Archive for March, 2010|Monthly archive page

Time Myth: “I have to run faster to get everything done”

We all have certain beliefs and assumptions that we make about time. One common assumption I encounter: getting more done requires running faster.

clock with color pencil effect by Margaret LukensSome time management systems encourage us to work faster to save maybe 10 or 15 percent of our time. And while a saving of 10 percent is always welcome, there are much bigger gains available, and they come with less stress. Getting those really big productivity gains requires challenging our fundamental assumptions about time and how we use it.

While I respect David Allen’s book Getting Things Done, the title is a bit misleading. We can “get things done” 24-7 and still be no further ahead. There is simply no correlation between getting lots of stuff done and being successful.

Productivity improvement does not come from running faster. It comes from having clear goals to pursue and then allocating enough time to work on the steps required to meet those goals. It may require defending that allotted time against others who would intrude on it.

What could we substitute for the old belief, “I have to run faster to get everything done?” Try this on: “I need to be absolutely clear what I want to achieve so I can get the most important things done.”  There will always be more stuff to do than can easily be done in a day. It was true when my ancestors were clearing granite chunks from farm fields, and it’s true when silicon chips allow people to flood my in-box with email day in and day out.

Before trying to run faster, ask yourself where you really want to go. You may find it’s closer than you thought.

Join the National Day of Unplugging March 19 & 20

One complaint that I hear popping up more and more frequently, a habit crying out for change, is the negative intrusion of technology into our lives.

I’m not talking about the miracle of GPS, which guides me directly to my destination in a strange city after dark. Or online chats that allow me to hold regular meetings with colleagues in other states and other countries. Or my iPhone, which allows me to search for critical information while I’m away from my office. But for every benefit that technology brings, there is also a possibility for that same technology to crowd out things that matter more — nurturing friendships, time to think, reconnecting with nature, enjoying an uninterrupted meal. Some complain that they can’t converse with a friend without that person giving half their attention to tweeting on their smart phone. Others lament that they can never really relax, since email interrupts their evenings and weekends now.

"Dear technology, give it a rest." (Photo courtesy of

Enter the National Day of Unplugging, from sundown tonight until sundown tomorrow. An invention of the Reboot crew as part of its Sabbath Manifesto, National Day of Unplugging is a step toward creating a less anxious and more meaningful life in the midst of daily stress.

The thoughtful people at Sabbath Manifesto emphasize that their effort is not about following someone else’s rules for how to use your time. Rather, it is an attempt to recover ancient traditions that create helpful boundaries, protecting meaningful things in our lives.

If technology has crept into larger and longer parts of your life, if you’re connected so much you no longer notice the distraction, if technology has become your drug of choice, or if you’d just like to shake up your technology habits a bit, join the National Day of Unplugging.

Beginning tonight, make other plans. Devote the whole day to face-to-face relationships. Write a letter. Take a walk. Daydream. See you on Sunday!

Time Blocking – three reasons to focus your week

Kim, who owns a growing health-care practice in San Francisco, wanted to get rid of the feeling of overwhelm that seemed to hang on no matter how hard she worked.

The key to banishing overwhelm is focus.

Kim and I began by considering everything that’s required to make her life and her business run during a week: business development, client meetings, research on client cases, and administration, as well as sleep and exercise. She also has a temporary need to accommodate, an ambitious program of professional development classes.

Kim's time clockWe created more focus in her week and eliminated distractions by assigning blocks of time to each activity, with three days devoted to client work, one to business development, and one to her personal and professional development needs.

This plan created 20 hours each week for billable client time, a minimum of seven hours for business development, and four hours for administration.

Using this time block worked three ways to give Kim that sense of relief she was looking for.

First, her weekly list of 40 tasks suddenly looked like only about 8, since she focused on one business area at a time. She did not need to worry about client billing and writing her newsletter all day Tuesday. They had their own time, and Tuesday was devoted to study and class assignments.

Second, her new schedule eliminates excessive switching among tasks. Our brains require time to change focus, up to 20 minutes, so the more we can eliminate switching, the more efficiently our brains can work.

A third and more hidden benefit is that the time block creates a barrier to procrastination. If Kim could do her billing any time, it becomes easier to put it off “just for now.” But with an assigned time on Monday from 5 to 6 pm, anything not done then cannot be touched until the next Admin block, which doesn’t come for two more days. This creates an incentive to do it now and get it done.

Kim will revise her time block once she completes her education program  and any time her work patterns need to change.

Have you tried time blocking? What has your experience been? Did it help? Was it hard to follow? Leave a comment here.

Quote: write your goal

A quote for the day:

The discipline of writing something down is the first step toward making it happen.

— Lee Iacocca

Are you going it alone?

To cover long distances, ducks, geese, and pelicans (among other birds) fly in formation. By forming a V, they help one another out — a lot. One study determined that 25 birds flying in formation can travel up to 70 percent further than a solo bird.

Pelicans at Edisto Island, SC (photo by Margaret Lukens)

Take a lesson from the birds: make sure you’re not trying to go it alone to meet your goals. Who you add to your “flock” will depend on the size and nature of your business. Some of the professionals who may be able to improve your mileage include:

  • Attorney. When you need legal advice or representation is not the best time to begin searching for a lawyer.
  • Bookkeeping or accounting firm. You may be able to do your own bookkeeping and taxes, but rarely is it the best use of your time.
  • Coach, mastermind group, or accountability partner. We all do better with someone listening to our goals and urging us toward completion.
  • Collection agency. For some solo entrepreneurs and small businesses, a good collection agency can make a substantial contribution to the bottom line by recovering money from non-paying clients.
  • Computer doctor. Having help on-call can save hours of downtime and a world of headaches for the business too small for in-house IT staff.
  • E-business expert. The range of options for online commerce changes by the day. An expert can be worth every penny if any significant part of your business involves online sales and marketing.
  • Payroll company. Unless payroll is your business, it’s best not to do this one for yourself.
  • Virtual assistant. Even the smallest business can find help with scheduling, research, communications, and other tasks at an affordable price.

Do necessary but distracting family and home responsibilities take you away from your genius work? Ask whether a dog-walker, private personal chef, or housekeeper could give you back needed hours.

Is there someone here you need to team up with? Have you added someone to your team? Leave a comment.

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