“I don’t have time”, “There aren’t enough hours in the day”, “I’m busy”. Do you use these phrases regularly? If so, then this week’s episode of the Working With… Podcast is for you.
Hello and welcome to episode 98 of the Working With Podcast. A podcast created to answer all your questions about productivity, GTD, time management, self-development and goal planning. My name is Carl Pullein and I am your host for this show.
This week we are returning to the question of time, and how to manage your time on a daily basis. I know so many people really struggle with this, yet there are a few things you can do to reduce your feelings of stress, overwhelm and that feeling of busyness.
But before we get to this week’s question, for those of you in the UK—or anywhere really—the Life and Time Mastery workshop is returning to Scunthorpe on the 28th December.
This workshop is going to be very special. We are calling it “Life and Time Mastery - the 2020 Edition - Start Fast. Start Strong” and its single purpose is to help you to set yourself up for the best decade you have ever had.
So if you are in the UK and want the opportunity to visit the wonderful Lincolnshire town of Scunthorpe, spend a day with some incredibly energised, positive and amazing people plus Kevin Blackburn—a regular guest on this podcast—and myself, get yourself registered soon. Places are limited and they are selling out very fast.
It would be fantastic to meet you in Scunthorpe in December. AND… There might even be a possibility to meet this show’s mystery podcast voice. Now there’s a fantastic reason to join us.
Okay, onto this week’s question and that means it’s now time to hand you over to the mystery podcast voice, for this week’s question.
This week’s question comes from Jake. Jake asks: Carl, I know you talk a lot about the 2+8 Prioritisation system and I do understand it, but I have so much to do each day, I really can’t cope. There’s no time for me to block time off for focused work and even thinking about working on my goals is a joke. Is here anything you can suggest that will help?
Thank you for your question, Jake.
Okay, let’s start with time. Everybody gets the same amount of time each day. Twenty-four hours. Some people can get an amazing amount done in that time, while others struggle and seem to be always telling everyone who will listen how busy they are.
So if we start with the premise that we all have the same amount of time, the only variable is what we are doing in those twenty-four hours.
Let me tell you a little secret. The way to get the most out of the time you have available is to get realistic about what you can achieve.
If you have a complex 100 plus slide presentation to create, you are never going to do that in one day. Not if you accept that throughout the day you will get interrupted and distracted. It just isn't going to happen. Take a typical Apple keynote presentation, for example, we know, from the books that came out following the death of Steve Jobs, that one of those presentations took around six months to prepare. And in the two weeks leading up to the keynote, a team of people were spending all the time they had available putting the finishing touches to it.
So, if you have a project as big as an important two-hour presentation, you are going to need more than a week to prepare it. If you are the kind of person who leaves those kinds of tasks until the last minute then sure you are going to feel busy and overwhelmed, yet those feelings are entirely of your own making.
What you have to understand is that a lot of the work you have to do, if you want to do the work properly, will need more than a day to do so you need to spread out your work. Short sprints over a longer period of time will result in better performance and a lot less stress.
Here’s a trick I do. At the end of every day, I look at my calendar not just at tomorrow but for the rest of the week. I am looking for days that have filled up with appointments and comparing that with my task list for the rest of the week. I spend around ten minutes each day, just getting a big picture view of my week and making sure no day is overloaded with too many appointments and tasks.
If I do find I have a day with too many appointments and tasks, I will re-schedule some of those tasks to quieter days. Or remove the non-urgent tasks altogether from that week. I’ve even been known to re-schedule less important appointments. If I have a couple of quiet days and three busy days, I will do as much as I can of my bigger project work on those quieter days. Just getting those big tasks started is often all that is needed to keep the overwhelm and stress at bay.
In a way, you need to develop the mindset of protecting your time.
Let me ask you a question... do you have the courage to schedule rest time? I ask that because I’ve seen people try and work through an enormous amount of work and meetings only to find their effectiveness becomes so bad they end up having to redo a lot of the work they did when they were exhausted because of all the mistakes in there.
When I ask them about rest periods, they tell me their client, customer or boss “needs” it tomorrow morning. When pushed, they usually confess that they could ask their client, boss or whoever if they could send it later that day and almost always they would be allowed to. The reason they don’t is that they are afraid that they may be told no. Part of getting in control of your available time is asking for and setting realistic deadlines. If you don’t have the courage to ask, then you only have yourself to blame.
If you think you can do a week’s worth of twenty-hours a day and get yourself on top of your work you are deluding yourself. You won't. You would get far more work done if you just did five or six hours of concentrated focused work each day.
Never be afraid to schedule some rest time. An extra hour of sleep will do far more for your effectiveness than trying to work an eighteen hour day.
So, what else can you do?
One of the most powerful ways of getting in control of your time is to begin the day knowing what it is you want to get accomplished. And when I say knowing what you want to get accomplished I mean in a realistic sense.
One of the most common reasons for feeling overwhelmed and stressed is setting unrealistic expectations. When you fill your day with appointments and tasks something will break, usually, that will be you. Your discipline will fail, you’ll look at your list of things to do and no matter how determined you are to get everything done, either you will run out of time or your resolve will break at some point in the day.
The truth is there is a limited amount you can effectively do each day. We are living human beings. We are not machines. You will get tired as the day goes by and your ability to focus will reduce. This is something you really need to understand if you want to become more effective and productive. And no matter how super-human you think you are, you are still a human being and you are not as super-human as you think you are.
One thing we can all do is to find where our optimum is. What I mean by this is where the point at which our effectiveness begins to reduce.
In my case, I know I am good for around 2,000 written words each day or roughly four hours of concentrated work. If I try and do more than that, while I can do it, my effectiveness diminishes and I end up having to rewrite those extra words the next day or redo a lot of the work I did. Not very efficient.
A recent similar example of this occurred with my exercise schedule. Over the last six months, I have been exercising very intensely. Each week I have pushed myself harder. Last weekend I ran 5 miles - no big deal, except I haven't done much running over the last few months. Instead, I have focused more on circuit training—that’s the old fashioned name for CrossFit—so naturally, as I was unwisely pushing myself through the last mile, I felt a pain in my Achilles' tendon. Then the following day as I was pushing myself towards the end of a bench press session, I felt a sharp pain in my neck. The following two or three days I was walking around with a limp and a stiff neck. Why? I pushed myself too hard and did not take enough rest. I was not able to exercise at all for three days. How effective was my exercise? Had I reduced the intensity a little, got enough rest, I would have been able to exercise those three days instead of feeling frustrated.
Remember you are human. There’s a limit you can do each day and when you go beyond that limit something will break and that is more likely to be you. You are not indestructible.
Your most effective tool at managing your workload is your calendar. Your calendar does not lie. It has those twenty-four hours on it each day. You can add your meetings and appointments and you can schedule blocks of time to get your work done. If you adopt a policy of ‘what goes on my calendar, gets done’ then this will work incredibly effectively. If you start to ignore what's on your calendar then you will soon find yourself stressed, over-worked and overwhelmed.
Here’s a trick I use with my calendar. If someone asks for a meeting I always reply “I’ll check my calendar and let you know later.” I could very easily look at my calendar on my phone right there and then and give an answer, but I want to see the big picture of my work before I commit to a meeting. I want to see where I am before and after the suggested meeting time and I want to know how much work I have on at that time. I cannot do that if I am forced to make a decision there and then.
Don’t be so quick to confirm an appointment. Be more deliberate with your scheduling and you’ll find you will soon become much less stressed and overwhelmed.
SO there you go, Jake, I hope some of these tips have helped you. Remember, you are a human being and there is a limit on what you can do each day. Be deliberate with the work you choose to do, make sure it has the biggest impact on your projects and try to schedule enough time each day for rest. You will get far more done if you are rested and not fatigued.
Thank you for your question and again, I thank you all for listening. If you have a burning question you would like answering on this show, then please email it to me at firstname.lastname@example.org and I will be happy to answer it for you.
It just remains for me now to wish you all a very very productive week.