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So, what did I actually eliminate?

Category : time management

I got a good comment yesterday from Jennifer @ LifeMuncher in response to yesterday’s post on more effective time management. Rather than reply as a comment (and leave it buried for everyone to find), I though it would make a good follow up post.

The question simply was: “What were some concrete examples of things that you’ve eliminated to get from 60+ hours to 20?”. The answer, in my case, pretty basic, but perhaps has to do with my specific work style, activities and business. But, here’s the details.

A case of Time ADHD

After I did my Time Audit, I found that my default work pattern / behavior was to work on tasks as they rose to the top of my pile or my “top of mind”. Basically, I was constantly putting out fires and shifting from one task to another. Ironically, by dealing with tasks this way, nothing ever got done. I spent more time just trying to get into one task and getting situated to be able to perform the work than actually doing the work. It was like a Work Buffet… all the work laid out in front of me like 400 food items at a buffet, with no specific time set up for breakfast, lunch, or dinner. I would just graze all day on work items until they got done, but at the end of the day, I would realize, “wow, did I really eat that much??”

Same goes for that style of work management. If you just deal with work items as a bunch of stuff and “graze” from one activity to another, you’ll realize at the end of the day that very little got done and, “wow, did I really waste that much time??”

So, when I finished my Time Audit, I realized that I easily wasted at least 20 hours in the week (that’s 4-5 hours a day) starting tasks that never got finished. If I can just focus on one task at a time and work on it until completion, then I have a chance of making that happen.

Forced Prioritization

Once I forced myself to put tasks on a spreadsheet, declare how long I think they should take, and then force myself to complete them within that time (or realize that I underestimated the time allotment), then things started to take shape. The first realization was that I had to prioritize tasks. Focus on the important, urgent tasks that had to get done. And then get them done in the most time-efficient manner. But, wait, did I really have to get that task done myself? I found that about 20-30% of my tasks I shouldn’t be doing at all. Whether it’s handling some customer situation or posting something online or writing up some document, if I had to put it in my spreadsheet and assign some time allotment, I got an opportunity to rethink things. Maybe I’ll give them to one of my work colleagues. Or maybe I’ll just not do it at all and see what happens. Or perhaps I’ll combine it with some other task and hope that it suffices.

Furthermore, being a perfectionist in this scenario does not help at all. The important thing is to get things done. Yes, things have to be done satisfactorily (in the eyes of the beholder), but that does not mean perfectly. The difference between Getting Things Done and Getting Things Done Perfectly is huge. The combination of Forced Prioritization, Getting things Off the Stack, and Focusing on Getting Things Done (Good Enough) really squeezed another 10 hours out of the week.

Distractions Be Gone

So, where did the remaining 10 hours of time gain come from? Because I switched so much from task to task, I found myself getting easily distracted. And not always by work activities. Sometimes personal things would get on top of my pile, or I’d be distracted by some website or thing going on in the world that I wanted to find out more about. By forcing me to the interruption free when I completed my tasks, the distractions were gone. Ironically, this meant that I had more time to pay attention to those things. Who’d a thunk it?

Time Gain and Weight Loss

Perhaps my time gain is a result of how inefficient and ineffective my existing usage of time was. Because I was so ineffective, perhaps any move to efficiency would have resulted in significant time gain. Think of it like weight loss. If you aren’t exercising and eating crap all day, then simply getting your ass out of the chair and moving and stop eating those Twinkies (not that I do that!) will result in significant weight loss. At some point, the weight loss will plateau and then you’ll have to address the underlying things that cause weight gain. But until then, doing anything will shed those extra wasteful pounds.

So, think of time gain like weight loss. Perhaps you have some extra time loss “fat” that comes from being inefficient, juggling things around, constantly focusing on what’s in front of you instead of what needs to get done, trying to do everything (perfectly) instead of trying to only do the important things as well as needs to be done. If you are as inefficient as I was, that will get you at least a 50% time gain.

However, if you are already quite efficient (lean and mean) and have somehow managed to pack your day with efficient use of time, perhaps your mileage may vary. In fact, I’m sure it will. Now that I’m down to 20 hours a week, it’s going to take a much harder effort to get down farther. I’ve reached my time gain plateau, or at least, I can make incremental improvements, but none of which will be as effective as my first. I’ll share with you all how I can break through the second time gain glass ceiling.

What are your experiences?

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Comments (2)

Hi, thanks for answering my question (and the link). What FHWW made me realize was that rather than just going with the flow and uncritically doing what people expect of us, we should actively choose what we do with our time on this earth. We complain about how busy we are and how we don’t have time to pursue the things we love, then we spend hours watching TV or checking our email. We need to hold ourselves accountable for the way we live our lives.

Bravo! Exactly what’s on my mind ;) Now, to get to those important things…

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