Buy Back Your Time (2023) teaches entrepreneurs how to hire the right people for the right tasks, so they can free up the time they need to build their empire. Practical advice and success stories guide those who feel stuck in their busy lives out of the tedium of small chores and into the limitless field of pure production.
An actionable guide to living your dream life by reclaiming your time.
Imagine your dream life. Maybe it’s writing a series of best-selling suspense novels that turn into a movie franchise, or creating the next disruptive software. Seems impossible? We’re here to tell you that no dream is too big if you have the mindset of an empire builder. But to rise to these ranks from the entrepreneur level, you need two things: time and energy.
If you feel like you don’t have either of those things, this summary to Dan Martell’s Buy Back Your Time is for you. It draws on deceptively simple techniques built around one simple step: hiring the right people.
This isn’t just a selfless act that allows employees to find a career they enjoy and are rewarded for – it also frees you up to enter a zone of pure creation.
Let’s dive in.
It may seem counterintuitive, but paying someone to do your work will make you more money.
Do you know who Tom Clancy is? If you’re thinking, Prolific spy-thriller author of the Jack Ryan series – ka-ching!
But here’s what you might not know: Clancy didn’t actually write all those novels. Once he established his books as best sellers, he hired ghostwriters to flesh out stories that he’d conceptualized. This left him free to spend his time exploring bigger and better opportunities that would take his franchise to the next level.
Clancy, it seems, knew all about Dan Martell’s concept of buying back time.
If you’re an entrepreneur, it’s likely that you keep a hand in every aspect of your business. You look over your engineer’s code, discuss the books with your accountant, and check and respond to all your emails. But while these actions are necessary to keep your business going, these are not things that you – the owner – personally need to do. In fact, by doing them all, you are stunting your growth.
The business might be your baby, but if you want that baby to grow, you have to hire trusted help. Burning out and working 20-hour days will not only destroy your creativity and productivity – it will harm your family life, your relationships, and your health.
Martell identifies the “Pain Line” at which this occurs. It’s typically when an entrepreneur has about twelve direct reports and is making more than $1 million in revenue. At this point, most entrepreneurs make one of three choices: they either sell their business, sabotage it by careening off in different directions, or stall because they’re scared to grow.
Martell presents a fourth option: the “Buyback Principle,” a method by which you can buy back your time.
Simply put, this is a process that requires you to audit your time to see where and how you allocate it. It involves identifying low-value time sinkholes, transferring these tasks to someone who does them better than you (and who might even enjoy them!), and then filling your time with higher value activities that bring you joy. We’ll explore these steps in more detail in the next few sections.
But the fundamental key to success lies in how you think about the hiring process. The overarching purpose of hiring someone is not to perform specific tasks for you. It’s to free you up to do what you do best – the big, entrepreneurial, high-value creative things that actually grow your business.
Delegate small tasks, and “replace” yourself in medium-sized tasks.
You may fill your days as a doctor, lawyer, teacher, coder, or designer. But really, there are only three professional categories: employee, entrepreneur, or empire builder.
When you are trading your time for money, you are an employee.
When you take a step up to becoming an entrepreneur, you understand that it’s not just about working the most hours to make the most money – it’s about buying time by hiring others do the work that is not your bailiwick.
The ultimate level of empire builder is for those who have completely bought back their time. They have total control over their schedules and spend their time in pure, creative empire-building mode.
Let’s look at one such empire builder, Oprah Winfrey. On a typical day, she wakes up, walks her dogs, enjoys her espresso, meditates, reads, works out, spends time with her personal shopper, and eats lunch with her partner. It isn’t until 1:30 p.m. that she settles down to do two hours of work.
Two hours of work? Per day?
Yup. And clearly, those two hours yield richer rewards than anyone else’s eight or ten-hour days.
Now, you may not be Oprah (who is?), but anyone can systematically arrange their work lives so their days maximize time in a zone of creativity. The key is to examine your tasks and put them in one of four quadrants: delegation, replacement, investment, or production.
The delegation quadrant includes tasks such as invoicing, sending emails, or booking travel – things that you can easily hire someone else to do. The magic words? Administrative assistant. This person can buy staff holiday presents, books travel, or pays bills. Most importantly, they should be the first one checking your email and acting as a buffer between you and the demands on your time and energy.
Tasks in your replacement quadrant also need to be handed off – but finding new owners for them takes a little more effort. This type of work include sales and marketing, which business owners often try doing themselves because they worry that no one else will do the job as well. This may be true, but even if someone does the job at 80 percent of your capacity, that buys back 100 percent of your time. You can also consider the 10-80-10 rule. Do the first 10 percent of the work, have someone else handle the next 80 percent, and then come back in to finalize the last 10 percent. That way, you’ve played a crucial role in the conceptualization and execution, but you’ve also carved out a huge chunk of energy and time for yourself.
Every entrepreneur has a buyback rate – an amount they can use to pay someone to take over tasks.
All of this sounds great, but it’s time to face the white elephant in the room: cost. You likely don’t have the same financial means as Oprah or Clancy, so can you afford to hire people to help you ease your work burden? Does it really make sense to pay people to do the things you can do yourself?
The answer is yes, and yes.
At every price point, there is a “buyback rate.” This is the amount that you can afford to take out of your own income and pay someone else in order to reap even bigger financial rewards through what you do with that time you bought back.
There’s a simple formula to determine your buyback rate. It’s your income divided by 2,000 hours divided by four.
So if your business pays you $200,000 a year, your buyback rate is $25 an hour. This means that you should be allocating $25 an hour to pay someone else to do the things you don’t want to do. You can hire a personal assistant, maybe even part-time. Suppose your income is $50,000 – that still earns you a buyback rate of $6.25 an hour. You might not be able to hire someone full-time, but you can find talent from freelance sites such as Upwork. Other options are to hire interns or hire people on a commission basis.
By dedicating 25 percent of your income to outsourcing parts of your work that don’t feed you creatively, you’re freeing up large amounts of time to increase your productivity. This ultimately increases the dollar value of that 25 percent you can continue investing in people – a positive feedback loop!
Freeing up time by delegating and replacing allows you to pour yourself into the two other quadrants. The investment quadrant should be full of things you can do to invest in yourself and others – hobbies like hiking or playing an instrument, meals with your family, and professional growth through activities like podcast interviews or attending conferences.
The ultimate goal is to spend the majority of your time in the production quadrant. This is where you do the work that inspires you, drives you, and brings you the most success. This is where an empire builder should spend most of their time.
Dedicating time to hiring and training employees can yield long-term results.
If the first three sections have convinced you of the importance of buying back your time, you might be ready to learn about how to hire the right person.
First, you need clarity about what you’re looking for. Define the qualities you want in a new hire and the exact jobs you’re hiring them for. Then look far and wide – ask current employees for recommendations, reach out to people working at other companies who are doing a great job, and sift through job sites.
Once you’ve come up with some options, find creative ways to get to know them better. Martell asks potential employees to upload a 5-minute video where they describe why they’re interested in the position, what they know about the company, their ideal work environment, their strengths, and their 5-year goals. Not only does this video help him get to know potential employees and get a glimpse of their personalities; it also lets him see who can follow directions and who is tech-savvy enough to create and upload a video. So assign your candidates a paid test project to see how they work. And when you find the right person, sell them on you.
Once they’ve signed on the dotted line, it’s time to train them. One great way to do this is by creating a playbook. Here are the four Cs of playbooks: camcorder, course, cadence, and checklist.
The camcorder method simply involves recording yourself doing the things you want to teach someone to do – whether it’s billing, managing a new procedure, or running a program. One recording can eliminate hours spent doing individual training. You can also create a full collection of training videos that can be accessed on an as-needed basis.
A course refers to creating a list of high-level to-do tasks. For example, if you’re training an employee who will open a bakery in the morning, the tasks might be: 1. Clock in. 2. Stock the display cases. 3. Write the muffin specials on the chalkboard. 4. Start brewing the coffee.
Cadence entails recording the frequency of the task. When does this occur? Every day? Once a week? And finally, a checklist details the non-negotiable things that have to happen, like counting the money and locking the cashier’s box.
A well-made playbook can quickly bring any new employee up to speed on exactly how you want things done. In turn, this allows them to seamlessly integrate into their new job so you can keep your mind on higher level production.
Mentor your employees so they commit wholeheartedly to their positions.
Now that you’ve hired the right people and trained them to perform tasks the way you want them to, you need to make sure they perform at their full potential. Remember, you’re not merely looking to fill a seat. An unmotivated employee with little buy-in won’t provide the kind of value you’re looking for.
An employee who assumes ownership of their tasks doesn’t just tick the boxes and go home – they try their best to fulfill the company’s goals. To encourage this attitude, ensure that you allow employees to use their own creativity and problem-solving skills. You can do this by shifting away from a transactional leadership model to a transformational one.
Here’s how that works. A transactional model is when you tell employees what to do, check that they did it, and then assign them the next task. In this scenario, almost all the thinking occurs on your end; the employee just follows directions. There is little initiative required, so little growth occurs.
Instead, become a transformational leader. Unlike the transactional tell-check-assign paradigm, transformational leadership gives guidance – but with leeway for creative problem-solving on the employee’s part. With this model, you give an outcome, measure it with a metric, and then coach the employee to the next level. Here’s how that can work.
Let’s say you want all employees to complete a certain certification. A transactional model would mean that you’d tell your assistant, “Make sure everyone is certified in this code.” Your assistant would then sign the whole team up for training. This would result in them spending hours taking a tedious class that would cost the company a lot of money. You’d check that they were trained, and then assign them the next task.
If you were approaching this as a transformational leader, you might say, “I want us to become code-compliant.” This is a more open-ended way of leading. This leaves your assistant to find a creative approach. They might find out that only one employee needs the certification – so they might become certified, and then use their training to create a set of guidelines for everyone else to follow.
With both models, you get the desired result: code compliance. But the second one not only saves the company time and money, it gives employees a way to grow within their role.
Schedule your new time wisely so that you spend the bulk of it on high-value tasks.
Now that you’ve delegated tasks and hired people to manage the things you don’t want to do, let’s make sure you’re using the time that you bought back wisely.
Create a “perfect week” for yourself with a tight and honored schedule. Stack similar things together – for instance, put all your podcast interviews back-to-back on Monday morning – to prevent losing time adjusting from one task or environment to another. Account for everything, even lunch breaks and date nights, and make sure you stick to your plan.
You didn’t buy back that time just to waste it! You bought back that time so you can take your business to the next level. If you’re an entrepreneur, you’re always full of good ideas. Now you have the time to make them happen.
Think BIG! And think detailed. You want to be #1 on a New York Times best seller list? You want to have a villa in the south of France? Maybe you envision a product that will be a must-have for every household in the world. There is no such thing as too ambitious. Draw, write, or plan out your ideas as if there were no limit. Martell calls this the 10X vision.
Now take that 10X vision of yours, and figure out deadlines for accomplishing it. Work backward from the future to now, putting in checkpoints where you need to do certain things to get there.
Just like you planned your perfect week, preload your perfect year. Start with the big things, the non-negotiables – things like birthdays, graduations, anniversary trips, and overarching business goals. These are your big rocks, the things you have to fit into your bucket. Now look at your pebbles, which are smaller, not-as-crucial tasks. For example, maybe you want to visit some of your other office sites around the country. Convert those pebbles into one rock: slot in one 2-week trip that will take you to all your sites. Now put in the rest of your pebbles – updating software, meeting with key managers – and you’ll see that most of your year is already organized.
This level of organization allows you guilt-free blocks of clear, open time when you can function as your most creative, joyful, and productive self. Buying back your time allows you to rise from the ranks and take your place among the empire builders of the world.
As an entrepreneur, you can buy back control of your life. By hiring the right people and training them the right way, you can delegate large sections of your company – and free up the time and energy to rise to the next level of success.
About the author
Dan Martell is an entrepreneur, angel investor, thought leader, and highly sought-after coach in the SaaS, or software as a service, industry. He founded, scaled and successfully exited three technology companies within a ten year period. In 2012 he was named Canada’s top angel investor, having invested in more than 50 start-ups, such as Intercom, Udemy, and Unbounce. In 2016, Martell founded the SaaS Academy and grew it to become one of the largest coaching companies in the world. He’s also an Ironman athlete, philanthropist, husband, and father of two incredible boys.