Feeling time-crunched? Today’s episode is for you.
Today’s episode features productivity expert John Zeratsky, who shares specific, action-packed time management strategies, with a focus on email management. If the term inbox zero sounds laughable, these strategies are up your alley.
John’s interest in productivity began one winter morning in 2008, when he realized that the past few months had been an eerie blur. He realized that time was slipping away. He knew he needed to figure out a better way to manage his time – and his life.
He started deep-diving into time management strategies and eventually co-authored a book, Make Time.
If you want to learn how to redesign your daily schedule, you’ll enjoy this episode.
Here are a few ways you can take action on the information John shared, starting today:
1. Think About the Highlight of Your Day
Be intentional about how you structure your day. To do this, John suggests asking yourself what you want the highlight of your day to be:
The idea is to think about yourself at the end of a day and ask yourself – what do I want to be the highlight of my day? What do I want to look back on and be really glad that I made time for? One small thing that people can try is to identify that thing each day and to write it down. The next simple thing is to actually schedule it – to actually put it on the calendar and build your day around it.
This tactic works for both personal and professional goals. Whether you want to spend time with your family doing something in the evening, or you want to make a push toward finalizing a product, all you need to do is structure your day around it.
2. Be Deliberate About How You Spend Your Time
Many of us are guilty of mindlessly passing the days away, or getting caught up in unproductive tasks masquerading as important tasks (like checking social media, if you’re an entrepreneur).
John says we need to be deliberate about how we choose to spend our time. To do this, he offers a cool tip: invert the way you think about your time.
Over time, you might find that you can essentially start with a full calendar and make deliberate decisions about when you’re giving your time away … If somebody asks me if I have time for a meeting, instead of looking at my calendar and thinking, ‘Oh, is there a blank space there?’ I’m looking at my calendar and thinking, ‘Well, that’s when I was planning to do X. Is that a worthwhile tradeoff to me?’
So, how can you implement this? Think about your ideal day, and then plug the things you want to do into your calendar.
Additionally, beware of infinity pools – apps that have endless amounts of content. If you find yourself hitting the refresh button within an app, you’ve been caught in an infinity pool and need to find your way out.
3. Create Barriers to Avoid Distractions
Okay, what if you are caught in an infinity pool, and you can’t willpower your way out of it? Then what?
John suggests creating barriers. This seems obvious, but how many of us actually put in the effort to create friction so that we’re less tempted by distractions?
One of the things we talk about a lot is the idea of distraction kryptonite. For most people, there’s one thing that they simply cannot resist. On their phone there might be a million distracting things, but there’s probably one thing that they find themselves turning to again and again. Focus on creating barriers around that and making that inaccessible.
Here are some ways to implement barriers:
- Identify which apps you spend the most time on (most phones have settings that allow you to view app usage), and delete them from your phone.
- Use Freedom, software that makes you call someone to unlock an app or a website.
- Log out of your favorite sites or apps and change your password to something you won’t remember. Store the new password in a password manager, but don’t set it to autofill or remember the password when you go to the website. When you do this, you’ll need to retrieve the password in order to log in, and that might be enough of a barrier to prevent you from logging in.
4. Seek Accountability in Unconventional Ways
If creating friction isn’t enough and you outsmart your own systems, it can help to seek accountability and external reinforcement from others. But…not in the way you might expect:
Seek accountability and reinforcement from other people. Making plans to spend time with people that you care about not only can give you energy and make your day better overall, but I think that in many cases, it can help create some external reinforcement to not be on your phone, to not be refreshing infinity pools because you know that you’re there to spend time with people.
In this instance, accountability doesn’t necessarily mean that you’re telling people you have a goal to be less distracted. This is more about internal accountability — by being present with family and friends, you’ll be less likely to want to spend time on things that actively take you away from them.
5. Connect With Your Purpose
Cultivating a sense of purpose can help put how you spend your time into perspective. Maybe you’re mindlessly spending your time because you feel directionless. When you have purpose, or a direction, you’re more likely to structure your time in a way that serves it.
When you figure this out, the actual mechanics of the tactics discussed on today’s show become less necessary.
Your purpose doesn’t have to be this big, overwhelming goal, either. John admits that he hasn’t quite figured out the bigger meaning behind having purpose. But as long as it’s a reason to get up in the morning, it counts.
6. Go From Macro to Micro
Once you’ve identified your purpose, or your goal, then what do you do? How do you break such a big thing down into digestible pieces?
Take your one big goal – let’s say it’s becoming FIRE in 10 years – and ‘explode’ that goal into tiny pieces.
Create a list that details all of those tiny pieces so that you can keep track of your progress on a micro level. This can create the illusion that you’re making more progress along the way because you’re celebrating all of these little (but important!) milestones.
Your perception will start to shift. Suddenly, it’s not I have 10 years left until I reach financial independence…that seems like such a long time away! but maybe, I have one more year until I reach my first $100,000 in my retirement accounts! You’re focusing on the short-term, rather than the long-term, but still working toward accomplishing that long-term goal.
7. Make Time for Reflection
Okay, you might be thinking, this all sounds great, but I have literally no time in the day left. Not even to think. What am I supposed to do?
John describes this challenge in noting that we’re both makers and managers. He uses the analogy of an assembly line — we’re the worker on the assembly line, and the designer of the assembly line. We have to decide what we want to do, and how best to do it. So…how can we accomplish that?
If you’re so busy that you can’t find time or energy to think, you might need to schedule time to do that in your calendar. No joke.
You can also try to budget in time at the end of each day for a reflection. What did you end up spending your time on today? What did you originally want to do? How can you adjust to spend your time more effectively?
You can also look for ways to make time for reflection at the margins, as John does:
I try to build a lot of space around the edges into my daily routine. This might sound weird, but I like to do chores – straighten up around the apartment, do the laundry and stuff like that because it’s sort of this partial attention state where I kind of need to be paying attention to what I’m doing, but I also can’t be doing anything else, so my brain is free to do the passive thinking that is so necessary.
John also says that you can try taking a vacation or a retreat, to give your brain a break. A sabbatical or mini-retirement can be great for this, depending on how burned out you feel.
Meditation, yoga, or generally taking time out of the week for yourself can also help create space for reflection. As a bonus, taking care of your body gives your mind more fuel.
- Make Time, by John Zeratsky and Jake Knapp
- @jazer on Twitter
- Getting Things Done, by David Allen
- Good Habits, Bad Habits, by Wendy Wood
- Digital Minimalism, by Cal Newport
- Deep Work, by Cal Newport
- Freedom, blocks websites and apps
- Facebook Newsfeed Eradicator, Chrome extension
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