This question has popped up quite a bit for me as of late. As a solopreneur, I have to be the one who has to do everything. I can't delegate ( mostly, I have some tricks on how I sort of delegate ). When I'm planning big picture stuff, I can't execute. When I'm executing, it's hard to remember how this fits in the big picture. I recently started putting a lot of effort into growing my email list. So I started my brand, got on to social media, and started blogging. These things aren't my forte, I'm an engineer!
Because of all this, I seemed to ask myself almost daily, "Am I being effective or busy? Am I wasting my time working on this?"
There's nothing worse to me than wasted time, but there are a few ways I have learned to get past this nagging question.
1. I bought a whiteboard and laid out the big picture
This may seem extremely stupid, but the problem for me was whenever I started executing something that didn't have to do with building a new mobile app or doing something engineery, and then spent a few hours working on it... I'll suddenly look up and say, "Why the hell am I doing this? I should be building a new mobile app... something that can actually bring in revenue!"
I would say those things because I lost focus on the whole big picture. Indeed my big picture was to generate revenue, but the last app I created fell flat on it's face. I spent a few months working on a puzzle game called Mission Tesseract, and when I finally released it... it flopped. The few users of the game loved it, but there wasn't enough traffic to the app to really make a difference revenue wise. Instead of opting for paid traffic, I decided that the best route for me was to grow an audience for me and my work, so that not only would Mission Tesseract improve, but any future app that I build could also benefit.
Hence, why I needed to grow an email list. Hitherto, why I needed to create my own personal website, twitter account, Facebook page, and Instagram account. Additionally, this is why I needed to blog, spend time posting on to my social media accounts, and basically all the things I was doing in where I would ask, "Am I wasting my time working on this?"
As you can see, if I didn't hold all of that reasoning in my head at all times, it was very easy to get lost and feel like I was wasting my time and just being busy. Which is why it was so beneficial to have it physically mapped out on my whiteboard that I could see everyday.
If what you are currently working on is in line with your big picture, you are definitely being effective and not busy.
2. Automation Delegation
As an engineer, I know that if I spend several days working on a piece of code that can automate processes, those days were not wasted. They will pay me back in time exponentially in the future. ( Part of the reason why I never feel like I'm wasting my time if I am code monkeying ) But what about people who aren't code monkeys? Same rings true!
If you spend a few hours or even days setting up automations through apps like Zapier or IFTTT then you most likely spent your time well. Spent a few days creating an email drip campaign that you will use over and over again? Probably a good use of your time. How about a few hours crafting A/B testing on email sign up forms from SumoMe? Not a bad way to spend the day.
The general rule is, if it will save you time later, and will keep on working for you over and over again without much overhead... Don't feel like you wasted your time.
3. Learning Skills & Developing Knowledge
If I can categorize what I'm currently working on or going through as "learning a new skill or developing knowledge", than I can pretty much mark it as me being effective and not busy. I spent about 4 hours figuring out how to create a 1-Click email opt-in form for twitter ( which has grown my email list like crazy ), and connected that with my Mailchimp account to automatically send out a welcome email. Wasted time? Absolutely not, because now I know how to set that up in just a few minutes.
Plus, these types of knowledge & skills are what other people crave as well! You've just increased your value. I now offer up that knowledge of how to create that 1-Click email opt-in form for twitter in exchange for people's email addresses. Win-Win!
These three things have helped me rethink about how I spend my time and helped to categorize the effectiveness of what I am currently working on.
What helps you be more effective?