My wife, Gail, recently purchased a DVD set of The Jetsons. Remember that? The cartoon imagined what life would be like in the future: robots, flying cars, and other conveniences—like minimal work hours. But it hasn’t panned out like that, has it?
Believe it or not, since the 1930s economists and others predicted a future where workers had loads of free time. And while work hours have gone down for some, despite what we know about overworking, many of us regularly put in fifty hours a week or more. Professionals with mobile devices clock more than seventy.
What’s going on?
Start by looking at those mobile devices. We love our smartphones, don’t we? In our pockets we carry a phone, calendar, multiple inboxes, to-do apps, and lots more. We can review spreadsheets, video conference, edit documents, read reports, message clients, book trips, record podcasts—the list is nearly endless.
George Jetson called his boss a “slavedriver” because he had to press a button a few times that day. We chuckle at the joke while we unthinkingly press a million. Was the joke on us?
The funny thing is that a lot of this amounts to worthless activity. We’re not using our time to accomplish big and important projects. We’re being tyrannized by tiny tasks.
“The problem is that, as every individual task becomes easier, we demand much more of both ourselves and others,” says Tim Wu in The New Yorker.
Instead of fewer difficult tasks (writing several long letters) we are left with a larger volume of small tasks (writing hundreds of emails). We have become plagued by a tyranny of tiny tasks, individually simple but collectively oppressive.
Our devices, apps, hacks, and tools make us think we’ll save time. In reality we just overload it with low-value, repetitious, wasteful activity—usually motivated by anxiety and fear.
My team and I are near the end of a major launch for Platform University. It’s all hands on deck. But we all recognize that a relentless pace is not only unmanageable, it’s also unproductive, unprofitable, and not any fun either. Winning is a blast. Burnout is a bummer.
There will be times for all of us when we have to drive hard. But it can’t be permanent. We know this, right? The stress is robbing us of health, emotional wellbeing, and a lot more.
How many of your fifty-to-seventy hours are spent complying with the tyranny of tiny tasks? Here are five simple ways to identify and defeat your terrible little tyrants:
Evaluate. Look at your daily routine and tasks that make it up. How much is moving the needle vs. filling time? Parse them out and rank them. I talk about how to do this in my free ebook Shave 10 Hours off Your Workweek.
Eliminate. How many low-return activities and time-drains are on your list? Which ones could you just strike out now? And by that I mean right now. There’s no point waiting while more tasks multiple. Start hacking.
Delegate. If you can’t ditch it, switch it. Delegate as many of your leftover tiny tasks as possible. This could be to an admin or other people on your team better suited to the job.
Automate. Every time you have to think about a process, it takes something from you. So why not do the thinking once and for all? All kinds of things can be automated: billing, reports, recurring information requests, and more.
Consolidate. What you can’t ditch, switch, or automate, you should consolidate. Sometimes labeled batching, the idea is simple enough: If you lump similar tasks together, you gain efficiencies and time by not jumping back and forth between dissimilar activities.
I’ve been using these five methods in concert with Dan Sullivan’s Entrepreneurial Time System, which utilizes what he calls Focus Days, Free Days, and Buffer Days.
I use my Focus Days for big, important projects. These days are crucial for my business; I’m not wasting that time on tiny tasks. I also prioritize my Free Days. Nothing work-related happens on those days, big or tiny. That’s my chance to rest and regroup.
That leaves me just my Buffer Days to delegate and batch process the small stuff. By sticking to this process, I automatically save myself from a lot of tiny-task creep.
However you choose to prioritize, eliminate, delegate, and batch, you’ll be glad you did. You’ll reserve hours of time each week for the things that matter most, including your own peace of mind.