Jan 132017
 

Few disagree that time is one of our most precious and fleeting resources. Yet, when I ask, I find that few people manage and more importantly optimize their time by using a better-than-average system. It is hard to be a great carpenter if you don’t use good tools and techniques.

First, time management is a strange phrase: we really can’t manage time, as it flows by no matter what we do. What we can do is decide how we use the time that we are given, which makes the challenge one of planning and decision making. That reality invariably leads to several important questions: what are your goals (and why), what is your foremost priority now, and what are other crucial and urgent tasks that are important to you. If you have no goals, your task management will often adopt someone else’s priorities.

What is the average system?

In a word, lists. The good news about written lists is that they outperform the average memory, but most people just jot things down, then look them over from time to time.

What’s above average?

While we are still working with two dimensional lists, I usually see four improvements:

  1. Lists are organized by project.
  2. Due dates are added to certain tasks, and alerts are triggered to remind the person to get things done at the right time.
  3. The user adopts the idea of writing everything (that he or she ‘accepts’ as a task) down, not just some tasks — this is very useful because it relieves one’s brain from periodically churning and worrying about forgetting key tasks.
  4. Your task / list system is available for you no matter where you are (which means available on smartphone and desktop for nearly all of us).

What if you want to be top 20%?

Four concepts must be added to your system (and your actual system must make these easy-to-do on an ongoing basis):

  1. Planning ahead is crucial, so that you know what is on your personal agenda for this month, this week, and this day.
  2. Tasks must be distilled to individual, actionable, next steps, so that when you decide to work on a task, you are empowered to take action without a new round of thinking and distilling.
  3. The one truly “next” task needs to be identified by project.
  4. You must have scheduled reviews to keep your system fresh and re-prioritized, with minimal effort.

In essence, you have the ability to view your tasks by various dimensions — not just by project and date. As your system becomes more sophisticated, you can view projects by priority, by next step, by status (for example, waiting on someone to get back to you), or by delegate.

What if you want to be top 10% in your time management?

Filters and blocks of time:

  1. The core idea is — assuming that you pre-plan every task — you can use filters so that you only see the tasks for today, or tomorrow, or this week, which helps with your focus and stress reduction.
  2. Filters should accommodate ‘context’ so that you only see the tasks that can be done given based on where you are (for example, you can’t mow the lawn or throw the baseball with Jimmy while at the airport, so why add stress by seeing those tasks out of context).
  3. Use calendar appointments to block your time for strategic progress bursts. Most people struggle with turning off the ever-present distractions but that is exactly what is needed. (See pomodoro technique)
  4. A bonus feature is if your system makes it easy to log how you spent your time so that you get feedback and become smarter in your approach over time.

How do you become a top 1%er?

To be a top one-percent time management black-belt, one must transcend just having a great system, learning the habit of aligning daily effort to short-term, mid-term, and long-term goals, blocking considerable daily time to the pursuit of what is truly important and strategic. This leads to saying “no” often, without losing valuable personal relationships, which is a difficult balance.  It also means habitually disconnecting from distractions, such as email and text messages, by setting the expectations of those who send you those frequent messages.

What system do you use now?

How does your system stack up compared to this best practices checklist? As you start this new year full of optimism, perhaps it is time to move to a better system. The system itself won’t do it alone — you need the crucial habits of pre-planning, breaking into actionable steps, writing everything down, filtration, calendaring — but never bring a knife to a gun fight either.

I.M. OptimismMan

Jan 042017
 

My gift to you for the holidays is a free app recommendation — and just in case anyone is wondering, I am not associated in any way with the developer — its just cool.

I know, I know, today is a few days after the holidays, but I purposefully waited, assuming that most people don’t check online blogs while family is visiting.

I haven’t recommended a smartphone app in several years, but found one in 2016 that is brilliant for anyone who travels often on business, stays overnight (which is 90+% of everyone on my contacts list), and eats alone at the bar or pub from time to time.

Tunity lets you listen to any muted TV over your smartphone. You simply point the phone at the TV, the app figures out the broadcast, and Voilà! — sound over your ear buds. As an added benefit, it works great at the airport or gym as well.

Hope you like it… and I hope the app stays free…

Have a great 2017!

I.M. OptimismMan

Jan 022017
 

What’s your resolution for 2017? After a lot of thought, I have decided on my one foremost priority for 2017: Improve quality on every front.

In the last few years, I’ve noticed that far too often, my workouts rated a B / B- / or C+ in 2016. If I’m going to invest an hour at the gym today, why walk away with a C+? I’ve noticed that far too often, my meals rated a B / B- / or C+ in 2016 as well. If I’m eating calories to live long and stay healthy, why eat fries? Actually, on a lot of fronts, distractions, too many conflicting attentions, and too many things-to-do resulted in sub-par effort and results. Each was a decision that I made of my own free will.

I have always believed that quality is far more important than quantity, but I haven’t been focused enough, in recent times, to translate that belief into daily habits of excellence.

This year, I will focus and do something about it. I will say “no” to a few more things, I will approach every aspect of life with an eye for “smarter not harder”, and give an A / A+ effort and time to all the projects and endeavors that I choose to tackle.

Pick a great resolution that resonates with you.  I’ve always believed in the power of resolutions and goals, especially when you log your results and review your progress each month.  I love January 1st.

I.M. OptimismMan