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):
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:
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:
Do you like Bucharest? A spanish guy asked me a few years ago, while I was kayaking on the Danube. No, without hesitation in my voice. Strange, he replied, this is the 39 time I ask someone living there this question, and I always get the same answer. Another friend, moved in western europe, asked me a long long time ago if I am happy in Bucharest, I said no, so she asked why not move?
During my childhood I had a double life. kindergarten and school in a small city, holidays at the grandparents in the countryside. Each time I was brought back from the country side I started crying.
So now as an adult I tried to reconstruct some of the countryside happiness, a place with an orchard, flowers, dirt, grass, birds, stones, snails, worms, clouds and night stars. It is so refreshing. Still, at the countryside, I got surprised and scared about missing Bucharest.
Is it the comfort I got used to that I was missing? In time, as the countryside comfort grew, I got it that it was not that. It was something else. The people mostly, but not only that. If i compare Bucharest with a bee hive or an ant nest, I was missing the wonderful structures the collective has build for it’s own delight. So a little late in my life I got it, how blessed I am to live in a space where people have put so much work in building public shared spaces for everybody to enjoy, that are impractical to have, if they do not have a high enough number of users.
The olympic swimming pool, on top of my list. The running track on the athletics stadium. The sports coaches and their followers. The quiet streets with beautiful old buildings, that I enjoy on a late walk or bike trip. The good restaurants. The kebab. The market with fruits and vegetables from all over the world. The yoga classes. The facebook events. The dancing clubs. The coffee shops. The 3D cinemas. The pizza. The theaters and concert halls. The sushi. The coworking hubs. The bakeries. The relieve that this list is every day changing, that events and places bloom even in the coldest of winters. So yes, now I really like big cities. And I wish Bucharest was a better city to live into, as it has his construction flaws. And hope that people living here will work and fight for making this place better, as it has his big big problems, compared to other european capital cities.
Sounds too good to be true, but I found that these techniques work really well. Most of the times avid readers already use the same strategies, without being conscious about it.
Blinkist, I warn you, is highly addictive. I can finally read summaries of books I am curious about, and would never have time in my lifetime to fully read. I also use the summary to choose the books that are worthy of the time to fully read. And cherry on the top, I could read on Blinkist a summary of “10 Days to Faster Reading”
About “10 Days to Faster Reading” I learned from the Personal Mba list (which is also on Blinkist). It did not make a huge difference for me, as I already reading quite fast. But even a 10% increase in speed, which I noticed already, for a book that takes me 5 hours, is 30 minutes of time gain. For a slow reader, using this book, the reading speed could double.
Photoreading is a different story. This technique made in my case a huge difference. Is perfect for reading tourist guides before holidays, for documentation, and for getting an idea about a book that I am curious about, but do not have the time to actually read. I also noticed that photoreading a book, before reading it normally, enhances my level of comprehension and the retention of ideas. Now I “preview” each book I read (I read the table of contents, the subtitles, the first and last paragraph of each chapter). Then I “photoread” the book (it’s all explained in the photoreading book). Then I actually read it, if I still find it’s worth it.
Now I always have a clear purpose in my mind, when I read a book, no matter the technique. And I have no remorse to decide not to read a book, or parts of it, if they do not help me.
The question is: can I improve this even better? What other strategies do you use?
At a comfortable pace, and not too far: James O’Keefe at TED
One Ted I reviewed these days.
Two months ago I changed my training, using heart rate intervals, thanks to a Mio heart rate watch (no chest strap required!). I noticed big changes:
- I started again losing weight, even though my cycling and running are now at a lower intensity
- no pain or injury after exercising (like stretched muscles, tight calves, etc.)
- I don’t feel tired after exercising anymore, just fresh and ready for something new
- In time I saw big progress: in the beginning I had to revert from running to walking for 5-6 times during the workout, to keep my heart rate interval. After patiently exercising for 5-6 times, I am now able to run all through the exercise, keeping the same heart rate interval.
And a small review of Mio Alpha 2. I like the heart rate watch very much, except that sometimes I carry also a sports watch, as Mio’s watch functions are minimal. From this point of view, the cheaper Mio Fuse Activity Monitor is more onest. Mio hardware is great, but the MioGo software has one major flaw: no share capability. I can not post my heart rate recordings on facebook, or email them to a coach or a friend. I really hope they fix this soon.
They cured my plantar fasciitis two years ago, no relapse since (and I started to run again). I have them from a foot doctor that made a study on 50 patients, and cured most of the cases in 3-5 weeks.
How they work: by relaxing, increasing the length and elasticity of the calves and Achilles tendon, so that when we walk, the fascia is not forced to stretch. When the back side of the leg is tense, the fascia is stretched and gets microtears because it is “the weaker link”. The second “trick”: making the stretches immediately when waking up, before starting to walk, so that the fascia microtears circle breaks (the leg is so much tenser in the morning).
Standing up, with hands on the wall. All weight on the healthy foot. Knee, pelvis, back kept straight. Heel always on the floor. While keeping the upper body straight, bend elbows, thereby the upper body slowly gets closer to the wall, until the lower leg is stretched.
In this position remain 15 seconds. Repeat for 10 times (it takes 3-5 minutes). This is the most important exercise.
Near a table, with the hands on the table, the foot like in the picture. Keep knee hyperextended and get the upper body over the tabletop. Repeat 15 times.
On a step, with the weight on the healthy/other foot. Heel over the step-edge slowly sink, until the lower leg is stretched. Keep this position for 15 seconds. Repeat for 10 times (it takes 3-5 minutes).
The exercises should be repeated in the morning before walking and again 2-3-4 times in the day as needed, especially after sitting for a long time.
For 3-4 weeks, it helps wearing shoes with a little bit of a heel (2-5 cm), to compensate for too short calves/Achilles.
The original description of the exercises is here, but in German. A detailed description , also in German, here.
Tristete si furie, impletite ca intr-o hora, traite la unison de atatea suflete. Tristete ca prietenii nostri sau prietenii prietenilor nostri, oameni tineri si talentati, cu toata viata inainte, nu mai sunt intre noi sau au vietile schimbate pentru totdeauna.
Cateva saptamani nu am putut functiona. Am simtit nevoia sa ma vad cu toti oamenii care imi sunt dragi, sa stam la o poveste impreuna, sa bem un pahar de vin, sa impartasim caldura umana. Cu totii am simtit ca oricine dintre noi putea sa fie in #colectiv, un zar divin a facut alegerea.
A fost o mare maturizare, o constiientizare la nivel de popor a razboiului dintre noi si ei. Cu sange si multe victime. Zilnice. Cand parintii merg la urgenta la spital, si nu pot fi tratati pt ca aparatul cel scump cumparat de la cine trebuie nu functioneaza. Cand oameni isi pierd viata pt ca niste retardati merg cu 120 km la ora noaptea prin oras. Sau cand taxiurile nu stau pe loc la culoarea rosie a semaforului. Cand copii primesc medicamente la care sunt alergici. Cand ne ingramadim pe sosele supraaglomerate pentru ca autostrazile nu sunt gata. Cand ne sufocam de seceta si poluare deoarece padurile au fost taiate la ras fara mila. Lista e fara sfarsit. Si acum nimeni nu e tras la raspundere.
Acum ne-am dat seama ca nu mai putem fi martori pasivi. Pentru ca asta inseamna moartea noastra lenta. Si inseamna o condamnare la moarte pentru parintii, fratii, copii, prietenii nostri. Ruperea dintre noi si sistem a fost constientizata ca un razboi in toata regula. Si #colectiv a fost o mare batalie.
Scuzele noastre zilnice le stim atat de bine: nu vreau sa aud de politica, e o mizerie, nu vreau sa imi stric pretioasele lucruri frumoase din viata mea cu asta. Sau “nu putem schimba nimic, sistemul e prea puternic”. Insa acum suntem adulti si stim ca asa nu se mai poate. Sistemul trebuie invins. Este singurul mod prin care putem da sens tragediei din #colectiv. Un sens pe care il datoram oamenilor care si-au pierdut viata.
Este si momentul sa preluam toate emotiile, sa nu ne lasam coplesiti de ele, ci si sa le folosim ca si energie pentru partea noastra lucida si rationala. E momentul sa ne folosim mintea.
Pt ca sistemul trebuie invins prin ORICE mijloace, atata timp cat sunt legale. Aceasta include si a inventa cai de aducere in legalitate, asa cum Partidul Pirat a obtinut dreptul de inregistrare a unui partid politic cu doar 3 membrii.
Insa vorba unui prieten informatician, daca vrei sa spargi o pagina web, nu tre neaparat sa spargi serverul de web. Orice alta vulnerabilitate este la fel de buna, atata timp cat obiectivul final este atins. Inclusiv una care nu a mai fost folosita niciodata pana acum. Astea sunt si cele mai frumoase, ca ii invingi si nici nu inteleg ce i-a invins.
Suntem tineri, creativi, motivati, si intelegem lumea cea noua, intelegem tehnologia. Suntem multi. Eu in locul lor acum as tremura de frica. Nici macar la final nu vor intelege. Si nici nu ne va pasa ce gandesc ei, vom fi multumiti sa redevenim stapanii lumii noastre.
Fiecare dintre noi poate duce lupta altfel, si fiecare isi poate aduce propria contributie. Aici sta si puterea noastra. Nu trebuie toti sa ne facem partid politic sau sa fim candidati. Putem sa facem voluntariat pentru un partid politic nou si integru. Putem sa fim observatori in sectiile de vot, sa fim siguri ca alegerile sunt corecte.
Dar putem sa luptam cu alte arme, nu neaparat politice. Putem sa cantam, sa cream comedie, sa fotografiem, sa sculptam, sa scriem, sa distribuim idei, sa conectam oameni. Putem sa invatam. Putem sa ii lasam fara obiectul muncii, fara ciolan (tehnologia ne va fi de ajutor). Putem sa nu mai fim pasivi, sa deschidem procese, sa ne informam. Putem sa avem initiative. Putem sa protestam in strada cu consecventa, pentru orice nu ne convine. Putem sa facem documentare. Putem sa cultivam competenta si integritatea. Putem sa ne organizam. Putem sa ne schimbam. Putem sa ne incurajam. Si putem sa ne inventam propriile noastre arme.
One winter I stayed so much in the house, that I could not go to sleep any more, my biorhythm was completely off. My luck, I had the time to make my own research and experiments. In case you want to try (with no warranties), here are my “workarounds” for a good night sleep:
Making sure the body knows when the day starts
According to recent studies we need to expose in the morning for 15 minutes to light of 1500 lux. The trick: there are 1500 lux outside, even if cloudy, but not so often in the house. My shortcut: taking breakfast on the balcony, or going for a short walk early in the morning. A lux meter app on the smart phone is useful to check the light intensity.
Some cold face on the face and hands may help to amplify the morning cortisol spike.
Scheduling cardio exercise in the morning also is a good sign we send to our body the day has started
Also it seems that exposure to outdoor light during the day improves the production of melatonin in the night.
Making sure the body knows when the day ends
After a normal day ends it helps not to expose yourself to blue light, which is specific for daytime. To do so:
- use warm light bulbs in the house (approx 2700 Kelvin). I prefer halogens, the color spectrum has higher quality than the economical light bulbs.
- i installed f.lux on my laptop, it makes my screen orange after sunset. I installed a similar app on my smart phone and tablet.
- I do not use a computer screen to watch movies, I project them on a wall, like in cinema. TV screens have too much blue light, it does not help watching TV 1-2 hours before going to bed.
- special trick: late in the night I close the light on the ceiling and I start a light that stays on the floor (to mimic sunset). We are also influenced by the position of the light source.
- I changed to red/orange colors the background on all devices that I use after sunset (anything but blue is better)
- no cardio exercises in the evening. If this is not possible, it helps at least lowering the exercise intensity and scheduling it as many hours before sleep time as possible.
- I prefer lower light intensity in the house 1 hour before going to bed.
- in the bedroom there is complete darkness
- I use a kindle paperwhite to read before falling asleep. E-ink technology makes pages visible with very little light, and it does not disturb my sleep quality. It is so much better than using a tablet, and even better than reading a “real” book with a light bulb on
- I try not to use lights if I wake up during the night. Low intensity red lights with movement sensors may help avoiding to turn on the lights. These night lights are easy to find in the stores.
Making sure the body knows that you want a high quality 8h sleep
A new study suggests we are hardwired to sleep in the coldes 8h of the 24 day hours. Having a slightly colder bedroom seems to help (19 to max 21 degrees Celsius)
Our body knows if it is spring/summer/autumn/winter via Vitamin(Hormone) D3 levels. Our metabolism, like the metabolism of all living things on this earth, adapts to seasons, and our sleep patterns also. D3 is a very smart season indicator, used by animals, because naturally you can have it very elevated only during summer, and very low only during winter. During summer the night is short, so we sleep without waking up in the night. Nature is abundant in the summer, so the body knows it has lots of energy to use as needed. In winter nights are long, the sleep is not continuous, we wake up from time to time. Animals conserve the resources in winter, because they are scarce, and they have a lower metabolic rate. But as we stay all day indoor, working in our offices, our D3 levels indicate to our body that is winter. But we want to stay up at night until late, as it was eternal summer… Optimizing D3 levels is a long story. There are lots of info at Vitamin D3 Council. There is a blood test called 25OH, to add to the yearly medical checkup. Optimal daily sun exposure is very important. If needed, D3 supplements can be used when the sun is not strong enough.
Diminishing other potential biorhythm disruptors.
- as low caffeine as possible. Some people (like me) are more sensitive to caffeine, as it is processed very slowly. Usually I am ok with green tea. I gave up caffeine addiction many times. Always is the same for me: for two weeks there is hell, then I start feeling as good without coffee as I was before with it. Bonus, sometimes I manage to take a nap after lunch (but not when drinking coffee in the morning). To be able to lower caffeine, I found music gives me a great energy boost, also fresh air and exposure to cold water.
- not (too much) alcohol before going to bed (it lowers sleep quality)
- no eating heavy meals before going to bed
Adding good daily routines
- drinking lots of water in the morning, right after getting up
- eating at the same hours each day (small meals if we are so not hungry)
- opening all the house windows for at least 10 minutes early in the morning, and again before going to bed at night. Also during winter.
I could watch the quality of my sleep improving using my mobile phone. I installed a good sleep app and put my phone under my pillow (in airplane mode ideally). I liked it more than using a wrist sleep monitoring device, because in the morning I could immediately see the sleep report on the phone screen. No need to synchronize a second device with a phone app. For iphone/ipad I liked a lot an app called “Sleep Cycle”. My prefered smart phone app a year ago was “Sleep as Android”.
Of course, we would not need these tricks if we lived the lives of our grandparents. The biorhythm is disturbed in a soft but definitive way by our technology (artificial light, screens of devices, staying all day indoor, not exposed to the elements). The good news: solutions like the ones above are very easy to apply.
After my movement quality test, I looked more about minimalist shoes and foot health, so I stumbled upon Kathy Bowman’s book “Whole Body Barefoot: Transitioning Well to Minimal Footwear“, which I read in a blink of an eye. Then I looked about her blog and other books (that I have already read). My mind was blown away by her latest book, “Move Your DNA: Restore Your Health Through Natural Movement“. This I consider the best book about health that I have ever read. And one that turned up side down and made me reconsider everything I knew on the subject. To the point that I could not help bring the subject about in any conversation that I had. So not to bring that any more into the discussion, as it is so full of meaning that is impossible to resume, I thought best is just to write this post about the book, and if you are curious, please read it. Or listen to the audiobook, marvelously read by the author.
Debugging and optimizing the movements involved in running and cycling is a constant need that I have, in the quest to enjoy and progress, pain free, with these sports that I like. Browsing the internet for new perspectives, I found about, while looking at ideas from Tim Ferris and Stuart McGill, about a inovative guy named Gray Cook. He was warmly recommended for injury prevention strategies. I looked a few videos on youtube, and decided to read his “Movement” book.
The ideas in the book impressed me a lot. As a IT person, I was extremely suprised to see an algorithmical and test driven aproach to the general quality of human movement. The book explains in extraordinary detail the importance of efficient body movement. And it describes so clearly the principles that one can apply when unit testing and then debugging and improving movement quality.
To have a view of the tests (that are very simple, but the philosophy behind them, explained in the book, has many levels and subtilities), I found some examples on youtube:
Functional Movement Screen:
Self Movement Screen:
Selective Functional Movement Assessment – SFMA:
In my case, I took the time to demonstrate my “unit test” to professional people that know my training history, and already started appling a “patch” at current version. It is not time yet to draw any conclusions, but the feeling that I have is that I choose to follow a very promising track to improve myself. The book explais this in depth, the test is just a test, what to do with the results depends on each person specific case and probably requires input and work with skilled profesionals from other “departments” (physical terapists, coaches, kinetoterapeuts, doctors, osteopaths etc.). So I am looking forward to my improved future version
And today is the perfect moment to observe wisdom of crowds in action. As green energy usage has grown from an insignificant less than one percent amount, to a significant slice of the yearly average and more than 50% of power production for the peaks (very sunny summer days or extreamly windy days). But there is a but. The old power grid requires that the power usage equals power generation. This worked ok during the old days, when the power generation was constant, and has become a nightmare when power generation massively fluctuates .
An extreme example: the solar eclipse at noon, on 20 March, if it will be a sunny day, will make power management a nightmare for Germany, more explanations here.
The problem is that we currently do not have a cheap battery technology to allow efficient and with no significant environment damage to stock the peak green energy output until the moment it is needed. And this problem is also a great business opportunity, someone could have huge gains from buying energy cheap and selling it at a high price when the demand is great. Not to mention that if the battery is highly reusable, the gain is multiplied by the number of reloads….
Of course we also need better battery technology for our mobile devices (smartphones and laptops), and mostly for electric cars. But this is a secondary issue, we have the current batteries, that do their job, and electric cars can wait, while we use electic common transport in the city, electric trains for efficient long distance travel and the extraordinary already available bicycle technology. The question is how to store for a few days the huge power output of a solar plant or wind farm. Until now the problem could be ignored, while these technologies were not significantly used, but this is not the case anymore, not in Germany, and not in the United States either.
So here it comes the wisdom of crowds. I did a quick search and found quite a few creative ideas for battery technology of tomorrow. Which technology(es) will win? Time will tell. The wisdom of inventors will team with the wisdom of users and the best will win.