There are fundamental principles that apply to all productivity strategies, tools or rules.
- Who is Rory Vaden?
- What is Procrastinate on Purpose?
- The Truth About Time
- The 5 Permissions
- Eliminate: The Permission to Ignore
- Automate: The Permission to Invest
- Delegate: The Permission of Imperfect
- Procrastinate: The Permission of Incomplete
- Concentrate: The Permission to Protect
- The Next Step
It is critical that anyone wanting to increase their personal productivity pays attention to those principles.
But, what are they?
- We all have 1440 minutes each day.
- We all have our own range of personal and interpersonal commitments and obligations to juggle, and these can often overwhelm our ability to choose how we focus our energies.
- If we don’t choose how we spend our time, we are at risk of wasting it.
In his book Procrastinate on Purpose: 5 Permissions to Multiply Your Time, Rory Vaden has created a primer on personal productivity that relies on common sense.
Procrastinate on Purpose could become required reading for those wishing to create success.
Who is Rory Vaden?
Rory Vaden is the co-founder of Southwestern Consulting, a global consulting company that helps clients improve their customer experience.
He is also the author of Take the Stairs, in addition to Procrastinate on Purpose.
Finally, he hosts a podcast The Action Catalyst with Rory Vaden as well as being the author of a successful blog.
What is Procrastinate on Purpose?
Procrastinate on Purpose is Vaden’s distillation of his personal approach to productivity.
I have to admit that I put off reading this book for some time, due to the title. I still find Procrastinate on Purpose to be an obscure name for a book about personal productivity, but am glad that I eventually got around to reading it!
Vaden outlines a common sense approach to understanding the value of time, and then his five-step funnel for considering how best to utilise that time.
I’ll also provide a list of 25 podcast episodes featuring Rory Vaden discussing Procrastinate on Purpose.
The Truth About Time
In Part One of Procrastinate on Purpose, Vaden outlines his thoughts on why so many ‘time management’ or ‘efficiency’ strategies don’t produce the desired results.
He introduces the concept of ‘Multipliers’, who are people who seem capable of multiplying their time.
The truly successful people around him seem to think differently about their workload. He quoted one as saying1:
You reach a point where you realize how futile it is to expend energy sharing or even thinking about how ‘busy’ you are. Once you get to that place, you shift to focusing that energy productively into getting the things done rather than worrying about the fact that you have to do them.
He suggests that Multipliers take responsibility for their situations and life:
You are not a victim. You are in charge. You are capable. You are powerful enough to decide what you will and won’t do with your time.
To Multipliers, Vaden argues, the outcome is what is most important:
To a Multiplier, it is ultimately only about producing their desired results.
After making it clear that it is the mindset of his Multipliers that defines their success, Vaden goes on to discuss productivity strategy more broadly.
He suggests that the majority of time management advice is about improving efficiency. The problem is that an increased level of efficiency will still leave more that can be done.
Those who still believe that more hours or more efficiency is the ultimate answer to their workload challenges have sentenced themselves to perpetual stress because they haven’t yet acknowledged that it is a never-ending wheel…
This leads Vaden to conclude that time management should not be the goal, but ‘self-management’ which will lead to much better results:
- You can choose what you do today with the time you’ve been given.
- You can decide which things are worth investing yourself in and which are not.
- You can choose to either be focused on things that matter or allow yourself to be swept away in a sea of distraction.
The Covey Matrix
To illustrate to his argument, he refers to Stephen Covey’s ‘Time-Management Matrix’. This separates tasks along two axes defined by Importance and Urgency.
This leads to the four quadrants that so many students of productivity will recognise:
- Important and Urgent
- Important but Not Urgent
- Not Important but Urgent
- Not Important and Not Urgent
All of the time management and efficiency techniques in the world still can’t make more time, however, and Vaden argues that it is time multiplication that is what sets apart the successful from the rest.
He illustrates this point with a juggler. A juggler can juggle more balls (efficiency) or juggle the ones he has faster (time management). This leads to our options being:
Go as fast as you can for as long as you can until you burn out, or
Let everything crash!
Vaden argues that the addition of a third axis to Covey’s Matrix allows for a different calculation, that of Significance.
If Urgency is “how soon does this matter?”
And Importance is “how much does this matter?”
Then Significance is “how long is this going to matter?”
It is consideration of the significance of the tasks that separates the decisions made by Multipliers. This is what Vaden describes as the core message of his book:
You multiply your time by spending time on things today that will give you more time tomorrow.
He goes on to note:
As I start to make considerations of Significance, I start paying more attention to how spending my time today will affect tomorrow.
There are things I can do today that will make tomorrow better. There are choices that I can make now that will create more space later.
In the first part of his book, Vaden makes a cogent argument that consideration of the longer term significance of tasks must become part of the weighing of priority.
In the second, he explores each step in his ‘Focus Funnel’ that leads to time multiplication.
The 5 Permissions
As I stated in the introduction to this piece, consideration of the fundamental principles of productivity is critical to understanding how to improve.
The 5 Permissions outlined by Vaden could be known by other names or be prioritised in different ways, but they are fundamental productivity concepts for a reason.
Let’s see what each principle (Permission) is…
Eliminate: The Permission to Ignore
Vaden argues that the first step of becoming a Multiplier is asking the question:
What are all of the things that I can just eliminate?
What can I stop doing? What doesn’t need to be done?
The power of stopping doing the things that don’t need to be done isn’t only in freeing up time that day. You free up time every day moving forward.
Vaden asks us to consider the power of Elimination across a broad spectrum of tasks and activities, to multiply our time available for tasks of Significance.
- Re-Decision (Reviewing a decision where we know what the right decision is and we should have already made the decision before.)
- Watching TV
- Unnecessary meetings
- Long e-mails (A long e-mail is almost a flashing sign that you need to have an in-person conversation.)
- Unnecessary change
- Intermittent change
- Confrontation e-mails (Never send anything negative or even constructive about someone over e-mail.)
- Doing other people’s work
- Sharing your opinion
- Unreasonable people
- Thinking about where you’re going next
- Explanations versus experiences (If you are a leader of any type, then here are two words that will magically multiply your time: Show me.)
- Unnecessary double-checking
- Custom versus leveraged (Create things in a way that they can be used over and over again.)
I know that this list resonated with me at several points and that there is lots of time I could gain by eliminating these time-wasters!
Another strategy for Elimination that Vaden suggests is learning to say ‘No’.
You are always saying no to something. Any time you say yes to one thing, you are simultaneously saying no to something else.
He notes that it is better when working with others to be clear about when and how you can help them. A ‘Maybe’ leaves things unclear, which could lead to letting the other person down.
A ‘No’, on the other hand, is clear and actually allows that person to get on with the task or seek alternate assistance. This is a far kinder way of dealing with others than letting them think you’ll help by saying ‘Maybe’ when you mean ‘No’.
People can take no. But they want to be treated with dignity. They want to be treated honestly.
This leads to his first permission…
The Permission to Ignore
I give myself permission to Ignore, and I will learn to say no to the things that don’t matter so that I can say yes to the things that do.
You can also have a copy of this post as a pdf to read later.
Automate: The Permission to Invest
Vaden spends a lot of time in this chapter discussing various business costs that might not be immediately obvious. These include opportunity costs, hidden costs and so on.
The most useful element of this chapter is the comparison of time with money. The use of time can be viewed as an expenditure. After all, we only have so much time available.
Thus, anything that we can automate to reduce our need to spend that time in the future is saving us time. And this time saved increases over time exactly as compound interest does.
Multipliers, who live in a world of evaluating everything based on Significance — how long this decision is going to matter — are constantly thinking longer term. It’s almost as if they are making a perpetual account for compounding interest.
All of this made me think of this wonderful comic from xkcd:
This leads to the second permission…
The Permission to Invest
If you are investing money, you are making. If you are spending money, you are losing money.
The investment of time now to improve a system, workflow or automation reaps the reward of increased time later. Time spent doing something that can be automated is time you spend again and again.
Every moment that passes that you don’t Automate something that could be, you are exponentially losing future time.
Vaden’s examples of things that you could automate include:
- Frequently asked questions (FAQs): A simple idea that any small business or big business can do is to invest some time into an easy-to-use, easy-to-find, well-thought-out list of answers to FAQs.
- Disorganized re-creation: It baffles me how much time is spent in many organizations re-creating things that already exist.
- Online bill pay: Spend a couple hours setting up all of your regular monthly bills to be paid automatically.
- Data backup sync: A person calculating only with Urgency says, “I don’t have time to stop and do anything,” but someone considering Significance says, “The one thing I always have time for is to back up my data.”
- Social media management: If you’re not already, you should be using a tool like Hootsuite or SocialOomph that allows you to schedule tweets, blog posts, Facebook updates and so on.
- Past client follow-up: A common consulting project for us as of late has been helping companies craft an ongoing customer appreciation strategy.
- Online learning: With the emergence of online learning platforms you can create training videos once today on everything someone on your team needs to know to be successful.
- Drop shipping: This is another one of the beauties of the modern day world.
His conclusion is that:
Anything you create a process for today saves you time tomorrow.
Delegate: The Permission of Imperfect
Vaden’s argument in this chapter is that if you aren’t the only person who can do a task, it is better for someone else to do it.
To be a Multiplier is to be a master delegator.
This will have the effect of freeing up that time for you to do the things no-one else can do.
Again, Vaden explores several accounting terms in this chapter. The more relevant in personal productivity terms is ‘return on time invested’ (ROTI). ROTI explains why throwing up your hands while trying to teach someone to do something and saying that it would be faster if you did it yourself is a false economy.
He quotes an executive who suggests that allowing 30x the task duration to teach it to someone else is about right. In other words, if a task takes five minutes for you to do then you should allow 150 minutes to train someone to do it.
The false economy, therefore, is in saying that ‘I should just do it myself as it isn’t worth the 145 minutes extra to teach someone else’. If you do this task every day, you will spend 250 working days per year doing this five-minute task, which is 1250 minutes each year. If you teach someone else to do it you save 1100 minutes the first year, and then 1250 every year after that.
This leads to the third permission…
The Permission of Imperfect
You have to learn to be okay with things just being okay. You have to embrace the idea that someone else might not be able to do it as well as you—at first.
Vaden reports on noticing the behaviour of Multipliers was in enabling those around them to contribute.
The leaders around them started to multiply into other leaders. Things somehow found a way to get done. All the people around chipped in and found a way.
He also shows how this affects not just our workplace performance but our personal lives as well. He notes many examples of how Multipliers employ others to do things for them that they don’t like doing or aren’t expert in. Some of the roles he suggests you consider employing others to do for you include:
- Office assistant
- Business coach
- Financial planner
- Insurance agent
- Real estate agent
- Graphic designer
- Travel coordinator
- House cleaner
- Grocery (or personal) shopper
- Personal assistant
He concludes that:
Whether it’s in your professional life or your personal life, the size of your success is usually determined by the strength of your team. So fill in your gaps and supplement your weaknesses by bringing on other people. Invest the time (and money) to train them properly. Give yourself and them the permission of Imperfect and start making progress by doing more together as a team.
Procrastinate: The Permission of Incomplete
Finally, we get to ‘Procrastinate’ which is the word that so put me off reading this book! It turns out that Vaden doesn’t really encourage procrastination as I had expected, more that he wants readers to learn to complete their tasks at the most appropriate time.
A Multiplier knows that it’s not just about what to do, or how much to do. It’s also about when.
If we can’t Eliminate, Automate or Delegate a task, it belongs to us. The only decision is when to do it. This leads to his critical question: “Can this wait until later?”
He notes that this isn’t intended to lead to poor performance of the task.
If waiting until later would actually cause you to sacrifice the integrity of whatever the task is at hand, then the answer to “Can this wait until later?” wouldn’t be yes, it would be no.
Vaden describes the folly of acting too soon and then finding that the situation has changed and your completed work now needs revision. He calls this ‘unexpected change cost’.
You definitely don’t want to be late. But you also don’t want to be too early. A Multiplier works to be precisely on time.
This leads to the fourth permission…
The Permission of Incomplete
He suggests that sometimes the act of waiting to do something at the right time prevents you having to waste time re-doing work that you’ve already completed.
This permission also applies to helping or leading others. Many times, colleagues or direct reports will ask for advice for resolving an urgent problem. Vaden suggests that often those problems with either resolve themselves or be resolved without your input if you give people time to figure it out for themselves.
The last way in which Vaden suggests procrastinating is with batching of tasks.
Doing similar tasks in a batch will reduce the ‘intermittent change cost’ of doing a series of small, unrelated tasks one after the other. This can lead to you completing things far more efficiently than when switching among differing tasks.
Examples of opportunities for batching include:
- E-mail: You might be nervous about the idea of waiting a few hours to check e-mail because you have the fear that “my customers expect to hear from me right away!” No, they don’t. That is your fear talking.
- Meeting talk-topics: A very large number of the e-mails that we get are questions or discussions that can wait and would be better handled in a meeting.
- Paperwork: If you’re in sales and you’re doing proposals or paperwork during peak times of the day and you believe that is the “right time” to be doing them—you are kidding yourself. What you really have is “creative avoidance” and “call reluctance”
- Any type of shopping: If you don’t yet have a personal assistant or grocery shopper, then keep a running list of what you need and delay as long as possible your trip to go shopping or to spend time surfing online.
- Phone calls: If you have a bunch of phone calls to make, try to group them together one after the other in your day.
- Paying bills: If you don’t yet have it Automated (or you don’t have the ability) and you don’t have a bookkeeper, then pay all your bills at once
- Thank-you notes: Unless there is some overarching Urgent consideration, let them pile up for a couple weeks and then write them all out.
He concludes that:
There is no limit to the magnitude and significance of understanding the value of patience and that timing really does matter.
Concentrate: The Permission to Protect
After working through the ‘focus funnel’ from Eliminate, Automate, Delegate and Procrastinate, you finally get to Concentrate. This is where you do the work.
Concentrate is a verb that instructs us “to bring all efforts, faculties, activities, etc., to bear on one thing or activity.”
Concentrate, as a noun, is “an intense form of something,” such as juice concentrate.
Vaden suggests that Multipliers are quickly able to assess the long-term significance of a task. They are then able to concentrate on the most concentrated use of their time.
In the Eliminate stage, it was, “Is this task something I can live without?”
In the Automate stage, it was, “Can this task be systematized?”
In the Delegate stage, it was, “Can this task be performed by someone else?”
In the Procrastinate stage, it was, “Can this wait until later?”
If the answer to each of the previous four questions is no, then—and only then—you finally have something that is a priority.
You now know the timing is right. At this point it is time to act. It is time to pull the trigger.
Vaden spends time discussing the meaning of priority. He notes that if you are spending time doing something that is by definition what you have decided is your priority at that moment.
He suggests that if you aren’t doing what you consider to be your priority at that moment, you need to put your current activity into the funnel and Eliminate/Automate/Delegate/Procrastinate/Complete it. Then you can get back to doing what you think you should be doing to move things forward.
The question he asks us to ask ourselves is:
Is what I’m doing right now the next most Significant use of my time? Is it the thing that is making the most out of the available time that you have? Is it the thing that is enabling you at that moment to be your highest self?
Which brings around the fifth permission…
The Permission to Protect
Vaden suggests that it is critical to give yourself the permission to be your highest self, to protect your time to do what only you can do best.
Once you’ve worked down the focus funnel, the next most important task needs to be completed and you need to Protect the time you need to do so.
If something is the next most Significant thing related to your dream, you have to Protect it, you have to do it, and you have to do it now!
The Next Step
Part 3 of Procrastinate on Purpose discusses how to take the lessons learned from Part 2 and embed them within the culture of your workplace.
Vaden asks what our offices would look like if everyone applied these principles, got the right things done and enabled those around them to get their right things done.
He concludes that Multipliers need to teach these principles to others around them so that they can become Multipliers.
Finally, he lists several activities that will have massive yields outside of the office. These include:
- Date night: You have to make your marriage the priority regularly.
- Debt free: The number one thing that will make you money in your life is your personal income.
- Stay healthy: If multiplying your time is spending time on things today that create more time tomorrow, then what could be a more directly obvious application of the principle than staying healthy!
- Training and personal development: Your mind is the most powerful tool you have, but it’s only as capable as what you invest in it.
- Treating people right: To the extent possible, have amazing customer service.
- Integrity: There is no limit or measure to the incredible multiplying effect that your integrity has on everything you do.
- Faith: Faith is choosing to trust that what is happening now is for a greater glory later on.
- Good early decisions: It seems that there is the same compounding effect on choices that there is on money.
You can also have a list of 25 podcast episodes featuring Rory Vaden discussing Procrastinate on Purpose.
What could you gain by Eliminating tasks from your to-do list? What about Automating or Delegating to others? How might your work and, more importantly, your life look if you Concentrated on the activities that really move things forward rather than just on maintenance?
Since reading Procrastinate on Purpose I have been struck by how many things I do each day that don’t help me move my life forward. Whether it is in my work or personal life, there are myriad activities that I could Eliminate, Automate or Delegate.
The obvious example here is email. Everyone has email. And most people complain about email.
Vaden reports on internal data from a study Southwestern Consulting conducted that found that the average executive receives 116 emails each day. When I wake each morning I usually have somewhere between 40 – 50 emails in my inbox. That doesn’t account for my two work email inboxes.
However, Eliminating email altogether is impossible in many workplaces. The ‘productivity guru’ fad of suggesting using messaging apps like ‘Slack’ is all well and good, but what if you don’t control the workplace, your workplace’s IT infrastructure or culture?
I know that I cannot transition my hospital to using Slack. I am stuck with email.
What I can do is try to reduce the amount of email I receive.
There are many tools that can help you reduce your email but there are principles that you need to consider here as well. Firstly, what are the critical emails that you must read and/or respond to each day? Secondly, what are the emails that you would like to read and/or respond to at some stage? Finally, what don’t you need and can, therefore, be deleted or eliminated altogether?
A lot of tools focus on unsubscribing you from mailing lists and newsletters. The best place to start is with your own email habits.
Step 1: Assign time to process email
Don’t leave your email client open on your computer desktop and expect to get any real work done. You will get sucked in by the constant updates of new messages and unread notifications that are built into the software.
Set a time on your calendar twice daily to process email and close your email software in between times.
Step 2: When processing email, apply the two-minute rule
Can you answer the email in two minutes or less? Do it. If not, consider making it a task to complete later, and then continue processing your email to zero.
Keep in mind the switching cost that Vaden describes and batch your email. Don’t get sucked into it and surface two hours later to find half your day is gone.
Step 3: Unsubscribe from what you can
This is where tools can help. This recent article at PCWorld lists three.
There’s even a book… Unsubscribe: How to Kill Email Anxiety, Avoid Distractions, and Get Real Work Done by Jocelyn Glei.
Of course, email isn’t the only thing that you could Eliminate. I am currently working through Vaden’s list of suggestions and trying to eliminate some activities that bring no value to my life. I am sure you can think of many things that you could drop altogether that would have no negative impact on your life and might bring positive impacts in time saved/gained.
Note: Since publishing this post I’ve written an Ultimate Guide to Managing Email that contains far more information and many, many tips for reaching Inbox Zero.
Again, there is all manner of things I could Automate in order to reduce my time spent on busy work and free up time for work of Significance.
As a doctor, I spend quite a lot of time researching the medical literature and keeping up with my fields of interest. I need to Invest some time in this area to reduce time spent looking for new publications. I should follow my own advice and make the medical literature come to me.
In my personal life, I can find bills that can be paid by direct debit from my bank account so that I don’t have to spend the time to pay them. Budgeting is a weakness of mine, and I need to look into the applications that are available that pull in all my banking so this is in one place when I need it. This article series by my friend Marina Darlow is a good starting point.
Spending time on social media? There are apps for that.
Tracking your diet and exercise. Apps for that too.
In fact, the modern world makes it easier than ever to Automate some activities that would have been either laborious or impossible in the past.
What could you Automate today that you won’t need to do tomorrow?
This is a harder one for me, as I don’t have access to an assistant in my workplace. I have started using some Virtual Assistant (VA) services to help me with this website, however, and have had good experiences so far.
Many productivity experts suggest using VAs in place of executive or personal assistants, but for reasons of concern about patient confidentiality I have been reluctant to use a VA for my work.
I am working on becoming better at asking collaborators and colleagues to perform tasks and then trusting that they will happen. For many perfectionists, this is a hard skill to learn, but I can already see the benefits in terms of multiplying my capacity by involving others. Collaboration can be a powerful way to work more effectively.
There must be ways in which I could get some of my ‘life administration’ tasks performed by someone else. Perhaps I’ll look into some help with gardening, or maybe with house cleaning.
Finally, I have been exploring home automation in my free time and look forward to the day when I can ask my house to do things and they’ll be done, or, even better, when my house does them for me without even needing my involvement. A combination of Automation and Delegation that makes my life easier would be very welcome indeed!
I hope you can see the power in the fundamental principles of personal productivity that Rory Vaden has outlined in his excellent book Procrastinate on Purpose: 5 Permissions to Multiply Your Time.
If you are a productivity expert these suggestions might seem obvious. For many of us, the book will reinforce our understanding of some of the core pillars of productivity while providing new insights into others.
I recommend reading the book for yourself, and then considering what you might Eliminate, Automate, Delegate and Procrastinate. Then, and only then, can you Concentrate on what is important and significant.
Have you read Procrastinate on Purpose: 5 Permissions to Multiply Your Time? Will you? Can you think of anything you could Eliminate, Automate or Delegate? Let us know in the comments below.
- All quotes from Vaden, Rory. Procrastinate on Purpose: 5 Permissions to Multiply Your Time. Penguin Publishing Group. Kindle Edition. ↵