How to reclaim your time and energy to live your best life

Working smarter rather than harder allows you to focus on what matters most

Taking steps to become more efficient and effective will free up precious hours each day and help you to start living a better life. Getty Images
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Each of us has 168 hours a week to accomplish our tasks and goals — at work, at home and out in the world. If you feel you spend too much time on things that don’t add value to your life, you’re not alone.

The good news is that it’s easier than ever to generate stronger results, both personally and professionally, with less effort. How? Work smarter, not harder. Take steps that make you more efficient and effective, freeing up precious hours each day that you can put towards living a better life.

Ari Meisel, an American entrepreneur, author, TED speaker, productivity expert and author of books including The Art Of Less Doing: One Entrepreneur's Formula for a Beautiful Life, highlights a three-part framework of optimising, automating and outsourcing to achieve better results — faster.

Step one is optimising, or streamlining how you do your tasks. To do this, break down a task to its bare minimum and eliminate any unnecessary steps. The goal is to have the smallest number of actions that will produce your desired outcome.

Optimising requires you to take two actions. Firstly, identify your current patterns. Start by tracking habitual tasks or behaviours that you’re interested in changing or getting rid of — what you’re working on, how long those tasks take and how many things you are doing at once.

Assigning data to your daily routine shows you where you can improve. Track behaviours and time in a journal or notebook, or use an app.

Secondly, apply the 80:20 rule in all that you do. Also known as the Pareto Principle, this rule asserts that 80 per cent of outcomes (or outputs) result from 20 per cent of all causes (or inputs) for any given event.

Once you identify the steps you take to complete various tasks, you can focus on doing the 20 per cent that really have an impact — and discard or reorganise the other 80 per cent.

Take emails, for example. Consider setting a filter to immediately file any with the word “newsletter” in it to an optional folder. This move makes your inbox a place for productivity. Later, you can whizz through the others much faster and at a time of your choosing.

For business owners, it’s likely that about 20 per cent of your clients account for about 80 per cent of your revenue. Once you know which ones make up that 20 per cent, focus the bulk of your time on them.

Once you’ve streamlined tasks, automate all you possibly can and forget about them (step two from Meisel). Examine all the bite-size tasks left over after step one and determine how they can be accomplished without human interaction.

Tech-enabled appliances can make mundane tasks easy.

The law firm where few people 'go to work'

The law firm where few people 'go to work'

Automating tasks not only frees up time and mental energy but also reduces mistakes, like forgetting an important bill.

Finally, consider outsourcing things you cannot automate. Warning — delegating can require a mental shift if you believe you’re the only person capable of performing certain tasks in your company or family.

There are many similar smart ways to build a moat around your wealth, declutter and keep things on the straight and narrow. All are similarly simple as the above, but not easy.

Remember, you want to focus on the 20 per cent of your actions that yield 80 per cent of the results.

Start small on tasks you feel aren’t mission critical. A few good outsourcing experiences may encourage you to delegate bigger tasks that free up serious extra time and energy.

Your time is the only non-renewable resource. Optimising, automating and outsourcing (or eliminating) can leave you with more time to focus on building a great life for yourself and the people you care about most.

Ultimately it is about aligning your capital, be it time, attention, energy or financial, with whatever is important to you.

Sam Instone is co-chief executive of wealth management company AES

Updated: April 29, 2022, 4:00 AM