If you’re looking for advice on how to make time for your most important work each day, you’ve no doubt run across this famous quote from Abraham Lincoln:
“If I had six hours to chop down a tree, I would spend the first four hours sharpening the axe.”
Yes, Abe. We get it. It’s much more efficient to give yourself the right tools and make a plan before you dive headfirst into a problem. Yet how many of us do that with our workdays?
Instead of making the right plan and setting up the right tools, time-management strategies, and workflows, we sit down in the morning and imagine a checkered flag waving in front of our eyes. Before we know it, we put the pedal to the floor until we either get to the end of the day or run out of gas (a.k.a. burnout).
But it’s insane to think we can keep up with this pace of life for long. Instead, we need to find ways to get more from the limited time we have each day. We need to sharpen our axes. We need time multipliers.
The multiplier effect: How certain strategies have an outsized impact on your day and your life
In the most basic sense of the word, a “multiplier” is a person, tool, or strategy that creates a disproportionate result compared to the investment.
For example, if you invest $100 into your banana stand and it results in $1,000 of sales, then that investment is a multiplier.
A simpler idea is a hammer. It amplifies your effort to produce more output (and is a hell of a lot less painful than trying to pound a nail into a wall with your bare hands).
We all love this idea of getting something for (almost) nothing. And luckily, you can do the same with your time.
A time multiplier is a strategy or tool that creates more free time for you in the future. It’s the time-management equivalent of sharpening your axe.
To-do list: Multiply your time by learning to properly prioritize tasks
One of the simplest ways you can multiply your time each day is to spend it more effectively. An hour of focused time on a meaningful task is nearly eight times as effective as a full day spent being indecisive or scattered between meaningless emails, lingering calls, and status update meetings.
While there are tons of time-management strategies that promise to make you more effective, it all starts with doing the right things.
Prioritization is the original time multiplier. Yet while the basics of how to prioritize tasks are simple (know what tasks need to be done and rank them accordingly), it’s far from a simple exercise.
So let’s make it easy. Look at your to-do list and ask these four questions:
1. Can you eliminate this task?
One of the most powerful ways to make more time is to learn how to say no. Saying no opens up time for work that matters. While saying yes to tasks you know don’t matter means you’re saying no to better options.
However, this isn’t always easy. We’re all presented with tasks that we know we shouldn’t do but that we can’t bring ourselves to turn down. But if you want to use more time multipliers, you need to resist this urge.
2. If you can’t eliminate it, can you automate it?
There are more tools than ever now that can help you automate ineffective tasks and free up space for focused work. Yet most of us ignore this and repeat ourselves over and over.
Automation is a time multiplier, but it doesn’t work for everything. Zapier’s Kim Kadiyala says there are three criteria your tasks or workflows need to meet in order to be good candidates for automation:
- The task doesn’t need your attention to get done (i.e. you could do it in your sleep)
- It’s time-consuming and/or annoying
- The process doesn’t require too much personalization or finesse
3. Can it be delegated (or can you teach someone else how to do it?)
While simple tasks can be eliminated or automated, it’s hard to let go of the ones we feel need our attention. In fact, a recent study from the London School of Business found that most knowledge workers spend up to 41% of their time on jobs that could easily be passed off to others.
The truth is that offloading these tasks is a massive time multiplier.
Let’s say you have a task that takes you just 5 minutes to complete. Even if you budgeted 30 times as long to teach someone else (150 minutes), you’d end up saving yourself 1,100 minutes a year. (Five minutes a day times 250 annual working days = 1,250 minutes spent doing that task.)
Whenever possible, look for situations where you can delegate and offload your time-consuming work to someone else.
4. Does this task need to be done now?
Finally, if you’re unsure of how to handle a task, ask if it’s urgent enough to need your attention today.
Efficiency only matters if you’re doing the right things. If you want to free yourself from the tyranny of the 9-to-5 and do real, meaningful work, you need to be in control of your time. That means knowing what deserves our attention and focus today that will free up more time for us tomorrow.
Time multipliers help you do both. And just like any smart investment, the more you multiply your time, the more the return compounds.