Two Simple Ways to Free Up Your Time

Sophisticated time management tools, techniques and theories abound: go here and knock yourself out with a comprehensive overview – Pareto, activity logs, Locke’s goal setting theory, it’s all there.

But I’d like to focus on two very simple ways we can free up our time, by stopping doing things.

Recently I’ve made a great “stop doing” decision, and wasted an appalling amount of time on something I should never have done in the first place.

A year ago I co-founded Viva, a professional development and networking organisation for women in Beijing. The Viva organising committee are a fantastic group of positive, funny women so the event planning was never a drag – we even held our meetings over a glass of wine in a local restaurant.

Problem: this year I’ve been increasingly interested in motivational speaking, so I decided to join Toastmasters, to develop my public speaking skills. Unfortunately, Toastmasters meets four evenings a month, and I was already spending two evenings a month planning and attending Viva events.

I knew if I did both I’d end up tired, de-motivated and resentful. It was a wrench, because Viva was very close to my heart, but I decided I’d have to let it go.

The upshot is, Viva have elected a new president and are going from strength to strength. And, apart from the moment of terror that strikes just before I get called to the stage, I am hugely enjoying the whole Toastmasters experience.

Lesson: A painful sacrifice is worth it if it’s for something you want even more

I recently needed to buy a phone, so I duly trundled off to Carrefour. Returning hours later (Carrefour contains all sorts of diverting goodies) I plugged in my proud purchase.

Very odd. The phone would ring, but when I picked it up I couldn’t hear anyone. I asked friends, but they were baffled. I made endless calls from my mobile to the China telecom people, but they insisted there was no problem with the line.

For two weeks I racked up mobile charges before eventually making the return trip to Carrefour. I thrust the offending phone at a young male assistant, who casually unplugged the receiver from the back of the phone (where the line is supposed to go in) and re-plugged it in the neat little receiver hole at the side. My phone worked.

HOW stupid did I feel? Ruminating in the taxi on the way home, I reminded myself that I had already sworn to delegate anything remotely technical OUT of my life. Why had I forgotten this?

Lesson: Stop doing what you’re bad at. (and plug the receiver in at the side, not the back).

If I had asked my daughter’s nanny (who is more technically-minded PLUS able to read Chinese instructions) to go to the shops for me, I would have had a phone that worked and two saved afternoons for taking my daughter to the park, or writing a couple of blog posts.

Stop doing what you’re bad at is “the one thing you need to know” in the book of that name by strengths expert Marcus Buckingham.

Buckingham advocates ruthlessly cutting out stuff you’re not good at from your life and work. Being intentionally unbalanced, he argues, is more effective than seeking to be well-rounded by trying to bring your weaker areas up to scratch.

What could you sacrifice to make room for something more important?

What are you bad at that you can stop doing?

Sarah helps mid-career professionals transition from the corporate world to self-employment “off the beaten path”. Her clients want to follow a passion, express their creativity or help people or society in some way – and at the same time to lead a richer, more family-friendly lifestyle. Sign up to Sarah’s FREE mini e-course 5 Keys to Finding Freedom By Doing What You Love at