Have you ever find yourself bored with nothing to do? I haven’t, not since those long history classes in high school. Being bored should not happen. Use it as an opportunity to have fun, learn or expand your horizons.
1. Reading Time
Idle time can be reading time. You can learn something or at least be entertained by what trouble Britney and the other young starlets are in, instead of killing time.
Doctor’s Offices usually have magazines, so it’s easy to find something good to read there.
Other waiting areas may not have as good selection of magazines but you should still skim through what they have even if it’s not something you would ordinarily read. It’s your chance to see something different.
Take a brochures and read through it. It may give you some insights, for example when you’re at a bank.
It’s best if you think in advance and bring your own reading material, this way your guaranteed it’s something you’re interested in.
Put some games on your phone. Carry a Sudoku game. Count people with mismatched clothes. Find other ways to amuse yourself. It’s a good way to have fun during a long day.
Old Friends Time
Pick up the phone and call someone. Scroll through you’re address book and look for names you haven’t spoken to in a while. Call an Aunt or other relative.
New Friends Time
Look around for a friendly face and approach him. You’ll never know who you’ll meet.
Think about where you want to go in the future. Think about problems you’re currently experiencing.
If your walking somewhere take in the sites. Use your brain to just enjoy.
Steven Johnson recently wrote about Social Traffic Jams. This is where you go out for a short predefined task- like picking up the milk from your nearby store but you meet your neighbor and a conversation ensues causing you to be late at your next appointment. This doesn’t just happen in suburban neighborhoods where you are likely to see your neighbors. It happens every day in the halls of every company- a 2 minute bathroom break can turn into a 30 minute discussion on the Mets collapse. It also happens at car pool pickup. At the cleaners. At the gym. Every task can take longer than expected when confronted by a traffic Jam.
The problem isn’t just that you’re late to your next appointment. The problem is that your friend can get offended at the curt conversations and worse you may miss out by not taking the conversation to it’s logical end (so how did he end up saving $40 a month on cable?)
Here’s some tricks I use to avoid social traffic jams:
1. Schedule Gaps
It’s always risky to schedule multiple tasks too close to each other. Like my friend who scheduled his son’s PT appointment right after the first day orientation. He was forced to leave school even though his son was having a fun time. We all do it, trying to be more efficient, but it gets us in trouble. The solution is to put flexible time between appointments. Just have a plan in case you don’t overrun on your first appointment (start the next appointment early? read? eat? take a walk?). My friend could have checked out the park next door to school.
2. Travel Off Peak
For me shopping time isn’t social time. I try going to the store at off hours. The lines are shorter and it’s less likely I’ll get side tracked.
3. Divert the Traffic
Schedule the person for a more convenient time. You might say, “I’m so glad I ran into you but I need to run. Come on over Saturday afternoon- I really want to catch up.”
4. Use Car Pool Lanes
Do your tasks with a friend. Realize it will probably take you longer but commuting time will be more fun and you may learn something (there’s such a thing as microwave ready frozen pancakes in 20 seconds?!?). Plus when you’re with a friend you have an easier “out” from the next jam, “I’m here with my friend Joe, I don’t want to hold him up. Let’s catch up on…”
5. Check the Traffic Report
Before you head out, check the time. See if the timing is bad. Is that when the school bus comes so you’ll see your neighbor outside? Is it when coworkers are coming back from lunch? Push off your task a few minutes and avoid needing to give excuses or be unfriendly. I’m not suggesting you become anti-social, just that you have your social contacts when you’re not going to need to cut it short.
6. Respect Time
Always try to be on time. This way if you tell people you need too go, they understand. They know that you’ll be on time when meeting with them.
ZenHabits recently published “The Dirty Little Secrets of Productivity Bloggers” about how bloggers and productivity professionals don’t always follow all the rules of productivity. Today I’ll admit it too- I’m not always productive. Frankly, I don’t think it’s a secret- people aren’t perfect and sometimes it’s more fun not to be perfectly productive. Here I’ll point out one way I violate my own rule of keeping an empty inbox, but why it makes me more productive. First lets’ start with the rule:
An Email Box is Not a To Do List
One of the most common reasons people don’t empty their inbox is because they keep it as a to do list. Here are 5 reasons I point out for why an inbox is not a to do list:
Clear To-Do List- If your inbox and your to do list both have to dos then there is a lot of going back and forth trying to figure out what to do.
Have Specific Information on Tasks- It’s hard to know what to do on email message because the subject line isn’t clear (e.g. “fwd: Re> Hi”).
Nothing Gets Lost- Too many messages makes it hard to manage an inbox to do list.
Easy to see new urgent items- With many messages it’s hard to see what’s important.
Clear Head- Everything has a place: to dos go on a list. Inboxes need to be processed.
Keeping an empty inbox helps you know what you need to accomplish.
I sometimes keep messages in my inbox as a to do list.
I keep messages as my to do list to remind me to reply later that day. I feel that putting it on my to do list may add some extra steps to find it and it may get cluttered with my other responsibilities so I dont get to it the same day.
Now let’s see how my system goes against the five reasons above and may not be a bad violation:
Clear To-Do List- With minimal items in my inbox it isn’t that hard to see what to do and it keeps these important items front and center.
Have Specific Information on Tasks- Being that i read the emails earlier in the day it’s still fresh in my mind what i need to do about them.
Nothing Gets Lost- With minimal messages no dos get lost.
Easy to see new urgent items- With minimal messages it’s easy to spot what’s important.
Clear Head- Everything still has it’s place. Important to dos for today are in my inbox.
As you see my excuse has some logic to it. Perhaps it can be considered an advances hack. As long as I don’t abuse it I’m fine violating this tenet.
Meetings can be big time wasters or productive planning sessions. But there is one you should have daily- first thing in the morning – a meeting with yourself and it will increase your chances for success. This will give you time to prepare for the day and not rush into your morning. Let’s start with a case study of a typically morning for Eileen (based on a true story).
8:48am Eileen gets off her train at central station. She heads for the connecting bus and takes a seat- today she’s luck that she got one. She anxiously looks at her watch, still on schedule for her 9am conference call.
8:50am The Bus leaves central station. At this point it’s packed, Eileen is feeling the elbow of her neighbor in her ribs. Eileen glances at her watch and is glad the bus left on time.
8:55am The bus arrives at the front door of MegaCorp, where Eileen works. Eileen waits for her turn to get out and proceeds to the building. She’s still on schedule.
8:56 am Eileen is waiting at the elevator bank at MegaCorp. Only 4 minutes to her 9am meeting.
8:57am Bill from IT gets on the elevator just before the doors close, causing them to reopen. Eileen smiles at Bill, though secretly she’s upset at the 4 seconds he stole off her morning. They discuss the previous nights game as they ride up to the 20th floor, but Eileen is only partially engaged. She’s already thinking about her dash to her desk as soon as the doors open.
8:59am Eileen wishes Bill a good day and says “Gotta run, I have a nine o’clock”. She gets to her desk puts down her bag. Flips the on switch on her computer and sits down. Just in time as the phone rings for her 9am phone meeting.
9:02am Eileen scans her email during the call. She sees one from the client, just as the the content of it comes up. “I sent you an updated widget report overnight.” says the client.
“Yes I saw it. I’ll look at it closely and let you know my feedback later today.” she answers quickly while opening the attachment.
9:05am The subject of the new computer equipment comes up. Eileen says she’ll follow up on it and notes it on her to do list.
9:22am The client call ends. Eileen puts her bag in the corner where it belongs. She puts her lunch in the office fridge. She comes back to her desk to listen to her voice mails and processes her email.
9:40am Eileen goes through the client’s widget report and sends a detailed report of her feedback.
9:55am Eileen calls Bill from IT. They exchange pleasantries. Then she asks about the progress on the computer order.
10:00am Eileen dashes another email to the client about the computer order progress.
10:02am Eileen is happy with her productive start.
Now lets image Eileen changes just one thing- she has blocked her calendar so no appointments can be made first thing in the morning. Her 9am appointment is now at 9:30am.
8:48am Eileen gets off her train at central station. It’s a nice day for a walk to the office. She glances at her watch, she has time and strolls to the office. It’s a 10 minute walk or a five minute ride by bus. She’s glad she doesn’t have to rush and can walk.
8:50am As she walks she passes some school kids playing in the yard and thinks of the funny thing her five year old said that morning.
8:55am She’s two blocks away from MegaCorp but she sees the bus stops in front of her building. She sees people rushing out. It reminds her of the opening scene of the Charlie Chaplin Movie “Modern Times”. She chuckles to herself as she thinks of the pigs.
8:57 Bill from IT sees her coming in the building and waves to her as the elevator doors close in front of him. He waits for her to arrive. They take the next elevator up.
8:58am Eileen and Bill chat about the previous night’s game as they head up the elevator to the 20th floor.
9:00am Eileen and Bill finish their sports chat in front of the elevator banks. Eileen asks about the the equipment he’s ordered for “The Client”. He says he’ll look into it. She says “I have a 9:30 call with them. If you can get me the answers by then it would be great.” He assures her he can and they depart.
9:03am She puts her lunch in the office fridge as she passes the employee lounge.
9:04am She gets to her desk and puts away her bag. Flips the on switch on her computer. Eileen listens to her voice mails as the computer starts up. Then processes her email.
9:15am Eileen notices an email from “The Client” and goes through the client’s widget report. Instead of composing a long email, she prints it out and marks it up so that she can go over it during the phone call. She highlights the four main issues.
9:25am Eileen goes back to finish processing her emails. She sees Bill’s response which includes the tracking number.
9:28am She prepares her notes on the meeting with few bullet points.
9:30am The phone rings and Eileen picks it up confidently.
9:35am The subject of the new computer equipment comes up. Eileen gives them the update and says she has the tracking number if it’s not received.
9:45am “I sent you an updated widget report overnight.” says the client.
“I got it. I went through it and have 4 questions for you.” Eileen replies and they talk about the widget report.
10:01am The client call ends.
10:02am Eileen is happy with her productive start.
As you can see in both these scenarios Eileen was productive. But in the second one she had time in the morning to prepare. The preparation gave her more confidence and allowed her to accomplish two important tasks: First, the meeting gave her feedback on what she needs to do with the widget report. Second, she was a step ahead following up on the equipment order.
She was also able to squeese some relaxing exercise into her morning and wasn’t curt when talking to co-workers. Of course i worked out these times to correlate. But less stress and more time thinking help. The ideal scenario would be to come in early each morning, but that isn’t always possible. Coming in early allows you to prepare in a quiet environment.
Starting your day with stress can send a bad tone for your day. So don’t run, walk into your new day.
Recently Daily Blog Tips asked a question What is a Blog? The answer is it doesn’t matter. To someone who hasn’t heard of the concept it’s just a new/easy way for a person to publish content on the internet. That’s all you need to know. When you come across a website it wont matter to you if it’s a blog, wiki, microblog, social website, 2.0 site. All that matters is if it’s delivering what you need. If it is, then subscribe or check back often otherwise it’s called trash.
The problem with the web is that it introduces many ways to waste time- it’s up to you to take the good and leave the bad. Usually Daily Blog Tips is a very informative site, but occasionally even good sites do bad things- but don’t count them out for it. If they make it a pattern though, you should decide if it’s worth it.
Now let’s not waste more time with this- go back to being productive.
I’m very careful to avoid new time sinks- activities that will end up wasting my time. Sometimes they seemed like fun at first and then turned into obligations(fantasy baseball), other times it seems interesting and turn into time consuming distractions(new TV shows). You get the idea. There’s just too many opportunities to waste time on a large scale. Now I’m faced with a new dilema: in today’s world it’s hard not to go five minutes without hearing about social media (facebook, twitter, delicious), is it a new time waster or a useful tool?
43 unread emails, 1713 emails in out inbox, 18 new letters in the mail, 33 ideas in our head, 4 piles of papers on our desk, 36 items on our to do list and a blinking answering machine. Our inboxes (electronic and physical) are constantly being filled with more demands on our time. To keep our sanity and be productive we must take a short time to “process” our overflowing inboxes and get it empty (or as close as possible). This will ensure that our task lists are filled with manageable tasks.
Here’s a quick mnemonic to making this process go faster and efficiently- use the 9 Ds: Delete, Deposit (file), Deflect, Deter, Delegate, Defer, Designate(calendar), Do Now, (To) Do List.
If an item is junk or you’ll never need it, get rid of it right away. Newspapers are trash(yesterday’s news is worthless), old magazines are trash(you’re not going to get to it anyway), junk email should be vaporized, old clothes go to good will, you get the idea. Bonus: figure out how to never deal with it again (e.g. unsubcribe from lists, sign up on do not call lists etc.)
File your reference information. Many of the files on your desk or old emails are no longer needed except as a reference just in case. If you think you’ll need it someday- just put it in a obvious file folder- out of site so when you’ll need it you can quickly find. Get it out of the way so it’s not cluttering your workspace.
If you are definitely the wrong person for this task then quickly point the requestor to the right place and get this out of your boxes. You don’t to do this immediately so you don’t hold up the project.
Learn how to say no. Not every request that comes to your inbox means you must do it. See if it fits within your responsibilities and/or goals. If not just say “no”.
There are some tasks that should be done but someone else can help you with it. If someone on your staff or your spouse etc can do it let them help you especially if they can do it better. Some people get in the mindset that only they can do a task, that they do it best. Given some else a chance. Keep in mind when you delegate you are not completely giving up the task, you will still get the last word and should keep a follow-up on your task list so the issue is done on time with quality.
Some tasks are interesting but it’s not important or urgent. Put it on your “someday/maybe list”. This way you’ll still have it on your radar but it wont clutter your mind. Examples of items to defer are painting the house (you dont have time for it now anyway), launching a completely new product etc or other tasks that you know aren’t needed in the near future.
Designate a specific time for an appointment. Just put it on your calendar and move on. An appointment should sit in one central place so you dont double book your time or miss appointments.
Any task that takes two minutes or less should be done quickly. No excuses- do it. It will feel great to shorten your to do list.
(To) Do List
All other tasks go on your “to do” list. Just get it out of your inbox.
If your to do list is getting longer than the Five Books of Moses, this technique will save you time and headaches.
Finish The Job
End what you begin, or you begin your end
With corporate downsizing and the need to impress, your to do list is constantly growing. There are many tricks out there to help you shorten it, but I’m proposing the most obvious: Finish the Project! How many items on your to do list are in progress- you’re almost finished, but not quite? Finish projects after you start them.
Take this scenario: You’re buying a present for your significant other’s birthday. You don’t want a repeat of the “all I can find is dead flowers” incident. Being the thoughtful, productive person that you are, you’ve thought about exactly what you’ll get her since her last birthday. You’ve bought the present a month in advance. All you have to do is wrap it. The first two weeks you figure you still have time. Before you know it the day has arrived you need to scramble to find time to wrap it. So you look for the wrapping paper, but where is it- another five minutes before you find it. Scotch tape- where’d that go? Every step brings new obstacles..
Unfortunately this happens all the time- a project can’t be marked completed because a small detail isn’t accomplished. The solution is simple- complete the project while you are working on it.
Don’t Start Unless You Can Finish
There are always many cool projects you can take on. Don’t do it unless you know you can schedule time to see it through completion.
By finishing all projects that you start you will seem more reliable and capable in all aspects of your life.
The most powerful force in the universe is compound interest
We all know about the power of compound interest (at least we should). Basically you take a few dollars and put it away for a few years and the interest you earn earns interest. Before you know it you have much more than you started with. Can you apply the same concept to time? That’s the question asked to Tim Ferriss of The Four Hour Workweek. Unfortunately he doesn’t provide an answer. But we all know the answer is obviously yes- investing is one of the principles of success. Here’s six ways to compound time:
You don’t have to do everything yourself. Get rid of the easy tasks so someone else does it for you. Need someone to do payroll try a company like ADP then all you need to do is spend a couple of minutes sending them your data and they take care of the rest.
Some tasks are too complex or personalized to outsource- instead you can insource it (delegate). Train someone to do your job inside your organization or family- a few minutes of training or direction can give you huge dividends in the long term. Sometimes just asking is all you need to do.
Invest a small amount of time to get a machine/computer to do your job for you. This is why I love computers. They have the potential to do exactly what you need you just have to tell it the right way. It may require a special program, a special setup or even some programming but if you find the right command your computer will do your work for you and will never complain.
Investing in learning time is crucial. Sometimes learning simple techniques can end up saving you much time in the long run. Learn how to type faster. Learn advanced features of your word processor. Just Learn.
If you’re the guru in your house or your office, you’ll often get all kinds of requests- each of which takes you away from what you need to accomplish. The solution is to invest time to teach the person how to do it themselves. So go ahead: Teach your kids to pick their own close. Teach your coworker to run a report you created. As the saying goes “Give a man a fish; you have fed him for today. Teach a man to fish; and you have fed him for a lifetime.”
When there is a system to your actions it makes it much easier to succeed. Think about a recipe- it tells you exactly what you need to do. For projects that you create look into making it systematic. It takes away complexity and limits the risk of problems.
With the Success Blueprint you’ll always know what you’re supposed to be doing and what needs to be done next. It’s a formula that helps you succeed. Your machine works for you invisibly even if you aren’t actively working on it.
This just shows the value of time don’t waste it. Do you have any techniques to compound time? Let me know below.
I rarely procrastinate. My secret? Self discipline, the usual tricks plus I try to live by “do more of what you like and less of what you dont.” Let’s face it if you enjoy something you wont procrastinate on it. But there was one project that I just wouldn’t start. It was important and each day I’d find a bunch of other productive things to do but not this project. So I tried to figure out why I’m procrastinating. Is it because I don’t have time? That’s true but I never “have time” and accomplish plenty. Is it because I don’t enjoy it? No, because there are some parts of this project that I do enjoy. I couldn’t figure it out.
Then I had an epiphany- the project was just too big. I could start of course but there’s so many places to start from. You cant just do a project. Then I quickly spelled out each tasks. Some of which were fun others weren’t. Now I can just check off the items as I do it. There will be tasks I don’t enjoy as much but those are just individual tasks and I can reward my self with fun tasks after.
This isn’t a novel concept and is the basis behind Getting Things Done‘s Next Actions. Break down big projects into small actionable parts. Actionable means something you can do something about. For example, create web site isn’t a next action. You break it down into brainstorm site sections, design theme, design home page etc.
Next time you find yourself procrastinating ask yourself why.
I finally got started on my big project. Now you start on yours. Let me know why you were procrastinating and what you did to beat it.
Take Away: Find the reason you’re procrastinating and work around it.