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Stretched for Time? Here Are 4 Ways to Do More in Fewer Hours

You’re busy, but you don’t have to be crazy

Do you ever feel like you can't get everything accomplished? I sure do. I'm writing this newsletter at 7:52 a.m. on a Thursday in Maine, and I’m trying to squeeze 72 work tasks into an abbreviated day, because we’re taking the kids to a trolly museum in the afternoon, and I’m going a little crazy, and...

I know you feel the same — struggling with the tension between how much there is to do and the hours you have.

Isn’t there a better way to manage my time?

The answer is yes, there are many ways.

In this newsletter, I’ll share four.

1. Take on the Mountain

Stretched for Time? Here Are 4 Ways to Do More in Fewer Hours

Photo credit via REX / Shutterstock

Want to know how to get a lot done? Ask an extremely busy person.

Here’s how successful TV producer Shonda Rhimes manages her workload, via Fast Company:

"My first year doing Grey’s Anatomy, I would be at work at 10, 11 at night, and one of the executive producers, James Pariott, would go home at 6:30 or 7, and I would look at him with such rage. And he’d say, 'Shonda, this work will always be there tomorrow.' Now I understand. You’re never going to cut down the mountain [of work] to make it flat. It’s always going to be a mountain. I try to focus on climbing this piece of the mountain, and then think about climbing the rest of it later."

I love, love, love this.

I found it in my friend Paul Kix's newsletter. He just launched a big new project, and wrote that it "has consumed my working hours. I haven't had time this week to research my forthcoming book. I haven't had time to advance other long-term projects. In the past this would have freaked me out, and I would have doubled-down and ignored my family and worked until 2 am every day to keep pace with all I want to accomplish."

But he kept Shonda's words in mind.

"I see what Shonda means," Paul wrote. "I'm busier than ever and the mountain before me is actually a good thing. It means I'll always have work. But to attempt to climb it every night is to exhaust myself the next morning. Do that long enough and I'll no longer be able to even face the mountain."

The mountain will always be there. Step away.

2. Time is Like a Balloon

Stretched for Time? Here Are 4 Ways to Do More in Fewer Hours

Photo credit via Partho Chakraborty / Unsplash

“I’d do that, if only I had the time.”

How often have we said that? Probably too many. And it’s true — we don’t just have a spare hour lying around, that we can fill with some new project. But we never will! Our time is always full. Therefore, we must find a way to add more to something that is already maxed out.

That’s why I like to think of time as a balloon.

Consider it: If you want to blow up a balloon, you do not expand it first and then fit air in. That’s not how a balloon works! Instead, you push air into the balloon and then it expands.

Time is similar: It only expands under pressure.

When you add something new, you force a change to everything around it. Take on a new project, and you will reconsider all your existing projects. What can be done more efficiently? Hard choices will follow — you might drop some projects, and hand off others. In the end, you will have found a way to do more with less time, because you will have been forced to deeply consider what is worth your time.

I write more about this in Entrepreneur.

3. Time Yourself Like A Dixie Cup

Stretched for Time? Here Are 4 Ways to Do More in Fewer Hours

Photo credit via Getty Images / EyeEm

Know where the Dixie Cup comes from? There's a lesson in it for everyone today.

In 1907, a Boston lawyer named Lawrence Luellen had a crazy idea: He'd make a paper cup. Back then, cups were made of glass or metal. Disposable products like paper towels weren't available. A paper cup was a totally new thing! Luellen must have thought his idea was brilliant...

But other people? Meh. They didn't care.

Time marched on. Sales lagged. Then the Spanish flu of 1918 changed the way everyone thought. Suddenly, as people sought ways to avoid germs, the idea of a disposable cup was pretty great. So Luellen's invention took off.

I found this story in Alex Lazarow's newsletter, and I like his takeaway: "Your timing probably won't be perfect. But you need to survive, to be around for when it is."

The right idea can come along at the wrong time. The question is: How can we make it count, when it's finally our time?

4. Make Your Meetings 24 (or 37) Minutes

Stretched for Time? Here Are 4 Ways to Do More in Fewer Hours

Photo credit via Getty Images / skynesher

Meetings: Everyone hates 'em. (I sure do.) But they seem unavoidable.

Recently, I was listening to a podcast featuring Steven Regelberg, author of the book The Surprising Science of Meetings. He had a lot of good advice for making meetings more efficient and valuable—it's worth a listen. But here's my favorite:

Set meetings to last unexpected amounts of time. Say, make it 47 minutes, or 33 minutes, or whatever. Pick something!

Why? He cites one of my favorite laws—Parkinson's Law, which posits that work expands to fit the time allowed. We default to setting 30 or 60-minute meetings, because we think in traditional blocks of time. But that doesn’t mean our work will actually take that long! So what do we do in these solid blocks of time? We sit and run out the clock, knowing that we're stuck for the full 30 or 60.

Non-traditional amounts of time force us to really use our time wisely, and think about exactly how much we can accomplish within a limited window. It makes us more efficient. And it saves us time—because for real, we do not need 60 minutes for that meeting. A solid 38.27 will do just fine, I think.

More from Regelberg at HBR here.

School Is In!

Stretched for Time? Here Are 4 Ways to Do More in Fewer Hours

I had a blast talking with Lewis Howes on his School of Greatness podcast, where we discussed many lessons from my book Build For Tomorrow about how to be a high achiever and navigate adversity. The episode just dropped this week. Take a listen!

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Cover credit: Getty Images / sorbetto