I’ve only got 59 minutes left to finish this article for you.
But I’m glad to have this time limitation, because it will keep me from going into my usual random sidetracks and wasteful web surfing that can easily end up burning half a day and leaving me with a stiff neck and a guilty sense of laziness.
Like everyone except the most glossy and accomplished self-help guru, I still struggle occasionally with trying to get the most out of my day. I have some days where I absolutely kick ass and get many useful things done, but still too many days where I bumble around and make excuses for why I’m not doing what I should be doing .
Yeah, yeah.. I know I’m supposed to call to make that change to the house insurance policy, but I’m not in the mood to deal with telephone people right now. I think I’ll just check my email instead, or clean the kitchen, or.. oh.. what’s this flyer that just came in the mail? I think I’ll dream about bike parts instead…
This tendency is even more powerful for those of us who are in an office, supposed to be getting work done on a computer. There’s an important but boring or daunting task open in the foreground, but there are also several other tabs open in your web browser – I can see that one of them is Mr. Money Mustache, another one is the news website, another is Gmail, and then there is that YouTube video a friend forwarded to you that you’ll sneak in when nobody is peeking into your cube. And Oh! An email from your friend just came in, let’s read that one first, and by the time you reply it will be just about lunch time – Perfect!
Is it any wonder that we have productive and non-productive days, and that about 80% of the actual money earning results in brain-intensive industries are attained by the top 20% of the workers?
Getting a whole bunch of great work done in a short time is a worthwhile goal for any worker. Because as much as some like to deny it, good work gets noticed and on average over your lifetime, you will be paid for how much work you get done. But it’s an even more worthwhile goal for your after-work time and your weekends, because your employer is not taking a big cut of the profits. In the Forums of this blog and in emails, I get to read some very happy stories about people who saved $400 on mortgage or insurance costs, with just an hour of work.
Even in my own life without a real job, I get great benefits from getting things done. The biggest one is happiness – I am simply happier at the end of a big day of accomplishment, than after a day of unguided computer fiddling. But how can I pack more into my days while limiting the time waste?
The solution I’ve been trying out recently with great success is simply putting myself on the clock, at least once a day. If I start a countdown timer on my phone, and put it right next to my computer with the seconds ticking away, I am instantly made aware of the passage of time. I suddenly have a goal to write this whole article, including adding the pictures and re-reading it a few times and editing it at the end, all within the span of an hour. That’s a short time to write something (there are only 32 minutes left), so I’m sure as hell not going to take a break, open up a few more tabs in the browser, see what’s going on in the comments section or the statistics section, or other such nonsense like I usually do.
When you get a task done in an efficient manner like that, you get the full reward of the accomplishment, with none of the extra non-rewarding guilt and time suck that comes along with procrastination.
Even more significantly over the long run, you have planted the seed of a new habit – being an efficient person. Over time, you can force this new habit to overtake the old bad habit of inefficiency. That is a pretty powerful thing when it comes to making money for yourself, since getting things done directly correlates with income.
I’ve also started using the timer for my weight training and crossfit-style workouts. In the olden days, I’d go down to my basement gym with just a vague goal, like “today I want to exercise the chest and back muscles”. Now I write down something specific, like “One set of bench presses, one of pull-ups, one of box jumps – and then repeat the cycle as many times as you can within 18 minutes!
That simple change of going from “get something done”, to “get as much done as you can within a fixed time limit with a counter” makes all the difference for me. I find I do more sets in an 18 minute time period than I would normally do in a 40 minute traditional workout, all with a much greater intensity due to an elevated heart rate. It’s a competition against myself, which is my favorite type of contest.
So next time you have something that you need to get done, just try the experiment on yourself. Write down the goal on a piece of old-fashioned paper. Then put a countdown timer on top of the paper so both things are staring you in the face.
Then get to work.
And it looks looks like I’m done my own work day, with 3:02 to spare.
I love using old business cards for keeping short lists of things that need doing. Unless you’re in sales your company probably gives you hundreds more than you’ll ever need and instead of throwing them out when you change jobs/titles and hang on to the old ones. They fit easily in your pocket or wallet so you can always have a couple with you and unless your company tried to be fancy by coloring the backs they should have a nice white slate perfectly sized for a todo list.