Life it’s what happens while you’re waiting for it

Time management


Time, the scarce resource that is  finite for each of us. I collected  some time management articles, books and ideas that I tested and put into practice. They worked well. Stuff that is good for me may be bad for you, still these techniques make common sense and I hope you will find some of them useful. This article contains mostly  the links, and only short resumes of the underlying strategies.

First, an incredible visualisation of how much time is there in a lifetime (a hint: not that much):

Then the must read old fashion book about time management:

The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, Stephen R. Covey

This book is all about priorities, urgency, what’s important, win-win strategy, relationships and making time to have a good health and constantly improve. It is a book for everybody.

Speaking of win-win, I also learned (the hard way) that being  assertive is a must.

And now,  some new and innovative ideas about time management.

The one book that made all the difference to me is Getting Things Done (GTD) – David Allen. The principle: human mind is limited and chaotic. It helps a lot to have a written system to keep a record of all the things that should ever be done. Any time a “todo” thought bubbles up (to start something, to buy stuff, to meet some people …), you quickly write it down in your “inbox”. Once a week it takes you 1-2 hours of your time to process the inbox: you take each  item from the inbox, think about the next step you should take in order to advance with that project and move that action  on a specific list (phone calls for the evening / stuff to print / things to buy from hardware store etc.). If you have some free time, you look quickly at the lists with all the possible things you could do in that time. That helps you advance on your projects. The big advantage of this method is that it makes a lot of head space. As you know you have written somewhere all these things to solve, you mind is not constantly generating scary random thoughts about the things to do. GTD boosts productivity also by  grouping similar tasks together. There are some initial steps to make GTD system work: finding a free weekend to “initialize” the system (it takes at least 2 full days, to make order in  old lists, bookmarks, mails, documents, youtube watchlater etc.). My favorite digital tool for my inbox and my project lists  is  Google Keep. It synchronizes impeccably my laptop and my smartphone, so I can quickly take a note at any time anywhere (even if I am offline).

Another concept that helped with my time management is finding my strengths and weaknesses. This is a general personal development issue, but it helped to know my strengths, so that I know what kind of people I need arround myself to complement me. One good book on the subject is Tom Rath’s StrengthsFinder 2.0. And even though I am a big fan of positive psychology, I discovered that finding my “weakest link” and working to improve it, made my life so much easier ,  fun and effective. To find it I tried to think about all the things I do not like about myself, and tried to find a pattern, the one thing that all those had in common. I was not able to find it by myself, apparently finding our faults is a blind spot. But speaking with good friends,  that know me well and that have the courage to tell me their honest opinion,  about the stuff that I constantly do and I  wish I would not, helped me see the elephant in the room.

I was also impressed by the idea of using systems, instead of goals. This idea is borrowed from Scott Adams, creator of Dilbert. He has a  nice speech on the subject. I also enjoyed his book:  “How to Fail at Almost Everything and Still Win Big”. His idea is that in order to be productive we need energy, to have energy we should be healthy, sleep well, exercise each  day and eat food that makes us feel good, energetic, ready for action (or sleepy if it’s the evening and we want a good night sleep). His idea is to tweak the environment so that the good results come without will effort (for instance the fridge could contain only healthy food). He sais we should not be afraid to be egoists, in the long-term this is the best path towards generosity . He talks about the importance of doing what you want to do when you want to do it. Logically, it is better to have as much control and flexibility with your time. And to have the optimum mood and energy for each task, exactly at the moment when you are engaged in that particular activity.

I guess this is why GTD – Getting Things Done works so well – it’s a system, once activated, it just keeps running.

Here are my other tricks (system improvements) I found really help me in my battle against time:

I consider my technology devices (phone, laptop, kindle)  not only working tools, but also brain enhancing machines. And I search all the time for new ways to boost my mind using technology. For instance I use calendar notifications.  And an alarm in the evenings to remind me to go to sleep early.

If I find something nice to read, I save it in my Pocket (a browser plugin) for later. And all the videos go to my watchlater list, waiting for me there until I am too tired to make something more active with my neurons.

Another trick: for the afternoons when I feel overwhelmed, I had a busy morning schedule, and my mind is all a big mess and I unable to concentrate anymore, I discovered the magic of 10 minutes of meditation. It resets my mood and fills me up with energy. A good introduction is Andy Puddicombe’s Ted Talk. And a very useful app is Headspace. For fun, here is what Jerry Seinfeld sais about meditation.

Trying to simplify, instead of optimize (which is a natural tendency for many intelligent people), is another eccentric strategy of Scott Adams. It is very nicely resumed here:

 I also take care of the dark side of technology: I block all notifications and put my phone on silent while I work. And I avoid multitasking, instead I concentrate on one task for a long time (for an hour – an hour and a half), followed by a large break (at least 10-15 minutes).  Sometimes I go for a  short walk to clear my head.

Recently I discovered a web browser plugin called “Focus 45”. Just One click and for a number of minutes my favorite sites  get blocked (facebook, news etc.). It enables me  to get started fast. Then the work  fills my mind and once I enter the flow zone, I stay there focused.

I save all the locations relevant to me in google maps, so that I can  ask my smartphone to show me the way.

I have always audiobooks on my phone to listen to while driving or walking. I take the kindle with me when I travel. I learned how to read fast. And I read book resumes (Blinkist is a great app for that). I save information on mediums that are easy to share and are location independent. Google keep, google calendars and google docs are golden.

I avoid going shopping in real shops, especially in a big supermarkets. Shops for me are energy black holes. I prefer to order everything online whenever possible. With good planning (thanks to the GTD system), there is no problem if it takes 2 days or a few weeks for the ordered stuff to arrive.

Another trick: as I am not a fast starter, especially if it is something new and/or difficult, it helped me to understand how procrastination works and to know some good strategies against it:


And another good article on the topic of discipline:

and the Ted Talk of Capt. Casey Whitson, U.S. Air Force 

But with a twist:  for me it’s important to be disciplined without being judgmental. Self criticism makes more harm than good. Self-compassion is much more helpful. The authority on this field is Kristin Neff, she has a good book and a Ted Talk on the subject. I am still searching for the healthiest way to be disciplined, and try to see discipline as a highly positive concept.

Time synchronization is also significant. It’s not about how much (free) time we have, but how well it is synchronized with the time of our family / friends / colleagues:

Speaking of this, as for families with children time is made of  a different substance, I mention one very good  book on the subject: Overwhelmed: Work, Love and Play When No One Has The Time, Brigid Schulte

The word “Play” in the title is so well-chosen. Play is “an activity that it  so fun that we do not want to stop from doing it and it has absolutely no purpose”. It seems it is very very important for our well-being to allow ourselves wholeheartedly to have the time for play. It is all explained very well in  Play: How it Shapes the Brain, Opens the Imagination, and Invigorates the Soul, Stuart Brown.  As for having time for holidays, it’s a no brainer 😉

And last, but not least: delegate, delegate, delegate

Hope you enjoyed this collection of ideas, and please feel welcome to give me your feedback.