The 30/3 Rule

Whenever commitments pop up, handle them quickly by using the 30/3 rule to scope out the size of the commitment and bring it under control.

Stever Robbins
5-minute read
Episode #220

When someone asks for a small favor, it can seem like...well, a small favor. But small things add up. If I had $1 for every person who's downloaded a Get-it-Done Guy podcast, I'd be making a superb living. Sadly, I can’t afford a mansion, but I can afford a cardboard box. Not only does it protect me from the rain, it's surprisingly nutritious and high in fiber.;

Taking on too much can crush your life. In fact, just doing too much can make it really hard to appreciate anything about your daily life. When you're zooming through at 90 miles per hour, you don't get many chances to stop and smell the flowers.

There's a simple rule for figuring out how much of your life is being sucked up by small things. It's called The 30/3 Rule: 30 minutes a day equals 2.5 hours per work-week. That's 10 hours per month, or 120 hours per year. That's three work weeks. Thirty minutes a day equals three weeks a year. If you wondered why you don't get more vacation time, it may be because you're spending way too much time doing small things.

Here are 6 tips to cut down on the small stuff and get back some of your “me time”:

Tip #1: Beware of Small Regular Commitments

When someone asks you to take on a new commitment, estimate how much daily time it will take. If they want you to be steward of the break room every morning, and it takes you 15 minutes to replace the filter, scour the burner, throw way yesterday's garbage, and restock the coffee, that time adds up. If 30 minutes is 3 weeks a year, 15 minutes is 1.5 weeks a year. That one "yes" will cost you a week and a half of work time.

If you're self-employed and a client asks for a small regular favor, the 30/3 rule may caution you that you're doing a week and a half's work for free.

Tip #2: Use Email Judiciously

How much time do you spend on email each day? Just a guess? If you're like most people I know, the answer is anywhere from 30 minutes to 2-3 hours. I hate to break it to you, but for most of us, email is not productive. It's just communication. And it's communication about what to do, it isn't the doing.

Check out my past articles on Keeping Your Inbox Empty, E-mail Backlogs, Writing Good E-mail Subject lines, and Simplifying Your Inboxes to find ways to save time with email. Those time savings add up. If you can save 30 minutes each day, you'll regain 3 weeks a year!

Tip #3: Hammer Meetings Into Submission

Meetings! I just love meetings. No, I don't. I hate meetings. But it's easy to say "Yes" when someone invites you to a meeting. The meeting starts 10 minutes late because you're waiting for everyone to arrive. Then it runs over by 5 minutes. That's an extra 15 minutes that just got added to your schedule. Over the course of a year, that adds up to a week and a half of your precious, valuable life, sacrificed to the soul-eating God of meetings.

When you're running a meeting or invited to a meeting, don't say "Yes" to an hour. Say "Yes" only to a half-hour meeting. Or a 15-minute meeting. If you can save half an hour just once a week by cutting meetings short, that's 26 hours a year, or half a week. If you need somewhere to get started, look closely at that stupid weekly status meeting that so often seems like a waste of time. Check out my article on Running a Focused Meeting to help your meetings fulfill their purpose.

Tip #4: Know the True Cost of Interruptions

We all hate interruptions. They're annoying. And more often than not, their breath smells. Ick. But we deal with them because, after all, they're our co-workers, our customers, our suppliers, our boyfriend, girlfriend, spousal equivalent, husband, wife, or polyamorous family unit. So we let it go, just this time.

"Just this time" adds up. When you're interrupted, do not think, "This will be a quick interruption." Think instead about how often you get interrupted. Is it 30 minutes a day? Now when the evil forces of distraction descend to interrupt you, think, "This is costing me 3 weeks of my life this year. Is this how I want to spend 3 weeks?" Then deal appropriately. Just remember that when you throw things, grab the foam rubber stress ball, not the newly sharpened scissors. Read my article on How to Handle Interruptions for more time-saving tips.

Tip #5: Don't Pay the Price of Disorganization

Filing takes time. It's so much easier to put papers in a pile and let them sit there forever. After all, there's always a chance elves will come by, collect the papers some evening, and file them for us.

This might actually be a good strategy! If you rarely retrieve files, but often create them, then it might be worth spending 30 minutes searching through your piles, if you only do it once a month, to save 5 minutes a day of filing stuff.

On the other hand, if you rarely create files but often need to retrieve them, it makes more sense to spend a little time now filing to save the 15 minutes a day (1.5 weeks a year) you spend searching for stuff.

Use the 30/3 rules to decide whether your life will be better if you file more or less. If you need to file more, check out my articles on Coordinating Your Online and Offline Files, Naming Your Files Intelligently and More Naming Tips, and Keeping Your Files Looking Neat.

Tip #6: Use The 30/3 Rule for Tracking Your Finances

When I first went into business for myself, my friend Shelle told me I should hire a bookkeeper. "Nonsense," I thought, "I can enter transactions into QuickBooks myself. Who needs a bookkeeper for that?"

As time went on and I collected receipts, credit card statements, and bank statements, I noticed that they seemed to pile up remarkably quickly. I'd sigh heavily and finally sit down and enter everything into QuickBooks. I was easily spending an hour and 15 minutes a week, on average, dealing with bookkeeping. An hour and 15 minutes a week is 15 minutes a day or … a week and a half a year!

If I were spending that same time working with clients to help them build their businesses, I would make way more than enough to pay for that bookkeeper several times over.

Little things do, indeed, add up. The 30/3 Rule gives you a quick way to understand how little things add up to eat away at your life and schedule. Start using it so you can quickly assess the impact of what seem like small things and turn them into big things in your mind. Then you'll have the motivation and rationale to say the "No" you need to say, or fix the problem that's seemed too small…until now.

This is Stever Robbins. I mentor successful businesspeople in taking the next step in their career, by identifying the skills needed to reach the next level and creating a development plan to get there. If you want to know more, visit http://www.SteverRobbins.com

Work Less, Do More, and have a Great Life!

Image courtesy of Shutterstock

About the Author

Stever Robbins

Stever Robbins was the host of the podcast Get-it-Done Guy from 2007 to 2019. He is a graduate of W. Edward Deming’s Total Quality Management training program and a Certified Master Trainer Elite of NLP. He holds an MBA from the Harvard Business School and a BS in Computer Sciences from MIT.