that hour and a half before the kids wakeup on clearing various tasks off my desk. I check email, engage in social media, plan my day, and take care of some things I won’t have time for during the day. It’s typically a productive time, but only in terms of busy work and not writing. Some days I do write, and I do feel more of a sense of accomplishment when I use that time to write. Unfortunately, with kids, school commitments, work (I’m the associate editor of a local ethnic publication), caring for elderly parents, and everything else, there ends up little time for my (personal) writing, and most of all for me. If I could shave 10 hours off my week, I would jump for joy! I have found that if I only check email a few times a day, the emails pile up and I spend hours sifting through then. Someone said the email alert is just that- an alert, not a command. When the alert comes, I do tend to shift focus and sometimes get side tracked. I will try some of these tips to see if they make a difference. If anything, the change in routine should shake things up a bit! Happy Holidays everyone!

    • Gosh. I got to get back into getting up early. Thanks for the reminder!

  • Hi Jeff,

    Keeping email checking to a minimum will change your life. Really. Awesome tips!

    I myself check email every 1-2 days. Being this detached has been maddening at times but the overall peace of mind I have developed by letting go email for extended periods has been miraculous.

    Sure, we interact with people to grow our blogging businesses but when we depend on them, we stifle our creative energies.

    I published 10 eBooks in a 4 month period in 2014. People asked me how I did it. Not checking email for days at a time, and writing like crazy, helped me achieve this feat.

    The clients, sales, readers and all that good stuff were still there after not checking email for 2 or 3 or even 4 days at a time. Honest.

    Sometimes we place great importance on outcomes instead of devoting our energies to what really matters. Your post will get folks back on the straight and narrow, when it comes to engaging in business growing activities all day long.

    I’m also publishing one, 7,000 word blog post each week. Doing so keeps me in front of the laptop, writing like a champ each day, and if I’m writing and creating helpful content for others I can’t help but to NOT check my email. Can’t do 2 things at once, even if I tried multi-tasking.

    Revisiting your reason why helps too.

    if you remember that you’re working to free yourself, and to free others, you’ll stop doing things that make you feel bound….like living in your email inbox all day long.

    Well done Jeff!

    I’ll tweet this now 😉

    Ryan

    • Wow, Ryan. That’s awesome! I never regret not checking email but I often regret spending too much time in my inbox.

  • Jeff Brown

    Hi Jeff,

    Question about this process for you. I am on the ground floor of a venture capitalist backed startup. We have enough money to sustain us for a while and growth is the dominant first priority. That being said, I have set a cap of 5 sales meetings each day (about 20 minutes each, slotted for 30 min in the schedule) but if someone tells me that the only time they have available is that day, even if I’m already at 5, the great temptation is to take it and adjust my schedule on the fly. What happens (like it did yesterday) is that I have 6 hours worth of meetings, all with 30 minute gaps in between.

    Since growth is such an early first step for this startup, do you recommend saying no to people for the sake of my schedule balance?

    Thanks Jeff! Love the blog.

    • Great question, Jeff. I do think there’s something to be said for hustling during a season of hustle.

      That said, why not suggest a time during your allotted work hours. If someone pushes back, suggest a meeting during your given times, and see if they can fit into your schedule. If not, well then it’s up to you to flex, depending on any other priorities you have. There’s nothing with trying to stick to your schedule. In some cases, it would probably garner greater respect.

      But at the end of the day, understand that you’re asking them for their time, so ultimately they’re in control. I hope that helps. I also think that you if you do this (let other people dictate parts of your schedule), you do this only for a season.

  • This is awesome, Jeff. Thank you for these incredible tips! Have a very Merry Christmas, my friend!

  • Colette N

    Thank you Jeff. I’ll try your tips. I spend approximately four hours per day on just reading and responding to emails. I’ve tried to scheduling specific times to do this but I usually get interrupted or called into a meeting or conference call. Tomorrow I will try your tip.
    Again, thanks.

    • Awesome, Colette! Can’t wait to hear how it goes!

  • This has been a recurring theme in the last several weeks. Busy does not equate productive. I’m getting it slowly but surely. I’m learning to stop multi-tasking right now. A hard habit to break, but one that needs breaking.

  • Peter Lazarus

    My number one challenge…. I pray i break free from this habit…. Thanks for this post Jeff

  • Organization is my goal for this year. Write every day for 5 days per week, at least 4 hours per day. Pray I reach my goal.

  • Dane O’Leary

    You say some really thoughtful, enlightening things here. I will definitely bookmark this for future reference. As a full-time freelance writer, sometimes it’s hard to find balance between writing the things I need to writing and being able to write things I want to write like my book or content for my website.

  • Hope M.

    Good stuff, Jeff!

  • lydia

    Totally needed to read this today! Thanks!

  • Consistency is indeed key. I’ve also learned that if I don’t plan, I ramble. It’s kinda like living life on a leisurely road trip. It’s fine if you’re in no hurry to reach a goal, but if you need to be somewhere at a certain time, intentionality must prevail. The tips you’ve given here are fab. Thank you for sharing.

  • Great read Jeff. I’ve found for me one of the biggest stress relievers in the morning is not having to think about my routine. For instance, I read and journal first thing every morning for a half hour (my own preference). I don’t have to think about this routine, it’s a habit now. A year or so ago I had to constantly think about the first thing I wanted to do that day or switch it up. I wasted so much brain time just figuring out how to get the day started. Thanks for sharing this!

  • Laura Bennet

    Great post. Great reminders. I also find if I set a timer for 25/10 minutes to work and break (in which I do house/other work) and limit my email time, I get more purposely done. First thing is spending time with God by worshiping, praying and reading my Bible. If I don’t put God first, then I lose my focus for the rest of the day. Thanks!

  • Tanima Raghuvanshi

    Your writing is very powerful, it has
    inspired me a lot. I am really keen to know your thought about the current oil
    and gas situation. Can you please write something about how O&G sector can
    make a difference in the growth of our nation.

  • Carol Collett

    I have to give this a try. I keep waiting to write until everything else is done, thinking I can then sit down for 30 minutes before I go t bed to write. By then I’m too tired to think. (Part of that is the soul-sucking nature of my day job-another story.) But certainly making a productivity schedule would seem to help.

  • Sooooo true!