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“I think I’m trying to do too much”

Ramit Sethi · January 12th, 2015

About 3 years ago, I stopped and looked around and realized I was trying to do way too much.

I know a lot of online people build moats around themselves so they never have to hear from their readers (“noreply” email addresses, assistants to screen messages, etc). But I always preferred to read my own emails and respond to them, even if I got insane ones like this, this, and this.

2015 gives me new opportunities to deal with my genius readers

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A photo posted by Ramit Sethi (@ramit) on

However, reading 1,000+ emails a day raises its own problems.

Back then, I was getting hundreds of emails a day from random readers, who would ask questions about investing, the best credit card, how to handle their upcoming job interview, etc.

I was raised to help people if I could, so I made it a point of pride to respond to every single email I got.

But like a sink that’s backed up, no matter how quickly I “drained” my inbox, I ended each day with more emails than I started with. I felt like Mickey in Fantasia.

By this point, I also had a small team, so every day, I would get emails, chats, and texts that went like this: “Hey Ramit, can you take a look at this?”

“Yeah, sure, what do you need?” I would say.

…UNTIL I WAS GETTING 50+ REQUESTS LIKE THAT A DAY. WTF!!

So now, I was answering emails, writing IWT emails, working on our technology, planning marketing campaigns, building multiple courses at the same time, and reading about 1,000 emails/day.

Not good. No matter how fast you type or how many cool email hacks you implement, this doesn’t scale.

In fact, when I finally decided to take a vacation, it took me one damn year to figure out how to leave and make sure IWT didn’t collapse while I was gone.

Imagine being a paper clerk who comes into work, takes a look at the 5,000 files on his desk, and glumly begins stamping papers. At the end of the day, his boss walks by with a new cart of 7,000 more files. Can you imagine that sinking feeling every day?

I was basically a glorified paper clerk pushing papers…with no end in sight.

What do you notice about stupid Ramit from a few years ago?

#1: STUPID RAMIT HAD: A lot of delusional self-importance: “The world will collapse if I’m not here to manage everything,” said Ramit who really isn’t that important (remember, this was 3 years ago. Now I’m much more mature)

This is my new author bio photo

A photo posted by Ramit Sethi (@ramit) on

Halloween 2014

#2: STUPID RAMIT HAD: A total inability to give up control and delegate. Everyone “knows” you have to focus on the Big Wins…until you actually try to do it

#3: STUPID RAMIT HAD: A serious problem focusing on pointless minutiae. ‘Oh, let me spend 3 hours on this paragraph that will have no meaningful impact on my life or anyone else’s. It’s so important…don’t you understand!!’

Worst of all, if I looked at my calendar, I spent maybe 30 minutes a day working on really important stuff. 30 MINUTES!

I had to figure out a better way of tackling work and life.

So I decided to start testing out different approaches. I may not have been good at balance, but I also knew I wasn’t a special snowflake, and if others had figured it out, I was sure I could, too. I hired advisors, I read tons of books, and I started experimenting.

The results:

  • I took the ~60 hours of low-level tasks I used to do…and eliminated 45 hours of them a week
  • I replaced that time with much more valuable work that I loved
  • My revenue doubled…multiple times

Best of all, I got to “own” my personal time again. For example, last week I worked until 4pm, then went to the gym, and after that met friends to see the Louis C.K. show at Madison Square Garden.

Now, POP QUIZ:

Put yourself in my shoes.

What did I change that let me eliminate the low-level tasks and focus on high-value items?

And what does this have to do with MORE?

Leave a comment below with your guess.

P.S. Hint: This one change I made was worth millions of dollars. I’ll tell you about it tomorrow.

P.P.S. I want to acknowledge a math mistake I made in last week’s post. I miscalculated the numbers on my luxury spending post: I pay $16,380/year for my personal trainer, not $45,360. (New rule: I need to triple check my math.) This is my mistake and mine alone, and I wanted to be be candid about it since I’ve always promised to be honest with you. I’ve corrected the original post on luxury and added an additional example to show how I do spend $50,000+ a year on luxury services.

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158 Comments

 
  1. Christina

    Well, if I were you, I’d hire some people who know your stuff inside and out and can reply to the low level stuff with “Dude, I hate you. Read the last 8 years of the blog.” It’s the voice and the brand that matters… They might as well be you.

    And it has to do with more, because now you get to do what you like to do with your time. At the end of the day, you don’t feel drained from answering the same boring questions over and over, you get to do the research and find out what new frontiers you can breach to teach and motivate people… and so offer better refined and more interesting product and subsequently sell more. That would be way more refreshing. Well, or you might just be doing fun stuff.

    • Isaiah Eukel

      You asked for help! You swallowed your pride and ego and gave others the chance to do the tasks and prove themselves. Good Job! Hardest thing to do is let go of that control and smash your ego. They might not do a perfect job like we do but it allows us to focus on the more important issues.

    • Eduardo Velez

      In the end we can all agree that success in business is more than just making a lot of money. We need to balance our financial success with success in other areas of our lives such as our family, health and relationship with God. The entrepreneur that can successfully manage those areas is the master of the universe.

  2. Wait, am I missing something? How is this a guess…?

    Didn’t you just explain how you got out of your own way to make time for Big Wins?
    Realizing you are a bottleneck for the company you create is a recurring theme in the entrepreneurial world. I remember first reading about in The Four Hour Work Week and also recently on Pat Flynn’s blog.

    Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to set up some systems to free up my time for bigger wins…

  3. Nigel Chua

    Hey Ramit

    Totally understand that – logically, we “know” that we “all need to” delegate…but when it really comes to doing things, habit really dies hard.

    My guess is that you finally cracked, took the time to see/study IWT operational workflow, got totally pissed/grosses/amazed/then pissed again how you actually did most of the work that could have been outsourced (i.e. UGH! I can’t believe I spent 33% of 201_ doing that!).

    And after ranting, then you hired some really cool and productive people who could do the stuff for you.

    =D

  4. Justaperson

    My guess is that you made a mental/ conceptual breakthrough, since there must have been some reason you were doing so many low level tasks other than email for so long. Maybe you felt that you just had to do a set of low level tasks or were in the habit of doing them, but then you kept asking yourself “why” until you figured out to let it go.

    What does this have to do with “more”? To make room for more, it could be wise to first to cut the clutter and low value activities, and only then to add more high leverage activities to one’s plate.

  5. Amanda Bullerwell

    My career is focused around Lean implementation for manufacturing. From what I’ve seen, the group of people that habitually have the worst time with change / simplification / standardization are office workers. Manufacturing folks embrace the idea of automating the soul-suckingly boring work, so there is more time for cool innovative brain-heavy work. Office folks have a much harder time because it is never glaringly obvious what tasks add value, and what tasks are busy work. All of it looks like “stare at the computer, click the mouse, move your fingers over the keyboard.” Add to that, most of the work is done independently, so folks lull themselves into ‘special snowflake’ thinking.

    What you do, on the other hand, is treat the office the same way you would for manufacturing. The Lean principles I see most on this site: Design of Experiment (test until you know what works, and more importantly, why it works); Standardization (set methods for data and information transfer, then automate it); and Empowerment (the person doing the work must be the owner of improvements, or it won’t stick); these are the things I come back here for, because they resonate with what I do, and how I think about work.

    How is this about More? Lean implementation falls on its face when it is used solely as a cost-reduction activity. “Automate this, then we’ll cut three heads.” Smart companies use lean to add capacity. “Automate this, then I can have three people working on something more valuable.”

    • Bill Ravenscraft

      Amanda, nice to meet another Lean practitioner here! Can we connect on LinkedIn? Would like to discuss application of Ramit’s principles into the application of Lean into organizations.

    • Seraphim

      What Amanda said. 🙂

      I think big wins are a lot more about systems and habits than motivation, brute force, tips and tricks, etc. I don’t work in manufacturing, but I love reading Lean books and trying to apply Lean principles to my work because it really has brought about some big wins for me.

      The hard part (for me at least) is finding a consistent sustainable method for increasing capacity and results. I would really like to know the specifics of what Ramit did here.

  6. 1. You got over whatever mental scripts you had to acknowledge that the status quo wasn’t working for you anymore.

    2. Instead of having the knee-jerk reaction of “omg, must work faster! let’s put in more hacks & randomly automate stuff” you set aside time to analyze how you were spending your days.

    3. You experimented with different processes to identify the big wins.

  7. What’d you change? You changed your focus; truly concentrated more on the big wins while delegating the less vital (but still necessary) ones…

  8. In order of importance:

    1. Through your testing, you found some tasks that simply could be ignored. So they were. That one paragraph you spent 30 minutes agonizing over?

    2. You empowered others on your team to tackle tasks where it made sense to.

    3. You outsourced tasks that were still necessary but that in theory anyone could do and did not need your team to tackle, freeing up their time as well.

    • Right, must remember to finish thoughts before hitting post.

      One #1, what should be at the end is that 30 minute paragraph you agonized over is now a thing of the past, left alone as is since it did not matter in the grand scheme of things.

  9. I suspect you set things up so you did the important stuff first. Whether this was changing the triggers in your environment (turning off email notifications, using an network interrupter program, scheduling synchronous meetings with direct reports to provide accountability from another person) or other things to establish a new habit, this can help make a difference. (To me, it’s analogous to automating savings “off the top” or the parable of the rocks and the sand.)

    My challenge in trying to make these transitions is dealing with the initial “backlog” and making the investment to get a good system, especially as it can take some time before the system really kicks in.

  10. Outsourcing.

  11. sanjeev Philip

    Just as you aren’t special as a snowflake,the people replying to your mails aren’t either.so you must have identified your readers into groups and designed templates for each group.or maybe you read the four hour work week.

  12. You changed your process by experimenting with not doing certain tasks and confirmed that the world didn’t end, so did less of them and more tasks that resulted in bigger wins over time.

    Working on some of my invisible scripts about doing lower value things that make me or others important to me happy but result in me doing less of things that will lead to big wins that would have benefits more important to me and allow me to spend more time/lead a Rich(er) Life with them over time…

  13. Robert Allen

    You changed a fundamental belief you had that “if you didn’t touch it, it wasn’t going to be gold.”

    For years, you’d probably been used to doing EVERYTHING yourself. Over time, a “groove” begins to form (aka behavior) and that’s really hard to fight against.

    Essentially, when you made the shift, you took a (small) leap of conscious faith to say:
    “There are people in the world that are better at somethings than me. And I don’t have to prove myself in that area. If I wanted to be the best, I could. BUT is that really the best decision for me and my business? Probably not. ”

    “But more than just being better at something or having my hands in on everything, it’s SMARTER for me to focus on much BIGGER picture, value-creating activities.”

    What this has to do with more:

    There are limits and constraints on any ONE person’s abilities. Yeah, anyone can do a million things, but a million things done sub-par isn’t even equal to doing ONE THING to completion and perfection.

    In a life/world of more, you have to realize that success compounds by leveraging OTHER peoples skills, talents, abilities.

    Isaac Newton said: “If I have seen further than others, it is by standing upon the shoulders of giants.”

    Leveraging others expertise allows EVERYONE to move forward and focus on the much bigger picture things.

    Crush the minutia and move onto where it really matters.

  14. Kameahle

    You tested different options. You didn’t give up or keep trying something that you knew wasn’t working. You learned to delegate and be ok with what you were willing to give up while keeping the things that you loved and gave you and your business value. 🙂

  15. You took back your time by delegating and prioritized how you spent your time which allowed you to really focus on the most important tasks.

    What this has to do with more is that it allowed you to get a greater return on your investment of time for less effort and time.

  16. My first thought was mindset, or priorities but upon further reflection, I think that Ramit changed his focus.

    More priorities won’t help with the big picture, but more focus in areas that would improve your career, business or balance will help you grow.

  17. Tabitha Martin

    Ramit–
    Thanks for sharing this–especially the line: “Everyone “knows” you have to focus on the Big Wins…until you actually try to do it”!!! Nice to see that even the guys who look like they have it all figured out, maybe don’t as much as I think 🙂

    Oh- you obviously delegated the less-important “minutiae” in order to have time to focus on the 50,000-foot view of your business and the tasks that will push the business forward. This is my focus this year, so this is great timing.

    P.S. You keep posting pictures like that one and your mom may not have to complain about her lack of grandbabies that much longer –lol!

  18. Hey Ramit,

    My best guess is that had an approach like this.
    1) Track your time and where it’s going
    2) Decided what you could automate (email autoresponder addressing the most commonly asked question)
    3) Decide what you should delegate, like the marketing/maintenance type tasks
    4) Watch a ton of Netflix+beer

    🙂

  19. Nathaniel Wyckoff

    You hired a personal assistant to take care of many of the foolish emails, and delegated a lot of the unimportant tasks.

  20. Well, I know from experience that you haven’t given up personally responding to emails, and I know you pop into the RBT group on FB too, so I bet you’ve set up a system for others to filter out the crappy emails & only send you the ones worth your time & energy.

    As for writing, that’s probably done at an optimal time of day – when you’re both creative and productive, with very few distractions.

    Rather than getting constantly pinged by your staff, you trust them to do their jobs & act as you. You set up times to talk with them personally so that issues can be resolved quickly & ideas can flow freely.

    Finally, you make time for yourself a priority: eating right, going to the gym, hanging out with friends. You don’t get burnout from constantly working.

  21. Gretchen

    I’m going to guess that you sorted through your daily activities and arranged them into three stacks: “only I can do this,” “I can hire someone to do this,” and “let’s ruthlessly ignore this.” You located one or two skilled people to take over the tasks in the second stack. You shitcanned the third stack. Then you had hours in each day to double down on the tasks only you could do, and make that work excellent. Then you still had time to create new courses which led to MORE. And you started allowing some time off to dick around and enjoy life. I’m also going to guess that you didn’t get your stacks perfectly sorted out on the first try. You had to watch and monitor how your system was working out, and adjust a few things here and there to get everything running smoothly. I think you are still adjusting things.

    Am I right?

  22. I assume this is about hiring people, delegating and systematizing. And by systematizing I mean making checklists and instructions and getting people to follow them.

  23. You let go of perfectionism — you let go of the idea that you had to respond to every person in a way that they considered perfect. It was a shift in mindset that basically moved you from “Take care of every detail” to “A lot of details aren’t impactful and don’t need my attention.”

    Less perfectionism on every detail results in more time for you to focus on meaningful tasks and still have tons of time remaining. Less is more in this case.

  24. Leawrned to delegate effectively.

  25. Stephen Fiser

    Probably something like:

    1) Track time exactly for a period of time (a week, a month, etc.)
    2) Do an 80/20 analysis of what things are actually producing results
    3) Drop everything that isn’t producing
    4) Take the actions that are producing results and decide which of those can only be done by you
    5) Delegate everything else

    • Like quite a lot of fellow readers have already said:
      1) You looked for which tasks are actually your big wins
      2) Got rid of the tasks that yield little or no results
      3) Delegated/outsourced ferociously the tasks that you are not the best at.
      4)Kept doing the few crucial tasks that you love and that happen to be your forte.

      Because less is more.
      Doing what you’re best at beats doing everything any day, it’s a multiplier.

      Right or right?

      😜

  26. Chris Justin

    1. Sorted tasks into “high value-added” and “marginal value-added”
    2. Eliminated “marginal value-added” tasks (e.g. fired clients who weren’t worth your time)
    3. Created Standard Operating Procedures for remaining repeatable tasks
    4. Hired and trained a VA to manage tasks that could be outsourced

  27. You hired a virtual assistant or two.

  28. As James Altucher might put it, you learned the power of “No”. You said no to tasks that were less important so that you could tackle the building of systems and spend time doing what you enjoy. In other words, you invested present time and energy mostly in endeavors that would save future time and energy.

    What does this have to do with more? Well, focusing on the important while either delegating or refusing to do more routine tasks means that you are constantly providing more and more value. Consequently, you grow revenues, increase your personal freedkm, and get to do what you find fun and interesting. What MORE could you want?

  29. (1) What did I change that let me eliminate the low-level tasks and focus on high-value items?

    I imagine you learned to use your discipline to do FIRST THINGS FIRST. Actually asking “What’s the highest priority thing to do today?” and then actually doing it.

    Along with letting your team do the lower level tasks you want them to do. I imagine this was also just a mental discipline, like “learning to trust” and “letting go” or whatever.

    (2) And what does this have to do with MORE?

    When you loosen your grip on lower-level things, you are now FREE to work on higher level things.

  30. I hired a cleaner who is now coming once a week to clean my flat and do the ironing.

    She does it 3 times faster than I could do it, better and it gives me more time to meet friends, cook (I love cooking), play with my little boy, spend quality time with my wife, go to the gym…

    It does cost me more money, but what I get back is quality time!

  31. I guess you hired someone else to do it.

  32. You started closing your door when working on important tasks and/or stopped the Pavlovian email notifications.

  33. Brian Sun

    You changed from working IN your business to working ON your business. #michaelgerber

  34. You evaluated which 20% of activities produced most of your revenue stream and eliminated (or delegated) the other 80%.

  35. I am guessing you did one or all of the following:
    1) Made the conscious decision to stop trying to answer all emails [important first step].
    2) Employed assistant(s) to screen your inbox AND/OR setup filters so that only the important stuff gets through.
    3) Set limits to how long you spend each day answering/composing emails.

  36. Catherine

    My guess is that you decided what tasks actually needed to be done, and then decided which of those tasks needed to be done by *you* specifically. Next, you automate as much as you can for those “must do” tasks, hire out other tasks, and what’s left is what you personally have to do.

    • Catherine

      Forgot about MORE- this gives you more time to do what YOU want to do! We only have one life- why spend it doing one more thing than we have to at work? I’d rather be out living my life, and I imagine that’s true for most of us.

  37. Amanda B

    i am guessing you wrote detailed steps of all your processes and then had other people take over the tasks.

    I hope you also started politely saying no to every person that asked for help.

  38. Ramit,

    Your words are inspiring to people, some more than others of course. I’ve read a few comments and I’m impressed with everything they came up with. Though no one really knows exactly how you’re handling all emails and responds to people. My guess is that you only respond to the comments that make you question your own judgment and/or negative comments. Then again, that’s just my opinion. However, most people don’t take the time to open their emails, They let it sit there till it pills up. They get frustrated when they receive notifications saying you have a few new emails. I understand that there’s a way to “stop” receiving the emails but what if they don’t even bother? You’ll be wasting your time and energy emailing people who are not interested in what you have to say or are not willing to learn and take pointers from you. With the way technology is now, I’m sure you’re not killing yourself trying to reply to all those who subscribe to this. I’m sure you can afford to hire people to do it for you, so you could do more meaningful things. I know you’re not at home replying to everyone’s emails and comments and letting the days pass by. That’s insanity! So why bother reading emails that are typed by an employee you’ve hired?

    What I’m trying to do is understand your way of doing things and how you would reply to a comment like this.

  39. That is an easy one. You instituted policies or decision trees for those working for you. So they did not have to think about what you wanted have done, just follow the procedure.

  40. First, you blocked time to for the thought work involved in making this change. First, you decided what your big goals are. This is important; without this step, you’re still just a fish floundering. Determined what work would lead you to those goals. Determined what tasks (current and new) you had/wanted to do to reach those goals. Decided what didn’t need to be done at all, thus thrown out. Determined the best way to accomplish what was left, which would include having someone set up systems to deal with some and having others take care of some.

    The part I’ve left out is the human psychology/behavioral part. How you accomplished letting tasks go. Also, how you set a goal and stayed focused on it and the work to get there.

    I look forward to enlightenment tomorrow.

  41. Here’s my take on what you changed: you moved from tactical to strategic, looked at yourself from the outside and decided what would move the needle in your business and what would not. Then you created a system so that someone else (your team) could implement the tactics (something an employee can do given the right training and instructions, aka system) while you took care of the strategy (the long term vision and direction of the business).

    How does this relate to MORE ? Well, being required to do less is MORE, it’s leverage. And leverage means more ability to do what matters and grow, and more opportunities to create results, which turns into a virtuous cycle of being able to delegate even more and focus on MORE, BIGGER goals.

  42. Eliminate, Automate, Outsource?

    (I got that from Ari Meisel)

  43. You watched your thoughts and realized that all the stress and pain were from your mind replaying old thoughts, your ego crushing your creativity, and finally this cyclical process was keeping you from being present. Whatever manifestation you did to accomplish this is immaterial, the fact that you did it is the important part.

  44. You eliminated your pride and fear to think that it will only be done good if YOU do it.
    Something I struggle with a lot…I mostly prefer to not do or have something instead of letting go of control and asking for help. I try to be too independent which is recipe for stagnation.

  45. I speculate that you went through and listed the ways you’re spending your time and then identified items that were high value and needed to be done by you as well as items that you either didn’t want to be doing or could outsource. And then set up systems to have those cared for by others.

    For the remaining items you set up systems to support you achieving them (personal trainer, mentorship group you’ve posted about in the past, etc…).

  46. I’m guessing that you stopped doing some of those tasks altogether, and hired someone to manage the ones you couldn’t stop doing.

  47. Removed one invisible script:

    1. The need to help EVERYONE.

    More time for EVERYONE = LESS time for you.

  48. so according to the math you only do 15hrs of “low level tasks”.
    lets see…
    maybe u created a system where…
    all emails were automatically directed to an assistant who would then be your human filter. organizing emails into categories… “hate mail” or sign up for various programs.. which would then be sent to another team member …

    perhaps you decided in advance what you wanted this year to be about and wrote a few posts in advanced and automated them on a schedule..

  49. You created systems I belive. To help you categorize, prioritize and finally do it!

  50. I bet the change you made was to delegate those other tasks to someone else saving you countless hours and allowing you to focus on what you truly enjoy.

  51. the business graduated. The birdie had left the nest if you’ll take the analogy. You took a big step and did something WHILE you were afraid of doing it. My guess hiring a personal assistant or several to handle email. Allowing someone to take the wheel while you caught a few zzz’s. amirite. And also saying no. congrats on the big win bro

  52. Triage comments by prioritizing, reducing the same actions for the same content, set an intention for your tasks and focus on that.

  53. You started thinking like an economist and began valuing activities based on their opportunity cost.

  54. I used to be an administrative assistant for an Associate Pastor at a church I attended. He had a work philosophy that went something like this:

    1) What tasks or responsibilities that only I can do?
    2) What tasks or responsibilities am I doing that someone else could be doing better/more efficient? and
    3) What tasks or responsibilities am I NOT doing that is keeping someone else from performing their duties?

    I thought this was a good summary to prioritizing work.

  55. My guess is you did one or more of the following:

    1. Created a new system to find better work life balance, including time management to determine what really matters.
    2. Readjusted your sleep pattern to allow for best results once this new system was implemented.
    3. Let go of delusional self-importance and accepted who you are today.

  56. Ravi Mikkelsen

    I bet you gave your assistant(s) access to your email and a FAQ/reply script and let them sort through your email every night so that when you woke up you only had the important ones to deal with.

  57. Richard Fields

    Priorities changed first and foremost. Secondly you implemented the 80-20 rule through eliminating your need to handle the 45 hours worth of low level tasks yourself. 80% of the effects (your influence on readers and the help you provide for them) come from 20% of the causes (the actual work that you need to handle on your own).

    I would imagine that although you receive thousands of emails daily from readers, many of the questions they ask are similar. Instead of responding to each individual saying similar, yet personally based answers, you switched your approach to sending out an email to your subscribers about the appropriate topic for the day which also answers many questions from the readers. Having this interactive comments section doesn’t hurt either, which in effect creates a classroom style environment where user’s questions are answered and you are able to focus on your “20”.

  58. Meredith

    I am going to guess that you came up with scripts to answer the low level emails and focused your time crafting dedicated responses to the big picture items.

  59. You mentioned as one of the luxuries to have a personal assistant. So, good for you!

  60. You hired a virtual assistant.

  61. You eliminated your self. Good job.

    #4HWW

  62. Changed your attitude.

    This is really relevant for me, thanks for this one. I’m obviously at a much earlier stage on the path, but I’ve managed to get to a half hour to an hour of productive time in a day’s work by
    – assessing work tasks with 80/20 rule
    – Developing systems to make the 20% result tasks as small as possible if they can’t be dropped
    – Delegation and trusting people to do the work
    – Scheduling tasks and leaving time for random requests
    – Refusing to monitor too many methods of communication (email or text me – if you phone and miss me or worse leave a voicemail, send to generic work email, send to weird work electronic file, or worst of all fax me, I’m not going to see it for ages or at all)
    – Doing the important work first thing when I’m fresh and no one has started asking me to do random things yet

    Really interested to see the answer to this one!

  63. You stopped thinking everything is important and you have to give it your full attention until it’s resolved just because you got an email, you saw a link, or someone else wants you to do it. When you cut out all the distractions you can spend much more time on what’s truly important to you and still have a lot of personal time left over. I’ve been working on this in the last year and seeing a lot of changes because of it.

  64. I know that, among other things (most of which are probably already guessed above), you went from “I reply to every email” to “I read every email.”

  65. “Imagine being a paper clerk who comes into work, takes a look at the 5,000 files on his desk, and glumly begins stamping papers. At the end of the day, his boss walks by with a new cart of 7,000 more files. Can you imagine that sinking feeling every day?” Fun fact- Thomas Ligotti wrote a legit horror short story where this was the plot. And yes, it’s actually really well-written and scary.

    My guess for what you did was simply change your default response to everything that came to you. Before your mindset was “I’m going to do this unless I absolutely can’t,” and now it’s “I’m not going to do this unless I have to.”

  66. You delegate.
    You train the people as to the kinds of responses you want them to give for the things that are low-value.
    You also tell them what kinds of things do get escalated to you.

    Work with it a while, then refine. This is assuming that you want to respond to all unsolicited communications.

  67. Straight and to the point. You implemented operational systems in place and/or you outsourced as well.

  68. I think you consolidated all the questions from readers and found a lot of them are similar. So instead of answering them 1 at a time. You published your answers to a targeted group each time on your site. So you would just refer the readers to the specific part on on your blog.

    This would limit the time you spend on every single email, your solutions and insight would also become available to even more reader. Therefore, more courses can be created.

  69. I think it was a change of mind and some cold hard cash. What I want to know is how do you let those things go when you don’t have money yet to outsource to other people. My thoughts 1) you let people know that you don’t respond to emails. 2) you just don’t do that work anymore 3)you try and hire an oDesk or e-lance person to deal with it, but that backfires b/c they are not you and it takes months to find someone good enough to be a brand messenger. 3)you spend a weekend categorizing people and stuff, and write posts about each category and send them a link.

  70. You eliminated the limiting thought that you were indispensible at all levels. By doing so, you were able to delegate and get time back. Nicely done.

  71. Q: “What did I change that let me eliminate the low-level tasks and focus on high-value items?”

    A: Your mind. You changed your mind and your perception of what was valuable and of what required your direct involvement versus just your influence.

    Q: “What does this have to do with more?”

    A: Everything. First, it’s just the ability to mentally conceive of more. Without having that realization, nothing can happen…. you won’t look for solutions, and you won’t get out of your own way. You have to get out of your own way in order to scale. If you can scale, you can do more much more efficiently, which means that your operating speed is increased. But it all has to start with a mental change…

    (I sound really self-assured, but my responses are just a guess based on my own limited experience)

  72. I think you started delegating responsibilities instead of tasks. Rather than telling people what to do, you showed them the end goal and how they fit in to it. This gave them more autonomy and they could give you status updates rather than sitting idle while you had to determine what they needed to do next.

  73. Knowing you, you built a system to automate or delegate to some sort of assistant.

    although it was a typo, the $45k for a personal trainer doesn’t seem THAT ridiculous considering

    a) how much it is relative to what you earn
    b) how fit you actually have gotten — I think $45k to be in real shape and enjoy your life more is not as ridiculous as it sounds, in your specific financial situation

  74. Robert Solomon

    You used the Pareto Principle – figured out which 20% of your tasks provide 80% of your wealth and success. Also hired assistants to help with the lower-level stuff that you thought needed to be done.

    Ramit, I hope your trainer didnt see your mistake! He may feel upset he didnt get $40k!

    All the best! RS

  75. Charlemagne

    I would like to answer “Pareto Principle”, but I can’t really explain it anyway. So I’ll just say you learned to delegate things to others. XD

    But, heck, even if I were wrong, someone down the long train of comments sure would guess right… LOL

  76. I have two guesses:
    1. you used the Pareto principle and prioritized. You determined the productive 20% of the work you did and cut the other 80% .
    2. You defined the work which only can be dnoe by you and delegated the rest (outsourced maybe).

  77. What did I change that let me eliminate the low-level tasks and focus on high-value items?
    You let go of control, delegated and empowered your team to handle the low level tasks. You then focused your time on more valuable tasks. An hour of your time answering the same type of emails is worth much less the an hour of your time spent on strategy for 2016 product line.

  78. Based on what I have read here and in your book, you automated what you could. As your brand expanded, you did not fall victim to scope creep…instead, you hired who you needed to hire and got more out of your day by hiring more people and micro-managing less.

  79. Let’s see. You thought this is stupid, I need to do something that pays the bills? Why spend all of my time answering people’s questions for free? In my opinion….(please respond to the email above by Paypal for the rest of the answer and me fee is $300 for a limited time.)

    Really, didn’t you think maybe you were trying to answer too many kinds of answers at once? Didn’t you find you were answering the same questions over and over?

  80. My guess? You stopped getting $4 lattes. Not because of how the cost was going to keep you from retiring, but because the time standing in line at Starbucks makes you want to die.

  81. 1. First set the time limit, then prioritize within it.
    2. Build a forcing system that enforces important things first.

  82. I’m going to agree with Gretchen. You analyzed the types of email you were getting, found a techy or outsourced solution to separate them into stacks and reduced 2 of the 3 stacks didn’t need to demand “Snowflake Ramit”‘s time.

    I’d also wager that Infusionsoft, IFTTT and that cool customer tracker I once saw a screenshot of (clicking on a user and seeing all interactions and read emails) – all played a role to allow you to focus on the people who actually respond to your posts.

  83. stopped watching TV, limited time on Internet. Made a list of all the things you really liked doing and focuses your time on achieveing those things. Found someone or way to respond to the low energy things that may need to get done but not by you.

  84. Mark Kelly

    I’m guessing you focused on high level activities and dropped/delegated/outsourced/systematized/automated the other tasks.

  85. HuckWally

    At a 30,000 foot level, you changed your approach for managing your attention.

  86. You figured out how to focus your time and energy on the 20% of customers who really matter and drive your business.

  87. You were able to give control and delegate?

  88. Steve Kobrin

    You changed your self image. You realized that to build your corporate empire you had to see yourself as an entrepreneur and not as a financial guru. You are a businessman first and a mentor to riches second.

  89. Sierra Clark

    Three possible thoughts:
    1) You woke up earlier.
    Morning Miracle, Hal Elrod.

    2) You outsourced, and/or delegated tasks that could be done by others.
    YMII, Get Friday, or personal assistant of another kind

    3) You began doing ONLY what was necessary.
    Maybe you started using Omni Focus to do this, or read David Allen’s GTD.

  90. What you did that changed to let you eliminate the low-level tasks and focus on high-value items were removing a lot of delusional self-importance’s that you had, a total inability to give up control and delegate, and a serious problem focusing on pointless minutiae.

  91. I believe you did more than one thing, but the main thing was to hire an assistant because you realized your time was more valuable (monetarily speaking).doing what only YOU could do.

  92. Evan Tarver

    I’d say you changed from “quadrant III” tasks (urgent, not important) to “quadrant II” tasks (important, not urgent). By focusing on quadrant III, you end up eliminating almost all urgent tasks, since by focusing on the important things BEFORE they become critical, urgency is mitigated.

    Giving yourself time to focus on quadrant III reduces the following tasks/quadrants, since pre-planning does wonders for reducing those stressful tasks that take up your time and don’t add much value:

    – Quadrant I: Urgent, Important
    – Quadrant III: Urgent, Not important
    – Quadrant IV: Not Urgent, Not Important

  93. My guess…u eliminated the B.S 80% stuff that got u just 20% return.

  94. Daniel Reifenberger

    You got over yourself and removed yourself as the bottleneck in your business.

  95. You decided which tasks really needed your full attention and learned to delegate the rest?

  96. For heaven’s sake, don’t tell me you learned to delegate?

  97. From memory, your emails started to contain a function for free chapters to download from your book.
    There was also a channelling system for areas of interest (how I ended up signing on to DreamJob).
    I assume this helped to a certain extent to direct people away from you and filter out the ones who weren’t serious about doing work for themselves.

    • As for gaining more? It was an automated system that allowed you to leave that behind and concentrate on living better in other areas.

  98. You hired someone that met your standards to do it for you, balancing cost and time management wisely.

  99. Elizabeth

    Assigned a preference, who knows how in your history/life: You had a preference to answer all of your emails in your inbox each day, by you, to serve and grow your customers, and not isolate yourself from your fans and employees like other bloggers.

    Gut check: As emails increased rapidly, you started to get a “sinking feeling” that was presumably uncomfortable, felt like impending doom/burn out approaching if not addressed.

    Awareness to address discomfort: You took a moment to notice this feeling by stopping the email treadmill and looking around; presumably, growing aware of what may be causing this sinking feeling. Sounds like this looked like asking yourself, “when was my last spontaneous vacation?” and other questions to see how you spent your time versus what you value.

    Challenged your own preferences: I want to answer all of my emails, because I don’t want to be a moat-building isolated online business owner. But I can’t answer all of my growing emails; answering emails faster by myself won’t ever solve this current discomfort. How do other bloggers do it? Oh yeah, THEY build a moat to isolate themselves.

    With understanding, comes re-framing: Maybe it was never a moat to isolate, but a way to serve even MORE of their customers, readers, and fans.

    Learning: You sought out to learn about what others did to successfully fix the email-glut problem/discomfort without sacrificing serving the fans and alleviate the discomfort.

    Implement: You began to implement a new way, regardless of what you call it (80/20, Pareto, Out-sourcing, 4HWW, GTD, and on and on).

    Testing: You’d know each method would be a “success” as you measure that emails are being handled faster than other methods while at the same time you are also increasing your fans/customers.

    Monitor: Continue to learn, implement, and test. Addressing each gut check discomfort as it arrives by taking space, learning more and beginning the cycle all over again especially when re-framing is required.

    • Good synopsis. However, also go against the grain. Ramit appears to have chosen rather than isolation to get leverage by featuring representative comments in follow-on posts. Aggregating similar comments/posts enables him to still address reader comments without wasting all day on it. He can also use staff to review and aggregate these emails so that he can still see the key points but without needing to be stuck in the minutiae.

  100. Documentation

  101. Christian McQueen

    This post struck a chord with me because putting a system in place to handle readers emails has been something I have to fix.

    I too try to respond to every readers’ email, but you start going crazy because many times it’s the same question worded differently.

  102. My guess: you started focusing on ONE big win per day.

    Anything else not related to that win, you staffed out, deferred to a later date, or ignored.

    I’d also guess you started working on that big win first thing in the morning and did not stop until it was done.

  103. Jane Grey

    Ramit, it seems to me that what changed is that you stopped bullshitting yourself about what you “had” to do. Once you saw and told yourself the truth about what you alone could do, being the realist that you are, you could no longer keep doing the same old. That required decisions and then action, but it began with telling yourself the truth, which is a change of script. Bravo and thank you for sharing.

  104. Pareto’s Principal: the 80/20 Rule. A life enhancing tool i must say!!

  105. You reprioritized and delegated the tasks that you really didn’t need to do.

  106. Using empathy helps me remember to delegate. If I were the employee and my boss hired me for my competence then didn’t trust me to do my job, how would that make me feel? Is that a company I want to keep working at? I really want to hang on to good people, putting myself in their shoes helps me remember to delegate, give them fun assignments, and encourage them to keep growing. Funny thing, once I started doing that I didn’t miss the work I handed off because I got to do even more fun projects!! I haven’t had staff turnover in 2 years, remarkable in my industry.

  107. I guess that you say down and decided what projects and tasks were actually helping build your business/achieve goals/actually having an effect, then time managing and booking actual time slots for those important tasks so they wouldn’t get buried by minutae, and also scheduling time for extra curricular stuff that makes you happy (happy also can mean more productive). Leaving specific much smaller time slots for things that had less importance like basic emails, etc. I’m guessing time management.

  108. Delegate. Reprioritize. Let go of pride in perfection and control. It’s why entrepreneurs have trouble transitioning to heads of large corporations

  109. After an analysis and testing of your company’s business processes, you consistently delegated the work to capable employees who could handle the tasks and likely in some cases were more efficient. You switched your focus and effort to doing those more strategic and though-based tasks that only you can do for your company and along the way you found a better work-life balance.

  110. Hire a quality virtual P.A.??

  111. Self-knowledge, accept you’re not superman, understand your need of control, the exact invisible scripts that hold you back from respect your limits to learn how to delegate, feel what really matters and learn how to forget the rest… Focusing not on your effort but on hacking your unuseful beliefs, how do you do it more than what do you do to get these results, observation+change your thoughts and actions systematically.

    But how to do what is really important if it fluctuates depends on the moment and stop the need of being in control of everything, is it an ability that one can learn? What is the approach that works? How to change that? The story you tell to yourself, that you have been telling you all your life.

  112. You delegated to people that could handle the lower level functions and focused on what really mattered.

  113. Wow Ramit. Hope your decision was to can the email, etc. and let a VA take care of it.

    I noticed reading this thread is worse than email for the amount of time it would take to go through them all.

  114. Hi Ramit,
    I would venture to say you hired someone to read your e-mail, and assembled a braintrust focused on your “bigger picture”.
    Simple solutions, for big problems.

  115. You focussed on building a team and became ok with failure because you knew in the long term this was for the best.

  116. Ramit, I think you corrected your nearsightedness, let go of other people’s expectations and followed your heart. Do you have a pair of ruby red slippers to go with that red pepper costume?

  117. Prioritise.

    Schedule.

    Delegate.

    Easier said then done :p

  118. Automate and delegate.

  119. SunnyDay

    Hi:
    You analyzed, took responsibility, focused and delegated or let go of control.

  120. You delegated anything that was not a big win. This focused you on tasks that give you the time and money for more. You have to have room for more and want it. Paper pushing isn’t .what you wanted. You didnt love it. You got focused on what you and only you were best at.

  121. David R. Herz

    I’m going to say you acknowledged a hidden script and picked a more powerful script by which to run your life.

    Great work. I’m joining you on the year of More.

    May it be a great adventure!!

  122. My guess:

    1. Hire an assistant.
    2. Have the assistant read all emails and send responses to those they can handle. Assistant will provide a query to you at end of day for emails that they are unclear/uncertain about.
    3. Assistant delivers to you only those emails that you are still willing to personally respond to.

  123. Sukhneet Virk

    I’m guessing you created processes (using the checklist manifesto) so that ANYONE you instructed to respond to emails could do that. Assuming you did the same with other tasks that weren’t going to move the needle forward on your business.

    By doing that, you free yourself up to focus on your core strengths. It allowed you to spend more time thinking, reading about, and improving your copywriting. It also freed up your time to work on other things that could move your business forward significantly.

  124. Kristen Vanderwerff

    Hmm, you probably delegated several of those tasks. You may have hired a marketing team. You also may have hired people to filter through your emails, and pass off the ones that aren’t the “repeated” questions to you, ultimately leaving you with fewer emails and still tackling the important ones.

  125. Millie Lavoisier

    Hi Ramit!

    I’m pretty sure you’ve used tips mentioned in Tim Ferriss’s book The 4 Hour Work Week. Also having read you for quite some time, I’m guessing you’re going to share with us so e very curious solutions.

    I’m very interested in the solutions you’ve found and I’m not surprised it took you a while to implement them. I’ve used some of the tips I’ve read about and it’s so much easier than said.

    I am also curious to know how you can seem so strict and rigorous and still be appreciated by the people that work with you. I know it makes people around me crazy. Even just asking for appointments instead of people just calling or coming by without notice. Appointments are huge time saver.

    Regarding employees, I think it’s important to trust them, that they know we trust them, and to invest them of missions rather than tasks. They need to fill empowered to make decisions(with certain specified limits) rather than asking us all the time. I also had to make it clear that I’m not interested about knowing every little detail about the process… That I’m interested in the end result.

    I am very excited about your new theme “More”. I’ve really loved your last few posts. Saving time allow us to do more with friends and family, learn more, make more money, be healthier, have more fun above all!

    Thanks a lot,
    Millie

  126. Hi Ramit ia m now where you are 3 years ago.
    Still tracking to see where my time has gone to.

  127. Mack Lordy

    To me, you did two things.

    One, you changed your priorities, probably following the 80/20 rule. Since only about 20% of your work was actually producing your (biggest) results, you cut the rest of your activities that weren’t bringing you in any results. (In this case 75%– 45 hours of 60 hours). This has allowed you to have much more time to concentrate on the things that are most important in running your business, thus boosting productivity.

    Two, you changed your value system by putting trust in others. By delegating and trusting your team members with these menial tasks that you would spend hours on, you have created a more efficient machine. Also, now that your team members have your trust, everything will run faster now. These two actions boosted your business enough to be worth millions of dollars.

    I feel good about this answer,
    Mack.

  128. Mary Kay teaches us to write a list at the end of every business day of the 6 most important things to do the next day and to tackle those items first.

    Also making a plan that puts in important stuff first then giving the other time left to things like email. But I find it hard to follow my plan!

  129. Angela H.

    You created the soon-to-be patented mini Ramit drones?

  130. Well Ramit, I think that maybe you decided to l listen to all of the preaching that your friend, Tim Ferris, shared in his book, The Four Hour Work Week, and removed yourself as a bottleneck, empowered your employees by delegating with specified authority and decided that maybe Pareto may have known what he was talking about after all. 🙂

  131. Prioritize and delegate.

  132. “What did I change that let me eliminate the low-level tasks and focus on high-value items?”

    You learned how to delegate. For example, your staff probably culls your emails now and forwards only the ones they know you’d want to respond to (based on guidelines you’ve given them).

    “And what does this have to do with MORE?”

    This gave you MORE time to do what you love and the ability to handle MORE projects because you realized the world won’t stop turning if you hand off the low-level tasks.

  133. I answered this yesterday but just found this online today that seems to summarize the question as well….

    http://markmanson.net/not-giving-a-fuck

    Summarized:
    1. Not indifferent, being comfortable being different.
    2. One is likely to mind your own business if your business is worth minding – you decide what is worthy to dedicate your time/money/labor toward
    3. Your time/labor/money is a limited resource, use them *deliberately* to achieve the results you really want

  134. Chantelle

    Did you create a system for your email that catches keywords so you can delegate the lower level emails to other staff members and only tackle emails that require your immediate attention? This ‘system’ could be human or electronic and acts as a screening service, a gatekeeper.

    This system could also group emails that will receive the same response so that you eliminate multiple emails at one time, i.e. “The Unsubscribe button is a link at the bottom of the page. It’s in blue and it’s underlined. Right there, you see it?”

    Now that you’re spending 45 hours less on email, you might be spending – say – 20 hours more on valuable projects that has led you to increase your income considerably. Cutting the time in half and profiting more: definitely a win-win. Not only that, but you regained some freedom to have leisure time. You realized that doing more, or in your case too much, does not equate to productive or efficient. Work smarter, not harder.

    And to conclude, I think the biggest change was your mindset. “Delusional self-importance… total inability to give up control and delegate… focusing on pointless minutiae.” You were putting your own needs/wants/ingrained behaviors first, instead of thinking about the customer. Yes, they want a response to their email but it doesn’t necessarily have to come from you – as long as they get the response they need. In fact, this ‘pride’ was getting in your way. If you want More in 2015, you had to eliminate that invisible email script you created for yourself.

    Thanks, Ramit – your sites and posts are helping me understand how to get More for Myself in 2015. You don’t have to share your knowledge and success tips, but I’m so glad you do.

  135. My guess is you automated what you could and built systems that didnt need your input to run. If we build systems like that and automate everything we can we will have more time to do what we define as having a rich life

  136. Hi Ramit,

    I think one of the biggest decisions a person can make (your “average Joe” let’s say) is cold analyzing his current life. It takes a lot of strength to stop, take a few steps back and start saying: this is not so great … I should do something about it.

    Why is this personal evaluation so hard?

    Because we like to lie to ourselves. Why be brave, why be real with yourself when you can lie and say: hey! I may be struggling with my finances, but at least i don’t have 50K in credit card debt like that guy at work! HA! And then pow! you instantly feel better about yourself, read some motivational article o the internet and think: Starting next week i will bla bla bla..

    We keep feeding these lies to ourselves in order to preserve our current situation, because we do not want to change. ’cause change is hard, change can be a real b**** sometimes. It takes effort, commitment, coordination, vision … why go through this awful process when we can just stick with what we know, what proved satisfactory in the past?

    It’s actually a paradox, one of the funniest traits in the grand majority of people nowadays: they want MORE, more than ever before …. but without changing the status quo.

    You did that and i truly admire (and envy) you.

    Back to your question: my guess involves the 80-20 rule. Cant wait to hear your tip!

  137. Hi Ramit,

    I guess that you got over the invisible scripts that you mentioned about low-level tasks, build and taught a system to others who could do the work (whether outsourcing or your employees), revised that with every iteration or so, and got a system in place to make things work.

  138. You asked thousands of readers “how you eliminated dozens of hours of low level busy work”, filtered out the stupid comments & suggestions, tested out the best answers, find best solution, claimed to have found original solution.

    I’m on to you Ramit. No man is as smart as the combine thinking power of your readers. You’re a genius for doing it though and it doesn’t take away from how effective the solution is. Who cares where the idea to the solution came from. As long as it works effectively and efficiently. We the readers are your best brain trust. An we save you hundreds of hours of thinking up solution to your questions/problems.

  139. You changed other people’s expectations of you.

  140. I would think the fastest way to increase productivity would be to hire virtual assistants.

  141. You probably Stopped doing things that added no value and only focused on your top priorities. delegate or discard low value / unimportant tasks.

  142. Rodney Brim

    5 strategies stick out when I think about doing too much. The first one has to do with converging what creates value with your priorities that you are exercising on any given day. Doing too much, if you look at it from this perspective, could be something you do for 10 minutes or 10 hours. Depending on how important your time is, it’s almost time irrelevant.

    But then it sure is easy to get our behavior disconnected from a current “what really creates value” setting. I’m as guilty as any.

  143. Trust

  144. Nicole Walden

    What ONE change is powerful enough to turn this situation around? I think you must have started to structure your time/efforts according to ROI. That means FIRST doing those tasks that are the most critical for business and generate the highest return.

    This ONE change has a wide cascade of effects: (1) you get the most important things done first, and (2) only a small fraction of time (if any) remains for low ROI/low priority tasks. (3) As a result, you have no choice but to speed through lower priority tasks, delegate, or skip them altogether. (Solution for obsessive, indiscriminate perfectionism, which I know all to well….).

    Either way, (4) when the world doesn’t end as a result of speeding through (i.e. half-assing) or delegating (also translated “half-assing” in ObsessiveSelfImportantPerfectionist-ese) those lower priority tasks, you can truly become at ease relinquishing control and delegating them.

    (5)Finally, you may have no time at all left for the least important tasks. This (6) helps the obsessive perfectionist to prioritize (“hmmm it’s 2am…do I want to get ANY sleep tonight, or continue sending reply emails for every single idiotic comment and hatemail?).

    Finally, (7) if you see that nothing is really lost after the lowest priority tasks (like savvy replies to hatemail) fall of your plate, you have just learned which tasks are truly a waste of time and can be eliminated altogether.

    Anyway, from my own experience, that ONE change can exponentially increase productivity, cure obsessive perfectionism and help you reclaim fitness/ hobbies/relationships etc. better and faster than $100K of psychotherapy.

  145. Nicole Walden

    And yup… case in point, those punctuation & spelling errors in my comment above are actually a sign of victory to me. Though they still make me shudder…. just a tiny bit…

  146. Christian Newman

    It all comes down to which tasks you’re uniquely qualified to do and getting over BS’ing yourself about the imporance of the low-level stuff.

    If I’m not careful, those tasks end up being excuses to not do the stuff that really matters.

    I’ve started asking myself these two questions when considering each task:

    1. If I could only accomplish ONE more thing today, would this be it?
    2. Am I uniquely qualified to do it?

    YES, YES = Eliminate distractions and do it
    YES, NO = Delegate it
    NO, YES = Defer or eliminate it
    NO, NO = Delegate or eliminate it

  147. You:
    – reviewed your priority list
    – delegated the not-top-list to others
    – generated an auto-reply and/or made a note to your web-page regarding not being able to reply personally to everybody

  148. Walk Of Life

    I think if you’re doing too much and also rewarding yourself for the extra work you’re putting in then somehow those two compensate. No ? I guess it depends on people too, some people’s too much is other people’s everyday shizz :P.

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