Disclaimer: Use these power tools for time management with care and at your own risk. They might have unexpected mental side effects for which I assume no responsibility. Be prepared to get more things done than before, including more of the things that you want to do.
Working at a global software company in the role of Chief Product Officer, living on a farm with lots of animals, developing Cortex City, writing a new book, being with my wonderful family and friends, traveling, having a number of hobbies such as playing music, video games, sports, and more – there is one question I get more often than all others combined. How do you find the time and energy for all the things that you do?
We all have much more to do than we can ever find the time for, and I’m no different. But over the years I have learned, discovered and developed a few techniques that make it easier to get more important stuff done in less time. In this article I will share some of them with you. Since I know you don’t have much time to read, let’s get started.
Free Your Mind
First out is a technique that combines increased efficiency with doing two things simultaneously, typically leading to a 2-3 times increase in throughput. Here’s how you do it:
- Create a habit, preferably repeated daily
- Optimize the individual steps of the habit
- Always perform the steps in the same (optimal) order
For example, start making breakfast for your family every morning. Experiment with the best way to set the table, boil water, make coffee, get out the butter, cheese, ham, start the toaster, and whatever else makes sense for your breakfast. After a while you’ll find that you can prepare breakfast in a much shorter time than before optimization, and while doing it you can think about something completely different. Two for the price of one, and your family will appreciate it!
The Free Your Mind technique works because the basal ganglia, a primitive part of the brain, is used for unconsciously executing the steps of the habitual routine, freeing other parts of the brain to think consciously about something else. There’s also a bonus value in performing repeated patterns and routines – they have a calming effect on body and mind; almost like a ”micro meditation”.
You get an increase in efficiency because you optimize a procedure logistically, and because you perfect each step by repetition. Usually that will get things done in about half the time, depending on the activity. The major performance improvement comes from separating doing and thinking, leading to almost 2 times the throughput compared to doing something (trivial) that you need to concentrate on while doing it.
Warning: Avoid heavy use of this technique when driving to work. Although driving the same route every day makes the basal ganglia kick in, you want to stay alert.
Seven at One Blow
A great technique for saving time is to combine multiple things that you want to do, need to do, and have to do. (Tip: Read more about those three in the Triple-E article in Cortex City.) Lots of activities can be stacked, giving a great boost to Execution. Here’s how you do it:
- Look for multiple activities that can be accomplished in the context of another activity
- Combine connected activities in a compelling way to make it rewarding
- After you’re done, recognize that you’ve completed multiple activities
For example, I take our dog Zero (see below for a thirty second explanation of his name) for a walk almost every morning. He needs exercise, which means that walking him is something I have to do. Check. Personally, I also need to exercise, which gets accomplished at the same time. Check. I want to think about Cortex City (or any other topic that’s important to me), so I apply the Free Your Mind technique. Check. Three activities done at the same time.
The Seven at One Blow technique works because we have such a big set of activities to choose from – there’s always much more to do than we have time for. And among all those activities there are bound to be those that can be accomplished in the context of another activity – and so we just need to find those that are high priority and that can all be mapped to a single activity for execution.
With the stacking of different activities, you’ll obviously accomplish as many as can be stacked at a time. The example given regarding the dog walk had a triple effect, which is a typical throughput you’ll get from this technique. The last step of the process, which is to recognize all activities that were executed simultaneously, helps reinforce the positive feeling of accomplishment.
Warning: Avoid stacking to many things that you have to do. It tends to create negative stress. Balance activities from what you want to, need to, and have to, for best results.
You’ll find that you get tired when using the previous techniques for getting more things done. That’s natural. Interestingly, you don’t get twice as tired from doing twice as much, but you do need to make sure that you get rest. In fact, the harder you work, the more you need to rest. Is that the most obvious advice you’ve ever heard? Ok, good. Then perhaps it’s time to follow it, but with a small twist.
Here’s how you do it:
- Work really hard, focused, and intense, and utilize time management techniques
- When you feel that you’re on the edge, switch to a different activity
- If a different activity doesn’t help, rest (sleep, meditate, or sit down for a moment)
The Rest Accordingly technique works because it focuses on switching gears rather than seeking “real rest”. Instead of shutting down all activities when tired, it can often be equally restful to do something very different. For example, when I have been out for an hour with our dog, I might go through my work email before driving to work. The switch from a physical to a mental activity means I’ll get rest without having to do nothing. Bonus technique: Going through my email before work means there’ll be an automatic prioritization process ongoing when I drive to work. It’s the Thought Percolation technique at work, which is where you expose the mind to a prioritization/ordering input, and then focus on other things. When you get back to the problem, your mind will have prepared it for you. When switching between different activities doesn’t help anymore, it’s time to rest. I don’t care if it’s in the middle of the day – when you really need to rest, you really have to rest1.
It’s hard to appropriately measure the increase in productivity gained by switching activity when the ongoing one is losing momentum. My best guess is that 1.5 – 3 times increase in quality output compared to the most common techniques of “pushing on when you’re tired” and “do nothing for a while when you get tired”.
Warning: If you get too good at “virtual resting” by switching between activities, you might end up driving yourself too hard, or develop a sleeping disorder. Use it to produce extra energy, especially when switching between have to and want to activities, but make sure to get real rest, too.
On the surface, these techniques look quite simple. In reality, it takes a lot of effort and training to make them really fly. I don’t recommend using time management in isolation. It’s just one part of life management; without additional context time management is merely an exercise in effectiveness, which has no value unless you also focus on what to do and why.
Thank you for reading,
Bjorn “The Mayor” Karlsson
1. And when you Want to rest, there’s even more reason to do so.
Frequently Asked Question:
Q: What’s the connection with the tractor pic, anyway?
A: No connection, really. I just like driving tractors.