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For this month’s time management case study, we’re going to be looking at some of the productivity challenges that successful solo entrepreneurs have.

Meet Tetsuo

Tetsuo is a successful solo entrepreneur from Japan, who does business between the US and Asia-Pacific, working mostly from his laptop. He has a relatively mobile business with some remote employees and regular outsourcers. He also lives a fairly active life being involved with competitive martial arts and frequent traveling.

It is said that efficiency and effectiveness are often interconnected (with effectiveness narrowly edging out efficiency for first place in terms of importance), and in Tetsuo’s case he was more interested in “how to I maximize my existing time” rather than “how do I correct these unproductive habits” (of which he had none!) In particular, he was interested in:

  • Optimizing his living arrangements to minimize travel time.
  • Extending outsourcing to his personal life.
  • How to travel frequently and yet still remain productive with his work.
  • How to effectively decompress from travel: we met Tetsuo in London, as he was on his way home from a lengthy European tour.

Leverage Points

Even though the Japanese are masters at productivity and quality control, we believed that the Asian Efficiency Consulting Chart of Awe™ was something that they had never seen before:

Asian Efficiency Consulting Chart of Awe
The Asian Efficiency Consulting Chart of Awe™.

With this in mind, here’s how we addressed each of Tetsuo’s main wants (leverage points).

For his living arrangements, the main concern was Tetsuo’s travel time between home, office and dojo. Having to commute in a large US city during peak hour is not fun, and for Tetsuo it was an option to move to within walking distance of the latter two without a lowering of living standards or increase in living costs – and so we recommended that he did. As a more general principle, it is extremely beneficial to live around things that you frequent, whether it be work, the mall or your favorite street of public breweries.

Tetsuo already outsourced a lot of his more menial business tasks to virtual assistants based on Asia, but we recommended that he look for some local outsourcers, namely:

  • A cook to prepare healthy, tasty and nutritious meals.
  • Someone to do his grocery shopping.
  • A fashion consultant to help with wardrobe and style, rather than spend days looking through department stores.
  • A maid to clean the house once a week.

All these people can be found on places like Craigslist, or the resources we recommended in our personal outsourcing article.

Remaining productive while traveling is a huge challenge for most businesspeople, and Tetsuo was no exception. Everything that we mentioned in our prior case study on Steve still applies, but here are some additions that are specific for businesspeople:

  • Try to shift timezones the day you leave or the day before you leave. Sleep in sync with your destination timezone, and if you need to take some coffee or caffeine pills to remain awake for a nighttime flight, then do so.
  • Remember that your travel time must factor in the time it takes you to go to the airport, check in and go through security. All these things can be made easier through, well, spending money: 1) Have your check-in luggage FedExed do your hotel, 2) Fly first class to get priority security screening.
  • On the plane, try to pretend it’s a normal day (in the timezone of your destination). If it’s daytime, then stay awake and do some work on your laptop or watch some movies. If it’s nighttime, try your best to sleep (your doctor can also prescribe sleeping pills if you have difficulty sleeping on planes). Try not to consume alcohol as higher altitude increases intoxication effects and leaves you drained upon arrival at destination.
  • Once you arrive at your destination, work with your new timezone. If you land in the morning, then do your best to stay awake or take a *very brief* nap (20 minutes maximum) to get you going for the day. Your first day in a new country is usually filled with finding SIM cards for your phone, locating Internet access, groceries/supplies and working out local transport options. Remember that while you travel you’re usually participating in non-normal activities such as conference attendance or sightseeing, and that this will effect with your productivity. You can break some productivity rules while traveling, such as frequenting Facebook to keep friends and family updated as you travel (especially if solo traveling). When you need to work, use Pomodoros to ensure that you remain focused. Be sure to continue to exercise as best as possible and eat as you would back home (with local cuisine of course!). Don’t binge just because you’re on holiday – take supplements, vitamins or protein bars as healthy in-between meals if you know it’s going to be hard to find healthy local food.
  • When you arrive back from your travels, schedule in a day of recovery – do something relaxing, be it visiting a spa, getting a massage or seeing your girlfriend. Remember to continue eating healthy and do some light exercise to get yourself back into routine. Above all, remember that the first day back is all about REST.

Rituals and Scheduling

Tetsuo had a pretty tight schedule already worked out for himself, and he only needed some minor adjustments to see where he could free up some time for personal pursuits. We introduced him to the Pomodoro Technique, and strongly suggested that he avoid any sort of set appointments related to work, except those that he set himself.

For his morning ritual:

  1. Wake up at 11am.
  2. Drink 500mL water.
  3. Use bathroom.
  4. Feed and walk dog.
  5. Review goals for day. Review journal. Transfer items due to paper.
  6. Spend 5 minutes visualising completion of goals.
  7. Check email, Facebook and phone. Reply, clear and organize as necessary.
  8. Eat breakfast.
  9. Walk to office, begin with most important task first if no morning appointments were due.

For his evening ritual:

  1. Check email and Facebook. Reply, clear and organize as necessary.
  2. 30 minutes visualization.
  3. Write journal entry outlining day. Review tasks completed, and compare with morning journal entry. Set tasks and review goals for next day.
  4. Spend time with girlfriend, or catchup on reading.
  5. Sleep.

Efficiency System

Tetsuo mostly had his efficiency system worked out already, including:

Resource Utilization

Because he asked for it, we gave Tetsuo some “hard truths” about utilizing the resources he had available to him:

  • Find mentors who are 1-2 steps ahead of you to help you continue growing your business.
  • Find accountability partners for things like the gym or martial arts – you’re more likely to show if someone is depending on you.
  • Know when to call yourself on your own BS, and have friends that will do the same.

Emotions and Business

One issue that Tetsuo had (and one that is common to all business people) is how emotions interplay with business. Here at Asian Efficiency we believe that non-productive emotions have no place in the business world, and most of the time simply get in the way of getting things done. We gave Tetsuo a simple exercise taken from Maxwell Maltz’ Psychocybernetics, called the Mental Retreat Room. From our original report to Tetsuo:

A mental retreat room is a quiet and uninterrupted space that you form in your own mind – somewhere for you to go when you need focus. It is something that you should visualize and create ahead of time, and access when you need it.

Start with a simple room, and furnish it with whatever you find restful and relaxing – landscapes, painting, pleasant memories, calming music, art, colors. Keep in mind that there may or not may be walls to the room, and that it can stretch on as much as you would like it to.

Over time, you will find yourself embellishing the room with more pleasant thoughts and scenes. It only becomes more effective with use.

In Closing

As your situation in life changes, so do your time management challenges. Often people become frustrated because they advance in their careers or business and find that they have less and less time – this is because they are using the same time management strategies. Think of it as a video game: as you “level up” so to speak, your abilities, capabilities and responsibilities change, thus requiring you to shift time management and productivity strategies to remain on top of things.

Photo By: Paul (dex)

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Thanh Pham

Founder of Asian Efficiency where we help people become more productive at work and in life. I've been featured on Forbes, Fast Company, and The Globe & Mail as a productivity thought leader. At AE I'm responsible for leading teams and executing our vision to assist people all over the world live their best life possible.

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  1. Another excellent post guys. One thing which stood out: he wakes up at 11am!? Is that a typo, or is that for real? What time does he go to bed? I wake up at 6am and have difficulty getting everything done!

  2. d write up was very good,but i wll want a case sudy on time mgt for port workers..those who work in a port terminal.thank u.

  3. I love this blog. It’s all about raising your productivity levels, the guys are real involved with their readers and we chat everynow and then. Check it out.

  4. Sick post… been reading through the blog and have been learning a lot, keep up the good work guys, looking forward to more posts!

  5. Can you please make a post about this writing in the “journal” thing.  I keep reading about it but have never seen a post on what purposes it serves.

    1. Hi Niko,

      We’ll bump it up on our publication schedule. The 30-second version is this:
      You write down what you want to do for the day in the morning. In the evening, you see what you did and write down why or why you didn’t achieve what you planned in the morning. You also include details about what you did that day. Sort of like how kids and teenagers (used to) keep a diary.

      – Aaron

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