Can you remember a time when you had enough time to do everything you wanted to and the way you wanted? A time when you were able to start a task early enough and with enough background information to do a great job?
For me, it’s tough to remember such a time. I think it must have been back in my university days where I mostly wasted the time that I had!
Looking at my professional life, it feels like I’ve never had enough time to meet my needs. For example, in my domain, the professional software testing documents are lacking, development is already behind schedule, deadlines are pressing, and the project budget ran out last month.
So what is the best way to approach these constraints and deal with it like a pro?
The first step in all work is to understand how much time you exactly have. Even if it’s too little, knowing the exact amount is paramount. If nobody can tell you, you need to decide how much you will allow it right now.
After the decision, you’ll be able to prioritize, scope, and communicate your work to match what you got.
For a long time, my pitfall with time management was that I started with to-do lists and others’ demands. And I always fell short of their expectation, felt stressed while working, and miserable after failing to stick with the deadlines someone gave me.
Before anything else, remember to agree on an exact number of hours to budget on a specific outcome. After you’ve clarified the specific time-budget, things get more comfortable.
Your job is done when the time’s up.
Now, with a specific time-budget at hand, it’s time to make a plan.
Next, I want to share the three most useful principles for managing and planning time that I’ve found. But let me warn you. They may seem simple at first. And the danger in simple things is that they are as easy to do as they are to neglect.
1. The Pareto Principle
In 1896 an economist Vilfredo Pareto observed that about 80% of Italy’s land was owned by 20% of the population.
Soon after finding out the asymmetry of owned land in Italy, Pareto found out that a similar distribution seemed to apply in other countries as well.
This discovery created the basis of what is now called the Pareto Principle. I first came across this principle while reading Tim Ferriss’ book ‘The 4-Hour Workweek.’
The 80/20 principle states that 20% of what you do, contributes to 80% of the results you can deliver. So a minority of the work produces the majority of your results. The rest of the work may well be busy just for the sake of being busy.
Last year I published a book about software testing. I needed to write four pages a day in order to finish the book by June. In order to do this, I set my 20% activity window to occur first thing in the morning.
Waking up early, I would brew a big pot of coffee, followed by some stretching. I would then read something inspirational for 20 minutes to get my mind on writing.
Finally, I would open up my laptop already in full-screen mode so there would be no distractions to prevent me from starting towards my daily goal.
This way, I dedicated the first hours of my day to writing, while the rest of the day consisted of the other 80% of activities. This technique got my book published even though I feel like there are a million things that need doing in an average day.
The to-do lists will never run out. The key to success is not to wage a losing war against it. The key is to put your first things first. Check out a more detailed post on this principle and how to use it here: How To Unleash Productivity With Clarity
2. Parkinson’s Law
While I was studying at University, we would have essays or project reports to write. It was almost a standard that the deadline was a month or two away at first. With deadlines looming far in the future, I would always procrastinate and find something else to do.
I would find any excuse or opportunity to put off writing the report until the final evening before the deadline. By 5 pm, my whole apartment was clean, and I had scrubbed even the bathroom. Now, you probably guess where this story ends?!
After brewing an epic amount of coffee, it was time to work my ass off over the final night. By 4 am the following morning, the report would be ready. I would then grab 4 hours of sleep before handing in the paper in time for the 9 am deadline. I would always get decent grades and feel accomplished afterward.
The course-work had only taken 8 to 10 hours of actual writing but had filled up the whole month allotted to it.
The thing here is that the work will always fill up the time that you allow it.
So I allowed one month of work for the report, and I would invent a colossal number of irrelevant activities that weren’t contributing to the goal.
Once I entered the final 9 hour time window, I was able to produce all the results.
After realizing how Parkinson’s Law worked for me, I’ve never looked back. Today, I routinely use timeboxing to plan my calendar. Dedicating tight enough windows of time for important work is critical for creating high output.
I ordered some new t-shirts for my business a while ago, so I went to the shirt printing company and asked them if they could print them,
“Sure! How many shirts do you need?” asked the dude behind the counter. “Well, we have 50 employees, so maybe 100 should be enough,” I replied.
“Okay, the unit cost is 25 euros for 100 shirts,” the dude calculated as I looked surprised. “Wow, that’s expensive!” I replied.
“Well, you could order 300 shirts, and the unit price would go down to 12 euros per shirt,” he explained. “What is going on? One hundred shirts cost me 25 euros apiece while 300 would only cost half of it?”
“Yup,” he said and went on to explain, “We need to set up the printing machine to print your shirts. The initial setup costs are high because it takes a lot of time and effort. Once we’ve set up the system, it makes no difference how many shirts you order as we print them all in one chunk.”
That’s when the penny dropped for me. Every activity has a setup cost and a cleanup cost.
Every time I start shooting a new video or writing a new post, I need to set up my mind and my tools for the work. And after I’ve done the job, there’s the cleanup. It only makes sense to shoot five videos in a row if I already have turned on the studio and combed my hair and whatever it is that I do.
Learning to chunk similar activities in bigger batches is a paramount part of time management if you wish to drive your days and not the other way around!
So here’s a quick recap.
- Pareto’s principle. 80% of results come from 20% of activities. Find your 20% and double down on it!
- Parkinson’s law. Work will always fill up all the time you allow it. Learn to box your time in short enough windows to maximize your focus.
- Chunking. Every activity has a setup cost and a cleanup cost. Minimize the unnecessary overhead by chunking similar activities into one.
P.S. Did you like this read? If you did and are committed to re-crafting the life as you deserve, let me know by checking this — There’s something epic coming out soon!