Source: NasimAhmed96, CC 4.0
The current round of time management advice focuses less on hacks and more on, paradoxically, slowing down. That advice reduces to two core exhortations:
- Take more time to think about complex problems so, per Kahnemann’s Type I and Type 2 thinking, you’re more likely to generate better answers.
- Emphasize work-life balance so your brain will be fresher for subsequent work and because, it is argued, that life is not just about contribution.
Those points are often Buddhist-infused: meditate, be mindful.
Predictably, the recommendation to muse more and do less has attracted fans. And indeed, it’s unarguable that it’s wise to take a little time get clear on your life’s priorities, your foundational goals.
But in terms of tactics, one size doesn’t fit all. Most of my clients who are making a substantial contribution (as well as good income) actually benefit more from time hacks: ways to wring 15 months from a 12-month year.
Here are the tactics my successful clients have found most helpful:
Avoid major time sucks. Examples: TV, playing or watching long sports games, going to your cousin’s far-flung wedding. excess food preparation—Delicious, healthy meals can be prepared without a lot of shopping, chopping, and 10-step recipes.
Stay efficiency-conscious. Keep a little voice in your ear whispering, “Should I do this now?” And if so, what’s an efficient way to do it: not the fastest way, not the best way, but a way that yields good benefit per minute?
Stay alert to procrastination. Some people aren’t even aware they’re procrastinating. Stay alert and when tempted to procrastinate, ask yourself if that’s okay—We all need breaks. If you decide to do the task now, ask yourself, “What’s my next one-second task?” Force yourself, yes, force yourself, to do that. After you’ve done that, again ask yourself, “What’s my next one-second task.” Often, a few of those are enough to get you rolling. Use the same technique when you reach a roadblock, and if you don’t know your next one-second task, should you get help?
Take micro-breaks. Sitting is the new smoking, so certainly, get up from the chair for a few minutes each hour. In addition to the health benefits, it contributes to work-life balance. But there is a quick point of diminishing returns on length of break. Certainly, when stressed, taking a deep breath or three and a few-second stretch is worth it. So are few-minute breaks every hour. For most people, the cost-benefit starts to diminish after those few minutes.
Hire a personal assistant? Rich people know the benefit of a personal assistant: someone to do the $20/hour work so you’re freed to do the $100/hour work or to retain time: Even the rich know they’ll run out of time before running out of money. Many middle-class people would also be wise to hire a personal assistant, if only for a few hours a week, to handle errands, child pick-ups and drop-offs, domestic chores, waiting at home for the repairperson, etc.
Learn just-in-time. Courses, let alone degrees, are major time-sucks, and much of what is learned isn’t practically relevant or is learned en masse, so by the time you need it, you’ve forgotten it or it has become obsolete. Of course, credentials often help your career, but the price in time as well as money is often not worth it, especially if you keep learning on a just-in-time basis: When you need to learn something, query a co-worker, read an article, watch a video, attend a webinar, a day-long intensive, etc. If you need credentialing, log your learning activities and major learnings, and present those when requesting a salary review or in applying for a job.
Have a sponge activity at the ready. During dead times, for example, while commuting, walking or jogging, waiting in line or in a waiting room, have a productive activity to do, for example, a professional or personal development audiobook on your phone or in your car. If it’s in your car, you not only make good use of commute time, it distracts from the stress of gridlock.
Telecommute. Speaking of commuting, by design, government is building fewer freeways, which lengthens driving commutes, yet mass-transit is usually more time-consuming still. Where I live (the San Francisco Bay Area), many people spend two hours every day in stressful, gas-wasting, polluting, commute traffic. Should you ask your boss if you might, if only on a trial basis, telecommute for part of the week?
Take mini-vacations. The 8-day/7-night, let alone two-week-long vacations may be more for the travel packager’s benefit than yours. Preparing for a long vacation is time-consuming and stressful, and on return, you’re usually facing a stressful pile. Day trips and overnights tend to yield the optimal time-benefit—For most people, it’s wiser to have 14 of those during the year than two week-long vacations.
We’re all tempted to jump on the exhortation du jour. but while work-life balance, meditation, etc. may have benefit, don’t ignore the less au courant, less lofty, but often helpful time hacks.