The number one challenge I hear from clients and colleagues is that they feel overextended and overwhelmed. What they are craving is bandwidth – the time, energy, and focus needed to think more deeply, be more effective, and feel more impactful. Of course, this craving stands in stark contrast to the demands we face to do more done for less and have it done by yesterday. So, how can we find more joy and be more impactful while also feeling less overwhelmed and more present? To find more time, energy, and attention, we need to start exploring how to do things differently.
There are currently dozens of new books out there telling us how to be happiness. But if we can’t get our heads above water, what good are these guides to the good life? People aren’t just looking for ways to be happier—they want actionable strategies to move the dial on this goal.
I suspect that it is one factor currently driving the KonMari craze. In The Magic Art of Tidying, Maria Kondo offers a practical way to streamline and simplify one’s life. Her philosophy is simple: Reduce to create more focus and bring more joy into your life. To date, millions of people have read Kondo’s book and watched her new reality television show. But reducing clutter in your home is just the first step—this is really about building the capacity to be present and start enjoying what you already have.
For the past decade, I’ve been intentionally clarifying what matters most to me. Along the way, I’ve expanded my business, been married, and had two beautiful children. I wanted to do this and made it happen, but this has also meant developing strategies to build the capacity to do more with the same finite amount of time. In Create More Flow: Igniting Peak Performance in an Overwired World, I share my formula for achieving a happier and more impactful life.
A key part of my proposed formula is the “five ‘Ates”: collate, eliminate, automate, delegate, and create accelerate/celebrate.
Our brains share a lot in common with computers. The more programs open, the slower your computer runs. To speed up the computer, you first need to determine what programs are open and then close down the ones you’re not using. Your brain is similar, except we rarely take time out to audit how many “programs” are open in our brains. This is the “collate” step.
Collating is about taking stock and getting a line of sight on all your demands. Creating the habit of collating is the greatest gift you can give to yourself and those around you. This is the habit of carving out time every day to write down new ideas, to-dos, reminders, etc. Ideally, you build a habit of doing this once in the morning as you transition to work and once in the evening as you transition home. I also recommend doing this anytime you notice yourself becoming unfocused or spinning your wheels. Collating is the beginning of reclaiming time, energy, and capacity for things that matter most.
A lot of us carry around a lot of should-dos. Once we have better line of sight to all the things on our plates, we can make better choices. When we contrast the should-dos with the must-dos and the want-to-dos, it is possible to ease up on the expectations we have placed on ourselves.
So, before you take any action, make sure everything that has been on your mental list needs to be there. Taking a step back for perspective is a smart time investment. It eliminates clutters and creates purpose. To begin, ask yourself the following questions: Is it important? Do you enjoy it? Will it move the dial or impact an important outcome? Just because something has been burning up mental energy doesn’t mean that it requires action or requires action now. Mindfulness is about “noticing” what is on one’s mind and making different choices.
Given our constrained bandwidth, we not only need to efficiently execute on our to-dos but also prepare for the future—a life where we have fewer demands. Automating is one way to get a bit closer to realizing this future life.
When you automate, you build something once but use it many times. So, to get started, notice the actions that you repeat. Could these repeated actions be done quicker, easier, and in a more cost-effective way without your immediate attention? This might mean making a checklist after hosting a big corporate event to ensure the next one is easier or putting certain monthly bills on auto pay. If you’ve always done something one way, it can be hard to break the habit. But don’t miss out on opportunities to automate simple tasks.
Once you have clarity on what you want to achieve and how to get there, think about who can handle these tasks to help you build bandwidth. The goal is to deliver targeted outcomes using the fastest, easiest, and most cost-effective option. If that means delegating some work to other members of your team, do it. Sydney Finkelstein, a professor of management at Dartmouth College, has spent years studying what makes the world’s super bosses successful. Finkelstein found that one trait super bosses share in common is that they are great delegators and even willing to delegate big decisions. But delegate with the following guidelines in mind:
- Cost out options: Ensure you’re delegating to the most economical person. Someone invoicing at $500/hour shouldn’t be doing a task that someone could do $25/hour. This might sound crass, but it’s true. Find out who can do this most and do it for least.
- Be transparent: Part of being a great delegator is spending time articulating outcomes and constraints. Be clear about your timeline and budget. When overwhelmed and overextended, we too often forget to delegate well.
- Allocate menial tasks to subprime time: If you don’t have people to whom you can delegate, reserve menial tasks for times when you are not at your best. This way, you’ll at least be allocating subprime time to tasks that matter less.
Once you’re collating, eliminating, automating, and delegating, you can start to reap the real rewards. This can mean creating new work, accelerating the execution of existing projects, and even taking more time out to celebrate gains big and small.
We all know that feeling of doing important work, being able to think deeply, or being fully present for the people and things that matter most. There is nothing better than being able to roll up your sleeves and work without distractions. When we do this, we’re at our most creative, more productive, and most impactful. Better yet, when we do this consistently, we are happier, better off, and more fulfilled.
The “five ‘ates” are an effective way to find that sweet spot between purposeful struggle and avoiding overwhelm. Discover how this simple formula can help you build bandwidth and leave your current pain and struggle behind.
Stay up to date or catch-up on all our podcasts with Arianna Huffington here.