at Boulder Creek
Everyone has a plan until they get punched in the face.
@topherez and @kmenzie were fierce competition for @schmidt_reed and me during the Shuffleboard World Championship today.
Pulling back in to Colorado after this summer’s family road trip adventure.
Let me tell you about these men. They traveled considerable distances at great personal cost to stand beside me in the middle of the blazing desert as I said goodbye to my Dad. The world would be different if everyone had friends like these.
In Salida, CO with my bride. (at Downtown Salida)
This thing resulted from a failed attempt to build something else, took 12 years to launch, and was unstoppable once it hit the market.
3M’s story of the Post-it note, released in 1980, is really interesting.
You could have the emotional composure of a viking, but if you have kids this song will still move you.
Does your company make you feel dispensable? This is absolutely the wrong kind of motivation.
Power to the people. #broskiboard (at Pearl Street Mall)
Some interesting statistics on the total number of people dissatisfied in their jobs. What would it look like to move that needle by even 1%?
One of my all time favorite TED talks. Masterfully delivered and thoroughly compelling.
Benjamin Zander explains how he realized that his job as a conductor is to ”awaken possibility in other people”. “The Conductor’s job”, he says “depends for his power on his ability to make other people powerful.”
There was a point 6 years ago when I was perpetually overwhelmed by my work. There was this unending mound of stuff I had to get done. I’d get to the end of each week feeling like I was really busy, and did a lot of stuff, but wondered at the same time, What did I actually get done? I was already putting in more hours at the office than I wanted to. I felt like my relationships were suffering and I wasn’t exercising nearly as much as I wanted to. Even though I was working longer and longer hours, I didn’t feel like I was getting the right things done. So, I made some changes to the way I approached my work. I needed to reclaim my time so I decided to start working smarter and harder, but not longer. Here are the the 13 things I did, that have worked for the last 6 years, and have helped me get the right things done in less time.
1. Budget your time like you would your money.
This is primarily a mental shift - a new way of thinking about being intentional with how you spend your time. No, contrary to the old business cliche, time is not money. But it is valuable, because once it’s gone, it’s gone. So, think of your time as a resource that needs to be budgeted, on an ongoing basis, so that you can be sure you’re spending it where you want to. We’re already doing this with our income and expenses. For example, let’s say I have an income of $5,000 a month. If I’m going to be smart with my money, I need to have a pretty good idea ahead of time for where it’s going to get spent. $1,500 for mortgage, $1,000 for groceries, $500 for utilities, $400 for car payment, $200 for cell phone bill, $200 for savings for Tahiti trip… you get the picture. Budgeting your time is similar and every bit as valuable, and the following steps will walk you through exactly how to do it.
2. Start with a manageable timeframe.
Just like when you’re budgeting your money, you have to start with a timeframe that’s manageable. Trying to plan your budget for a whole year in one sitting is overwhelming and likely won’t be very accurate anyways. Budgeting for a week at a time is too short sighted because you’ll have bills due later in the month that you need to plan for. For most folks, budgeting their income and expenses a month at a time is just about the right mixture of manageable and useful. Same is true for budgeting your time. Sure, you have quarterly and annual goals, and you need to keep those in view, but trying to plan how you will spend your time over the next quarter, or even the next month is a huge task that will, in all likelihood, need to be revised 5 days after establishing your plan. In practice, a week has proven to be the most manageable and useful amount of time that it makes sense to budget for. It’s enough time to get a bunch of meaningful stuff done, but not so much time that it’s difficult to plan for.
3. Decide how much time you want to spend working.
How much time do I need to work this week? “As long as it takes to get the job done” as an answer to that question is as useless as it is common. Here’s why. The job is never done. It never will be. At least not until you sell your internet startup for a billion dollars and move to Lake Como, and even those guys tend to turn around and start another startup. For the rest of us the reality is, if we’re working 40 hours a week or more then it’s likely we’re doing the kind of work that is never really finished. Really, you could spend all of the 168 hours in a week and still not get everything that there is to get done, done. Whether you’re working 40 hours or 80 hours a week you’re still going to have to shut it off at some point. This means then that you and I need to make a decision about where to draw the line. Experience has shown me, if you want to lead a healthier life, and get more of the right things done, then you’ll need to decide where you’re going to draw the line ahead of time, before you’ve already spent your time. Otherwise you’ll reach the end of your week, and have spent 70 hours at work when you really only wanted to spend 40. Every time. So start by deciding at the beginning of the week how much time you want to spend at work this week. Whatever that number is, ask yourself, Does this give me enough time to do the other things that are important to me like spending time with my kids, my spouse, exercising, reading, bull riding, etc? Once you know how much time you want to spend at work you can go about the business figuring out how to spend it.
4. Figure out what you want to spend your time on this week.
Start by listing out, in writing, everything you want to get done this week. You may already keep a running list, or use one of the expansive plethora of task management tools out there. Great. However you do it, you need to get all of that stuff out of your head and down in writing. Once you’ve got your list, prioritize it, most important stuff at the top. Now, take your list and break stuff into actionable tasks. For example, ‘Write a biography’ is not an actionable task because it’s not something you can just sit down and do. On the other hand, ‘Outline chapter one’ and ‘Draft an introduction’ are bite size, actionable tasks. It can be really helpful to organize these actionable tasks together as a project. So, ‘Write a biography’ may be the project with all of your individual actionable tasks contained within it. Once you’ve come up with your actionable tasks you’re beginning to get a good idea for the complete list of stuff you want to get done. Now it’s time to determine what you can get done in a week.
5. Give your stuff time estimates.
By this point you’ve figured out how much time you want to spend, and you’ve got a list of things you want to spend it on. Now it’s time to determine how much of your list will fit into your week. The best way to do that is to give each of the items on your list your best time estimate. For example, ‘Outline chapter one’ might take 2 hours, and ‘Draft an introduction’ will take 1 hour. If something is going to take more than 4 hours, it’s worth taking a look to see if that thing should be broken up into smaller actionable tasks. Be realistic with your time estimates. Don’t sandbag it, but also don’t assume you’re going to accomplish everything as if you’d just drank a large high octane cup of coffee. Be reasonable. Allot yourself enough time to do a good job at a healthy pace. Once you’ve got time estimates for all of the things on your list, you’ll have a pretty good sense for how much time it would take you to get everything on the list done. But settle down, you’re not yet quite ready to launch into git ‘er done mode.
6. Budget in your recurring and already scheduled stuff.
There is stuff that will happen during the course of your week that is probably outside of the list you’ve written out. Usually, this is the stuff that is already living inside your calendar. These are things like weekly meetings, scheduled conference calls and other appointments you’ve got scheduled for the coming week. Take a look at your calendar and add up all the time throughout the week that these things account for.
7. Treat email like a recurring appointment.
How to handle email efficiently and healthily is a topic unto itself. But for now let me just suggest that, in order to really get control of how you’re spending your time, you have to break the chains of bondage to your email inbox. This means stop checking it every 4 minutes. Stop getting derailed because you feel like you owe everyone a response right away. You don’t. Treat your email like a scheduled task that happens multiple times a day. You’ll need to experiment with a frequency that works best for you, but set up regular times throughout your day when you’ll plan to check and respond to email. This may be for 15 minutes, or an hour at a time. Whatever works. I know this is major departure for how most of us handle email. It was for me. It meant turning off my email notifications so I wasn’t tempted every third breath when something new hit my inbox. The truth about email is that the vast majority of it can wait at least a few hours, if not a whole day. If something is a certifiable emergency, then you’ll probably get a phone call or an in person visit from the guy who’s on fire. As long as you establish a system for reliably responding to every email that deserves a response, people will come to trust and respect that you’ll get back to them as quickly as is appropriate in light of everything else you’re working on. This is a really important point. Unless you start making email behave it will reliably be the biggest culprit of making you spend time in ways you’d rather not. So budget in time for email. For example, I may plan to spend 2 hours per day on email (9am - 10am, 1pm - 1:30, and 4:30pm - 5pm) five days a week, for a total of 10 hours of email for the week. This number then becomes part of my total weekly budgeted work hours. More on adding up all those weekly budgeted work hours in a bit.
8. Budget in time for margin.
It’s inevitable that there is going to be stuff that you didn’t account for when you were planning your week. That 15 minute phone call will turn into an hour and a half. The problem you wanted to fix that you thought would take an hour ended up taking two. There’s that meeting you got pulled into unexpectedly and unwillingly. The best way to budget for these unpredictable things is to add in time for margin. What I mean is, give yourself 20% or 30% of unbudgeted time in your week to be able to deal with these things. For example, if I plan to work 40 hours this week, I’ll set aside 8 hours as unplanned margin, which leaves me with 32 hours for all of the other stuff on my list and my recurring appointments. But wait a minute, you say, what if no unexpected stuff pops up throughout the week? Do you just spend those 8 hours of margin staring at the floor or watching Downton? Well, firstly, it is never the case that no unexpected stuff pops up. Never. I’ve found that, on the contrary, it takes real effort to minimize the unexpected stuff that deserves my 8 hours of margin time. And, in the rare instance that you get everything on your list done, and still have your margin time remaining, there are always things on the list which would be coming next week that you could do this week - and now you’re over-achieving.
9. Budget in time for budgeting.
I know, nobody likes having meetings to plan for meetings. Despite how it sounds this is much more valuable than that. Give yourself an hour on Friday afternoon or first thing on Monday morning to plan for the upcoming week. This is the time where I sort through the list of new stuff that has accumulated during the past week, prioritize that stuff in relation to what was already on my list, review my calendar, and figure out where I’m going to spend my time. The first few times you do this, it may take longer, maybe an hour or more. But as you get into the rhythm, you’ll find that you’re able to do it more quickly (30 minutes or less). You need to budget this time in because your time and tasks won’t organize themselves. And you need to give this step the time it deserves so that you can be deliberate about what you choose to do and not do this week. It’s a crucial part of getting the right things done in an amount of time that you’re happy with.
10. Add it all up and go.
Okay, so now you know how much time you want to work this week, the total time it would take to do all of the tasks on your list, how much time you’ll need for the stuff that’s scheduled on your calendar, your margin time, and your time for budgeting your time. What’s left is to figure out how many of the things on your list you’ll be able to get done this week. In order to determine that, first add up your fixed time costs. These are your scheduled things (appointments, email, etc.), your margin, and your time for budgeting. Let’s say that all of those things add up to 15 hours. You’ve decided that you want to work 40 hours this week. That means you’ve got 25 hours left for your list of tasks and projects. Now it’s time to decide which of those things you want to do with your 25 hours. Determining what stuff to do in your 25 hours will be a combination of deciding what is most important in relation to the long term goals you’ve got (quarterly, annual, etc.) and a gut level judgement call. It’s more art than science. Just know that the fact that you’re being this deliberate with how you’re spending your time and picking which things to get done makes you more efficient, and maybe more productive than 98% of everybody else out there.
11. Put new stuff in its place.
Beware. We live in a society of alarmists and reactionists. Nearly everybody in the workforce is used to treating the newest thing as the most urgent thing. It usually isn’t. Here’s your chance to employ some uncommonly level headed thinking to new tasks and projects as they arise. There are only three times when new tasks or projects can get done: now, later this week (which can include later today), or some point beyond this week. For example your boss just told you we have a new opportunity to present a major proposal to a great new client. Your boss is probably excited, so it will be tempting to start work on it right away. But if the proposal isn’t due for 6 months, this is something that can wait until at least next week. Of course, it may instead be that the proposal is due next week, in which case it warrants beginning work on it now. But be careful here, this is the slipperiest of slopes. Only the most important things deserve to get added to this week after you’ve put together your week’s plan. Resist the temptation to believe that every new thing is this important, and realize that there is a cost. Either, you will be using up some or all of your margin time (which could be fine because that’s what it’s for), or you’re pushing something already in your budget for this week from this week to next, or you’re forcing yourself to add more time to your week - in which case your 40 hour week becomes a 50 hour week. For non-emergency new items, which are the vast majority of them, decide whether they need to happen later this week, or beyond. If the answer is beyond, then write it down on your list of tasks which you’ll evaluate at the beginning of next week and decide how it stacks up in terms of priorty against everything else on the list. For emergency items, do them now or later this week, just be very discriminating about what gets considered an emergency.
12. Communicate your process to the people you interact with
Like I’ve alluded to already, being this deliberate about spending your time well and getting the right things done will be a departure from the way that just about everybody around you works. That’s okay. They’ll respect and appreciate you for it, especially as they notice your improved sanity and productivity. But you’ll need to explain it to them so that the transition is not abrupt and abrasive. Tell your boss how you want to be more focused, and more efficient and here’s what you’re going to do about it. Explain to her what it may mean for your response times in emails or why you may tell her that you’ll get to that new proposal next week instead of right this second. Have the conversation, and let her in on your process. Do the same with as many co-workers as feels appropriate. The more you communicate about your new approach to getting the right things done, the easier it will be for you to settle into it because you won’t be worried about what others are thinking. You’ll know what they’re thinking because you’ve explained it to them.
13. Go easy on yourself
Finally, don’t beat yourself up when things don’t go exactly as planned. It naturally takes some time to figure out your process and how best to budget your time. There are a lot of gut level calls along the way and it will take some trial and error. Even if you only get to 60% of the things you set out to get done in the first few weeks, it will likely be a dramatic improvement over what was happening before you got intentional about this stuff.
Remember, the goal is to work smarter (more efficient) and harder (more focused), and not longer (more hours). And it will work, as long as you keep at it and develop the habits. Eventually you’ll find that you’re getting more done, in less time.