I spent years testing every productivity hack in the book, but nothing worked until I made a dramatic change I thought was crazy - until I tried it
- CEO and author Ramit Sethi works with entrepreneurs, helping them maximize their time and start their own businesses.
- He's found, both among other entrepreneurs and in his own experience, that small productivity hacks and tricks often aren't enough to save people significant time - and just working harder isn't a good solution, either.
- In his early 20s, he made a dramatic change to his work and life by hiring an assistant. "I know," he writes. "I thought it was crazy, too. Until I tried it."
- Over 10 years later, his assistant now saves him more than 20 hours a week.
I recently spoke to a small group of busy people - entrepreneurs, business owners, freelancers, etc. - about productivity. Before they came in, I asked them to track their time for one day.
When I asked what they'd found, their heads started shaking."I spend 80% of my time on things that don't matter," one guy said.
Another: "I spend hours in email every day. For what? I just do it again the next day."
Then I asked what they wanted to spend time on. One entrepreneur said, "I want to spend time on things that actually make me money."
Your turn. Let me ask you these two questions:
- On an average day, where do you spend your time?
- If you could spend your time any way you wanted, where would you spend your time?
Take a look at what you spent your time on yesterday. What would you say?
Be honest: If you watched three hours of Netflix (the average American watches five hours of TV every day), that's OK!Yes, that sickening feeling in your stomach means the answers to those two questions don't add up. You know it. I know it. We all know it.
Now ask: Where do you WANT your time to go?
If we could wave a magic wand and spend our time where we wanted to, most of us would not choose to spend three hours per day in email. We'd spend it on our relationships with friends and family, exploring the city we live in or traveling, working on higher-value items or just having fun.
But... how can you do it?
Well, first forget about "productivity hacks." You know the kind I'm talking about: to-do apps (and journals), RescueTime, or "minimalism" (where you ONLY own three pairs of grey pants, two blue shirts, and a 4,000-dollar laptop) are the coupon-clipping of the productivity world. Doing these things might feel good and helpful, but they're ultimately useless.
I tried the apps. I tried minimalism. I tried all these tactics. Some of them worked and I incorporated them into my productivity system. But I needed to save more than just a few minutes - I needed to free up 2+ hours a day.
And we all know that working harder isn't the solution. Longer hours, another shot of espresso, catching up on the weekend, an unhappy spouse, stress, and a sudden moment of realization in your late 40s that something is wrong. #HustleLifeI knew that I was starting to get swamped with emails and pulled in all kinds of directions. I knew this would only get worse - and I had to figure out a solution now, because the more successful I became, the harder it would be to figure it out. So I went all in.
I went a different route ... and realized that I needed help.
The most successful people have something in common: People who can help them - a personal trainer, a business coach, a supportive spouse.
I realized I had money but not time - and that, with this money, I could "buy back" my time.
That's when I hired an assistant.
I know, I thought it was crazy, too. Until I tried it.
It's funny, because I didn't look like the kind of person who would have an assistant. I was in my early 20s. I didn't work at a fancy office or wear a fancy suit.
But I was busy and I was ambitious. I worked at a startup during the day and wrote my now best-selling book on personal finance at night. I didn't want to spend my time on mundane tasks. And I didn't care if it was weird for a guy in his early 20s to have an assistant. I wanted my time back.
So I hired a part-time assistant on Craigslist. Since then - over 10 years ago - I've built an incredible system with my assistant, who helps me remove the following off my plate. My assistant:
- Schedules appointments (one-off and recurring)
- Handles thank you cards
- Selects, buys, and ships items
- Organizes follow-ups for networking contacts
- Preps documents
- Coordinates speaking engagements
- Screens calls (calls customer service or waits on hold)
- Sends out media releases
- Maintains contact details
- Returns merchandise and checks on refunds
- Buys event tickets
- Provides customer support
- Researches weekend activities
- Researches questions
- Organizes to-dos
- Sends reminders
- Checks in for flights
- Tracks birthdays and sends gifts
- Plans vacations
- Orders and delivers food
- Makes dinner reservations
- Processes emails
That's time that I can invest directly into the things that I actually want to be doing for weeks, months, and years -not to shave off a few minutes here and there.
Ramit Sethi is the author of the New York Times bestseller, "I Will Teach You To Be Rich," and writes for more than 1 million readers on his websites, iwillteachyoutoberich.com and GrowthLab.com. His work on personal finance and entrepreneurship have been featured in The New York Times, Wall Street Journal, and Business Insider.