The more we mature in our leadership abilities, the more people want our time. But time is our most valuable non-renewable resource. To make sure we’re able to maintain balance and focus, all it takes is this: saying “no” more often to people, and saying “yes” to Legos. (Yes, Legos! We’ll delve more into that in a bit.)
There’s nothing wrong with wanting to please people, but that doesn’t mean agreeing to every request for your time. If you do, you won’t be able to fulfill your other commitments. As a leader, balance and focus start with saying “no.” And saying that magic word more often doesn’t mean you don’t care. It just means that there are other demands on your time that you can’t lose sight of. Every time you say “no” in this way, you say “yes” to your top priorities.
So what are your top priorities? That’s where the Legos come in. Think about different aspects of your life: spiritually, family, career, community. There are many others, too, but once you’ve established what yours are, you already have a much better handle on your life than you might realize.
This is the beginning of a strategy called…
Focus + Lego-based Day Construction.
Think of your top priorities as the biggest Lego pieces in the box, the things you put down first to build a foundation. People will still tug at you with their requests for your time, but the big Legos cannot be moved. This is how you learn to say “no.”
Saying “yes” too often is the path toward squeezing in extra work by multitasking. Stop multitasking. If you’re multitasking, it’s a sure sign you should say “no” more often. Multitasking is a myth — and that’s backed up by a lot of research. It’s time to focus. You will accomplish more work of greater quality in less time, and that’s the definition of “Doing less, better.”
In this way, saying “no” and thinking about Legos will set you free. That might sound crazy, but keep an open mind. Every single thing you do every day is a Lego piece — some are small, some are big — and you fit each one together like a Lego castle.
The big Legos are the tasks that truly merit your time. You do not move these whenever someone asks you to do something. Your schedule should contain only the essentials, and tasks that have to be completed by you and no one else. Include time for life priorities like being with your family and friends, too. And always account for the unaccountable with a Lego for the unforeseen demands that always arise each day.
Find the Legos that are the fundamental pieces. Find small ones that fit between the big ones. Identify the low-priority pieces that are the last ones in and the first ones discarded if necessary.
Once you learn how to do this, Lego-based Day Construction will help you see where your time is going — and manage it better. This also teaches you what to say “no” to. As you get used to laying out the Lego pieces of each day, you’ll become smarter about how much you can accomplish and which tasks actually deserve your time.
Embracing Legos and the word “no” is the difference between living the kind of life you want and slogging through an endless, boring queue of tasks. As you improve your system, there’s a cumulative effect to giving yourself more time for your priorities. It will add up to extra hours, week in and week out.
It is not an overstatement to say that this will change your life.
You will be free to focus on your passion. You’ll feel the satisfaction of productivity and the lightness of leaving behind an unmanageable schedule. We’re good at things we’re passionate about, and the opposite is also true. All it takes is saying “no” to more people demanding your time and saying “yes” to Legos.
With your work and life in balance, and your priorities in focus, you’ll be ready for the next step in freeing yourself from the DIY trap:
The Golden Formula.
The Golden Formula is outlined in my international best-selling book, Live Free or DIY: How To Get More Customers, Increase Profits, and Achieve Work-Life Balance As A Small Business Owner, and it starts with knowing what you’re worth. It’s inefficient to do everything yourself but it’s difficult to pull away from that for some people because they haven’t put a dollar value on their time, which is much more than they think.
The Golden Formula is designed to be elegantly simple: three questions that fit on an index card that you must obsess over every day:
Your answers will teach you the difference between cheap and efficient. It might be cheap to do everything yourself, but it’s efficient to pay someone else to do the things you’re not good at. They’ll do it better and quicker while you redirect your efforts toward your expertise.
Agents of Efficiency is dedicated to helping small businesses thrive by doing just that. One of our clients is starting a liquor store in Williamsburg, New York. He knows everything there is to know about spirits, and it’s clear to everyone that he has the passion and expertise to establish a great business in one of New York’s trendiest neighborhoods.
But how had he been spending his time?
Well, he was multitasking. He hadn’t learned to say “no” and he didn’t know what his most important Legos were. And, like so many other entrepreneurs going down the wrong path, he was DIYing. He used his daytime hours to struggle through paperwork and permitting, and at night he was trying to build his own website — something he knew nothing about.
He said he didn’t have the money to pay an expert to do those things for him. But before investing himself in his startup, he was making around $85,000 a year at his day job. That’s about $50 an hour. He still had part-time work available to him that paid the same rate, though he’d turned it down because he said he didn’t have time for side work.
He wasn’t exactly sure how many hours he’d been working on his website, but it was dozens. At $50 an hour for 24 hours, that’s the equivalent of spending $1,200 on it, yet he had very little to show for his time.
Let’s apply those three key questions.
1. Where am I spending my time?
This Williamsburg entrepreneur was doing amateur web-design work.
2. What is the cost of my labor?
Since he was capable of earning $50 an hour at a side job, every hour he spent on his website effectively cost him $50 in forfeited wages.
3. How much value am I adding to my business?
His DIY web-design efforts were worth approximately $10 hourly based on the quality.
What had previously seemed like a sensible course of action — doing the website himself to save money — now looked ludicrous. He had forfeited $1,200 in wages to build a website that was worth about $240. In other words, he had effectively flushed $960 down the toilet by DIYing.
That had to change. By picking up some of the $50-per-hour part-time work, he was able to use those earnings to pay an expert to build his website. Then he could use the time he had to focus on the business itself (the big Legos) which meant curating a world-class selection of spirits and getting to know his target customer.
He quickly went from struggling to get everything done — and continually pushing his grand-opening date further into the future — to having the initial paperwork and website behind him, while planning a launch that would impress his customers with greater selection and quality than he’d initially thought possible.
This is the all-important difference between cheap and efficient. It was cheap for him to do everything himself, but it was efficient for him to pay someone else to turn out better, quicker results while redirecting his own efforts toward his area of expertise.
And putting a dollar value to his time was essential. It made clear where his time was poorly spent, as in using $1,200 worth of labor to patch together a website worth a couple hundred bucks. But even more than that, it helped him focus on the areas where his time was best spent.
He started considering an all-important question: How could he use his $50-an-hour time to add at least $50 of value to his business for every hour he worked?
The answer was to dedicate himself to building a top-notch inventory so that his store would be a smash with his new clientele. Instead of effectively reducing his hourly rate to $10 or less by DIYing, he focused his energy toward the areas
where he could add a huge amount of value, and thereby increase his hourly rate — probably many times over.
Just like that, he started to think like a successful entrepreneur. The most prosperous business owners are obsessed with their hourly rate, and increasing it all the time. You should be, too.
If you’d like to dig deeper into The Golden Formula, our whitepaper will help you get started on that process — and it’s free. Download it now.
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