It doesn’t feel like an exaggeration to say that every single client I have worked with in my time as a coach has had questions about time. And this shouldn’t surprise us: time does feel, after all, like one of – perhaps in fact the only – truly limited resource in the modern world. Once it's gone, it's gone.
This article is my attempt to pull together the most powerful ideas and practical tools I know of to help you transform your relationship to time.
How to Use This Article
This is a long article. I thought about cutting it down or serialising it, but I left it long, because changing how we relate to time and how we get things done is not usually a quick thing. It requires us to slow down, to reflect, in order to create change in our minds and in our lives. If you are willing to give the amount of time it will take to absorb some or all of the ideas I outline here, then I think you will be able to give yourself the time you need to change the way you relate to time management and getting things done.
When I work with clients on questions of time, it almost always works like this: between us we come up with a few ideas that might make a difference to them. Then we test them, and through testing we find the way (for them) that shifting their behaviour transforms their relationship with time, and allows them to create more of the life or work they want, whatever that means to them. This article is designed to work like that, too.
You can use what I have written here in two ways: you can read it from beginning to end and then take a decision on which ideas to apply, taking the ones which fit best with you out into your life. Or, you can skim the headings and read only the parts that most interest you, and then apply them. And I genuinely believe that if you experiment with all fifteen of these ideas, then you will be astounded by the change in both what you accomplish, and how much pressure, anxiety or stress about time you feel while you’re doing it.
I’ve labelled some of the ideas here as ‘Give Yourself a Chance’: we’re humans, we don’t always behave rationally, and sometimes you need a tip or trick or hack to give yourself a chance at making changes and getting things done. That’s what these are for. If you want the quickest fixes here then these are a good place to start, but you might need some of the others to understand exactly why they work.
What I am not willing to let you do is read this article and then not apply anything from it. If you aren’t going to at least experiment with at least one idea contained below, then just stop reading now. You don’t have time to waste. And maybe you never will. If you do want more time, to do more of what you want and be more how you want, you’re going to need to change how you behave. To change how you behave, you’re going to need to slow down: maybe this article is the way to do that.
Our Habits and Relationship to Time Can Be Transformational
I’ve seen all of these ideas make big differences to people: for me, the biggest shifts came when I shifted my relationship to time - by putting myself on a radical diet of not complaining about time (Number 3 on the list) - and when I shifted my relationship to saying 'No' by understanding the importance of opening up possibility for other 'Yes'es (Number 1, supported by Number 2). But I have also seen how the practical can make all the difference: last year, a client went from stressed and frantic one session to calm and creative – starting new projects and taking on new responsibilities – the next, just by applying some of the ‘Give Yourself a Chance’ tactics in this article. Of course it wasn’t ‘just’ that, it was the power and possibility that using these ideas gave him: the power to be in control of his life, and the possibility to create from that place.
So here goes. Here are fifteen ways to shift your relationship with time management, get more done and feel better while you do it. I hope you get as much value from them as I have, and I hope something transformational is waiting for you below...
1) Saying ‘No’ to Something is Saying ‘Yes’ to Something Else
This is perhaps the most fundamental idea on the list, and I learned it from Confidence and Image Consultant Sarah Cartwright. Every time you say ‘No’ to something you are saying ‘Ýes’ to something else. You may not know what you are saying ‘Yes’ to instead, but you are creating the possibility for something else to happen. ‘No’ creates possibility – that’s not what we’re taught, is it?
This principle is important, because most of us don’t feel good about saying ‘No’. Perhaps it’s fear of missing out, perhaps it’s guilt at letting people down, perhaps it’s something else. But the one real lesson here is that in order to create the life you want, you will sometimes have to say ‘No’, explicitly or implicitly, to yourself or to others. And that’s not a bad thing. It's vital.
The reverse is true, too, of course: each time you say ‘Yes’ to something, you are saying ‘No’ to something else. It’s important to remember this, as you accept invitations to meetings or weddings, as you agree to take on a task or a job or a client. My pride in being someone who is open to opportunities has a dark side: by being the kind of person who says ‘Yes’ to invitations to things on weekends all the time, I (often without thinking) say ‘No’ to all the other things that I might create or do instead, if given the space and opportunity of two days of freedom.
Each time you are struggling with time management and prioritisation, remember this idea. Consider, at least briefly, when you are invited to something or asked to take something on, what your ‘Yes’ is saying ‘No’ to. Maybe it’s time with your family or time alone, maybe it’s the ability to finally finish the work that is most important, or start your business, or work on your novel. Maybe it’s something else, something you haven't even thought of yet. And, if you are struggling to say ‘No’, consider, at least briefly, what possibilities your ‘No’ is a ‘Yes’ to: what is the other commitment, the other - perhaps more important or nourishing - thing, that if you say ‘No’ here, you can make a reality?
2) Warren Buffet’s ‘Avoid-At-All-Costs’ List
One of my favourite ways to apply Saying ‘No’ to Something is Saying ‘Yes’ to Something Else is with this exercise, courtesy of Warren Buffet, one of the most successful business investors in the world. The story is about Buffet taking some time to support one of his members of staff (the pilot of his private jet) with his career ambitions. Warren has the pilot write a list of the 25 things he would like to achieve in his career, then rank them in order of priority. The top 5 are clearly the most important things to the pilot, and Warren then asks him: what are you going to do about the other 20? The pilot explains the other 20 are still important to him, so he will do them in his spare time, fit them in here or there, and still give them dedication.
‘No,’ Warren says. ‘These now become your ‘Avoid-At-All-Costs’ list. No matter what, these things get no attention from you until you’ve succeeded with your top 5.’ Warren is supporting his pilot, and you, if you complete this same task, with saying 'No' to 20 important things in order to say 'Yes' to 5 even more important things.
The truth is, in life, you can achieve almost anything if you are willing to say ‘No’ enough. Raymond Teller, the famous magician, once said, ‘Sometimes, magic is just someone spending more time on something than anyone else might reasonably expect.' Another way to think about this is that magic is what happens when someone is willing to say ‘No’ to almost everything else.
Ryan Giggs is the most decorated player in the history of English football. Famously, at certain points in the season, he would resist even a sliver of butter on his toast because of the effect he would notice on his performance. It is a small thing, but one which gives us an idea of the kind of detail he was willing to go into: saying ‘No’, every day, in big and small ways, in order to say ‘Yes’ to the pace and skill and physical fitness which led him to trophy after trophy, or the stamina to play on when all but a handful of his contemporaries had retired. Elite sportspeople, scientists, entrepreneurs, leaders: they all say ‘No’ to things, sacrifice things many of us never sacrifice. Sometimes they sacrifice things many of us would never want to sacrifice: their families, their relationships, their health. They may have talent, too, but the stories of their cleverer classmates and more talented teammates are almost always there, and part of the difference between those who do things which seem magical and those that don't is their willingness to say ‘No’.
I played out Warren’s game last year. Some of it was easy: ‘Oh, what a relief – I can say ‘No’ to this, because it’s nowhere near the top 5.’ I just felt better straight away. Others were hard: in the end, it left me including collaborations with some of my favourite people on my ‘Don’t Touch With a Barge Pole’ list (I prefer that name to 'Avoid At All Costs'!). But I knew that if I wanted to create my business in the form that would fulfill me the most, if I wanted to work with more 10/10 clients and make more money, if I wanted to write more and spend more time with my loved ones, I needed to say ‘No’ more. And knowing what I was saying ‘Yes’ to – the top five things on my list – made it so much easier.
If you want, you can read the story of Warren and his pilot in longer form here. The list doesn't have to be about the rest of your career: it can be about this week, month or year. But make sure to make a list. It won't take long, and it might change everything.
3) A Radical Diet: Stop Complaining About Time
In his book The Big Leap, Gay Hendricks has a remarkable section entitled Einstein Time. Broadly, the idea is this: we think time is linear, but that is emphatically not our experience of it. For instance, we will wait as an hour creeps by painfully while we are stuck in traffic or given an incredibly dull task by our boss, but also bemoan how a rare weekend with our oldest friends flies by in an instant. There are many useful ideas in Hendricks’ writing about time, but the one that has made the biggest difference to me is experimenting with this: just stop complaining about time. Put yourself on a radical diet for two weeks, as a starting point, where you stop complaining about being late, or being early, or anything else to do with time. At all.
Not only does complaining about time bring time (or our 'lack' of it) into incredible focus, but it constantly undermines our integrity. To make this point, and show some of the problems with the way we talk about time, Hendricks memorably tells a story about a child, coming in to see her or his parent, and saying “Will you come outside and play with me?” The parent says, “I’m sorry, I don’t have time right now.” Imagine for a moment, if instead the child comes in and says “I just put my arm in the fire and my jumper is currently in flames.” Do you think the parent might - just somehow, might – find time then?
Imagine the difference, for that child and for the parent, if the parent told the truth. “I’m sorry, but I’m doing some work which is really important to me, and I need to finish it now. I can play with you when it’s done, or can we make an agreement to play tomorrow?” First, the parent doesn't get the little flash of anxiety: the sense of lack, of time running out. Next, this shows the child respect - I suspect most of them would know, at least subconsciously, that ‘I don’t have time’ is just an excuse - and finally it strengthens the relationship with the child, and our integrity. Each time we tell a lie - even a small one - some of our integrity and energy leaks out. And we use time as an excuse all the time, each time allowing our integrity to leak out of us. Further, perhaps, when not having the easy excuse (or shall we say 'lie'?) about time available to them, the parent will choose more consciously. And maybe sometimes, with that extra consciousness in their choice, they will realise instead that their work is not that important, and that a chance to throw a ball around in the garden is not something to say ‘No’ to.
The truth is, mostly, it wasn’t ‘time’s fault’ or anything or anyone’s fault, it was our choice. By saying ‘No’ to our child, we are saying ‘Yes’ to our work, and by saying ‘Yes’ to our work, we are saying ‘No’ to our child.
When I was first on this diet, the biggest shift for me was on email. So many of my emails used to start with something like “I’m sorry it’s taken me so long to get back to you,” or “I’ve been so busy I’ve only just got to this”. Now, none of them do. The only thing in that vein that it sometimes starts with is ‘I’m sorry, I totally forgot to reply to this email’. Otherwise, I have chosen to be doing something else. And if I have chosen to do something different – and the more I think about Saying ‘No’ to Something is Saying ‘Yes’ to Something Else the more conscious these choices become – then I don’t need to apologise. I made the best decision I could. This brings my prioritising into clearer focus, and allows me to make better, more conscious decisions each day.
And here’s the interesting thing: I think I reply to more emails in a more timely fashion now than I used to when I complained and worried about replying too late. Firstly, I don’t waste seconds every time I start an email writing an apologetic sentence. Secondly, and more importantly, I don’t feel guilt every time I open my inbox at all the people I’ve 'let down' by not replying already. This means I don't avoid my inbox, and when I open it I choose the right emails to reply to – the ones which it honestly is important to reply to now – rather than trying (and failing) to reply to all of them 'on time' out of some sense of guilt.
You might be thinking 'but I only apologise when it's warranted', but once you pay attention to this epidemic of energy and emotion being wasted in a constant state of guilty apology, it’s kind of hilarious. Someone once apologised to me for the delay in his reply. It had been around 24 hours. Before that, I had left it SIXTEEN DAYS without replying to him. What did he have to apologise for?
We do this kind of thing everywhere: apologising, complaining and making excuses about time. It’s everywhere in our culture and the language we use, and the thing about language is that it affects how we see reality.
Change your language, change your thoughts. Change your thoughts, change reality.
So now is the time to try. Just catch yourself, when you notice it. It’s easier in writing, so make sure you do it there, but also take it into the way you speak and think. If you can, enlist the help of your partner or colleagues or children, too: get them to catch you. When you slip, don’t just carry on. Stop, and say what you just said again but with no complaint this time. Just the truth.
No more ‘I’m in a rush’, no more ‘I haven’t got time’, no more any of that. Just 'I prioritised something different'.
See what changes.
4) The Urgent and Important Matrix
Time for another practical exercise to guide you. One of the earliest time management lessons I was taught was the difference between Urgent and Important, via a 2 x 2 matrix. If you’ve never seen this, draw a square with four quadrants. The vertical axis is Urgency and the horizontal axis is Importance. This makes the bottom left quadrant ‘Not Urgent and Unimportant’, the top left ‘Urgent and Unimportant’, the bottom right ‘Important and Not Urgent’ and the top right ‘Urgent and Important’. The aim here, then, is to as far as possible never do things which are in the bottom left ('Not Urgent and Unimportant' - why would you be doing these things?), and as far as possible never let things get into the top right ('Urgent and Important' - this is when things can get stressful and mistakes can happen). Then, as you sit looking at the matrix you start asking yourself, ‘Well what should I be spending my time on?’ and the answer becomes painfully obvious: the bottom right, 'Important and Not Urgent'. Because if you do these important things while they aren’t urgent, they will never get into the top right quadrant.
Of course, things aren’t as simple as this: things don’t necessarily fit neatly or wholly into one of the quadrants, and even within each quadrant things can be flexible and fluid. But it’s a framework for you to use. You might want to plot things on here like a graph. My ex-girlfriend used to write her To Do lists on a grid like this when things were getting frantic. Mainly, I just use it as a mental tool: am I doing this just because it’s urgent? If so, like some of the emails I used to reply to, I should probably stop. But also, when planning my day, week or month, I can ask myself, 'When will I do things which are Important and Not Urgent?'
Because doing those stops you being in the place where the Important AND Urgent quadrant is overflowing: that’s the stressful place, the difficult place, the place when you might start to really drop things.
5) Email: Everyone Else’s Priorities For You
It’s time for a sad truth: your email inbox is everyone else's priorities for you. They may be very wise and very intelligent people, but even if they are, they don’t know what you know, and they don’t have (only) your best interests at heart. They don’t know what is important for you, right now. You have to rely on yourself for that. The same is true of WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger, text messages, the post, carrier pigeons, heralds from other kingdoms, all that stuff. They are someone else’s priorities for you. And we don’t remember that most people aren’t very good at knowing what is urgent and what is important for themselves – let alone for us – so we presume that all of the emails are urgent (even when we know that most of the ones we send aren’t).
This is why many productivity experts recommend completing the most important thing for you to do each day before you check your email in the morning. I think that is a fantastic idea: don’t let yourself get sidetracked by other people’s priorities for you. Instead, sit down and do the most important thing you can do that day before someone else’s priorities skew you or blow you off course. This will often be something Important and Not Urgent. It will also often be a strategic thing to do. These things are important, really important. You will notice, especially the first few times you do this, you will be doing things you’ve been meaning to do for months or even years, which may save you money or time forever into the future.
6) Give Yourself A Chance (I): Prioritise Before You Check Your Inbox
It’s hard, though, in the modern world. There are so many distractions and we feel we are being pulled in so many directions. And sometimes it is hard to hold your nerve on having time at the start of the day (before you check your email) to do something that may take as much as an hour or two. It’s hard even if – like me – you work for yourself. The practice I have adopted is not quite doing the most important thing each day before I check my email, but it is to at least write down what the most important things for me to do each day are before I dive into anything else. I don’t always manage this – when I don’t, I recommit – but when a reminder in my calendar goes off each morning I answer a question: What is in best service of my goals today? I write it down – that’s important – in a document on my phone, and I check what happened the previous day. The side effect of this is that I notice I’m making progress, and that makes me feel better, or I notice why I didn't complete the task, and I learn for the future. But the main thing is that if I don’t take the time (usually less than a minute) to do that, then the world – my inbox, everything else – will get the better of me, and I won’t always get the most important things done that day. Because I’m human.
So if you can't do the most important thing first, at least give yourself a chance by consciously knowing what the most important thing is. This will allow you to create your world, and follow your priorities.
7) The Number One Way to Get Fewer Emails
SEND FEWER EMAILS.
That’s it, onto the next one.
Only joking, here’s a bit more context.
If you send an email, someone (some poor person who hasn’t realised emails are everyone else’s priorities for them) will reply to you. Send fewer emails, and you’ll get fewer replies. And more than that, check your email fewer times during the day: then you will send fewer emails and get even fewer in reply. Why is this important? Because we spend a lot of time organising our emails, worrying that we've missed something, and instead we could be doing work that matters.
Here’s what normally happens: you are in your inbox, and someone emails you. If you’re like many of us, you have read some time management thing which says ‘deal with the things that you can do in less than 2 minutes as soon as you see them’ (incidentally, this is a great way to be efficient, but not necessarily effective - see Number 14 for more on that). So you reply. But they’ve read that thing, too, so they reply, and then you reply, and then they reply, and then you reply. Six emails, a couple of minutes or less apart. Two people spending time they would rather be using for something else replying to emails. And no one has checked if it’s an important subject yet.
So call people, if you can, or go to their desks. Want to get fewer emails? Send fewer emails.
8) Nothing Is An Emergency
But there’s more. One of the reasons we fear to stop checking our email every five minutes – or check it at home when we could be doing something more important or relaxing (like playing in the garden with our daughter or son) – is that we are worried something really important will have happened. Some emergency that, if we don’t get on top of it right away, will lead to disaster.
Of course, what you would really hope would happen is that if there was a real emergency, someone would call you or come to your desk. But if you are always on your email, replying every two minutes, then you are part of the problem: people come to expect you to reply straight away, and by implication to always be on your email. So if they need something promptly, like if something really important has happened, they email you. Which means that by checking your email more regularly you actually make it MORE LIKELY that people will send something really important to you by email. Did you get that? By checking your email all the time, you make it more likely that there will be something important there, which makes it more important to check it more often, which means you send more emails, which makes it EVEN MORE LIKELY THAT THERE WILL BE SOMETHING IMPORTANT THERE. And this means you have to keep checking your email, over and over and over again, more and more regularly until you never leave your inbox and nothing else gets done.
The same thing happens with emails at night: if you reply at night, people will expect you to reply at night, which means they will email you at night, which means you will worry that you’re missing something important at night if you don’t check your email, which means you’ll check at night more, which means you’ll reply at night more, which means they’ll email you at night more.
I’m tired just typing it, let alone how you must feel checking your email every minute of the day and night. Here’s the key thing: unless you’re a doctor or a policeman or in the military, very little is an emergency. (And if you are, I bet your colleagues know to call you or radio you if something serious is going down.) For almost all of us, little or nothing in our work won’t wait an hour between times you check your inbox, or won’t wait until morning.
And, look, sometimes you have to go to the toilet or eat something or you are really sick, leaving your inbox unattended. If a real emergency did happen, wouldn’t it be better if someone called you or came to find you, thereby knowing for sure if you have got the message? The alternative is a risk that something truly important – perhaps even life or death – gets lost amidst forwards, IT tickets, and digest emails whilst, unbeknownst to the person waiting urgently for your reply, you are relieving yourself, or eating a nice sandwich, or curled up in a cold sweat in your bed.
It’s OK to not check your email all the time. Nothing is an emergency.
9) Give Yourself a Chance (II): Train Your Colleagues
This one is straight from author and podcaster Tim Ferriss, whose book, The Four-Hour Work Week contains many great tips and ideas in this space. You might not quite trust me in Numbers 5 to 8, but this tip from Tim allows you to experiment and train your colleagues not to expect you on email every moment of the day or night. Tim uses (and now I do too) a program called Boomerang to train people who work with him. Boomerang (there's a free version with most of the tools, and it works for Gmail and Outlook among other things) allows you to snooze emails, which then boomerang back to your inbox at a later date. This means you can get it out of your inbox and mind, and come back to it to reply when you think they actually need the reply (by which time things may well have resolved themselves anyway). It also lets you send emails on delay, so you can reply straight away if you want to (perhaps because it's one of the three times in the day you check your email) but have the email arrive later on – say, in two hours’ time, or tomorrow morning – thereby training your colleagues that email is not the best way to get an instant response from you, and also avoiding the six email bounce around described earlier.
It also means that if you do want to check your emails at night (I do sometimes) but you don’t want people to expect you to reply at night, you can write the emails at 10:30pm, but schedule them to send at 10:30am the next day (or after the weekend, or any other time).
Most importantly, it puts you in control.
10) Chunk Your Time and Cut Out Distractions
Why is spending less time checking your email so important? Because if you really want to get things done more effectively then you need to spend more time focused on the things that are important, and less getting distracted. Not only that, but my ex-girlfriend – the same one mentioned above, of Urgent/Important To Do Lists fame – ran a project about meeting effectiveness in her work at Nestle Confectionery a decade ago. Even then, the research was clear that humans need time to switch between tasks: we do different tasks using different parts of our brains, and it’s much more efficient and effective to do similar tasks together. To have one meeting – or one part of the meeting – about creative things, another about numerical things, and so on, rather than dotting around.
This is true for you, too. And you know this. I've seen it time and again with clients who have told me something like, ‘I just need time to get some work done’. [I love the language, here, by the way: people say that all the time. They know that their inbox isn’t real work.] The suggestions they come up with to help with this are always around clearing up distractions – closing doors, turning the phone off, going to a coffee shop, booking a meeting room – so they can focus on one thing at a time. On real work. On what’s important. So cut out the distractions when you need to – do whatever it takes. Close your door, turn your phone off, close your browser, turn off the internet on your computer. There are apps to help with this where you can ban certain websites for yourself between certain times; there’s Airplane mode or Do Not Disturb on your laptop or phone. Do it, whatever it takes.
Different people work differently: some might get bored and need to switch tasks more often than others. The Pomodoro Technique is about splitting time into 25 minute segments, separated by a short break, and maybe that's what works for you. But clear your diary where you can: sit down for the time you need to do something – be realistic about how long that will take, and then don’t complain if it takes less or more – and do it, without distractions.
11) Do Things *When* They Work Best For You
The author Dan Pink wrote his new book – When: The Scientific Secrets of Perfect Timing – because he thinks we have spent a lot of time focusing on How we do things, and on What we do, but not enough on When we do them. Some of his data is stark: most of us are much better at work that requires more of our creative and rational brains in the morning and in the evening than we are in the afternoon. This is born out by plenty of data, including a rather shocking story about standardised testing in Denmark: for each hour later in the day that school students take their tests, they perform worse. And not just a little worse: the equivalent of missing two weeks of school. So think about what you are doing when: creative tasks, writing, important work, do it when you’re at our best. It’s probably the morning, but for the night owls among you it might be between 10pm and 2am. And do administrative tasks, unimportant work (like emails/other people’s to do lists, for example) when you're not at your best – often this is just after lunch. Of course not everyone’s patterns will be the same, but get to understand yours, and then use it when you chunk your tasks.
12) Give Yourself A Chance (III): Make Your To Do List Winnable
There’s a great Tony Robbins quote, which is something like “Humans always overestimate what we can achieve in a day, week or month, but grossly underestimate what we can achieve in a decade.” This is why so many of us never finish our To Do lists: we always overestimate what we can achieve in a day. And this feels terrible - anxious and guilt-ridden - which makes us less effective. So please give yourself a chance: write down things on your to do list – and on your priorities for the day – that are completable. This means you can enjoy the success of completing them, notice your progress towards your bigger goals, and keep your energy in a positive place for the rest of your day, making you more effective. If you only have an hour free from meetings, and you know it’s going to take 3 hours to write your team’s development review notes, don’t put ‘write team’s development review notes’ on your list for that part of the day. Write ‘Spend 30 minutes on team’s development review notes’. Then, if you finish that, and have more time, you can cross it off and write it on again. 'Spend another 30 minutes on team's development review notes.'
Of course, for many of you it will be better to chunk your time into longer periods than that, and get a whole task (or a series of similar tasks) done in one go, but if that’s not possible, give yourself a chance. Make what you write down on your list a task you can complete, make it the actual next step, and make it as tiny a step as possible. Call John, email Alice, spend 10 minutes brainstorming. Not 'Create a vision for the organisation', 'Get a new job' or 'Redo my website'.
Then complete your completable task, celebrate winning, and move on to whatever is next.
13) Give Yourself A Chance (IV): Change Your Notification Settings
I can’t tell you what a difference it made to my ability to focus, my general level of anxiety, and my worry about time and getting things done, when I turned off all email notifications on my phone. I had already turned off the buzz or sound for email, but they still appeared on my lock screen and at the top of my phone: a little message saying “New email from Tim Ferriss,” or “You have 13 new messages”. I am a person with anxious tendencies, and they were in full flow whenever I checked my phone, even just to find out what time it was, and saw a notification of something I should be dealing with. I switched the notifications from email off, so that they didn't appear on my lock screen or at the top of my phone, and a sense of ease which I hadn't even noticed was missing returned to my life almost immediately. It shouldn’t have made such a difference, but the shift from having them thrown at me (someone else’s priorities) to me going to the Gmail app when I wanted to, was really powerful.
It was so good, that I turned off the notifications from Twitter, LinkedIn and Facebook, and moved the apps off my home screen so there wasn’t a visual reminder either. Now I have to really want to check Twitter: I have to scroll through my apps to find it and press on it. I still do that - and I still sometimes lose 5, 15 or 30 minutes to it - but I do it much less often, and mostly I do it when I choose to. And the sense of pressure, rushing and anxiety is so much less.
Oh, and please, please, PLEASE turn that thing off on Outlook where a preview of every new email pops up in the bottom right hand corner of your screen when it arrives. PLEASE.
14) Efficiency is Not Effectiveness, Busyness is Not a Measure of Success
Being a fast typist is efficient, but it’s no good if what you write doesn’t make sense. And you can be incredibly busy, working 15-hour days, without creating any notable change in the world. You can be super-efficient at clearing your inbox, but if you never do any real work, work that matters, what is the point?
Most people’s dream isn’t to be busier. It’s to be more effective, to be making a bigger contribution while having more time to do the things they love.
Rich Litvin says that when he coaches high performers, his job is to help them feel more and more lazy. This is because as we get closer to our Zone of Genius – the place where we are at our absolute best, doing what we are uniquely suited to do – we are getting more and more and more effective. We are using our strengths, and making our contribution, in the way that only we can. A great coach like Rich helps people identify that Zone of Genius, but not only that. He also helps them slow down and focus on what is important, and suddenly they aren’t wasting all that energy being efficient without being effective, being busy without making progress towards their dreams and goals.
It’s good to be efficient, but it’s far more important to be effective. So slow down: do whatever it takes to trick yourself into stopping for a moment – perhaps at the start of each day ask yourself a powerful question, perhaps hire a coach like Rich Litvin – to make sure you are going in the right direction. Otherwise, you might accidentally spend time and energy on something which doesn’t take you anywhere or – worse – takes you in a direction you don’t even want to travel in. And remember, your dream probably isn’t to be busy. It’s probably to do more things that excite, fascinate and inspire you, in your work and outside it.
15) Big Dreams, Small Steps
'I don’t have time to write a blog' makes me laugh inside these days (I don’t laugh on the outside because that wouldn’t be very polite). It makes me laugh because I used to think that, too. I thought that, but underneath I was feeling a real pull to share my work more widely, to be bigger and more out there in the world. A real pull, and a lot of fear. Then my coach and I came up with an idea: to write for 12 minutes while I was on the train – five times in the next two weeks – then publish the writing without editing it. And then just see what happens. The feedback was good (you can judge the writing for yourself), and it felt great (terrifying, but great). I decided to carry on: once a week I would write something on the train, proof read it once and then publish it. This is almost two years ago now, and there are almost a hundred 12-minute articles. And the confidence and practice and feeling from sharing these regularly opened up more possibilities: other, longer pieces like this one, sharing videos, creating other things. I now have a body of work read and watched by thousands of people, but it started with a small step, and then another, and then another. And then all the minutes add up, and the body of work is there, and I am changed forever by each and every one of those articles, those small steps.
I see this pattern - of knowing the big picture, but needing the small steps to make it happen - everywhere. Recently, after several months of viral illness, I had completely stopped reading non-fiction. Reading non-fiction is important to me: it’s one of the ways I learn about the world and bring new ideas and thoughts and energy to my work. While I was ill, I needed my reading time – over breakfast, lunch and before bed – to switch off, and fiction is the way for me to do that. I get notably more anxious when unwell, and those novels help me connect to myself and keep the gremlins at bay. But as my illness dragged on, and my recovery was slow, I wanted to read more. Unfortunately, ‘I didn’t have the time’.
What this meant was that I wasn’t willing to say ‘No’ to reading fiction before bed, over lunch or over breakfast. What was I willing to say ‘No’ to? Well, I decided I wanted to say ‘No’ to the first 15 minutes of the day being me checking my email. How I said ‘No’ to that, was to say ‘Yes’ to ‘starting my day with something awesome’. One day, after doing this in a few different ways, I saw a new book, The Meaning Revolution by Fred Kofman, sitting on the table. I sat down and read for 15 minutes while I drank my morning coffee. It was awesome. This was about two months ago, and I am now about half way through, all read in 10-15 minute slots at the start of each day. I haven’t read it fast, but I have used the learnings from Fred’s book with more clients than I ever have with a book while I am still reading it, because each day I absorb just a small part, which enters my consciousness in a very different way. I am learning it in detail, and I am inspired.
We are so often blinded and paralysed by the size of the things which we see before us, the changes that we want for ourselves. Sometimes those are things which would be big to everyone: changing career, starting a business, writing a book, or creating a body of work and sharing it with the world. Sometimes they might seem small to many, but feel big to us, like starting reading non-fiction again. But don’t forget, we grossly underestimate what we can achieve over a long period of time. This is in part at least because we forget that even the biggest things, the biggest projects, the biggest dreams, happen one step at a time.
So dream big. Make the commitment to doing what you want, creating what you want, and then take a small step. And another, and another. You just have to start.
Now Do Something Wonderful
And there we have it. 15 ideas to change your relationship to time, to help you get more done, and to help you feel better - less stressed, less anxious, less guilty, less under pressure - whilst doing it. If you’ve made it this far then congratulations. This article became a lot longer than I thought it would be, and I partly left it long because it amused me that it is a 7,500 word article about time management. I also left it long, because, as I outlined about 7,300 words ago, changing your relationship to time isn't something that can happen overnight. It - mostly - isn't something you can hack. It's something that needs thought, and reflection, and concerted action.
If you have read this far, then I hope this article was one of those opportunities to – as Rich Litvin would say – slow down in order to speed up. And I hope you stay slowed down for just a few more minutes. Take some more time, now, to create change in your life: how will you apply this? Will you make just one change - a small step - and choose the most important idea here, and apply it every day? Will you experiment with several or even all of these ideas, looking for the most leverage?
Or, will you let this opportunity to change the way you work and live slip away? Just another article read, just another few minutes used up. Perhaps efficient, but not effective.
Be effective, instead. Make changes which allow more time and space in your life – and in your head – to be more loving and more kind. To do more good, and more creating. To do something wonderful.