Stever Robbins is a public speaker, author, workshop leader, executive coach and host of the successful Get-It-Done-Guy podcast which has been downloaded more than 36 million times. He has been featured in numerous publications including The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, ABC News and FOX News. He holds an MBA from Harvard Business School and a BS in Computer Sciences from MIT. Let’s hear more from him in this episode of Productivity Masterminds.
- 80/20 rule: Understand that not all effort produces equal results and you can be doing something that is productive in the sense that it actually produces some kind of result, but it can be very low leverage.
- Checklists: When working on a task that you’re going to do more often, create a checklist and write down each step. Next time you’re doing the task, just follow the steps and immediately look for ways to optimize and speed up the process. Bonus step: Once your process is optimized (and potentially automated) enough, decide if this task might be better delegated or outsourced to someone else.
- Efficient vs. effective: Being efficient means that you are doing something using very little energy or very few resources to accomplish that task. Being effective means you’re doing the right thing. It is far better to be inefficiently effective than it is to be ineffectively efficient. If you’re very efficient, but you’re not doing the right thing, then you will get where you don’t want to be faster, which is not smart.
- It’s up to you: ‘You have a fixed amount of time, you don’t know how much you have and every moment that you have you is up to you and your decision making to decide how you’re going to use it. So time management really all comes down to ‘what am I going to do with the next minute of my time?’
Juan: Stever, thank you for joining us. Welcome to the show.
Stever: Thank you.
Juan: Stever so, you know something about time that most people don’t and you must have figured by now some frameworks of productivity and time management. Can you walk us a little bit through how you think about time?
Stever: Sure. Well, it’s ticking and it is ticking regardless of whether or not you’re using it. Well, a lot of people think that time is divided up into neat little buckets like, oh, I want to talk about work life balance. There’s really no such thing like work life balance. You have a fixed amount of time, you don’t know how much you have and every moment that you have you is up to you and your decision making to decide how you’re going to use it. So time management really all comes down to ‘what am I going to do with the next minute of my time?’ And that’s the only question that there is and it’s all about how do you make the decision about what to do with that next minute. I mean there’s gazillions of different frameworks. I’ll just choose a couple that I think are especially important.
One is the 80/20 rule. Understand that not all effort produces equal results and you can be doing something that is productive in the sense that it actually produces some kind of result, but it can be very low leverage.
You can be producing some result that is only useful here and now. So for example, let’s say you are doing personal outreach to 200 people as part of a fundraising initiative and you sit down and you’re typing an email message to one of those people. That seems very productive, right? You’re taking action that’s gonna move you towards getting your fundraising by getting this person on board. However, unless all 200 people are highly, highly, highly individualized, that same time might be better spent creating a generic template with three or four customization slots in it where once you have that template created, which might take you four or five times as long as to write a single message, but once you have the template created, you basically hit whatever temp used the template button you have and it says, okay, ‘please enter the personalization paragraph for this person.’ You type that in and then you hit send and suddenly you have gone from 200 times, you know, say 10 minutes, which is a very low leverage activity of doing the individual emails. Now, instead, you’ve spent maybe 30 minutes developing the template, but it allows you to do the remaining 199 emails in maybe a minute and a half apiece and overall, even though the beginning takes longer, the whole task takes far, far less time,
Juan: Right. It’s the whole concept of spending more time sharpening the ax than just hacking away at the tree and then when you are actually cutting down the tree, it’s going to move on much faster because you’ve spent time on kind of preparing for the task. How do you find the opportunities for actually optimizing these things? Are you thinking in terms of batching work, it sounds like?
Stever: Oh Gosh. I think all kinds of different things. Since I started life as a computer programmer, the first 17 years of my career were spent doing nothing except figuring out how to modify and optimize processes, so I have a very, very large toolbox and how I do that, but the kinds of things I look for:
Any type of communication that is being done electronically can be templatized, whether it’s a mail merge in word or you can use an automated email system or you can even just use keyboard macros.
So text is always easy to templatize. Um, I have a concept that I discussed in my book which is ‘The Get It Done Guys: Nine steps to work less and do more’ and that I call resource books or resource manuals, I forget the exact phrase. It’s funny because this is something that I invented for myself and it seemed like an obvious idea and a lot of people don’t do it. In fact, almost no one does it, which is when I’m doing some new task that I haven’t done before, I get out a book, I get a blank notebook and I write down every step of the task as I do it and if I have to go back, I’ll insert little arrows and say, ‘oh, I forgot step the step between steps two and three.’ If a particular step of the task requires external information, I’ll write that right there in the notebook. So for example, if I’m learning how to edit a video and I want to add a title sequence to a video that I’m producing, I’ll write down, you know, one: launch Camtasia, two: pull the video in, three: move the video over to the right on the timeline, four: record intro sequence by pressing the record button, five: place intro, seek, etc. So, I go through piece by piece. If it does involve outside information like I, maybe I say go find clip art that I can use for the background of the title screen in my little resource book. And remember, this is a paper notebook that’s sitting next to me on my desk, I will actually write down, go to clipart.com or unsplash.com or whatever website I’m using to get the clip art so that- and I continued going through the process and by the time that I’m done, I now have a list of every step in the process and all of the resources that it took to be able to make that, to complete that process and to complete that task. So now, I have a step-by-step instruction for here’s how to edit a video and put my title screen on. Then we’ll do that a couple of times, so the next time that I need to do a title screen, I’ll follow the instructions in my book and I might find out like, ‘oh wow, I can combine these two steps because it turns out Camtasia has this great annotation feature’ or you know, ‘this step seems like a lot of work. I wonder if I can find a way to shorten it. Oh, I can because I can pre-render the title intro and I never have to do it a second time. I can then just pull it in as a separate video clip or whatever the pieces are.’
So I do the task a second time, this time I do it from my resource book and I’m looking for just ways to optimize and to speed things up.
Once I have all of that done and I have a list of steps that I know works, now I can either type that list of steps into an online checklist of some sort and checkvist.com is the particular tool that I use to record my checklists. And now next time I need to do this, I can just go to check this to pull up the process map of what I need to do and just go through step-by-step and check things off. Alternatively, I now have an online checklist. I can call a virtual assistant or I can hire somebody in the neighborhood, a kid or whatever. And if it turns out this is a task that is better delegated to someone else, now I can give them the checklist and walk through it with them the first time and then I’ll discover, ‘oh, what are the steps that were obvious to me and that they now have trouble with.’ So to me, if it said type in the title, but you know, type in the title and the name of the, of the video, to me, it’s obvious how to do that. And it will always say blah blah, blah video by Stever, but they won’t necessarily know that and I’ll watch them do it, and I’ll go ‘oh, what are the missing steps that were in my head, but I didn’t think to write down,’ I’ll add those to the checklist. Then voila, I have a complete checklist that this virtual assistant or this local neighborhood person can use to be able to do whatever the task is. And that is one system that is useful for finding opportunities, for streamlining, it’s useful for finding opportunities for delegating. It’s what I do and I find that it works really well.
Juan: No, that’s perfect. I guess to kind of sum that up in a pillar of success that Stever uses, I mean you are pretty much really into premeditated action, so by creating a plan for things that you know you’re going to do more than once, you can find opportunities for optimization. If you’re letting every task catch you off guard and you’re always reacting as opposed to being proactive to tasks that you already knew you were going to do more than once, then you won’t be able to create processes that you can hire or outsource to them be able to do more quickly. So, it’s all about actually being intentional, right?
Stever: I want to clarify something because you’re saying preplanning. I’m not saying preplanning, I’m saying the first time you do the task, just write the steps down as you encounter them so you’re not preplaning the first time through. It’s your diary of the steps that you took that becomes your plan for the second time through.
Juan: Gotcha. Okay.
Stever: Because you don’t necessarily know the plan in advance, you don’t know ‘oh, this person is going to forget to type my name as part of the title,’ you have to find that out. It’s just as you find it out, write it down so you never have to do it, you never have to find it out a second time.
Juan: That makes a lot of sense. When you work with clients, Stever, do you typically consult them on doing this, getting in the habit of doing this for every action? Or, is this specifically for actions that you know you’re going to be taking more than once?
Stever: Oh, this would only be for actions you’re taking more than one, otherwise it’d be since the first time through, you’re just writing stuff down for you.
Stever: I don’t know that would give you any benefit. I’ll tell you, that’s one of my personal trapdoors, is I have a tendency to want to try to automate everything even if it’s something I’m only going to do once. There are a number of times as I have created very elaborate and fabulously, theoretically, pure systems that could absolutely do the thing that I only needed to do the thing once. So, the fact that I created the system was actually no help whatsoever.
Juan: Right. Oh my gosh, that’s super relatable. I think we’ve all gone through that creating complex systems. Stever, walk me through any one last thing that you typically find is very helpful when you work with self-employed clients that are looking to optimize their time. Is there anything else you teach them about time management?
Stever: Oh, I’ll tell you what, the number one thing that most people don’t understand is the difference between being efficient and being effective. Being efficient means that you are doing something using very little energy or very few resources to accomplish that task. Being effective means you’re doing the right thing and it is far, far better to be inefficiently effective than it is to be ineffectively efficient.
And what I mean by that is if you’re very, very efficient, but you’re not doing the right thing, then you will get where you don’t want to be faster, which is not smart.
So, most people don’t spend their time to make sure that they are concentrating on the action that’s really going to move them forward. I’ll give you a personal example, which is one of my, again, another one of my personal trapdoors. Since I spent the first 17 years of my career as a programmer, I have a tendency to get hijacked by technology. So, for example, I’m putting up a bunch of tools, videos for the current, “Get It Done” group that I’m running, and I find it very, very easy for me to get sucked into, ‘oh, as long as I’m on this page of my website, I can redo the layout’ and ‘look, there’s this new plugin that I can add in.’ And I end up doing stuff and I could, in some abstract world, justify it. I can say, ‘look, the page looks better now, it’s easier for my students to navigate,’ you know, I did this useful thing, but the reality is that’s not the thing that’s going to move the business forward. The page as it was worked perfectly well and the fact that I can move it from 89% effectiveness to 93% effectiveness is just not relevant to the business. If I had spent that very same amount of time putting together an advertisement or calling a prospect, it would’ve made a heck of a lot more sense. So, know at the risk of showing that I’m not perfect. That’s one that I always am personally struggling with.
One of the things I do is I put a post-it pad on my screen every morning, a little sticky note that just says: here’s the top priority for the day.
So, when I do get hijacked by something, as soon as my eye runs across that the sticky note, I go ‘right, I’m supposed to be working today on say, building my mailing list or whatever as opposed to editing videos.’
Juan: No, that makes a lot of sense. There you have it, productivity mastermind. Stever is a productivity expert and consults self-employed professionals to make sure they’re getting the most out of their time, by not just focusing on being effective, I’m sorry, efficient, but also being effective to make sure that they’re not getting to where they don’t want to be faster, but rather working towards getting to where they actually do want to be. He helps professionals create plans in tandem while they’re doing them for things that they know they’re going to do more than once, so that they can hire or outsource them in the future and be much better with their time. Thank you Stever so much for coming on the show.
Stever: My pleasure.