Time: Our Most Valuable Commodity

It all started a month ago as I stood, bleary-eyed, waiting to disembark yet another plane. A few rows forward a stewardess I swear I’d never laid eyes on before, leant over, lightly touched my shoulder, and seductively said, “Good evening Scott”.

Now after two connecting flights (and the obligatory delays), my mind was mush. Far as I could tell this was either (a) my Ralph Fiennes moment, or (b) the enthusiasm of a fan who had read my book. Yet she soon informed me it was neither. “You fly more than I do,” she said – only half-joking.

As I walked through the airport I realised that my life resembled that of a road warrior: a whirlwind of flights, emails, rushed calls and overpriced buffet breakfasts.

A detour to the loo summed up the situation beautifully. The bloke standing at the urinal next to me was busy barking orders into his mobile, not wanting to waste a second before he boarded his next flight. Then my mobile rang. The message it delivered was long overdue: How in control and important are you – really – if you can’t pee in peace?

The most valuable commodity

Time really is our most valuable commodity. You may be earning mega-bucks but if that means spending every waking hour working and worrying, you’re poorer than the person earning a pittance who regularly clocks off and inhales the roses. Few finish their final innings and regret not spending more time working.

With that in mind I made a beeline to the airport bookshop and scoured the shelves for time-management titles. A quick flip through the offerings revealed they were all advocating the same limp-wristed techniques; scheduling, prioritising and avoiding co-workers who suffer from verbal diarrhoea.

Whether it was jetlag, or consuming one too many beers in the air, I started to ponder what effect it would have on my productivity if I ran my life the same way a CEO manages a corporation.

It was time to bring on Barefoot Inc.

Taking stock

The first thing that all big companies do is to outsource their non-core competencies – often to an Indian call centre for a fraction of the price.

After taking stock of my skills, I realised that my life was largely made up of tasks that someone else could perform at a higher standard and a lower cost than I could. So I started researching how I could jump on the global outsourcing revolution.

American Tim Ferriss wrote a book, The 4-Hour Workweek, which explains how he successfully employed remote assistants to perform administrative duties.

s such as India are using technology to provide cut-price administrative assistants to Western companies. Apart from picking up your dry cleaning and bitching about the bloke from accounts, an assistant working online away from your office can perform almost every other task remotely – from answering emails and calls to research – all for between $US4 to $US10 an hour.

So I followed Ferriss’s lead and contacted getfriday.com, one of India’s biggest and longest-running VA specialists. I was assigned Aishwarya, a 23-year-old university graduate whose profile tells me she likes reading, travelling and listening to music.

First contact

My initial telephone conversation with Aishwarya went well – she even suggested that I shorten her name to Ash, due to my embarrassing tongue-tied efforts to pronounce her name. She, of course, has no such problems – her English is better than half the cast of Home and Away. In any event Ash assured me that she enjoys her work, and let on that she is well paid by Indian standards.

The next step in corporatising my life was to focus on peak productivity. Management theorists suggest this can be achieved by following the 80/20 rule, which states that 20 per cent of your time will generally produce 80 per cent of the results.

With this in mind Ash and I analysed my day and pinpointed where I was most productive – which funnily enough wasn’t taking cold calls from her fellow countrymen three times a day, or replying to every email as soon as it hit my inbox. Once we’d worked that out we devised a plan that allowed me to take a step back from the dilemma of reacting to the inevitable distractions so I could focus on the 20 per cent that brings in the bucks.

The only way to do this was to make Ash the gatekeeper of my time. So over the next few days I decided to cut off my landline, and to stop taking in-bound calls and personally replying to emails.

Making the adjustment

Predictably, this drove most of my business contacts crazy. Ash, however, is as cool as ice, clearly stating to incredulous callers that “Mr Pape is extremely busy, and although he would love to take your call, he simply cannot at this point in time”. Callers are then directed to send an email and wait for a response.

We speak once a day via Skype, a free voice over internet protocol telephone system. Ash has access to my email and voicemail and monitors them both throughout the day to ensure that anything truly urgent is attended to.

She also manages my online Google calendar that automatically sends me a daily agenda as well as one-hour event reminders via SMS to my phone.

Things are going so well, Ash suggested that I make a list of all the things that I dislike doing to further free up my time.

The mind boggles: remembering birthdays, buying presents, paying bills, talking to my parents (just kidding mum) – the list is endless.

Each task I give is greeted with “thank-you so much for giving me this task to do”, or “that sounds really interesting, I’ll get on to it right away!”

As a small business owner, it’s always difficult to take time off. Yet I’m writing this en route to a speaking engagement in far north Queensland, otherwise known as the place with “no 3G network”.

Things are going so well back at Barefoot Inc that I’ve decided to take a few days to kick back on the sunny shores of Magnetic Island, something I wouldn’t have contemplated previously.

Legendary Chrysler CEO Lee Iacocca once remarked that the average company chief was lucky to get 45 minutes of productive work done a day – the rest is spent fighting fires. Yet the initial one-month trial of running my life like a company has allowed me to spend large amounts of uninterrupted time focusing on my goals, one of which is to spend more time away from the office.

Tread your own path!