Did you wake up this morning and ask, “What am I going to get done today?”
Or did you say, “How can I use my time today in a way that makes tomorrow better?”
If we really want to use our time to accomplish important goals while keeping our priorities straight, we need to be asking the second question — and working toward it every day.
On this episode of the Building a Story Brand podcast, I sat down with Rory Vaden to talk about the five strategies we can use to make smarter decisions with our time.
Spoiler alert: these aren’t more technology tools and hacks. Those only help us manage things on the surface.
Think about it. What really dictates our time? It’s not what’s in our inbox or on our calendar. It’s our feelings of guilt. Our desire to be successful. Our need to impress other people.
It’s not logical. It’s emotional. So it stands to reason that the rational productivity standards of to-do lists and calendars can often fail us if we don’t have the emotional piece of it figured out first.
As Rory says, “There’s no such thing as time management. There’s only self management.”
So he’s going to show you five strategies you can use, starting today, to stop feeling worn out by a constant stream of urgent tasks and instead transform your productivity from the inside out.
Eliminate (The Permission to Ignore)
That email from an old colleague to get coffee and “pick your brain.”
The guy who comes up to you after church asking for feedback on his business plan.
The cocktail mixer invitation from a distant acquaintance.
You want to say no to these, but emotionally it’s hard. You don’t want to seem rude or overly important. And you don’t want to disappoint other people. But you also know these tasks won’t help you make progress on what matters to you.
Rory tells us that having more focused days starts right here, by eliminating those things that don’t ultimately pay off long term.
If you struggle to say no, Rory suggests making this mental shift:
“Anytime you say yes to one thing, you are simultaneously saying no to an infinite number of others.”
So, before you say yes to that coffee chat, identify what you’d be saying no to: creating a dashboard of site analytics. Your daughter’s soccer practice. An hour to read a book about an aspect of business you’re struggling with.
When you realize that every “yes” means a “no” somewhere else, you’ll find it easier to turn down the non-essential requests that come your way.
Automate (The Permission to Invest)
We all know what happens when you make a financial investment, right?
You take money out of an operating budget and put it toward something you feel will create more return. A savings account, a mutual fund, a startup. If you’re smart, then every quarter or so, you get a nice dividend that ultimately adds up to way more than your original investment.
Apply the same idea to your time, and you’ve got the idea behind this strategy — the permission to invest our time.
How? By automating tasks. Spend time today creating a process that will save you time in the long run.
I love the example Rory gives:
“If I ask the average person, ‘Hey do you have two hours open in your calendar today that you could setup online bill pay?’ They would say, ‘No. I don’t remember the last day I had two hours open in my calendar.’
But a multiplier would look at that differently. A multiplier goes, ‘Look if I spend two hours today setting up online bill pay and that saves me 30 minutes for every month paying my bills going forward. Then after just four months’ time I will have broken even on that investment.’”
If you find yourself repeating a similar set of tasks — and wasting time trying to remember them all — it’s time to automate. Consider where you can invest your time in processes, checklists, and systems today. If you’re not sure how, this post can help.
Delegate (The Permission of Imperfect)
There is SOMETHING on your to-do list right now that you know you need to delegate.
And I bet you’re telling yourself, “Ehhh, it’s going to take too long to train someone else to do this. It’s faster just to do it myself.”
But even that five-minute task you “just knock out” adds up. Do it every day for a year, and you’ve lost 30 hours of your time.
So obviously this isn’t a rational choice. It’s emotional. What we’re really afraid of is letting go of the control. If someone else does it, it won’t be done right.
That’s where you get the permission of imperfect. It may take someone a few tries to get it right. I bet it took you time, too.
But in my experience, the people to whom I delegate a task end up doing a way better job at it than I did at it.
So, not only am I getting compounding interest on my time, I’m actually getting a better work done on that than I could have done myself.
Procrastinate (The Permission of Incomplete)
Ooooh boy, now we get to talk about procrastination! Every writer’s dream.
But actually, it’s not going to get you out of going to the gym or having that difficult one-on-one.
If you know you need to do something and putting it off by being lazy, that’s what Rory calls the “killer of all success,” and it’s not what we’re advocating here.
We’re talking about procrastinating on purpose — being choosy about the tasks that will move our business or our lives forward meaningfully. That means good ideas are going to come across your desk, and you’re going to say, “Not now.”
It means you can ignore your email for hours, procrastinating on purpose so you’re not a slave to constant pings and 24/7 availability.
For example, at StoryBrand, we created a channel in Slack called “Parking Lot.” It was our CEO Nigel’s idea for where to put all those good ideas we can’t act on right now but want to capture.
Rory calls it “the permission of incomplete. [It’s] the permission to say, even though I might need to do that, it doesn’t really need to be done now, at least not at the expense of the other significant priorities.”
Concentrate (The Permission to Protect)
Here’s where you get permission to protect your time. To be unavailable, even if it’s just for a couple of hours, so that you can focus on a significant priority.
With this, you can call everything else a distraction while you stay fully present and focused on whatever you’ve deemed important.
This is shutting down your email, heading to a coffee shop, and digging into new marketing messages for your brand.
This is setting up your out-of-office note for your ten-year-anniversary trip with your spouse.
For me, this is getting up early and being in my writing shed by 7 a.m. That way, even before the StoryBrand staff arrives a few hours later, I’ve done my focused writing and thinking without any distractions. I’ve found that if it’s important and I’m not up doing it first thing, it’s not going to happen. It’s really been life changing for me.
Believe it not, there’s even more wisdom about this in the full episode, so how about you give yourself the permission to invest your time in this today — I know you’ll see a huge return on it!
Podcast produced by: Tim Schurrer
Additional editing by: Nick Jaworski