- Barnaby Lashbrooke is the CEO of Time etc, a virtual assistant service company.
- He relies on Google Calendar to stay on track during his busy workweek.
- Lashbrooke only works 35 hours a week, which is possible because of his time management skills.
When people learn that I run an eight-figure virtual assistant company while only working 35 hours a week, they always want to know how. The truth is that I pretty much rely on one tool alone: the humble calendar app.
I used to work 100 hours a week but I cut my hours and our revenue increased. I’m much happier now, and the calendar app helped me get there.
Every single thing I do is scheduled on Google Calendar, usually two weeks in advance. Every Monday morning I know exactly what my week ahead is going to look like.
This helps me be militant with my time and account for every single minute of my day. I also never end a day questioning what I actually achieved or wondering where the hours went.
I’ve found this way of working to be infinitely more productive than writing to-do lists.
In my system, lower priority tasks still get done because I’ve scheduled a specific time to complete them (though this is perhaps a week or two in the future). And anything I shouldn’t be doing — that’s anything that doesn’t directly contribute to our business goals — gets delegated.
Another benefit of using the calendar system is that I can also review how I've used my time and reflect on whether I could have done things differently, giving me useful insights to learn from.
I decide what tasks will make it onto my calendar app.
Effective prioritization helps me avoid getting bogged down with administrative tasks, or tasks outside my skill set that could be better handled by someone else.
I use the Eisenhower Matrix, or the Urgent-Important Matrix, to figure out what I should be doing myself, urgently, what I should be saving for later, and what tasks should be delegated, or cut completely.
As a team, we use Monday.com to hold all of our strategic objectives and projects, which is a great way to store and collaborate on major projects and strategic decisions.
Typically, a project in Monday will spawn a bunch of actions, some of which will be for me:
I then identify which of these actions will support my business to achieve its core goal: to increase revenue and user retention.
Only tasks that can be linked to this objective are scheduled onto the calendar, usually for some time during the next couple of weeks. Any task which will not directly contribute to the goal is delegated to another member of the team.
I pack my schedule on days that I work in-office
Like my team, I spend at least one full day in our office each week. These days tend to be fairly intensive, and are geared towards face-to-face interaction with my colleagues.
Although we have banned unnecessary meetings, some are inevitable and these are deliberately scheduled into a single day per week wherever possible, as I find it allows me to be completely focused. At the moment, I tend to do my weekly day of meetings from the office:
From the moment my working day starts at 10 a.m., every moment is accounted for. Meetings are scheduled to take place one after the other, but I'll always try to beat the clock, condensing them into shorter periods wherever possible.
All meetings are one-to-ones with a very specific, pre-agreed purpose, and most only last 15 minutes. We very rarely do group meetings as I don't believe they're efficient or effective.
Any spare time I gain by cutting meetings short is used to either bring the whole day forward, or to fit in additional non-urgent but important tasks.
When I work from home, I leave the afternoon for creative work
I now have an identical workspace at home and in the office so I don't have to spend the first hour getting used to a different setup, and so I don't have to transport things around. In both workspaces I have a super widescreen monitor for multi-tasking, a comfortable ergonomic chair, a Macbook cradle and all the hubs and adapters I need, plus noise-cancelling headphones and an HD/4K webcam.
I save tasks that involve high levels of concentration for when I'm at home:
I cluster all my figures-based tasks into the morning. Meanwhile my afternoon is made up of creative work which requires strategic thinking or creativity.
Why arrange my time like this? In order to make the best use of the hours in the day, it's important to work with—and not against—your natural productivity flows. Our focus peaks and falls throughout the day, and so it's useful to identify which times you're at your most attentive.
I've learned that I'm best at coming up with ideas in the afternoon at around 4 p.m., and that I'm in the best mind frame to do this after a healthy lunch and a coffee or two.
I'm not alone in plotting my day around my energy levels. Amazon chief Jeff Bezos organises his so that any "high IQ" meetings are done and dusted before lunchtime. And, because it gets harder to make a decision the later it gets, after 5 p.m he postpones any decision-making until the following day.
At the end of the day, I schedule a hard stop, to give myself a definitive deadline and ensure I finish work so I can spend time with my three children.
Delegate emails as needed
Email is one of the biggest time killers. For that reason my virtual assistant Lisa has complete autonomy over my inbox.
She filters everything that comes in, virtually eliminating the need for me to deal with it at all.
Lisa organizes my emails into the following folders:
At the end of each day at 5 p.m. I jump into the folder marked Priority 1 and attend to anything urgent that requires a response. I give myself 50 minutes to attack my priority inbox, but most days I can do this faster.
What's interesting about treating my inbox as something that can wait is that some things just get done without my involvement (which suggests I shouldn't have been CC'd in the first place).
And by delegating the organization of my inbox I don't have to waste mental energy on things like ignoring cold sales emails or LinkedIn requests which has a little guilt attached.
Most of the communication with my team happens on Slack. It's much quicker than conversing over email, and easier for me to handle in spare moments between tasks.
Taking control of my working day
Keeping to a strict work schedule takes a lot of self-discipline and a certain amount of ruthlessness. And it might take a little while for your team to get used to the fact that, no, you can't spare 10 minutes right now for a quick catch-up.
But mapping out your days and weeks for optimum productivity while staying laser focused on your business goals will ultimately bring you closer to achieving them, and leave you more time to spend on the things that really matter: family and friends.