Trade money for time

They say you can’t more time but…

When it comes to money it’s good to accumulate some amount of it. It is even better to spend it on regular basis on things that are important to you.

By that I don’t mean buy more items or chase the latest and greatest gizmo. It’s about spending money on experiences, learning opportunities, building relationships etc.

In the short term possessions seem to matter more but not in the long term. In long term possessions will weigh you down, can’t take them to grave but experiences, relationships, adventures will last the lifetime.

Below quote sums it up quite nicely.

In your lifetime, use money to acquire time.
Share time with people you wish to influence with your values. Be the brand.
Remember that it’s better to earn, and spend, our own way in life. It’s what you did.
Have a bias towards “assets used for shared experiences,” rather than cash flow.
Ask the question, How do I wish to be remembered?

Non-financial aspects of estate planning

Meetings are ok

Meetings get a lot of bad press. They are pictured as the main evil in any workplace just after email. When we talk about meeting the primary image is that it’s long, boring and low value event that everyone has to attend. Many try to ban them completely or reduce them significantly.
Meetings are not inherently good or bad. What has happened is too many people abused the idea and purpose of many, many meetings and converted them in to this hated monster that is now.

Meetings are here to stay, they are simple a fact of an office life. We may not like them but just like taking out the trash we have to do them.

But when you think of meetings they are actually ok. It’s an excellent form of exchanging ideas, making decisions, discussing the goals and direction of the company or providing an update about progress and issues with current work. Think of some good examples of meeting that you had in the past. Things were running smooth, people were active and engaged. At the end everyone left feeling that something good has been done and that meeting was productive.

So how can you repeat that and get the same positive effect every time you organise a meeting:

Purpose

clear purpose of a meeting. There are there three generic type:

  1. idea generation
  2. decision
  3. update

Stay on Course

keep the meeting to the point if the topic is project Y then this is the only thing to be discussed. See Parkinson’s Law a task expands to the amount of time given so it the meeting if your don’t stick to your agenda then you’re likely get side tracked.

Time

Specific time allocation: 15min, 30min, 45min, 1h. Once you know the purpose and the topics it’s relatively easy to determine how much time is needed. Stick to it so the meeting doesn’t overrun.

Attendees

Correct number and level of attendees. If the meeting is about making decisions then people who can make them should be there. If you need to update your team make sure they are all there so you don’t have to repeat the message to every single person.

These four elements that can help you make the meetings better. If you are mostly attending the meetings see if you can influence the organiser. When you see them putting together another boring and long meeting ask them about it. See if they know what they want to achieve with it. Perhaps over time they will change their approach especially if the get to experience a smooth and engaging meetings.

Weekly links 9th of May

A collection of posts and articles about productivity, time management, tools and technology.

  1. Five Best Time-Tracking via Lifehacker
  2. 10 Awesome Videos On Idea Execution & The Creative Process via The99percent
  3. Being More Productive  via Harvard Business Review
  4. 10 Ways to Stop Multitasking & Be More Effective  via PickTheBrain
  5. Why the 80/20 Rule Could Make You Less Productive via DragosRoua.com

If you have any interesting articles please share them in the comments section.

Not sure where to start

 

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Photo by di_the_huntress

With the advent of Christmas holiday season and up coming New Year the is a growing pressure to have as much things done as possible and to avoid carrying things over to the next year. As result of this you might feel overwhelmed with too many projects and actions that need your attention at the same time. There are too many pressing deadlines and none isn’t clearly more important than the other. Being in this state can become overpowering and most likely can cause further stress.

With mountain of things coming in there is no easy way to start and all choices appear to be bad. To sort this all out you need clarity. Clarity to see all your commitments, clarity to see the priorities.

For some , simple tactics below, maybe counterintuitive. As the faster you start the further you can get comes to mind soonest. This is misleading for two reasons. First you may not be doing the right things and secondly you will not be able to properly pace yourself not knowing what the actual tasks are and how much time will they take.

There are couple of tips that are worth trying when your are overwhelmed:

Take a deep breath

Intense work uses a lot of energy. To generate more energy human body needs oxygen, a lot of it. Take three deep breaths. This will calm you down. Also it provides more oxygen and helps you think clearly. Once your head is fresh you can start looking at things, assessing priorities and building action plans.

Take a step back

As you work on projects you may become too involved in them. this potentially can block your ability to judge and make optimal decisions about what needs to get done. Take a qucik  walk outside, maybe go to water cooler or fountain and drink some water. Don’t rush. Come back to your desk and look at your commitments with fresh eyes. See what stands out and make it your priority. Once it’s done find another thing and work on it.

Ask

Some of our tasks are delegated from the top. Your boss asked you to do a number of thing and as a result your have a myriad of conflicting priorities and deadlines. Although this maybe easier said than done ask your boss what’s bigger priority. Remember that his performance depends on your performance so it’s in his best interest to makes sure that your are spending your time on the right things. Also it’s better to ask, than feel sorry and put a lot of effort and energy in the wrong thing.

Try any of these techniques whenever you find yourself pushed to the limit without any break on the horizon. What usually happens is the situation looks terrible only from the distance. Up close once you get going it isn’t that bad at all.

If you have any favourite tips for dealing with overwhelm please share them in the comments section below.

Weekly links for 11th of December

A collection of posts and articles about productivity, time management, tools and technology.

  1. David Allen talks about avoiding burnout

  2. One Big Reason Why You Don’t Have Work-life Balance

  3. How Will You Use The Limited Time You Have?

  4. Making It All Work – From Getting Things Done to Making It All Work

  5. Update: Evernote 4.1 for Windows

If you have any interesting articles please share them in the comments section.

Steven Pressfield interview

Couple weeks ago I came across an interview series at Lateral Action Blog. At the time there were two interviews one with Jason Fried of 37 Signals and second with Steven Pressfield which really caught my attention.

Steven Pressfield is well known author of novels with background in WWII. He also writes about ancient strategies of waging war campaigns. In addition he is the author of “War of Art” which is one of the most popular books on dealing with creativity and resistance.

Below are quick notes form listening the audio:

Your fate is in your hands.

This sounds like an obvious thing but it’s easy to let it go. It’s easy to switch to a reactive mode where you let other people – parents, bosses, spouses -  tell you what is that you need/should/ought to do. It may seem like a great option but have a think. Whose interest those people have in mind is it yours or theirs?

Be professional and approach life from the professional perspective.

There is something uplifting and encouraging when you look at yourself and world around you from the perspective of professional. Regardless of where you work and what you do keeping that attitude will always result in something positive.

Traits of Professionals (minute 20 -22)

  • patience, puts hours of work to build something.
  • accept adversity and don’t associate personality with business.
  • splits himself into two – one is the owner, another is the worker.
  • don’t give up.

I found this hugely insightful especially in the context of rejection. It’s not you that is being rejected it might be your offering or the person might have a bad day and say no to everybody. Separating the two gives you space, a buffer zone so you can keep sane even it things aren’t going where you wanted. Other important virtue is patience, in today’s world we expect to get instant gratification and results. Building business is not that straightforward you need to put real effort into your venture to succeed. 

Power of one hour a day – devote one a day and build your success.

An old proverb  says that 1000mile journey starts with one step. Sometimes it may be hard to see the progress but by putting that one hour a day over the time things will change and move in the direction you want. It’s very similar with “snowball effect” first it’s small and insignificant but over time it grows and makes difference. So putting that one hour a day may seem like nothing but over time it will yield results bigger than you thought.

Don’t need to neglect/quit that day job, just focus on what can do.

Often times pursuing our passions seems like we need to leave everything behind, quit day job etc. This may not be necessary or practical especially if you’re just starting. Simply focus on what can you do that brings you closer to your passion, spend that one hour a day doing that and see what happens.

Making important changes in life is like turning a battleship it’s slow and takes time.

Again with increasing speed of life we tend to expect the results now. We want instant gratification and if it’s not there we abandon the idea and look for some thing else. But important life changes take time and are often times slow, very slow. Although you may have impression that some people lives change in an instant just have a look closer, if you can talk to them see how it really was.

 

These notes are filtered through my views and interests. I picked up those things because seemed important to me. Yet I’m pretty sure you’ll find something interesting for yourself.

Please head to Lateral Action page to get the full interview there.

Time Blocking

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This is the final post of what became a three part series about looking at your time, where it goes and what to do with it.

When it comes to working through your day there are generally two approaches. Free fall where you let the loudest, shiniest, most recent thing to take over your day. There is no structure and the only aim is to move  through as many actions as possible.
On the other hand you could look at your day and give it a structure. Schedule some very specific time to work on some important projects. Perhaps these are not the most attractive things you could do, perhaps they are thing the you dread doing. Yet they need to get done and if you don’t have any one to delegate to you have to do it yourself.

Time Blocking what is it?

Time blocking is one of the classic techniques for making sure that your time goes where you want it. This is where rubber meet the road. You’ve looked where your time goes using time map. You’ve planned it using budget, now you need to execute it. Time blocking is exactly that, it helps you follow through on the decisions you’ve made.
It’s very simple to use. All you have to do is pick up a calendar, select an action/project you want to work on and set the time and put it in a calendar. The aim of this is to block any other activities and get focused on that one thing. 
 

Benefits

  • Direction – using time blocking you can add a shape you your day. You can make a choices about the tasks that are important to you and you can devote your time to them. Instead letting yourselt to freely flow through the day you can make sure some of it is used for the right things.
  • Focus – is about getting fixed on one thing and giving it maximum of your attention. Blocking time precisely let’s you do that. It works two fold.  You can focus on the task at hand and work through it. You can also focus on actions that allow you making progress in the direction of your goals and plans. Getting enough focus will help to limit impact of the distractions around you like, your colleagues wandering around, people talking over the phone, pinging email client, etc.
  • Close off on overdue items – some items on your todo  may seem to be more attractive that others and unfortunately that means the second group is always pushed back. Whether you want it or not those tasks still have to get done. What you can do is simply block some time for those type of menial tasks and have them off your list.
  • Reminder – often times it’s easy to get caught up in spinning world of incoming email, co-workers asking favours. Day just whizzes through and you just can’t remember doing anything meaningful. Blocking time will work as a reminder of what you supposed to do. If you use electronic calendar you’ll get a pop up message or text from Google. This works even with paper planners. Next time you look at it you will notice that you ought to be doing something.

I recommend watching this video by Gina Trapani which is a great summary of how time blocking can be used during the day:

(via Fast Company)

Time blocking is very simple but effective technique. Sometimes it might be very easy to over use it. Blocking out full day for different tasks is not the best idea. Although you need structure for your day you also need flexibility. Days are not linear there is always something different happening that you haven’t planned for.

If you liked this post please share your views. Do you block time for some tasks? Does it help? Do you get more done?

Time Budget

Over a week ago I’ve covered topic of time maps. This time I try to explain the concept and benefits of using something called time budget.

What’s a budget?

Budgets are widely popular in the financial world. In very simple terms it’s a list of all the income/revenue streams coming in and all the planned expenses in a period. Each year every country would announce it’s budget plans. This is pretty significant event for the financial markets. Based on the content of the budget proposals economists and analysts try to forecast the future growth and economic conditions of a country.

On smaller scale families and individuals are advised to keep a budget to monitor their spending and income to build future wealth and financial stability. 

In general terms budget is a framework, a plan which details areas of spending and the available resources. The net difference between both will indicate if you have anything left or whether you’ve overspend the available supply.
Budget also works as a boundary which indicates whether you’re spending too much or too little.

What’s a time budget?

In this context a time budget would be a plan detailing available hours against the activities you want to spend that time on. Time budgets can be created for weekly,monthly or even yearly intervals giving you a wide perspective. Similarly to financial budget you would have fixed commitments like eating, sleep, work, commute, shopping and more flexible appointments like exercising, going out, visiting friends and so called free time. Once your budget is read then you can review and you can decide whether you can afford to spend your time on some activities or should you spend it on something else.

How it’s different from time map?

Time maps as we  described them last time show your time and commitments as they  are. Their main purpose is to provide you with a higher view of your current situation. Time budget looks into the future. Budgeting is really a planning process where you look at your commitments, needs, wants and try to figure which are sufficiently important to have your time. Setting time budget is more about taking control of your time and not letting it slip through your fingers.

Benefits of having a budget.

Setting up a time budget can bring a number of benefits:

  • Focus on important areas – by creating time budget you can pinpoint areas of higher importance and give them sufficient amount of time. If for example getting into shape would be your top agenda item, then you could create a budget that would take into account 1h of training each day. Consequently you would reduce time spend on other areas in order to set aside time for exercise.
  • Less time wasting – with increased focus on important items, you would reduce the time that’s wasted. When setting up budget you would identify elements that don’t take you anywhere and in fact should be eliminated from your schedule.
  • Progress on goals – setting up a budget can be a significant boost to making progress on your goals. Simply bringing them to your attention and setting a side sufficient amount of time will allow you to start making a progress. No more saying “I don’t have enough time”.
  • Sharpen your attention – Some activities like deep thinking or creative work require significant amounts of time. Unfortunately those are mostly pushed to the back as there is never the right time, mood etc for them. If your work, goals depend on having creative/uninterrupted time making an allotment in the budget will help you with that.

How to create?

Creating a budget is relatively easy and involves just a handful of steps.

  1. List the activities your want to accomplish in a week or or a month.
  2. Estimate the number of hours you need to have for each task or commitment.
  3. Add all of the together and compare against total available hours i a week or month(24h in a day, 168 in a week, 708 in a month).
  4. Remember to leave few free hours as there always are some unexpected or unplanned thinks popping up.

For example I try to sleep not less than 7-7.5 hours per night so every week  that means 7.5h x 7days = 52h per week.
Another big chuck of my time is used for my day job, that including commute takes around 9,5h x 5days = 47.5h per week.
Other rather fixed activities that I spending my time on is eating/cooking which takes around 2,5h a day which = 17.5 per week.
Since triathlon is one of my hobbies I need to dedicate sufficient time to keep in shape and that takes around 6-7 per week.
When I add all above I’m using  124 hours on activities that are somewhat fixed but I also have 44 hours a week that I can plan any way I want. Some of it will go toward spending time with my wife, going out, some will go to reading and learning, cleaning, shopping etc.

Once you’ve created your initial budget then you can analyse it and decide if this is what you what or are there any elements that should come forward or should be pushed back. It’s very much a balancing act.

Budget is very much a pro active tool. It’s planning tool where you learn how to use the main resource of your life – time. It gives you a chance to create a framework of commitments for coming week or month. It can help you model new behaviours or introduce new way of using time. Time budget also puts your need and desires in the perspective of what is really available to you.

Building Time Maps

Do you have enough time? Do you stress out over the hours that you’ve left out to finish your projects?

If you want to have "more time" or to manage it more effectively I have couple of tips for you. 

Where is my time?

Nothing comes from nowhere and in order to have more time you need to know where it goes. Your first task is to think what are the ways you spend your time. It would be the best if you could track it for a week or so. For starters simply jot down all the regular and irregular activities that form part of your life.

Think of as many as possible.  Then look at your list and check how many hours per day or per week are you spending on each activity.

If you really want to know where your time goes consider tracking it for a week or more if possible. There are countless software packages for doing that, some even allow to monitor your computer usage, used applications and visited internet sites. But remember, it’s not only about tracking your computer  activities, look at your life as whole.

Daily/Weekly chart

Once you have your list of activities ready it’s time to put a map in place. It works best if you use daily or weekly perspective of your week.

Lets start with a simple and easy method that will give you results very quickly:

  1. Take a ruled sheet of paper and some colour pens or alternatively use spreadsheet on your computer.
  2. List all the hours in the day starting from 0:00 to 23:00. Each of the line represent a single hour of your day.
  3. If you need more granular approach, say 30min slots just divide the lines appropriately or find bigger piece of paper. 
  4. Now start on the top and go down drawing a line between each activity. Once you’ve done fill the blocks  with colours you want. 

 

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[sample day schedule]

What you can see now is the map of day’s activities. By sketching this quick map you can identify any time sinks or simply realise that you have a lot on your plate and there is not much room.

 

If you have listed the number of hours you spend on each activity per day or per week then you can create pie chart. This method approaches your time map from slightly different angle and lets you see all the areas where you spend your time in proportion to the total time available. You can also see how they stack up against each other and what are the areas that dominate your schedule.

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[sample weekly activities]

It’s worth considering this approach if want to look at things from monthly or even annual perspective.

Analyse

Once you’re done with your map it’s time to look at it and analyse it. There is no point in creating something if you’re not going to use it. Time maps give you an overview of your situation so now you need to look at it and start asking questions.

  • What is important?
  • Is there anything that can be eliminated?
  • Is there any free time?
  • Am I spending time in the right way? etc

 

Next week I will look at time budgeting which aims at re-shaping your current schedule and making space for activities that are important and move you towards your goals and desires.

Time a zero sum game

The problem with Time

Many people have problem with time. When we think of stuff I would like to do, see, experience etc we end up with a sigh and consternation – there is not enough time. How could we possibly fit all those things in to this week or day. It just not possible.

We are all equal.

Looking at various successful people on the web, in the news etc. I couldn’t stop thinking how do they do it. Where do they get the time? But the thing is we are equal, everyone of us has the same 24h a day, 168 hours a week. These amounts are fixed, you can’t add anything to them can’t subtract. There are no people with extra hours in their days. In order to make the most out of the time you need to learn how to play with time.

The Game

Have you ever heard of zero sum game? This is the game where winner takes all. If I win I take the prize if you win you take the prize. Simple as that. Now apply this concept to managing time. You can fill your time with ‘x’ amount of activities up to 24h mark. Once you reach that limit you need to trade. Want to add any new activity then you need to remove one of an equal size.

For example if you want to sleep until 9am you need to make sure you haven’t scheduled anything for that time.

If your follow Merlin Mann’s talks (page15) he refers to a similar concept by Joel Spolsky. The metaphor is a giant box which represents single day. You can fill this box with anything you want but once you reach the limit that’s it. If you want to add anything else you need to first remove one thing and than add another.

Regardless of tricks you might use to play the time your end result will always be the same. Double-booking, multitasking are just old tricks that don’t really work. You can get away with them for a while but eventually they will bite you.

Play by the rules

To make the most out of your time you need to accept the rules. And these rules are very simple it’s actually just one rule.

To put one thing in your calendar you need to make sure your have still enough time or you need to take something out.

That’s it, only one single choice. Whether that choice is spending time with family, working some extra hours, going for a run or whatever, it’s still a choice. There may not be equal weight in each of the items. For different people the weights might be different but we all work from the same base of 24h. 

That 24h is yours, you own it, so use it well.

Now knowing this would you change the way you interact with your time? Would you do differently?