How I used leverage to gain more time and get more done

Just recently I heard Chris Guillebeau say “An entrepreneur is someone who is willing to work 24 hours a day for himself, in order to avoid working 1 hour per day for someone else.

I loved that quote, and Steph and I had a good laugh when I shared it with her last night.  I have lived this for many years as an entrepreneur.

I have a deep admiration for the “action-takers”, the “self-propelled”, and the ones with the endless fire burning within.  Indeed, these are the people that move the world, that bring lasting change, and point us in the direction of a brighter future.

I think of people like Elon Musk, Jeff Bezos, or Steve Jobs.  Or heck, my friends Joe Johnson or Rick Davidson.  I feel like we all have share a kind of secret understanding – that if we push hard enough we can accomplish something really meaningful. Something that may even change the world.

But I also wrestle with the dark side.

As entrepreneurs, it can be tempting to become consumed by our work to the point where everything else is a distraction.

We can let it consume all of our time, our attention, and even our affection. If we have families, they rarely get the attention from us that they need and deserve, and our friendships are sustained only by the occasional presence of whispering memories.

3 years ago, I was fully in that place.  I often worked 16-20 hours per day, and would occasionally even work through the night and keep going through the next day.  I hardly ate, I didn’t exercise, and I rarely saw my own family even though I worked from home.

I was determined to make my little business succeed, and it was.  Our music school was growing; our customers were enthusiastic, our teachers were busy, our students were thriving – but I was trapped in this endless cycle, and my family suffered as a result.

I didn’t start in that place though.  The goal was always to start the music school, teach it to thrive on its own, and then apply my creative energies on other projects.

But as time went on, I started to believe what so many entrepreneurs believe – “If you want it done RIGHT, you’ve got to do it yourself.”

It sounds right to all of us perfectionists out there, but nothing could be more wrong. All you have to do is look around at your favorite businesses.

The best entrepreneurs don’t think like that.

They believe the best way to share their vision and their value with the world is by using leverage – and a lot of it.  Leverage is anything that multiplies the impact of your efforts. And there is no end to the amount of leverage that you can apply.  It’s literally infinite.

As our music school began to grow, I began to use leverage by hiring teachers. I invested an extraordinary amount of time hiring and training amazing teachers, which meant that I was impacting a greater number of students and making more money too.

I had planned this from the beginning, so this wasn’t hard to let go of, but I didn’t know how to create leverage in the office (billing, scheduling, customer service, marketing, etc) and ended up trading one kind of work for another.

But after several years of doing trading work I loved for more work that I hated, I knew something dramatic had to change. So I wrote down a plan, and started to execute it religiously.

Here’s what I did:

  1. I tracked every single thing that I did for 1 month. Literally everything. I used Infinity Time Log (iPhone) to track my time to the second.
  2. At the end of the month, I reviewed the reports, and developed a spreadsheet to help me find the areas in my life where I could apply leverage.
  3. Inspired partly by Tim Ferris’ 4 Hour Work Week, I identified 3 main types of leverage that I could use, and applied them in this order:  Eliminate, Automate, Delegate
  4. I went through every task and ruthlessly applied the label to each of the tasks that I could.  If it could be eliminated, then I decided never to do it again (there was a surprising amount of stuff in this category).  If it still needed to be done, then I looked for a way to automate it.  Could I use software to handle these tasks for me?  If not, I looked at delegation.  Since this is usually the most expensive type of leverage, I really tried to fit them into the first 2 categories.  But when I couldn’t, I would try to delegate them.  I hired an office manager, and eventually a school director.  I made less money, but I cleared up A LOT of time, and went from making $5 an hour to $500 an hour in a short period of time.
  5. Finally, whatever could not be leveraged, I scheduled.  This process alone cleared 95% of the work off my plate.

 

I literally went from burnt-out crazy guy, to having the time to travel the world with my family for a year within about 10 months.

I also learned that being busy is sometimes just a form of laziness. It takes real discipline and courage to ruthlessly eliminate, automate, and delegate your way forward.

As I’m neck-deep in a new venture right now, I’ve started this process again, and am 2 days into tracking how I’m spending my time.

I’d love to share this journey with other crazy entrepreneurs. If you want to join me, let me know if the comments below!

Disclosure: This post includes affiliate links.

Photo by Sonja Langford