In this post, we’ll a few words on the best time management tips.
Time management is one of the biggest problems of the human being of today. In the very distant past, the day was all about finding food and rituals. In other words, there just wasn’t as much to do as there is today. The man/woman of today soon finds that the pains of adulthood are largely due to the increasingly full day to day schedule. Not being busy enough is now equated to lack of drive/ambition, while having a stuffed to-do list is a motive to brag about. So, we find the person of today in an impasse in which what he/she seeks is what makes them more and more miserable, and the feeling that not seeking what will make them miserable makes them even more miserable. In other words, cluttered schedules make us more miserable and less productive, but the mere thought of having a simple to-do list makes us feel miserable because we equate busyness with productivity.
Best time management tips
What are the best time management tips? Well…to put it simply, anything that allows you to do more in a way that you can prove you’re doing more. This is the subject of point #2 but the quick summary of it is that anyone can convince themselves of how productive they are/have been, what is hard, and should be the main focus of anyone’s work is to actually to make progress on a goal in a way that a human without any abilities of thinking subjectively can clearly see and understand.
#1 Have a clear idea on your big-picture goal and start from there
The first major tip is to have a clear idea of what your main big-picture goal is. The reason for this is that it’s only from there that you can make better decisions about how to better spend your time, and the reasoning behind it is that one can only know if it’s using it’s time correctly if there is a parameter for which to judge the way one is spending its time at the current moment. The simplest way to evaluate the way you spend your time is to ask the question: does this bring me closer/move me away from my big-picture goal?
Most people skip this first step and begin by doing things that if asked about, will not be able to give you any strong reasoning behind their choice of action. What makes this even worse is not that the person will probably be doing the wrong thing, but also that if it does so for long enough, their conclusion for why they failed will likely be based on some theory of how not gifted they are.
#2 Have a clear performance measure
The thing about time is that it’s not open to interpretation. If 2h passed since you’ve started working, there is no way we can interpret it as anything else other than what the clock shows. The human mind can be so creative however, that even when something as precise as the clock tries to tell us how not productive we’ve been we can still find a way to interpret it subjectively. Meaning that the fact that we spent the last two hours browsing the internet can be easily converted from the time wasted interpretation, to research time with the potential to give us a potential 10x return on our investment. This might or might not be true but it’s off the point. The point is that the human mind and the beliefs within it are pretty malleable, and if we want to be productive or use our time well we need objective measures to productivity that happen to be immune to the kind of semantic debates/cases the human mind is capable of building/making.
I’m talking about the kind of progress criteria that forces us to answer in a yes/no black/white kind of manner. One example for writing is the word count. While this might not be the best definition of productivity in writing, since one can just press the same character indefinitely until we reach 10000 words, the truth is that anyone who does that kind of thing is not interested in being productive in the first place. Word count is not perfect but it’s a good measure of your productivity since if you factor in the fact that you’re also interested in good writing, chances are that you can be safe in believing that 1000 words of content are more productive than 200. One great question to ask is: what’s the point of having an ok productivity measure if we can fool it? And the answer might be unsatisfactory, but it’s the truth and it goes as follows: having a decent productivity measure is just better than having no productivity measure regardless of whether we can fool it or not. I know this is a weird example, but it’s like having a map spilled with coffee in which only a part of the information in it is intact. The map is certainly not perfect, but when you factor in the possibility that you don’t really need a perfect map to find places, even the imperfect can be as good as the perfect.
#3 Ignore Nobel activities when they are irrelevant to your big-picture goal
The third tip is to avoid the temptation to do something just because it’s perceived by the world at large as a good thing to do. Among the various examples are: exercising, helping others and spending time with your friends and family. Although these are genuinely good things to be doing, and we all agree that they are, sometimes they are not the best thing to be doing in a given moment. The problem with these larger than life activities is that for most of us they tend to take high priority spaces in our schedules when they do arise, even though it’s not always the case that they should take much of our time.
This is why tip #1 is so important. When you have no clear direction of where you want to go, the winds of these kinds of activities that should, in theory, add lots to our life but whose addition is hard to quantify are more likely to move us around at their will. It’s like eating a dish known to be healthy without asking whether it’s compatible to or genes or not. It might or might not, and just because they are the healthy thing to eat for most people doesn’t mean it will be for us. Just like our genes our schedules and goals can vary widely from person to person.
#4 Focus on the one thing
The book The one thing by Garry Keller is perhaps one of the best books I’ve ever read, and as larger than life as this statement might be, one can only be tempted to imagine that the book contains a wealth of information about life and Business. Maybe even more than any other book ever published, but the truth is the complete opposite. The One thing is so powerful because its sole goal is to drive only one idea home: focus only on what matters and throw away the rest. Don’t try to multitask, or to get to the bottom of a whole list of tasks. Ask yourself what your goal is, and only when you have a clear idea of it’s time to figure out the one action that will bring you the closest to it. I’m sure we’ve all had this idea at the back of our heads at some point or another in life, but the real power is in paying attention to, and give it the credit it deserves.
The question of what is the best time management strategy or tool can be thought of as the incorrect question to ask when you look at it through the lenses of the one thing. The reason for this is that when you know the one thing that will do most if not all of the job you don’t ask how you can better allocate your time, because you only have one thing on your plate. The only one thing that really matters for you to get to where you want to go.
When you fully incorporate the one thing to your life, you soon find that the stress that comes with having a schedule and a truckload of tasks to be accomplished during the day goes away. Even more important is the fact that when you only have one thing to focus/work on you get to spend more of your time and energy on it. When you have a million little tasks, none of them gets the whole you, and if anyone does, it does so at the expense of some other task on the list. Like a carpenter who works under the “measure once cut twice” principle, here you think about the big picture and the one thing once, and the impact you’ll make in your life will perhaps be even more than twice as much as that of any time management or task list creation app you can find on the app store.
#5 Keep track of progress
The next way to better manage one’s time is to have a clear idea of how close/far one is from the big-picture goal. The reason for this is that when you don’t know how far you are from getting what you want you have no idea of how much more work/energy will be required to get you there. When you don’t know the amount of work required you make poor decisions on what kinds of tasks you should be working on, and from there you can’t accurately pick the true one thing.
Accessing progress is to us what the act of calibration is for a compass. It centers us by making it clear to our eyes how much left it is to be done. When you do this on a regular basis, and for long enough, you soon find out that the answer to the question: “what should I do next?” jumps out at us when we answer the question: “how far are we to get what we want? It’s just what happens with problem-solving. Sometimes the hardest thing to do is not to find the solution, but to clearly understand the problem, and once we do, the solution is often obvious.
Allocate large gaps of time to work
Another way to manage your time is to make better use of it. After you have the one thing pinned down, the next step is to allocate a good chunk of time to work on it. The reason for this is that the more challenging the task, the longer it tends to take to get into the right frame of mind to tackle it. When you allocate little time to do the one thing you prevent your mental and physical juices to get going enough to open the doors to potential breakthroughs in your work.
Still, on the same note, it’s important to address the subject of distractions because they are great destroyers or retarders of the state that goes by the name of “The zone”. The thing about the zone or the state of flow is that it is at the same time a very powerful state to be in and very fragile. Meaning that when in the state, we find ourselves capable of producing major results in our work, of the kind that would probably take 2x if not 3x as much time to achieve. On the other hand, what we have is also a state in which we barely know how to reliably get into, and that at the same time it’s easy to lose. This is why distractions can be so problematic. For those of us who have played any game of any kind, you’re probably familiar with the concept of momentum, in which a series of actions bring you incrementally closer and closer to a major/master state of exceptionally high performance. When it does come the state usually lasts for no longer than a few seconds, but the effects are powerful. The same applies to the state of flow. Distractions act as roadblocks to these increments in momentum, which when added to the frustration of not finding that moment of complete involvement and productivity characterized by the zone, make it even more difficult to even string the small increments that take you where you want/need to go/get to. It’s that same problem of trying to be perfect in a situation, and the first few instances of imperfection put us in a vicious cycle of self-doubt that leads to an even poorer performance until there is nothing we can do but to take some sort of break.
The point is that interruptions in work can be more detrimental than you think, and this is why in addition to blocking out large chunks of time to work, one should also look for ways to ensure that these large blocks are also large blocks of uninterrupted time.
Time Management and Health
When it comes to managing time correctly what we see out there is the just a list of 20 or 30 tips on how to shaving a few extra seconds from each task on your to-do list. While that kind of approach might work, there is one major thing people, in general, fail to acknowledge. That is the impact of your health in the way you use your time. In general the healthier the person the better it will be able to use whatever time is conquered either through technology, or some trick on doing something faster.
As the motivational speaker Tony Robbins said once, the worst place for a person to be at is in between great and rock bottom. What he meant was a place in which one is not happy where they’re at, but the misery is not miserable enough to make the person seek for change. The same thing applies to health. Most of the time we find ourselves in a situation in which our health is neither perfect nor terrible. When this happens we might not be working optimally but because we still feel like ourselves we don’t bother going to the doctor. One thing I learned from the book Headstrong by Dave Aspery, is that the brain is very sensitive to any signs of un-healthiness anywhere in the body, and no matter how little the problem, like a small degree of inflammation, for example, mental performance can be affected in many ways from reduced ability to recall words, to not being able to think clearly enough to make good decisions.
When this happens, it doesn’t really matter how much that last app promised to save you time, you will lose the efficiency you gained to the decreased levels of energy and mental abilities due to non-optimal but not deadly health.
Time Management and Technology
The purpose of technology is to enhance our lives, and what better place to apply it to if not to help us better manage our time? When we think about time management technology the first thing that comes to mind is often some sort of to-do list piece of software. While that’s good and all, most of the apps out there are nothing but the same old thing sprinkled with some extra feature that seems to change the whole game until you come to the conclusion that well…It’s just the same old thing. The best time management technology I’ve seen so far is based on some principle as opposed to just the mere technologization of something as old, and mundane as a paperback to-do list. You already possess one of the most effective pieces of time management techniques/technology, and that is your phone’s Alarm/Timer app.
The reason why this is so is that there is out there very a powerful time/procrastination management process most people are not aware of. For starters, the reason why managing procrastination is such a big deal is that if given a year to work on a project, the productivity on that project will be greatly affected by the time one spends procrastinating. The earlier you start working, be that the initial start or the start after a break, the more you can get done. This is the kind of thing that seems obvious when you think about it, but just like going to the gym, at the moment of the truth this is the kind of truth that rarely comes to mind. But it’s important.
The mechanism I’m talking about goes by the name of the Pomodoro Technique, and it goes as follows: Instead of trying to work for 5 hours in a row, break the work time in 30 min chunks of work followed by 5-10 min breaks. I know this is a direct violation of one of the tips given above, but it shouldn’t be looked at/perceived as such. The reason for this is that the purpose of this post is to be comprehensive as opposed to being preaching a technique. And this is one of the biggest problems with any person giving advice about anything in life. More than just being the master of a given technique the teacher quickly becomes a preacher. Remember that techniques are tools, and when you look at them as such you soon come to realize how nonsensical it can be to preach a tool. It’s like preaching about the power of a regular hammer as opposed to a sledgehammer, and how and why the latter is superior to the former. Each tool has its purpose, and sometimes it is the case that for whatever reason the tool you expect to do the job doesn’t.
Like for example, I’ve been in situations in which working in 30 min chunks was the only way to be productive, while in other occasions working for large chunks of 4-6 hours was optimal. It might be that you always work well with the first, or always with the latter, but it might also be the case that a mix of both is what you need. How do you know which is which? Well… the only way to know is to go ahead and test it by yourself.
The Pomodoro technique works best when for whatever reason you can’t bring yourself to work. The reason why it can so well is because of its power to fool the other side of us that is aversive to work, and who for whatever reason, at the moment has a strong grip on our energy and motivation to work.
This is why if there is some technology that you can tell will be effective is that one that addresses the biggest obstacles in working. The reason why many time management pieces of software fail to manage your time the way you expect is that the problem they are addressing is the kind of problem that poses little to no friction in work.
To say that the clock is probably the only time management technology you’ll need is true, but that doesn’t mean that everything out there is useless. There is also this class of applications designed for the sole purpose of keeping us on track.
The world we live in now, and the technology we have pre-dispose of a set of behaviors that might or might not be ideal to the life we want/aspire to live, and one of these behaviors is that tendency to browse through the web mid-work just for the sake of it. The possibility of new entertainment can be so powerful that we slavishly look for it, even at the expense of our work.
Apps like Cold Turkey block take away from us the need to control these modern-day tendencies by preventing us from accessing websites and even apps that sway us away from getting things done when we really need it but for whatever reason don’t have the will for. The reason why this made the list of productivity tools is that again, it’s not a mere improvement on some old technology, but that something addresses of some deep-rooted productivity blocker and the problem apps like cold turkey solve is well…the internet, and it’s herculean distractibility power over us.
Why goal calendars are more powerful than to-do lists
Among the set of all types of software out there, one of the most powerful has to be the Calendar. The reason for this is that it serves a dual purpose:
- It requires us to think about the future
- It can be used for the “never break the string” technique
The calendar is one of these representatives of what has been and what’s to come. When we look at a date the first instinct is to try to remember what has happened, or what will happen on that date. When we have that kind of life reminder we might /might not do anything with the memories we get from it, but some emotion will be invoked. This is especially true if we’re going nowhere in life and the pain that comes from flipping page after page of the calendar becomes so unbearable that we have to take action.
As for the “never break the string” technique, commonly known to have been created by the famous comedian Jerry Seinfeld, it’s yet another strategy to inspire action, which will, in turn, lead us to make better use of our time. With this technique, we get to see one of the few things we can’t often see with our own eyes, and that is momentum. We begin by setting a behavior we want to turn into a habit, and each day we do it, we draw a cross on the day you did the behaviour. The never break the string comes from the fact that eventually, a string of crosses will form on the calendar across a period of days, weeks, and then months. Each time we look at the calendar then becomes a representative of our commitment to the new behavior, and as a result also motivation for the repetition of that same behavior on the next day for two reasons: 1) the increased sense of confidence we get about our ability to stick to things, and 2) the pain of breaking the momentum urging us to take action again tomorrow.
IFTTT and Automation
Still, on the same breath of using technology to better manage our time, there is also the subject of automation, which when done correctly can have an enormous impact on your productivity, as well as on the time you manage to have left to do other things other than work. This is why subjects such as coding and engineering can be so powerful once you learn them because they give you the power to give the repetitive to that which adores it and that would be machines. As said in the book Coders by Clive Thompson the computer will tirelessly repeat the same task over and over again for you, and when we factor in the fact that it will do so thousands if not millions of times faster than we can, it soon becomes clear how much most people who don’t even try to learn it are leaving on the table. If you are a part of the few who thinks can’t code, I’m here to tell you that today you can learn a variety of languages online through websites such as Udemy.com and even YouTube.
For the ones who just don’t have the time to learn about coding, there is an alternative, and that is platforms such as IFTTT(If this then that), that allow you to string sets of actions triggered by pre-programmed conditions without having to write a single line of code. With IFTTT you can do things such as getting the weather report for the following day, every day at the same time or to even do things as complex as “Automatically light the way for the pizza delivery guy”. In coding, there is the flow control concept of an “if statement”, in which if a given condition is matched, a certain set of actions/instructions are carried out, and this is what IFTTT is about. You specify the conditions and IFTTT carries out the actions when the conditions are met.
Time Management at Work
When most people look for time management strategies often what they’re seeking is a better way to do more at work with the same 24 hours they have available each day. When it comes to time management at work, the most important thing is perhaps what computer scientists know as throughput. In a system, the throughout is, in essence, the amount of work the system can do in a given amount of time. The more it can do, the more efficient and powerful the system, and this is where thousands and thousands of programmers around the world spend their time each day doing when they are not busy building new systems. If you look at time management at work in the same light soon a new way of better managing time comes to light and that is the idea of doing more in less time. What would you do if I told you that there is a way to do a week’s work in a few hours of extreme productivity?
If you’re anything like me my bet is that your first instinct is that of skepticism, and chances are that you even have a growing urge to close this webpage and go about doing whatever you were doing before you started on the path that led you here. The truth is that there is, and although not a very simple technique you can apply in a few minutes, as you were probably thinking this was, this process is entirely based on real and up to date science.
What I’m talking about is the state of flow also known as “The zone”. According to the book, The rise of superman by Steven Kotler, the state of flow is the state in which we feel our best and perform our best. We find ourselves with an enhanced sense of creativity and problem solving we don’t usually find on an ordinary day to day life, so much so that the few moments in which we get it become powerfully imprinted in our memories for the rest of our lives. I’m pretty sure you have vivid memories of instances in which you were at a moment of peak performance, even if that/those moment/moments were decades ago. Being able to reliably reproduce this state is like owning a button that turns you into the super you. This is what the book is about, which I definitely recommend, and just in case you don’t have the time here is a quick summary of the whole process on how to reach the state of flow:
Managing time is hard. Even with the array of tools and techniques available to us making sure every last drop of time at our hands is put to good use is work. The kind of work we do not for 8 hours a day or for a few months but for a lifetime. There will always be a waste because we’re humans and humans are error-prone, and one of the many errors is that of not always being able to do the right thing at the right time. My approach to this fact is that of the student who feels like a student even as he/she attains higher and higher levels of mastery. I stop to observe the wasted time and proceed to keep trying to make the best possible use of what’s not.
Coders by Clive Thompson
The one thing by Gary Keller
Headstrong by Dave Aspery
Cold Turkey app link:
It is all about knowledge and experience 😉
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