This is the third part of the best time management guide you will ever find. Enjoy the article.
- Part 1: The biggest time wasters
- Part 2: Eliminate distractions from your life
- Part 3: Organize yourself
You have minimized all the time wasters in your life. You have unsubscribed from most of the identified distractions. Now you have some additional free time in your life. It is time for you to organize yourself and boost productivity to the full. Let’s see how. The following techniques are not advanced Agile and Lean Life approaches, but very basic tools and ideas how to organize yourself. Well, fist you have to master the basics.
Focusing and setting priorities
The first thing you need to do is look at your values and reorganize them. Values are the core source of making decisions in your life and that also includes deciding how you are going to spend your time (here you can find list of values).
For example: if you have to decide between spending time with you family and going to a sports game, and you select the latter, fun is much more important to you than family in your value system. It doesn’t matter what you say that is important to you, what matters is how you make decisions when allocating time or setting priorities.
If you want, for example, to develop a new skill (as an important life goal) you have to put learning new skills to the top of your values list, at least for the following few months or years, depending on the size of goal and other goals you have. If you are not prepared to make some sacrifices and let go of some other activities in your life, you have zero chances of progress in the area of skill development.
In your life, only the things that you focus on will grow. If you want to make progress in a specific area of life, you will have to rearrange your values and shuffle new priorities. If you will be doing everything the same way as you are doing it now, nothing in your life will change.
Important vs. Urgent Tasks
Stephen Covey divided the activities we face in our lives into “urgent” and “important” tasks. Urgent activities usually get in the way of the important ones, and consequently block our progress. We are much more drawn to urgent activities, like answering e-mail, going to meetings, etc. because of the adrenaline rush, easy accomplishment characteristics and, as an added bonus, they are usually fun socializing activities.
Successful people make sure they spend most of their time on the important things. They invest heavily in their future. On the other hand, they eliminate most urgent things, since those are more or less distractors and time wasters. Successful people intuitively know how to eliminate all the waste.
If you can’t distinguish urgent tasks from the important ones, here is a simple rule. Important tasks are all the tasks connected to creating value, delivering value and capturing value in your personal or business life. At least 80 % of your time should be spent doing only important activities. Everything else is a waste of your energy, money, focus and time.
- In Business: Creating value includes strategic planning, creating new innovative products and value propositions, engaging resources, forming strategic partnerships etc. Delivering value includes optimizing distribution channels, forming customer relationships, marketing products, sales and so on. At the bottom line, capturing value means maximizing revenue streams and optimizing costs.
- In Personal Life: Creating value in your personal life can be connected to your physical body (meeting your basic physical needs, regular exercising, eating clean diet etc.), your emotional body (having positive emotions, socializing with positive people, being loved, belonging, having friends etc.), your mental body (creating something new, brainstorming, having meaningful conversations etc.) and your spiritual body (having a sense of purpose, integrity, a strong life vision, believing in life and yourself, self-actualization etc.). Delivering value means doing it and capturing value measuring progress in the right way.
The fake feeling of progress
Besides “urgent tasks”, which distract you from doing the really important work, a fake feeling of progress can be also a big obstacle to your real progress.
The fake progress in your life appears when you are doing activities that are closely connected to your goal, but do not provide any real value added or real progress. These are activities such as doing too much research, too much planning, over-analysing, suffering from information overload, talking about it instead of doing it and so on…
Let’s look at an example. If you want to learn how to code (develop a new skill), the best way to do this is to open IDE or a text editor, and start coding. You can invest a few hours into scanning the territory, getting some basic knowledge, but then you have to start learning by doing as soon as possible. All the contemporary online coding schools (Codecademy, Threehouse etc.) are based on the fact that if you want to learn it fast you have to start doing it as soon as possible.
On the other hand, if you are only reading books, articles, doing research etc. from one month to the next, you will feel like you are getting more and more knowledge, but your actual progress will be extremely slow. It’s like wanting to learn how to swim or ride a bicycle by only reading a book.
The solution is simple. Don’t over-read and don’t over-think. Estimate how many hours you’re spending making actual progress and not just making yourself feel better.
As we will talk in the Agile and Lean Life principles you can play a little bit in the search mode, but when execution takes place there is no option for not delivering the results.
3D: Delete, Delegate, Do
For every task you set for yourself or get in your life, you can do three things:
As you can see, the “Do” is the last in a row.
You want to delete as many tasks as possible, especially the “urgent” ones and the ones that give you a fake feeling of progress. In reality, it is very easy: you just press the delete button. This especially works with e-mail, since e-mail is a kind of To Do List enforced in your life by other people.
Never forget: you can follow your own goals or goals of other people. You want to make sure that you are following your own goals. Everything else is a distraction. So just press delete for most of your e-mails. And meetings. And other stuff that bring no real value to your life.
If you have an assistant or a team of people, delegate every task that somebody else is capable of doing. The obstacle here can appear if you see yourself as the expert and therefore the only one who can do the job correctly. Well, in that case you will drown in work sooner or later.
Find the right people, mentor them in the beginning, and then delegate the work. Other people’s time is, besides other people’s money, the biggest leverage in life. Use it!
After deleting and delegating tasks, you should only focus on the most important tasks that will bring you the highest return on investment of your time, money and energy in the long run.
If we take the 3D (Delete, Delegate, Do) principle one step further, try to outsource everything in your life that you cannot delegate and is not connected to the highest value added you can produce in your life at a given moment.
The more you focus on adding value, the more money you will make, and the more things you will be able to afford to outsource.
There are two areas in your life where you can apply this kind of thinking immediately. First, think of all the household chores – cooking, cleaning, fixing house, setting up your family computer, DIY stuff etc. It all takes time, energy and focus. It is logical that your financial situation must allow you to pay someone to do all that stuff, but as mentioned before, if you work hard and produce more value for the market, you will make more money in life and will consequently be able to afford to outsource as many activities as you want.
A good rule of thumb is to not do anything that costs less per hour than you can make. It makes sense to use the time that will free up in your life with outsourcing to make more money. Consequently you will be able to outsource even more things with “no real value added” and make even more money. How cool and productive is that.
The second part are all administrative, legal, tax work things etc., especially if you are an entrepreneur or a freelancer. You want to spend as little time on these things as possible, instead focusing yourself on creating, delivering and capturing value. To do that, you need to hire really skilled people who are amongst the best in their industry. You should hire the best people you can afford. It will save you a lot of headache and time in the long run.
Delete. Delegate. Outsource. Do.
The master list and the 3T (3 most important daily tasks)
You are now aware of all the activities that are really important in your life, connected to your passions and values, leading to real progress and creating real value in your life, and you just can’t wait to start working on achieving your goals. Good.
But there is one more trap you want to avoid. Even having eliminated all the unnecessary activities, your list will probably still be full of things you want to do, learn and master. Therefore you could start feeling overwhelmed. You could feel as if there are just too many activities to do. You could become lost, not knowing where to begin. This is especially true for complex tasks and big goals in your life, and can result in procrastinating or even giving up. Therefore you have to be smart about starting to meet big goals. You have to work smart, not only hard.
The clearer mental picture you have of what you want to do in your life and how you will get there, the easier it is to start and prioritise “value added” activities. First you want to have a clear picture of the final outcome you desire, then you want to slice and dice the end goal into the smallest bits possible. After that, you will easily make the first step, which will automatically lead you to the second step and with some discipline, you will be running before you know it.
What you want to do is have a Master List, on which you put all the things you need to do in the long run. Every night, pick up the master list and choose three most important things you want to do and learn the following day.
Just three. Not even one more. Three only. Each of them should take one to two hours of your time. And after selecting the three most important tasks (3T), commit yourself to do these three things the next day no matter what.
Do not have more than 20 – 30 items written down on your master list, and when you complete a few tasks, you can add new ones. Write down all other tasks on the wish list or the long-term vision of your life or somewhere else. If you have too many tasks on your master list, all you will feel is pressure and a shortage of time.
In addition to that you can also make a weekly plan of all the tasks that needs to be done. Then you can adjust your plan day by day. A good thing to have is a Kanban board. Every week you choose tasks from the Master list that needs to be done in the following week; you put all of them in the Weekly to-do column on your Kanban board. Then you move every day three cards to In progress column and you make sure that you complete the work. I have written a blog post on how to use Kanban system for the task management and which software to use.
Know your limitations, we all have it
When you are deciding about the three things to do on a particular day, remember that you have daily limits for how much you can actually do. Do not overestimate your energy capacities.
Assuming you have a day job, your capacity is approximately 4 to 6 hours of focused work or studying, 1 to 3 hours of focused learning and skill development, and 1 to 2 hours of exercise and sport. If you are entrepreneur the available hours are usually much different because you have to work more.
But no matter how organized you are, some parts of your day will probably be filled with some useless meetings, in-between time, time for fun and relaxation, and so on. Face the limitations: there is nothing you can do, there is a limit for how organized you can be. There is never enough time to do everything, but there is always enough time to do the most important things.
Deciding on three priorities on a day to day basis will help you be extremely focused. You will have the compass for a given day, so taking decisions and saying “no” to time wasters and distractions will be much easier.
At the end of your day, you can review if you completed all the tasks, how well you completed them and what you have learned. Some self-reflection just before you go to sleep can be a big value added. If you combine it with before-sleep visualisation, you will definitely become a winner in life.
If you are a list kind of person, you can have even more of them. The Idea list, where you can write down all your ideas. The Never to do list, on which you have all the things you are attracted towards doing in life, but know that they are waste of time or dangerous or you would like to unlearn them or something. Even better than having a list is to visualize everything.
Technology is a good help for organising all your lists. You can use Evernote for your master list; the Clear mobile application for three daily priorities; the Idea store for writing down your ideas. Microsoft Outlook or Google Calendar for managing meetings and so on. Organize your own digital brain.
A really cool thing to do, if you can afford it, is to not have a calendar at all. Eliminating all scheduled meetings from your life can extremely boost your productivity. But for now, only ultra-successful venture capitalists like Marc Andersen or Arnold Schwarzenegger can afford that.
There are two more cool things you can do to hack your productivity:
- As mentioned you can use the Kanban methodology to visualize your workflow
- You can have No interruptions days to do really focused work
A “Maybe someday” list
Sooner or later, you will come across some activities, for which you will feel like you have to do them, but the timing isn’t right because you have other priorities. You don’t want to keep those kinds of activities in your head, because they will just bother you and give you the feeling of always being short on time.
You want to put as many tasks, information and thoughts as possible from your head to the paper, in order to free up your mental capacities for creative “value added” work.
Having a “Maybe someday” list is a good solution to that problem. You get things out of your head and on the paper, so they don’t bother you. On the other hand, sometime in the future, when you finish a big important project or your time frees up in some other way, you can look at the “Maybe someday” list and fill your life with new activities you’ve always wanted to do.
In the Agile and Lean Life we will define that as a life vision. It is the sum of all experience you would like to live to see.
Daily habits put deadlines to shame
You have probably heard or read about setting S.M.A.R.T. goals. Well, I think that that kind of technique doesn’t work at all. That is why we need new techniques like the Agile and Lean Life. If you don’t develop a daily habit that leads you closer to your goals every day, you can write down what you want a hundred times and set as many deadlines as you want, but it won’t come true. You will just feel more frustrated.
It is much smarter to focus more on you daily habits than on your concrete goals, at least in the beginning.
Once you develop daily habits, once new behavioural patterns become a routine for you on a daily basis for example, you can set goals based on the S.M.A.R.T. philosophy. But first you have to search if you want to execute successfully.
But never forget the right order: first you have to search, make an identity shift, then you have to develop daily habits and after that, you can set real goals with deadlines. No execution before.
The time-boxing technique
The best technique for developing a daily or weekly routine is so called time-boxing technique. That means that you reserve certain hours of the day for your important activities and goals.
Here are some examples. First thing in the morning, after you wake up, is dedicated to an hour of reading. Right after you finish your day job, you do an hour of sports. Right after dinner, you take two hours for learning how to code (or developing any other skill). Every Saturday morning, you review your finances. Every Sunday evening, you plan your upcoming week. Nothing should be more important than the hours you have time-boxed for your progress.
The best way to time-box activities that are basically new habits you’d like to develop in your life is to schedule them right after the activities that are already your daily habits. The easiest way is to develop new morning and evening habits, but you can also schedule them, for example, after work, after lunch, after brushing your teeth and so on.
- Here you can find many good ideas for your morning and evening habits (kick-off and shut down routine)
There is one more important thing regarding time-boxing. If you don’t know exactly where to begin with achieving your goal, just make sure you begin whenever you time-boxed the time for that goal. Start somewhere and starting it will automatically lead you to the next step. When you start something, your brains want to finish it and you can use that to your advantage. Just start and the rest will follow.
For example: your goal is to write an article and you have no idea what to write. Time-box an hour or two, let’s say tomorrow after lunch, sit down in front of the computer, open a word processor and just type the first few words. The ideas will follow and your brain will want to finish the task. Sooner or later, you will find yourself in the flow, creating value, writing the article.
Here are some additional ideas for using the time-boxing technique:
- Business/Project Idea Brainstorming every first weekend of the month
- Taking care of your personal finances the day after pay check
- Setting one day per month for doing something completely new; things you’ve never done before in your life
When you work on the important tasks in your life, you want to fall into the flow (or The Zone) as soon as possible. Going straight to the activities with the most value added is the best approach. You know, just open the text editor and start writing or working on the most important project.
The flow is a divine experience that enables you to create real value added fast and efficiently. While working in the flow, your productivity, creativity and learning abilities will climb to the maximum. Since we all have a limited amount of energy, most of us have the capacity to fall into two to three flows per day, whereby every flow lasts a couple of hours.
Time-boxing two to three flows per day is an organizational maximum.
Let’s say that you have the capacity for a morning flow, an afternoon flow and an evening flow. You can anchor the three flows right after your main daily meals; the morning flow after breakfast, the afternoon flow after lunch and the evening flow just after dinner. You can strengthen the anchor by listening to some music that increases productivity. And you want to make sure that nothing distracts you from getting into these three working flows and staying there for as long as possible.
You know you are in the flow when you forget everything around you and just create, learn and experience. Of course if you have a day job, study obligations or any other serious grown-up responsibilities, it’s going to be hard to dedicate all three flows to your most important tasks.
Nevertheless, make sure that at least one of the flows per day is dedicated to that real important goal that will lead to your brighter future.
And if you fail to get in the flow on a particular day, don’t try to catch up. You will just put too much pressure on yourself and give up sooner or later. Just make better decisions the next day.
Sharpen the saw
A very important rule among time management techniques is sharpening the saw. Investing in your skills definitely already sharpens the saw, but either way you must not forget to take care of all your four bodies– the physical, emotional, mental and spiritual ones. The more you take care of yourself, the more energy you will have for productive work.
The rule is simple: put yourself in the first place.
For your physical body, exercise, eat healthy, avoid stress and sleep a lot.
For your emotional body, connect with positive people, make love, think optimistically, enjoy everyday life, be grateful, believe in yourself and manage your emotions.
For your mental health, read books, do new things, do some brain exercises, create something artistic, go to a museum, do some math, wash your teeth with your non-dominant arm, brainstorm, meditate and so on.
As for your spiritual life, keep finding and realigning your life purpose, give back to the community, be a good person, help others and donate, and so on. What you give, you will get back.
Put down the saw
Rest is as important as work. If you don’t get adequate rest, your productivity will slowly decrease in the long run.
The general recommended time to take off is at least:
- one day per week,
- one extended weekend (4 days) for every quarter and
- additional two full-time weeks (14 days) a year.
On the off days, be lazy and do nothing, or do some activities that really relax you – take care of your garden or pool, go travelling, afford a massage, read magazines, watch TV or do other things that will totally disconnect you from this world.
Put down the saw throughout the day – After finishing one big task of the day, preferably in the state of flow, don’t forget to take a few minutes off. After 2 – 3 hours of focused work, take a 20 – 30 minute break. Have a snack, stretch, take a short nap or go for a walk. Taking small breaks throughout the day will energize you and prepare your for your next state of flow.
A few practical time management advice to end with
We have made an overview of the general philosophy and approach to managing your time and making new room in your life for the really important tasks. These techniques are extremely useful if you want to accomplish a complex and demanding goal. If you are really productivity freak you can additionally upgrade these techniques with the Agile and Lean Life approaches.
Before we end, let’s look at some additional fully practical advice that will help you be completely organized in your life.
Clean your desk
Some people are big believers in the “creative chaos” philosophy, but in reality, it usually only means that they are “pigs”. Clean your desk, have everything in its place. It will go a long way to helping you focus. Mess and chaos are nothing but distractions.
In order to be organized to the full, you should be a fan of minimalism. Try to have as few things as possible in life. Much like people, thoughts, words and tasks, material things also take room, energy and time in your life. Throw away everything you haven’t used in the past three months. Have as few things as possible. All you need is your brain, happiness, some money in your bank account, and things in your digital cloud. Eliminate all the waste from your life.
Asset-light life and living “in the cloud”
You want to have as many things as possible “in the cloud” – from your music, movies, documents, software, notes, records and so on. If you have everything in a cloud, you can lose your device, it can break down and you won’t lose anything. You just buy a new device, enter your passwords and everything synchronizes.
You can be really productive having your life organized in the cloud. You can work from anywhere; you are not chained to your personal physical stuff and so on. All you have to do is make sure that your life in the cloud is also organized to the full. You don’t want to be wasting your time looking for files, folders, notes or information. If you have a good system, living life in the cloud can be miraculous for your personal productivity.
Know your biorhythm
Every one of us has a different personal biorhythm. Therefore you have hours when you are extra productive and hours when you feel less energetic. Being an early riser brings many benefits, but still some people, especially in the creative fields, are at their most creative when the sun goes down.
Find out if you are more of a morning or an evening person. Identify your personal biorhythm: plan naps and walks for the less energetic time of the day, and creative flows or agile execution for that time of the day when you feel the most productive and energetic.
Two computer screens
A big improvement for productivity is definitely having two big monitors. You should maybe even use three, but they can emit too much radiation and your head could start hurting. But anyway, you won’t believe how much more productive you can be on a computer with two big screens compared to a laptop or a tablet.
Buying a second monitor is not expensive at all and is easy to set up. Just don’t have e-mail opened on one of your screens, since that will just interrupt you all the time.
You can find tons of productivity apps for your smart phone or your tablet. Their disadvantage is that they can be quite time consuming, but if you are productivity freak and you find that they help you, by experimenting, then why not. If you Google “best productivity apps” you will find tons of them.
Drink plenty of water
Drinking at least 2 – 3 litres of water per day will help you stay fresh, focused and energized. When your mouth is dry, you are already too late. The best way to follow this advice is to have a bottle of water with you at all times and just drink it throughout the day. You can buy a sexy plastic ecological antibacterial bottle for less than 30 dollars. Regular water drinking is basically the only distraction allowed when you are in the flow.
This article in three parts is really long. But organizing yourself is really important in your life. It presents a big competitive advantage. Investing a few hours into reading an article can help you save years of time in the future.
So let’s hope that since you are reading these words, you have read the whole article, all three parts. Well, congratulations, this is definitely the best possible proof that you want to organize yourself to the full and achieve some big goals in your life. But now, it’s time for implementation and to learn advanced techniques.
Knowledge without real-life implementation is totally useless and by only acquiring knowledge, you have just wasted your time. You don’t want to do that, especially after reading such a long article. Therefore forget about everything and start working on your implementation plan.
It’s definitely not easy, but it’s worth it in the long run. Being organized and disciplined is nevertheless the best and most proven way to success and accomplishments in life. At the bottom line, there is never enough time to do all things, but there is always enough time to do the important ones. I wish you all the best with prioritising and being productive on your important tasks.
When you master the basics you should take your productivity to totally new level with the Agile and Lean Life methods.