The past 4 years have been a blur operating, expanding and managing The Hostel Crowd. I can speak for the entire team when I say that 24 hours in a day was never enough. We just bounced from one crisis to another. Somewhere along the way, a method to deal with the madness began to emerge. The method was not holistic and as ironic as it may sound – I never had the time to write about time management. Now on my mini-retirement, I’ve got sufficient time to analyze and walk you through a few techniques that I’ve come across in the past years.
So what is success? I believe that it is nothing more than getting what you want—and that it is up to you to decide what that is for you. I don’t care whether it’s being a master of the universe, a couch potato, or anything else—I really don’t. What is essential is that you are clear about what you want and that you figure out how to get it – Ray Dalio
The First Generation of time-management consists of simple to-do lists which all of us are more than familiar with. But to-do lists have a tendency to grow monstrously large. As an entrepreneur, I constantly had at least 10 to-do lists (on Google Keep) with over 20 items on each list. And the chaos that ensued pretty much amounted to no time-management at all. The problem with using to-do lists for time-management is that they do not capture any information about time (??).
The Second Generation of time-management solved this problem with the Calendar through scheduling. I remember working in my job where nothing could be achieved without ensuring that the calendar gave us the green light. Outlook was a whiz at this. The issue however was that maintaining to-do lists and calendars didn’t do anything for productivity. Sure it helped the right people meet at the right place at the right time but with the number of meetings spiraling out of control, nothing got done.
And that’s when the Third Generation of time-management brought prioritization to the table. This is where most of us currently operate – to-dos, scheduling and prioritization. The biggest problem with Generation 3 is that the amount of information available to us is too large and is constantly growing and changing too frequently for us to effectively manage all 3 tools. Mistakes are inevitable and we invariably unconsciously end up working on pointless unimportant stuff.
The point of this article is to look at busier and smarter people than myself for answers to the fundamental problem of the information age – How to Effectively Get Shit Done? With some new ideas in place we can slowly move down the path of personal development.
Unconscious incompetence → Conscious incompetence → Conscious competence → Unconscious competence
“We can have virtually anything we want, but we cannot have everything that we want”. The first step is to decide what is our ultimate goal – the final destination and then to work backwards to decide what tasks are necessary to achieve this goal. The Fourth Generation of time-management says that time-management is dead. Instead of managing our time to get everything done, we should be instead be closely managing our tasks to get the important stuff done. Falling back to the words of Ray Dalio again – “Tasks have no purpose other than to achieve your goals. Said differently, goals are the sole purpose of tasks. So you mustn’t forget how they’re related. Frequently I see people feel great about doing their tasks while forgetting the goals they were designed to achieve, resulting in the failure to achieve their goals.”
Steven Covey says that most of us spend 90% of our time in Q1 and 10% of our time recovering and hiding in Q4. We operate out of Q3 whenever we’re forced to do something that is urgent for someone else. We have to teach ourselves to spend as much time as possible in Quadrant 2. To begin with, we can steal away time from Q3 and Q4 and redirect the time into Q2. Working on stuff that is important to us helps us navigate to a future without constant urgent/important Q1 crises. To summarize, we have to learn to view our tasks through the lens of importance rather than urgency.
Gary Keller says that regardless of what we choose to tell ourselves, humans are unable to multi-task. Any attempt to do so is asking for trouble. The Pareto or 80/20 Principle, says that a minority (20%) of the causes, inputs or effort usually led to a majority (80%) of the results, outputs or rewards. Keller advocates the Extreme Pareto Principle, which means you apply the Pareto principle to the 20% and keep applying the principle until you find the (you guessed it) ONE thing, which when completed will yield the most substantial result. In other words, doing the most important thing is always the most important thing.
Our approach towards achieving our goals should begin with us asking ourselves one simple question every single step of the way (and day)
What’s the ONE THING I can do such that by doing it everything else will be easier or unnecessary?
Traditional time management techniques have been applied only to the workplace and Keller claims that we need to take a more holistic view of our lives and apply the same approach to all aspects of our life such as our job, key relationships, business, community projects, personal finances, physical health, mental development, etc. When this technique is applied in combination with Steven Coveys theory, you should be able to find your Quadrant 2.
Paul Graham has defined ‘Maker time’ as the time where you are completely inaccessible and appointment free in order to get ambitious stuff done. He also says that if the Maker Time is not large enough we might avoid attempting to do something we consider difficult. In other words, you need a large chunk of uninterrupted time to operate in Quadrant 2 and do your ONE thing. Although it might be essential, getting Maker Time is by no means easy. You have to establish rigid time blocks everyday and vigorously defend these time blocks from interruptions. Once you’ve successfully time-blocked your Maker Time, the rest of the day can be used as Manager Time to carry out boring but necessary Quadrant 3 activities such as paperwork, meetings, emails, phone calls, etc.
The most effective tool in the arsenal. Learn how to use this word constantly and ruthlessly. If any task is not within your quadrant 2, you probably should be saying NO.
All tasks are completed through delegation – either to ourselves or to someone else. If we delegate to ourselves, we are the operators but if we delegate to others, we step into the role of a manager. At 100% efficiency an operator can produce 1 unit per hour. A manager on the other hand, after devoting some time to training, can produce 10, 50 or 100 units per hour. So if you have the resources (time and manpower), please remember – teach a man to fish.
The biggest challenge of our times is the flood of new information and the temptation to respond to this information. One way of doing this is to control when and how you process this new information – checking emails twice a day only for instance (and not refreshing your email client every 30 second). Another way is to avoid meetings unless it’s a meeting without chairs. Some people avoid receiving phone calls altogether instead asking people to send an email to prevent them from getting into situations where they need to be reactive. Depending on your circumstances, you will have to figure out a way to make it work so that your train of thought is not hijacked by an email, phone call or meeting.
Analyze your environment and design a way to ensure that you can get the most out of it. If meetings are unavoidable, get your Maker Time by waking up earlier than everyone else (Barack Obama, Tim Cook, Dwayne Johnson and many more endorse this). If your workplace or home is too distracting for your Maker Time, try changing your location to find a place that works for you – meeting room, co-working space, local coffee shop, library, etc.
It’s a Monday today and we’ve all got a long week ahead of us. Whether its producing a song in the studio or calculating complex derivatives for the boss-man, we’re all similar in that we all want to achieve our goals. I’ll be trying out a simple 4-step exercise to see if I can have a more productive week than usual. Give it a shot and let me know in the comments if it worked for you!
Create a list of roles that are important to you (remember to include your personal stuff as well)
List 1-2 goals for each role that you intend to achieve by next Sunday. Take care to ensure that your goals are SMART (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, Time-bound)
Case Study: Jon Snow
|Commander of the Nights Watch||Quit by next Sunday and recruit CNW replacement
Prepare for and conduct 2 hour transition training with CNW replacement
|Direwolf master||Put flowers on the grave on Wednesday to mark one-month anniversary
Write a 500-word blog post about overcoming loss
|Friend||Facetime catch up with Sam and the Mrs|
|Brother||Accompany Sansa to her Thursday meeting with Lady Mormont|
|Personal development||Work-out in the gym twice with minimum 20 mins cardio
Do online research and buy new organic conditioner to make my hair shinier
These roles and goals are your Quadrant 2. Schedule time-blocks to achieve your goals through the week and violently defend your time-blocks to ensure that you get enough Maker time to achieve these important goals. Do not get inadvertently sucked into Quadrant 3 and 4.
Evaluate your progress next Sunday and determine whether your goals have been met. More importantly, remember to set goals for the following week. Goal setting for the entire week allows for hiccups that may occur in-between. It also gives you the freedom to be spontaneous and flexible.
Thanks to Laura for patiently hearing me out and reading through drafts of this along with making the beautiful collage at the top of this page. I promise to not compete with this blog.