Three years ago, I was leading strategy in the C-Suite at a venture-backed startup company and was planning to quit my job. I worked long hours, ate entirely too much fast food, and had extremely little time for friends, dating, and life in general. I saw no light at the end of the tunnel and was stuck in my feeling of overwhelm when I met Brad Telepo.
Brad has owned and operated a number of businesses in his time, ranging from online and retail drum distribution to consulting, and has managed to organize his life in a way that allows him to travel the world 100 days per year. He has mastered the art of work-life balance, and now helps busy executives to do the same.
Telepo’s consulting practice, The Unburier, has a mission to help people dig out of their heads. Most people manage the majority of their tasks and aspirations in their heads, rather than committing them to paper, computer or phone. This is a huge waste of time and the primary source of overwhelm.
“You should be able to transfer items from your mind, whether they are ‘to dos’ or creative ideas, to a trusted holding place within 3 seconds for later review and action. An awesome idea not captured has no value.” In this vein, Telepo has offered four simple tips to help automate your life and make room for the important things.
1. Get clear on how you want to spend your time.
I was just in conversation with a friend today who is balancing a full-time job, three children and running a startup company on evenings and weekends. She shared with me, in tears, that she just can’t do it all. If she turns her focus toward work, her time with her children suffers. And if she chooses to prioritize family, she has no social life.
As we discussed how stressful our lives were, Brad’s first lesson from years ago resurfaced. In order to clean up your schedule, you first must determine what an ideal schedule would look like. Do you want to be home by 2:30 every day to see your children off the school bus? Do you want eight weeks of vacation each year to trek a new trail? Do you want one evening per week free for date night? Or simply 30 minutes per day to meditate or work out?
As Brad suggests, “Only you can decide what you want your schedule to look like in an ideal world. But until you decide, you’ll never achieve it.”
2. Plan time on your calendar and share it.
Once you know how you would like to spend your days, assign yourself time on your calendar for each of the items that hold importance for you. If possible, share this calendar with your coworkers, spouse and peers.
“By marking the actions that are important to you, you hold yourself accountable to ensuring time for them,” explains Telepo. “And by sharing your calendar, you create a form of predictability and consistency that gives your peers and superiors a sense of confidence that their needs are still being met.”
For example, I work in Oakland and live in Los Angeles. When I began working at my company, I committed to being in the office three days per week. After several months of this travel cadence, I realized that this work schedule was having a negative impact on my ability to bond with my family and live an active, healthy life. I scheduled a meeting with my boss, explained my needs, agreed to two full weeks at home per month, and then scheduled my time at home and in office on my shared office calendar. Now, my boss not only supports a schedule that is better for me, but he can also count on the time I’m in the office to set meetings and the time I’m at home for larger written projects.
3. Clean up your inboxes.
One of the easiest tricks Brad taught me years ago was to work my inboxes down to zero each day. By creating folder systems and assigning importance only to those emails that have a task assigned to them, I’ve been able to de-clutter my day and focus on those interactions or emails that require my timely attention.
“I recommend using Unroll.me for daily newsletters and sales emails that bring no value to your day. By doing this, you leave your free time for other more timely or pressing matters. Also, have a project/task tool that easily converts emails into to do’s and automatically places them into that system. Don’t use your email as a placeholder for to do’s, or information to be referenced later,” recommends Telepo. “Finally, I strongly recommend scheduling specific times that are set aside for email, not in the morning, and then closing out your email for the remainder of the day. And for your mind’s sake, turn off any audible or visual reminder of new emails on your computer and phone. Saving yourself from the distraction of email will save hours of unnecessary busy work.”
My goal is to leave work each day with a clean inbox. If I have any tasks that roll into the next day, I try to keep them to less than three. While I check my email persistently throughout the day (I haven’t quite mastered limiting time on my calendar for this), I find myself far less stressed because I have less noise staring back at me from my computer.
4. Check in consistently.
Finally, and most importantly, it is best to create a scheduled time each week and month to check in with your task list. Use this time to organize your calendar for the upcoming week and to check in to ensure that what was important for you last month is still important to you today.
Ultimately, everyone is looking for the best tools or newest apps to simplify their lives. However, the best system to save time and create peace of mind has very little to do with the tools you use. Success in balance lies in the practices and system routines you adopt and agreements you make with yourself – the glue that keeps your plan together, building trust and helping you to gain control.