Friday, July 24, 2015

How To Stop Sucking At Your Time Management



The Challenges Of Time Management


This is not a post about kindle direct publishing.

It is about a necessary skill to learn - time management.

Time management is a skill learned and honed through decisive actions.

It's a juggling act of three things: Prioritization, organization, and self discipline.

Finding the right balance will help you improve your productivity.


We all are busy.  Research shows that Americans LOVE - in all caps - to be, and feel busy.


Perhaps its the consumer culture we are raised in.  To keep up with the "Joneses", we feel we have to work harder to get more things.

It could be the poverty of time and how we perceive to be busy, even when we're not.  It's all perception born of leisure.

It could be the Puritan Work-Ethic we were taught as kids. It's a status symbol of dystopian proportions.

The first step in any journey is to get organized.

Self Discipline, Time Management And Increasing Productivity By Doing Less


Everyone of us knows what it's like to have too many tasks and not enough time to do them all.

It's like dining at an all-you-can-eat buffet.  You take a little sample of vegetables, some pasta, a little chicken or fish, some salad and bread.  Before you know it, you have too much food on too little a plate.

This post is more about self-discipline, time management, and tactics to help you improve your productivity regardless of your tasks than anything about my Kindle Publishing journey.

I believe that these are not mutually exclusive concepts.

Actions take discipline and discipline requires organization.

But what do we do when there's more than just one action that's required?

For a writer, self-discipline is just as much a struggle as it is for a tuba player.

Or a student with homework; or a UPS delivery driver just starting their daily route.

The Burden of Demands



With any task or job, it's easy to get a sense of overwhelming.

We all have someone we're responsible to, a boss, teacher, coach.  If you're independent, congratulations, that's great!  But with that independence comes a different struggle. That's the distraction of freedom.

Whatever the demands, the only way you're going to get anything of value accomplished is by self-discipline.

There's too many details in the report; there's not enough time to get that project done in time for close of business; I have too much homework are all great examples.

We all feel it from time to time, what I think of as "the burden of demands."

So how do we overcome this challenge?

By setting up an organizational outline that places emphasis on the important things and minimizes the less important tasks we have.

This is a process of prioritization.  It's an important aspect of time management skills.

What Is Prioritization? 






Prioritization is the process of putting order to things. Of making a choice.

The most important is first, then the next important and finally the least important thing comes in last.

The idea here is that you place what is of greatest value first.  It could be a homework assignment, or it could be a phone call you need to make to a supplier for your product line.

For writers, it's placing the order to how you're going to write that next chapter in your story arc. In a story, you wouldn't place the climax ahead of the character development and expect to elicit the same reaction from your readers.

Prioritization is instinctual, but for some reason we allow the burden of demands to overwhelm our thinking and short circuit our organization.

Once you've decided on the order of importance, you need to stick with it.  Don't let S.O.S - Shiny Object Syndrome - distract you.

Stay on task until you finish one, and then move on to the next one.

Again, don't let S.O.S. become your message.

I like to think of this quote I was given by a friend a long time ago: "just because it's important to you doesn't make it urgent for me."

Prioritization Is Set and Done, What's Next?


Once you have the order of importance set - prioritization - the next step is to take your task and cut it up into smaller, more manageable portions.

Think about it like a pizza.  You're hungry, with some cash in your pocket, so you walk into your local pizza joint and order a large pizza with the works.

After about 10 minutes the pizza arrives, hot and ready.

You can't just shove the whole pie in your mouth.  It doesn't work that way - besides, you'd burn the $h!T out of your mouth!

You take a slice, cool it down and take one bite.  You eat the pie one bite at a time!

So micro-prioritization is the next step in your process.

So how does this work?  Let's say you have three projects to get done.

  • First, list them in order of importance, that is, what is the one thing you need to get done.  
  • Next, think about how you can break that task up into a couple easier manageable, smaller slices as it were. 
  • Finally, take that bite-sized task and begin.


The Pomodoro Technique - 80 percent activity/20 percent recovery


By organizing your tasks into the order of importance and then breaking them up into smaller and smaller pieces, you're making it easier to be more effective in less time.

Your efficiency does have limits, however.  It's not just a matter of organization that will help you.

Understand that we all have limits on our productivity, our performance, and our attention spans.
The trick then is to take your tasks and manage your energy with them.

There's a little technique that is called the Pomodoro Technique.

It says that to increase your productivity, you need to set manageable tasks within a finite amount of time.

What the Pomodoro Technique stresses is high, intensive levels of activity but in short duration.

It's the Crossfit of time management!

For those that don't know about Crossfit, it's a H.I.I.T program of fitness.

The routine is High Intensity Interval Training (H.I.I.T) that calls for extreme action followed by intervals of short rest.

For those of you not too worried about fitness and wondering what that has to do with productivity, time management, and self-discipline, here's how it works:

Take a small project like we discussed already.

Say it's a chapter in your book. You've organized what you're going to write about, the general path you want to go, and you sit down to write it out.

You need more skills and organization than just the ability to write. You need to set manageable pathways that you can follow to become more efficient at your task of writing.  In so doing you'll increase your productivity.


Set A Time Limit


Before you begin to work, however, the technique calls for setting a timer. Preferably a short time limit, like 20 minutes.

When the timer goes off, stop writing and walk away.

Give yourself 5 minutes off.  No exceptions!

It's the 80/20 rule of time management.  80 percent of your time is actively focused with 20 percent completely devoid of that activity.

As you can break down the tasks faster and much more efficiently without any loss of concentration, you can slowly increase your time to work but need to keep the 80/20 rule in place.




The Rule Of Three



In writing, there's a principle called "The Rule of Three".

What the rule claims is that things that appear in three's are more appealing, funnier and easier to remember for the audience than any other combination.

Goldilocks and the Three Bears is a prime example of this concept.

The form dictates that there could be three lines, or three repetitive words. Three acts are better developed, have more action and more power than a novel or play with Four acts.

That's why when we talk about writing, we claim that there's a beginning, middle and end.

For Time Management And Self Discipline, the" Rule of Three" can be broken down another way.

In the popular blog, Paid To Exist by Jonathan Mead - he writes about time management skills from a different perspective.

In an article about morning routines titled HOW TO WAKE UP ON FIRE - he writes that you have to have a plan of action for the morning.

Furthermore he writes that the tips he has for being at his most productive is having clearly defined goals, setting down and getting to work and limiting actions to the most important things on his check list to just three things.

His biggest point is stick to the rule of three.

Get the three things MOST IMPORTANT done.  Then if you have time and energy you can do more.

But only after the three things are done.

Time Management Is Easy - If You Can Get Organized


Time management is not inbred.  We are evolutionarily designed to eat, sleep and procreate.  

Time and the demands we place on it are modern constructs, sacrifices we choose to live in a civilized world.  

And time management is a skill that is learned over time, one to be honed to a fine edge like a razor on the grindstone. 

Tasks, responsibilities and obligations can all seem like burdens that overwhelm us; a 50 pound bag on our shoulders while we walk through the metaphoric mud of the day. 

Finding the right balance between doing what we have to with the right order to do them is an intractable part of honing that skill. 

By using prioritization then breaking the tasks into smaller portions with focused attention for manageable durations will allow us to make huge strides in our productivity.   

Additionally, if we abide by the rule of three, we'll see specific metrics achieved easier and more efficiently. 

Combining these concepts will help you with your time management, become much more efficient in your day and increase your overall productivity.