Posted in practice on July 26, 2016 3:50 pm EDT

5 Time-Saving Strategies of Top Performers

Want to get off the hamster wheel and leave the office or jobsite behind at the end of the day? Read on. You won't be sorry.

Image courtesy of Sergey Nivens.











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TAGS: business, collaboration, education, lifestyle, productivity,


By Cathy Hutchison

Do you feel like the only experience you have in meeting deadlines is hearing the whooshing sound they make as they go by? When is the last time you left the office without that overwhelming sense of dread that you were forgetting something?

“There are far more activities and opportunities in the world than we have time and resources to invest in, and although many of them may be good, or even very good, the fact is that most are trivial and few are vital.”

—Greg McKeown, Author, "Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less"

That hope of "catching up" keeps us running like a hamster in a wheel. As a busy designer, do you want to get off that wheel? Here are five strategies leveraged by high performers that can radically improve your workflow so that you can get your life back.

1. Test Drive the 90/90/1 Rule

Leadership guru, Robin Sharma writes, “Epic performers, A-Players and World-Builders play a very different game. The Elon Musks, The Mark Zuckerbergs, great artists, and top scientists all run their days under completely different mindsets and rituals than those who get trapped in the groove of being-busy-being-busy.”

Sharma requests that his clients, for the next 90 days, dedicate the first 90 minutes of their work day to their single most important opportunity—the one thing that if they executed it flawlessly would cause everything to rise.

Sharma goes on to say, “Average performers get to work and check their email or surf the net. For the true leader, reaching the office is the start of showtime. They understand that developing a monomaniacal focus on their vital few priorities unleashes legendary results.”

2. Protect your Bandwidth by Learning to Say "No"

Most of us commit to projects in the moment, not realizing until it is too late just how much we’ve exceeded our personal bandwidth. Greg McKeown, author of "Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less," teaches the mantra, “If it isn’t a clear yes, then it is a clear no.”

McKeown highlights, “There are far more activities and opportunities in the world than we have time and resources to invest in, and although many of them may be good, or even very good, the fact is that most are trivial and few are vital.”

Cal Newport, author of "Deep Work," writes, "You're judged on what you do best so if you want to have as much success as possible you're always better off doing fewer things but doing those things better. People say yes to too much. I say no to most things. I'm ruthless about avoiding or purging tasks if I realize they're just not providing much value."

Everything—no matter how small—uses part of our bandwidth. It is up to us to learn to have the hard conversations so that we can focus our time and energy on the work that is most essential for us to do.

3. Start the Practice of Inbox Zero

Productivity expert Merlin Mann is an advocate of Inbox Zero—a rigorous approach to email management aimed at keeping the inbox empty. Mann quips, “How do you identify a high priority task? It is DONE.” The rest of the items in our inbox are just filler silently nipping at us like piranha.

Mann identifies five possible actions to take for each message: delete, delegate, respond, defer, and do. Why? Because every time we read an e-mail twice to figure out what we are supposed to do with it, we’ve wasted time we didn’t need to. The other problem Inbox Zero solves? It mitigates the anxiety we feel that we are forgetting something. If once a day, we handle everything in our Inbox—getting what we’ve deferred on our calendar and scheduling follow ups to what we’ve delegated, then we can leave the office with a clean conscience and start the next day on our most meaningful projects.

4. Hire a Virtual Assistant—Even If You Aren’t the Boss

While lifestyle design guru Tim Ferris promoted this idea years ago in the "4 Hour Work Week," I only recently tried his advice myself. A pressing task was assigned to me in the middle of higher priority deadlines, so I looked to see if I could outsource it. For a mere $18, a company turned around the administrative task in 24 hours. A task that wouldn’t have gotten done for weeks if I’d had to work it into my priority list. I was hooked.

What else could be outsourced to free me to focus on the work that matters the most? Resources for outsourcing tasks include,, (for transcription) and (VirtualFelicity happens to be based in the U.S. and is experienced in working with churches.)

There are also apps that can serve the role of virtual assistant, such as for scheduling and voice commands, to Siri and Cortana to remind you of a task at a time you specify.

5. Get Better at Meetings

One of the biggest challenges for the workflow of church designers has to do with meetings. Whether you are part of a large firm that has a meeting-heavy culture or simply find that client meetings frequently exceed their bounds, there are things you can do to get better outcomes in less time simply by changing your approach.

Meetings fail primarily because 1) The wrong people are at the meeting; 2) No one determines what the output of the meeting is supposed to be; or 3) The meeting has a poor facilitator. (Which sometimes—let’s confess—is us.)

Becoming diligent about canceling a meeting when primary decision makers fail to attend. Being proactive about outlining what decisions, documentation, or product needs to be produced. And improving our skill in leading discussion and keeping things on track, can revolutionize how productive our meetings are. Bonus skills? Send pre-work so that people come focused and prepared, then be resolute about ending at the time set.

Implementing any one of these workflow changes can impact our productivity, but the reality is that changing something as ingrained as our workflow pattern is not easy. However, high performers endure the pain and take the hit to their immediate process in order to improve it for the future.

You can do this. And your future self with thank you.



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