If there was one simple question that you could ask yourself everyday that would make you far more effective and generate far better results for your business and your life, would you want to know it?
If you could ask yourself one simple question all day long and it was able to help you make better decisions, generate better outcomes, reduce your stress, increase your sense of fulfillment and improve your business and personal life, would you want to know what that one question was? I know I would.
Which is why this past Sunday, while taking a bike ride through my neighborhood, as I was thinking about you (and the rest of the Wired To Grow community) I kept thinking about the number one issue that most business owners and entrepreneurs like you keep bringing up, “I never seem to have enough time.”
Unfortunately, there’s so much material on time management and productivity available that just trying to get a handle on all of the “best time management” strategies and tactics to practice can be overwhelming.
So, as I was pedaling through Dunes West, I asked myself, “What if I could cut through all the fat and reduce time management down to one question, what would that one question be?” And as soon as I asked myself that question, the answer was obvious.
The single most important question you need to ask yourself everyday, all day long, if you want to be more productive is …
“Is this the best use of my time right now?”
Each of those words matters. “Is this” meaning, is this activity which I’m currently engaged in (or about to engage in). “The best use,” not a good use or an okay use or even a pretty good use but the best use. “Of my time” meaning, of the limited about of time I have this day, this week, this month, this year, this life on planet earth. “Right now,” meaning in this moment (not tomorrow or next week or even later today, but right now).
Now, before you rush past the simplicity of this question, don’t let its simplicity get in the way of you grasping its power. The most powerful things in this world are simple. Or, as Leonardo DaVinci said so eloquently around five hundred years ago.
“Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication.”
The power of this question is that it not only stimulates thought and creates clarity and focus, it also produces an ever-changing answer. In other words, there is no single right answer to the question. The changing context of your life, your roles, your responsibilities and your day will continually produce different answers. In other words, sometimes rest/taking a break will be the best use of your time—so don’t read this post assuming that the best use of your time is always more work.
Of course, there is one inherent problem with asking this one simple question, “How do I know if what I’m doing (or thinking of doing) is the best use of my time in this moment?”
Good question. To better help you answer that question, here are five sub-questions that can help you determine if what you’re doing (or about to do) is the best thing you could or should be doing in that moment.
Note: If you’re proactively planning your day, you can simply change the question to, “What would be the best use of my time right now?” However, most of us don’t plan our time very we’ll (even those of us who make lists) which is why I worded the phrase the way I did, “Is this the best use of my time right now” vs. “What would be?”
Q. #1 – Will This Move Me Closer Toward My Goals or Not?
Two and a half millennia ago Socrates was asked a question related to this topic that is as powerful today as it was when he walked the earth.
“If you want to get to Mount Olympus, make sure every step you take is in that direction.”
The number one issue that hinders you and me from achieving our goals is distraction. We get easily distracted by all the opportunities in front of us. Email. Meetings. Phone calls. Bills. Projects. Problems. People. Sales calls. Marketing copy. Meeting prep. Etc. Everyday you and I are confronted by a thousand things that are screaming for our attention—and it’s easy to be distracted by their siren call.
However, if you want to get better results faster, if you want to feel more in control, if you want to feel more fulfilled at the end of the day, you have to be willing to avoid the siren call of activities that distract you from the goal you’re pursuing and instead choose only those activities that will help move your toward your goals.
If you simply asked this one question every day about everything, I guarantee it would be life-changing. If everyday, all day long, the only things you did in your major time blocks were those activities that would move you toward your goals it would change everything.
Note: this presupposes that you have clarity on your goals (per year, per quarter, per month) because if you don’t, that’s where you need to start. You have to clearly define your “Mount Olympus.” As the old saying goes, “If you don’t know where you’re going, any old road will do.”
So, what are your goals for this coming quarter (or month or year)? What are your revenue goals? Your profit goals? Your big projects goals? Etc. Once you clearly define them, everyday ask, “Will what I’m about to do move me closer to my goals?” If not, don’t engage in that activity. Select something else that will move your toward your goals.
Q. #2 – Is This a High Leverage Activity For Me?
If you didn’t read my post on A New Twist on the 80/20 Rule, I talked about taking the 80/20 principle (80% of your results come from 20% of your efforts) and 80/20ing the 80/20 (in other words, focusing on the 4% of those activities that drive your greatest results). In other words, if you want to be more effective and get the most leverage out of your time, then you want to focus on those handful of activities that produce the highest positive outcomes for you and your business.
For example, as a business owner/entrepreneur, here are some possible high leverage activities
- Cultivating a joint venture/strategic partnership
- Engaging in strategic thinking/planning for your business
- Hiring key players (including developing your virtual bench)
- Creating content/speaking/communicating
- Developing new systems
- Closing a big deal
- Generating a marketing plan or funnel, etc.
Every business is different. So, what’s on your list of what constitutes a high leverage activity and what’s on mine, will be different. However, what is the same is that both of them should be focused on high leveraged activities—not low leverage activities like
- Scanning documents
- Entering data in a CRM or dashboard or document
- Typing up agendas
- Coordinating meetings
- Paying bills, etc.
So, first things first, what are your high leverage activities? Do you have them listed someplace? And then secondly, as you go through your day, keep asking, “Is this a high leverage activity for me or not?
Q. #3 – Is This Something That Actually Needs to Be Done?
Now, this question shouldn’t even need to be asked but it does because we all break this one frequently. To help you think through what might not need to be done, here are a few tasks that might not need to be done (note: I’m not saying that any of these don’t need to be done, just that they might not be on any given day). For example
- Reviewing work someone else is responsible for
- Reading promotional emails
- Watching YouTube videos
- Investigating players for your fantasy football league (I know, I’m messing now)
- Attending a meeting where you’re not a critical player
- Taking a lunch meeting just because someone asks
- Responding to a text or email that isn’t related to any of your goals
- Solving someone else’s problem, etc.
You can also use this question in relationship to your “stop doing” list. For example, I grew up watching a lot of TV so I have a Pavlovian relationship to it. If it’s on, I want to watch it (which is a huge time waster). So, when I ask this question, “Is this something that actually needs to be done (and stopping watching TV during work hours is on my stop doing list), the answer is, “No, it doesn’t need to be done,” and the TV goes off (i.e. the good news is that Pavlovian responses can be overcome).
We all have behavior patterns that we’re drawn to (for example, instantly responding to a text message or reading the newspaper every morning) that frequently aren’t the best use of our time (not that you can’t respond to texts or read the newspaper—remember it’s all about context). Which is why this question is so important to ask frequently. We may want or like doing something, but does that activity actually need to be done? Maybe. But maybe not.
If you want to get more done faster, this is one of those questions you’ll want to keep asking over and over again.
Q. #4 – Is This Something That Needs to Be Done By Me?
The natural follow-up to question #3 is, “If this is something that needs to be done is, does it need to be done by me?” This is your leverage question (and the one that can change your life dramatically). If you’re feeling overwhelmed, the key to getting past that feeling is to do less by delegating more. For example, do you still need to be engaged with
- Screening resumes
- Writing the copy for your marketing pieces
- Typing up and distributing the agendas for your meetings (and the follow ups from those meetings)?
- Running the sales team and/or sales team meetings
- Making sales calls
- Delivering your product to your customers
- Taking care of refunds
- Coordinating with vendors
- Tracking down late payments
- Qualifying leads, etc.
Virtually every business owner/entrepreneur I’ve met has a number of items on their to do list that they shouldn’t be doing (but someone should). So, asking this question will force you to confront your tendency to hold on to tasks that someone else should be doing.
Another great question to ask yourself is, “Is this something that I and only I should be doing?” If not, delegate it.
Note: If you struggle with delegation (which is very different from dumping), make sure you check out this resource on Delegation Mastery. You’ll be glad you did. Two hours can change everything.
Q. #5 – Will This Make a Difference for Someone Else?
As a business owner, you create leverage though other people (as well as technology, capital, etc.). Frequently, there are options of tasks that you or I can engage in that will create more leverage for someone else, which will, by definition, create more leverage for us.
For example, taking the time to create a coaching plan for one of your direct reports and then working with them throughout the course of the year to help them become a better version of themselves would be a high leverage activity for you and make a difference in their life.
Or, if you know there’s a roadblock for someone on your team, releasing that roadblock would help them and create more leverage for you.
Or, if someone on your team is waiting on something from you and you can get that to them so they can move forward on their project, that, too, could be a best use of your time.
Or, from a contribution to humanity standpoint, if there’s an option in front of you to take a moment to help someone in need or to show compassion and care, that, too, could be a best use of your time.
So, if you want to get more done faster, make better decisions, generate better outcomes, reduce your stress, increase your sense of fulfillment and improve your business and personal life, make sure that everyday, all day long, you keep asking yourself this one simple question,
“Is this the best use of my time right now?”
And if you’re ever not sure if the thing you’re doing (or thinking of doing) is, use these five questions to help you clarify your answer.
- Will this move me closer toward my goals or not?
- Is this a high leverage activity for me?
- Is this something that actually needs to be done?
- Is this something that needs to be done by me?
- Will this make a difference for someone else?
If you consistently ask yourself questions like these, I think you’ll be amazed at the difference they’ll make in your life. So don’t overcomplicate improving your time and productivity. Just ask one question … all day long … everyday.
To your accelerated success!
P.S. If you’re like me and a fan of Evernote, Just type these questions into Evernote like the image below from my iPhone and tag it as “Daily”. Then create a shortcut search for “Daily” so it’s easy to find.