How to make huge leaps with small changes
I bumped into an old friend this weekend. It's been years since we last met, but we immediately fell back into our friendship. I love how that happens with people who truly know the real you, how easily you can connect.
I could tell immediately that something was on her mind. Inner turmoil was visible on her face, and I was intrigued to find out why.
We got talking. I explained what I did for a living now and her problem immediately became clear. Turns out she is desperate to lose weight. It plagues her thoughts. It’s the first thing she thinks of when she wakes up and the last thing on her mind at night. She decided months ago to do something about it, but so far she’s failed to take action.
I asked what’s stopping her, and she told me, ‘I just don’t have the time’.
After further conversation, I discovered a few facts about her current lifestyle:
- She works full time, 9-6 Monday to Friday in an office.
- While she’s at work she’s constantly busy, going from one meeting to the next or answering a ton of emails.
- Her lunchtime consists of shovelling in whatever she has time to get her hands on from the canteen at her desk while she’s typing away.
- She has 2 gorgeous kids, so her mornings are a whirlwind of organised chaos, resulting almost 100% of the time in everyone ending up in the right place at the right time in the right shoes!
- Because of this, breakfast is a rushed affair. Her focus is on getting the children fed - if she has time she’ll grab a piece of toast to eat in her car.
- Evenings are almost as crazy, what with after school activities, bathing and bedtime stories.
- By 9pm, the kids are in asleep and she can finally spend some time with her husband. They cook some dinner, normally eating at around 10pm and then watch some TV. She gets to bed around midnight, ready to start her next day at 7am when the kids wake her up with their normal bountiful energy!
‘So you see, I just don’t have time to think about myself! Finding time to eat has become a sport in itself. Sleep has become a luxury. And as for exercise? Please! By the time I got myself to the gym, I’d have to turn round and head back again to make sure everything gets done at home’, she told me.
How did it get so late so soon? - Dr Seuss, writer
Does this sound familiar?
We all lead busy lives. Sometimes it feels likes there isn’t enough time in the day to get things done. We end up in circles of never-ending disorganisation, merely attempting to make it from one minute to the next without falling over
I call this the Back-Foot Cycle - we spend our entire lives on the back foot, being driven by our obligations and appointments. We mindlessly flit from one activity to the next, never having time to stop and think about what matters.
But there is a way to take back control. To put ourselves in the driving seat of our life, rather than allowing obligations and administration to steer us through.
I call this way the Process Oriented Approach to Tasks. This approach enables control, through a series of well-designed processes.
What do we mean by ‘tasks’? In this context, tasks are simply things that ‘just need doing’ in our lives. Things that most people could learn to do quickly, that follow a process. It could be food shopping, travelling, processing emails, doing housework, cooking, exercising - the list goes on. We all have a myriad of processes that we complete on a daily basis. We have designed these processes for ourselves, wholly unconsciously, throughout our lives.
How efficient can processes that have been designed without conscious thought really be? Chances are not very. Corporations spend huge sums of money to have their processes designed and mapped effectively, saving them even more in the long run. I should know - I used to do this for a living!
You could save too if you did the same mapping for your own life. And you’d be saving something even more precious - your time.
Be faithful in small things because it is in them that your strength lies - Mother Teresa, nun and missionary
This exercise might sound tedious at first. But consider this - are you willing to continue putting the important tasks on hold? Or are you ready to accept that with a little effort, you could change your life bit by bit, process by process? Because, believe me, this will change your life. You’ll not only find more time for neglected activities - you’ll have a new found sense of control. This is a powerful feeling, leading to increased confidence and, ultimately, happiness.
The first step is to identify the tasks that are relevant to you (the ones that need doing, even if you aren’t doing them well at the moment). Write them in a list with some blank columns next to them so you can fill in the following:
- How much time is spent on each task per week?
- On a scale of 1-10, how well are you performing at each task?
- On a scale of 1-10, how important are they to leading a successful life?
Look at the ones that take an hour or more per week. Write down your current process. This will take some time, because you have never consciously considered them before!
Here is a very simple example:
Start -> It’s Sunday, the day for hoovering -> Grab the hoover from the cupboard -> Move upstairs and hoover from room to room -> Hoover the stairs -> Hoover the downstairs rooms -> Empty the bag if required -> End
Look at all your processes - what could be done to improve? It’s useful to view them through a couple of lenses. Is the process necessary? What would the consequences be if you didn’t complete the process? Are there any opportunities for efficiency gains?
Using our example, most of us would say that hoovering is necessary, although it is down to personal preference how often. The consequences of not doing the hoovering is that we would eventually have a dirty floor, which could be both a health hazard and aesthetically unpleasing.
However, in the grand scheme of things, is it really the most important task? More important that improving our wellbeing, for example? Could we cut down the time required to do it, either by doing it less frequently all over the house or in certain rooms? For example, the hallway, living room and kitchen are the most used areas in the majority of homes. Dirt gets walked in either by you or the dog/cat! These rooms probably need to be done weekly. But the rest of the house? No way. Spare rooms hardly ever get used - they could be done monthly. The main bedrooms probably need doing once a fortnight, but no more. Of course, this exercise doesn’t work if one of you has severe allergies, but you get the picture.
By critiquing your current process you’ve found efficiencies. Suddenly, by adding in a decision point, you’ve saved time that can be used for more important tasks. Here’s what our new example process looks like:
New Hoovering Process
Start -> The house needs hoovering -> Is weekly, fortnightly or monthly hoovering required? -> Weekly -> Grab the hoover from the cupboard -> Hoover the hallway, living room and kitchen -> Empty the bag if required -> End
Start -> The house needs hoovering -> Is weekly, fortnightly or monthly hoovering required? -> Fortnightly -> Grab the hoover from the cupboard -> Hoover the hallway, living room, kitchen and bedrooms -> Empty the bag if required -> End
Start -> The house needs hoovering -> Is weekly, fortnightly or monthly hoovering required? -> Monthly -> Grab the hoover from the cupboard -> Hoover the entire house-> Empty the bag if required -> End
Your new monthly schedule looks like this:
Week 1 - Weekly Hoovering - 1 hour reduced to 30 minutes
Week 2 - Fortnightly Hoovering - 1 hour reduced to 45 minutes
Week 3 - Weekly Hoovering - 1 hour reduced to 30 minutes
Week 4 - Monthly Hoovering - 1 hour
Total time saved = 1 hour 15 minutes per month
This might not seem like a lot at first look. But over the course of one year, it would save you 15 hours. Considering the mapping and critique of this process would probably take you are 5 minutes to complete, that’s a pretty big profit margin.
Once you’ve completed this for each process you should have found a few extra hours in your week. Next, focus on the tasks you are performing badly at but that are important (unless you’ve covered them already). Now that you have this spare time, what could you do with it? For example, if you are performing badly at eating the right foods at lunchtime, could you find time on a Sunday to pre prepare your meals for the week? If you’re waking up a bit earlier because you’ve changed your bedtime and sleeping process, could you exercise at home for 20 minutes in the morning?
I talked my friend through this approach, and sure enough we found some wiggle room. She had taken on responsibility for checking her team’s generic email inbox - a task that was taking at least an hour a day to administrate. She decided to ask her team to devise a rota, so that each person took responsibility for one day per week. This freed up an hour 4 days a week for her to go to the gym at the office.
Each Saturday she was taking her son to swimming club - a 30 minute round trip with an hour at the pool. She decided to speak to other parents to organise a car share, meaning she only has to take the trip every 4 weeks. She’ll have 4.5 hours per month extra, using this time to prepare meals for herself and her husband that can be frozen in batches. This, in turn, leaves her with spare time in the weekday evenings to prepare a healthy salad for lunch the next day.
Great things are done by a series of small things brought together - Vincent Van Gogh, master of Pointillism
Getting the trivial things in order enables the profound to come alive. By mindfully planning your tasks, you create freedom for the things that matter. Day by day, control gravitates back towards you. With your new attitude to tasks, big things can be achieved through the small.
Did this article resonate with you? What small changes will you make today? Let us know in the comments below!