Freeing Working Hours

All the gurus tell us that time management is key.

But trying to get efficient at pointless stuff is a complete waste.

I began splitting myself between Maine and New York a few months ago. I have about a nine hour drive I do twice a month, sometimes four times a month.

While this is a scenario few people would envy, I’ve made it work… but the key was freeing up 18 hours a month to do it.

Sounds like a lot, I know. Let’s take a step back in time for a moment…

Efficiency At A ‘Real’ Job

When I used to work a ‘real’ job, my goal the first three months was to do everything as expected. 

Every job before this one I ever had was brand new position before I got there, which meant I had to listen to what my bosses and coworkers wanted and see if I could do it all. Could I help with this project AND produce that report in one day? Could I do the training on the new software and plan that upcoming event in the same week? It felt like a rush to try to do it all and, mostly, succeed.

But I also knew I could only work like this, I’d only want to work like this, for a limited time.

After a few months of executing all tasks possible, it was time to look at everything I did and say, “OK, what can go?”

One job had me make the weekly report that was about ten pages long. I noticed what sections the bosses cared about and cut it to two pages.
I was a bit panicked trying this. This report took less than an hour to make.

Guess what? No one noticed the much shorter report.

This made me brave. What else could I cut while still getting everything important done?

In the end, I would try to free up ten hours a week so I could pitch in and help with coworkers, or take time to learn new things, or otherwise contribute better to the company. My goal was efficiency over busy and to improve the job for the next person that came along.

I really do always want people to get their money’s worth when they work with me. And finding efficiencies made me look at my job with fresh eyes and kept it interesting.

Being self employed, I haven’t thought of freeing up time in awhile. I haven’t thought of myself as someone who creates meaningless tasks, or more accurately, keeps tasks that once served me but don’t anymore.

But that eighteen hours of monthly driving made me rethink it all. After ten years of doing everything expected of myself, it was time to ask ‘What can go?’

Step 1: List all commitments.

This felt like it should be easy but I forgot whole committees, whole projects, whole sets of chores I do all the time. Anything that took up any kind of regular brainspace/time, even fun stuff, went on the list. Taking my recycling once a month? Picking up farmshare vegetables? It all counts. Even fun commitments are still, well, commitments.

Step 2: Cut.

This felt hard, and personal. One of the items that gave me some bang for my buck was quitting a business group I helped start and was involved with for four years. The weekly meetings off my calendar meant four hours a month. I still get a little sad seeing the group emails (and things continuing on without me) but it wasn’t possible anymore.

Part of what helped with the cutting was telling myself these cuts are for now. If I try a life free of bringing my own recycling to the transfer station, I can decide I miss those deep conversations you can only have over a pile of cardboard at 8 am on a Saturday… and I can add it back in.

Step 3: Hire help.

Usually, the things you do yourself are the things that bring you joy or the stuff you are pretty particular about. Getting rid of the stuff you hate, or even just the stuff that takes up brain space can feel like taking a bigger load off than it actually is.

I *hate* scheduling my own meetings so now, Nate does it for me. He isn’t stressed out looking at my calendar like I am and he’s a smart enough dude to know he can’t schedule a back to back meeting if they are a 20 minute drive from each other. Win-win, I’m getting to see more people without the stress of coordinating it.

I will also say sometimes getting rid of stuff is way less expensive or time consuming than you think. I hauled my own trash for years and then found out it cost $7/week for a service to pick up up to six kitchen size trash bags (I don’t even use that much in a month) and I could skip three weeks each month if I wanted. Really?!? $7 was what it took to free up an hour of my life once a month and have my car not smell like garbage for half a day?

All I’m saying is look into it. “Hiring help” doesn’t have to be a rich future self thing.

Step 4: Plug the drips.

There is probably a bunch of stuff that didn’t make your commitments list but is stuff you do regularly. One thing I used to do regularly is add new people on Google+. I have these kind of small, recurring tasks in my project management system.

Now that you have some of your big recurring stuff either gone or getting taken care of by someone else, you may find it easier to notice the little stuff like this, dripping away at your time.

This morning I deleted the recurring task of ‘Finding 10 new Google+ friends a month’. If I stay at 500 Google friends for awhile, I’ll be ok.

Step 5: Reevaluate.

I haven’t gotten to this stage yet but my goal is to look at this once in awhile and see what things I want to add back and what new things to take away.

For this little New York/Maine commute, I decided to get rid of 9 hours a month in my personal life and 9 hours a month in my work life. 

When I tell people this, they usually think I’m insane. Then I ask them how much time they spend on Facebook or watching TV a day and to carry that through a month. And I tell them I have an Audible subscription. And then they kind of get it.

We all have cuttable stuff.
We all have things that take our time that are sort of non negotiable, like a morning commute (or a two days a month commute in my case). 
So it makes sense to combine the two and see how we can be more efficient in our own lives, and hopefully make room for the things we have to do and want to do.

Because why not try out another version of life while we can?

Nicole Ouellette
Nicole runs Breaking Even Communications, an internet marketing company in Bar Harbor Maine. When she's not online, she enjoys walking her short dog, cooking with bacon, and trying to be outdoorsy in Acadia National Park.

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