Time Management: Exercise Whirlwinds

In my past articles, I have advocated creating 90 minute work periods to focus on a single topic.

If you were able to do three or four such 90 minute periods every day and really focus during that 90 minutes on the task at hand, you will probably be more productive than 90-95% of people in the workplace.

To get six hours of real productivity in a day is doable, but I fear rare. My purpose today isn’t to dwell on these 90 minute periods, but rather the in between period between these focused efforts.

I like to create what I call whirl winds. I am perpetually fighting a cluttered desk, for alas I don’t always succeed in doing what I preach. So I use my handy timer and give myself 15 minutes to clear as much of the clutter away as possible. This is a great between 90 minute activity. Another great in between effort is to have a set of desk exercises that you can do between sessions.

Finding time to exercise is always difficult. By incorporating it between two 90 minute periods, you can get it in and refresh yourself between periods of concentration. I sometimes stand and do stretches, shoulder rolls etc., other days I take out my set of dumbbells and do some arm exercises or both.

It helps me feel good about myself and builds my energy as I prepare for the next period of concentration.

Time Managment: Urgency vs. Importance Avoiding the hamster wheel of time.

Urgency vs. Importance: Avoiding the hamster wheel of time.

The critical battlefront in the time management game is the conflict between the urgent and the important. This conflict and resolving it is the crucial factor in determining whether we move ahead in our business and life or get trapped on the great hamster wheel of time.

To-do lists are notorious places to find “Urgent” activities. These are the things that must get done today. The grocery shopping for tonight’s dinner, the bills that need to be paid today lest we get a late penalty, the appointments we must make because they are part of our job, or business or mandatory to our family life. These are the things that make up the majority of most people’s lives. And what’s left is filled in with the routine. The teeth brushing, paper reading, evening news, midnight snack and their zillions of cousins.

We allow our lives to be filled with these because they are “normal” daily activities and the urgent things we need to attend to. What usually gets left out are the important things, things that are deferrable because they are not urgent.

Tax planning for example could assist you in saving significant sums come tax time, but for many will be put off until tax time, when it is too late, but is urgent.

One of the most common difficulties for people attempting to get a better handle on their time is the finding of time to plan their day, or their week. The urgency of their day gets in the way. I’ve got to do this, I need to be there, all take priority over taking the time to sit down and spend 15 minutes writing today’s list of urgencies and scheduling some time to focus on something important.

Planning is important. Imagining is important. Meditating can be important. Researching can be important. Writing a new book or article, or building a new product, or planning a marketing campaign, or learning a new skill, or building a web page, all can be important, if they serve to advance you personally and/or your business to a higher level of productivity and profit.

A sales call is vital to the ongoing success of your business. Mapping out a new marketing campaign could help all future such calls be more successful. The first, the routine sales call is urgent. The mapping out of the marketing plan is important. They both should be done. They both must be done. But for many of us, the urgent encroaches on the time available for the important.

A glitch occurs and you are delayed 15 minutes in traffic, you need to adjust your schedule and move that 2:30 appointment into the time you were going to sit down and do some long term planning. The important once again loses out to the urgent.

The picture for many of us is bleak. Our calendars are filled not only with today’s urgencies but also a backlog of several days of unmet urgencies we are struggling to catch up on. How can we possibly break through and eliminate the urgencies? Well the truth is we can’t. The urgencies will always be there. If you let them, they will also take up as much time as you permit them to. Which is, usually, as much time as there is.

The critical underlying secret to time management is to understand that you must make a decision to make time for the important. And the first important step is to set aside some time to plan. And you need not to just plan you day, but your week and month, if not beyond.

When doing so, take a moment to decide is an item is important or urgent. Recognize that things can be both. Focus first on the urgent important. Then the urgent followed by the important. The goal of time management is to find ways to compress the urgent and routine to make time for the important.

It’s not necessarily easy. But it is important. So recognize that among your urgent important tasks each day is to plan your day. Do it first. And make sure your find a time each week to plan your week. That too is important but need not be done every day. But it is urgent that it be done every week.

In my next blog post I will begin discussing the nitty-gritty of planning you week, and then your day. We will explore the idea of a mental lock box I learned from Mark Joyner.

Time Managment: Magnitude

In my last posting on time management, I discussed Magnitude, Urgency and Importance. Today I will dwell a bit on the first of the three, magnitude.


Our life is filled with countless projects, big and small. Some items are as simple as a quick phone call, others may require not just minutes but hours, days, or even months to finish.


To effectively manage your time you must come to terms with projects of all sizes.


For simplicity I will categorize three sizes of projects: Mega Projects; Special Projects; and Revolving Projects.


What constitutes a mega project for you may be different that for another person in a different field. If your normal day is occupied by a 9-5 of required routine work, the writing of a project that might take 5-10 hours could well be a mega project.


The writer who churns out articles that require anything from several hours to several days of work may see their planned attempt at Great American Novel as a mega project requiring months or even years.


Revolving projects are those things that you do regularly day in and day out. They are the required functions of your daily life from brushing your teeth to getting haircuts to the day to day routine functions of your job.


Special projects are the “in between” category of things. For some people, their day to day work may be made up of a never ending stream of “special projects.”


Mega projects are in some ways the easiest to deal with. Their sheer size casts a shadow across everything else you do. Sometimes their daunting size can intimidate you. Sometimes their size will cause you to put off starting them because any number of excuses. While I started this series talking about creative procrastination, this is where the negative aspect of procrastination takes hold.


The simple key to dealing with Mega projects is to break the projects down into smaller chunks. Such projects almost always have things that need to be done first, and then those that follow. When such a time line can be sketched on a piece of paper you have the beginning of a plan. If your project doesn’t have a clear first and then next timeline, you have the freedom to arbitrarily assign such a sequence.


Once you have a timeline, you can begin to assess the amount of time each chunk will require. As a general rule most people will underestimate the time required. For planning purposes, for projects greater than 10 hours you may want to give your best estimate and then plan on double the amount of time. Some suggest tripling it. You will need to be your own judge in such matters, and your estimates will clearly be better and more accurate as you gain experience in your field of endeavor. You will get better at such estimates if you actually make estimates and then actually pay attention to the amount of time the various segments actually take.


To effectively deal with megaprojects that take multiple days or months you clearly need a planning calendar that permits you to assign tasks of weeks, months and years as required by your circumstances. A daily planner may not provide that long term picture.


Some people will find themselves best served by having two time management systems. One that keeps track of their day to day, and another that deals with a longer time frame.


Once you have chunked you mega project you may still need to sub chunk the chunks, and then assign goals for each week or day.


Mega projects require assigned blocks of time. I tend to recommend creating four 90 minute blocks of time in each day. You may want to assign 1-4 of these blocks to your mega project on a daily basis. That depends on what else you have on your plate.


As a general rule, for mega projects it’s often a good idea to make it a personal rule to make at least a little progress on it every day. Even on days when you purposely schedule only other activities, you should review the status of the project and how you are doing in terms of the long run timeline.


Revolving projects are those that recur on a regular basis. These are the things we do every day, every week, every month, every quarter, every year, and every seasonal event as well.


There are a lot of these, and this is where a lot of time is expended. And where a lot of my four ninety minute blocks get challenged. Ideally they get handled in the in between times.


While a trivial task that take only a five minutes may seem insignificant, repeated on a daily basis five times a week is equal to almost 14 and a half of my 90 minute blocks in a year. Imagine what you could get done with that much time focused on a specific money making project. Now think about the myriad of such little time robbers we engage in daily. How much time do you spend reading the paper? Surfing the web? Making coffee? Combing your hair?


In many ways this is the front lines of the time management war. It’s not that you shouldn’t be doing these things, it’s recognizing what you are doing with your time that matters and then making choices and decisions.


The first step is to log your daily activities, ideally at least for a week. You will need some discipline with this, and yes this too will take time from your day, so be quick about it. At weeks end evaluate what if anything you could do without or less of. What items can be combined or rescheduled? If you check email more than three times a day, can you get that down to three? If you do three times, can you get by with once or twice a day?


There is a lot to be said about this topic that we will save for another day, but while this exercise can be very valuable, keep in mind not just daily recurring tasks, but those that happen at less than daily intervals. Quarterly tax filings, annual tax preparation, monthly haircuts, weekly staff meetings, Bi weekly bill paying, etc. Many of these may not show up on your initial weekly log.


As this is the major battlefront be sure to setup a second log on these recurring events as well. Does your office seem to have a little birthday party every other week for a co-worker? Do you spend 15-30 minutes sharing coffee and cake? That’s okay, maybe. It’s a time suck, but if these are important be sure to accommodate them in your logs and plans.


Special projects are those items that fall in between the mega project and the routine. I think of them in two categories, those that take less than three hours and those that take from 3 to 10 or more.


The shorter projects in general should be tackled in one fell swoop. I still recommend using 90 minute blocks, so you can get up stretch and refresh yourself. The goal of the 90 minute block is to find time to focus on the specific project. During this time you do not want phone calls or interruptions. And this is the next challenge of time management. If you are to be successful in the long run with these special project of any other, you need to be able to focus. That means creating as conducive an atmosphere as possible to do your work. Time management may require you to tell your colleagues or family members to “buzz off”. Turn off the phones, disable the instant messenger, get someone else to answer customer inquiries.


If the work you are doing merits your attention, give it.

Projects longer than three hours or half a day may or may not be best tackled in one sitting. As a general rule, it takes time to get up and running on any project and the fewer times you need to get restarted the better. On the other hand, a break can permit your subconscious an opportunity to recalibrate your thoughts and permit a clearer look at the project once you return to it after an interval.


There is value to both propositions. You get to choose according to you other obligations and personal preferences. As a general rule though, it’s best to get a project done as soon as possible. Rather than doing two or three projects in tandem each using a block or two of time each day, my opinion is you are better off to get them done first one then the next and so on. This allows greater focus, and rewards your psyche with a series of accomplishments.


As we have seen there are big, middling and small projects to deal with in life. You particular mix will vary. This complexity is just one reason no one time management system works well for everyone.

In my next offering I will discuss Importance and Urgency and the distinctions between the two.


Time Management: Magnitude, Urgency, & Importance

Magnitude, Urgency and Importance

(Sorry about delay in getting this posting up, I was distracted by the elections. I’m a political junkie among other things. I needed to help get out the vote. As discussed below, this was a large task, with real importance, and increasing urgency as election day approached. Some would say, the best time management approach would be to not do anything, but that is where personal values enter the discussion – but that is a topic for another day. -etn)

Every day we have choices to make. Every day we are faced with more things to do than we can.

We have big projects and we have small ones. We have urgent projects and those that could slip a while, as long as they got done, perhaps tomorrow, perhaps next week.

And we have project that are important and those that while nice are not necessarily important.

These three characteristics of Magnitude, Urgency and Importance are central distinctions in your battle to better use your time. To manage anything implies making choices. And making choices requires some set of characteristics we can use to make appropriate decisions. For purposes of time management these are the three primary measurements, similar to height, depth and width in measuring a package.

By magnitude, we are talking about how long a project might take to complete. Some projects could be as short as making a telephone call or sending and email. Others may require many hours, or days, or even weeks to complete.

Long projects need to be evaluated in terms of the number of hours required to accomplish in its entirety and usually a more specific break down in reference to the critical sub parts of the overall project. Depending on the circumstances and your own predisposition, you may find yourself diving into a large project and forgetting everything else. Or perhaps you want to get all the little projects done first. In which case, you tend to put off the big one. Kind of reminds me of that big term paper when I was in school. I’d often let it wait until the last days when it had to get done or else.

When you schedule a large project, before or after smaller projects isn’t important from a size perspective. What is important is that you develop the ability to estimate realistically the amount of time a large project will take. Ideally, that would include estimating the time each of the major sub parts would take as well.

We tend to fool ourselves about this. So unless you have a well developed sense of the time required for a project, be prepared at initially double the anticipated time required on larger projects for planning purposes. The odds are, you will find ways to use the extra time.

Urgency is the second criteria. If you need to get the bills paid today before incurring additional late charges, paying bills is urgent. If you have an appointment with a client, that is urgent. If you need to draft an advertising campaign that due in the next week or so, it may not be urgent. In the day to day sense, Urgency is like trump in a card game like bridge or 500. It makes a topic that might not otherwise be important rise to the top, because it must get done. When evaluating to do’s, the items that are urgent necessarily need to be flagged.

The last category is the important. While paying bills may be urgent and may also be essential for your business to stay alive, it’s usually not that high in importance. More important may be doing some long term planning, investigating a new product line or even recruiting or training a part time assistant.

The quandary in time management, particularly for the micro business person is that important things are often not all that urgent. They can get put off to another day, and often are. As we will see in later installments, finding the time to identify and do the important things is the crux of successful time management.

Till next time. etn

Time Management: Getting Ready to Get Ready

Getting Ready to Get Ready

For some the best way to get a project done is to dive in and just start. Sometimes that may be the best policy. But typically, before one charges into any time management strategy it is essential to step back and to review the situation. Then after review, a series of deliberate steps should be taken. We will discuss that in more detail, but first we need to step back and deal with a totally different topic first.

That topic is about you. Realize your situation is different than that of most other people. You are self employed. You have primary responsibility for all aspects of your business as well as your personal responsibility to your family and society as a whole. Not only that, you have a personal responsibility to yourself, your body, mind and spirit.

You already know that all those roles are placing significant stress on your life. Unless you are very unusual, you are probably dropping a few balls here and there. Some people talk about multi-tasking meaning they may have two or three projects going for a period of time. When you talk about multi-tasking, you mean managing a myriad of projects on an ongoing basis.

Another thing about you that I suspect is true, is that you have tried other time management programs in the past. Perhaps you still do. Perhaps you did for a while and then fell off the wagon. I know I have and still do. I am a sinner in that regard, and while such mishaps have hurt my progress, I cannot beat myself up about them. You shouldn’t either.

For some people a strict and orderly process and approach to life comes natural. They can readily fall into a routine and maintain that routine for decades on end. Some such people seek out situations that permit them to maintain such a personal order to their lives. By and large they are not entrepreneurs. For anyone who is in a business serving customers knows that customers and opportunities as well as disasters will occur when they choose and not according to a schedule.

Those of us in contact with the world need to devise systems that are flexible. A day planner with hours marked from 8 AM to 5 PM isn’t going to suffice for most of us. So when we devise our own best fit time management system, we need to insure it has some flexibility built into it. Or it will quickly fail.

And the one item we need to be most flexible with is ourselves. Before we start, let me advise you that you will fail in terms of finding a perfect time management process. Accept that. Plan for it. You will fail because of external situations. You will fail because of your own personal weaknesses. You will fail because you picked a rigid planner or system and it didn’t fully account for your peculiar circumstances.

It took me over 100 attempts before I finally was able to quit cigarettes. But through persistence I was ultimately able to succeed. Hopefully you won’t require a 100 attempts to make progress on your time management skills. But even if it takes multiple efforts, and repeated failings, just keep on keeping on. Time management skills are learned incrementally. By doing. Your sole responsibility is to keep trying.

What works for one person may not work for you. As I mentioned in my last post, if you are a lone eagle, you just won’t need the chapters on delegation unless “I” wants to delegate “me” to help “my” get their work done.

That said, we will still talk about delegation down the road.

The purpose of this post is the let you know that you have a responsibility to try. To persist. Not to adapt in an instance a whole new way of doing things. Further, you need to realize that a lot of time management books and programs that may be excellent for others may have little value for you in your situation.

Unfortunately, just like everything else in your life, it’s going to be up to you to design your own system to meet your own needs. I will do my best to illuminate the considerations you need to take into account.

In my next post we will get into some nitty gritty. Till then.

Creative Procrastination

In a recent survey of Professional Home Stagers conducted in the Summer of 2008, business owners were asked a lengthy series of questions surrounding their business practices. Most Home Staging firms are very small micro businesses most often with three or fewer people and a goodly number of one person shops.

As such they fit my definition of a Micro Business is that the person in charge needs to rely on Me, My or I for almost all their activities. And while seemingly facetious, it’s a very real situation for perhaps hundreds of thousands of very small entrepreneurs.

In the survey’s many essay questions, a common refrain revolved around the difficulty in finding time to do all the things required. Not only were these people responsible for the bulk if not all the production work, they needed to do the marketing, the procurement, the accounting, and a myriad of other tasks.

That doesn’t mention the need to maintain family relationships, find some personal time and engage in other social activities. It is difficult to apportion a lot of time to these non work roles when struggling to keep a business alive or to grow it.

Within the analysis of the survey results a section of respondents were identified as being the “Top Dogs.” These were the Home Stagers who made the most money and did the most home stagings. Of this Group of Top Dogs, only one was able to get by on less than a 40 hour week and most reported spending from 50 to 60 hours a week and more.

This is the dirty little secret of most home based businesses. While time flexibility and freedom are often the motivation for seeking self employment, the fact is many if not most work micro business people work incredibly long hours. There is just too much to do.

And thus time management is a critical topic for the micro business person to study up on in their spare time. Despite the catch 22 aspects, the need for time management is as self evident as the term time management is a misnomer. Time clearly cannot be managed. Instead we need to manage what we do with our time.

And that’s were the idea of Creative Procrastination comes into play.

For most of our lives we’ve been taught to fight procrastination. Instead we need to learn how to champion it. For most of us, we are simply trying to do too much. We need to learn to selectively and creatively procrastinate on some of our tasks to permit ourselves time to deal with the items that are most important.

Within larger organizations the rallying cry is to delegate. And that would be our answer too, but as micro businesses we sometimes have no one to whom to delegate. Instead we need to come up with other tactics to cope with our day to day tasks and the demands upon us.