Documenting the Coming Singularity

Thursday, December 28, 2006

Five Fabulously Fruitful Time-Management Tips!

They say that if you want to find the most efficient way to do something, consult a lazy person (LP). LPs are supposedly averse to unnecessary thinking or movement. I would imagine there must be some flaw in this claim, but I don’t want to take the time to figure out what it might be, because I am managing my time well. If you’re like me (shudder), you’ve probably read a hundred or more lists of time management tips in the course of your lifetime. Just think if you could get all that time back, what wonderful things you could do! OK, stop blubbering. It’s gone, it’s the past. But you can do something about the future. This list is different. It’s short. It’s sweet. Read it. Implement it. You WILL save time and get more done. Here goes:

  • Switch tasks when you hit a mental roadblock. A huge part of your brain (your subconscious) will continue to work on things while your conscious mind is doing something else. This is real multitasking. When you come back to whatever you were laboring at, you may find that you have some fresh paths to follow where before there was only a gigantic rockslide in front of you. Sometimes procrastination works! The phrase, “Let me sleep on it” reveals that people knew from their own experience, even though they didn’t know why it was so, that our minds are silently sorting out problems even when they are consciously occupied with something completely unrelated. Putting off a difficult decision can often produce a clarity of thought about the issues involved that no amount of conscious cogitation could achieve.
  • Do the important before the urgent on a regular basis. If you make this a habit, you will find that the urgent tasks become fewer in number over time. How does this work? It’s fairly intuitively apparent if you think about it. Say you have an assistant who is always messing up at a particular task, which means that you have to step in and do it yourself. You never seem to be able to find the time to train the pitiable, somewhat incompetent subordinate to do that assignment properly, so instead you spend gobs of time cleaning up the chaos. Stop it. Make time to train! It’s not urgent, but it is important. Make appointments with yourself to do the important things. When someone tries to take away that time, tell them you have an appointment. You do, you’re not lying. If you leave that space in your calendar blank, it’s a vacuum just begging to be filled with urgent stuff.
  • Do not allow someone else’s lack of planning to become your emergency (unless they have the power to make you unemployed). Some of us are too nice for our own good. We find it impossible to say no. We have a virtual sign on our back that everyone around us can read clearly. It says, “Go ahead and get yourself in a mess…I will drop whatever I’m doing to come pull you out of it! Come on, don’t be shy, step up, step up.” Helping a coworker is part of being a team, I’m not discounting that. On the other hand, someone who continually ropes you in to rescue them, on short to no notice, simply because they couldn’t be bothered to plan, will frustrate your own productivity. Learn to say the two-letter magic word. And learn to mean it.
  • Keep the things you need where you can access them quickly. This rule applies equally well to digital and analog items. First question: What does your computer desktop look like? Is it a chaotic mess filled with every icon known to man? Do you dump every file you create into your My Documents folder, with not even the idea of a file system in sight? Well, you’re in luck because programmers are working feverishly to perfect desktop search engines that will relieve you of the need to organize your files. In the meantime though, this is one of those important but not urgent things to do. Clean up your desktop, both digital and analog. Delete files you no longer need. Trash paper you are done with. Put the rest into a file system that will save you from having to spend many moons searching hysterically for what you happen to need at the moment.
  • Automate repetitive tasks. In one of my M.B.A. classes I took a bit of extra time to set up a spreadsheet calculation because I knew I’d be given several more of the same type of problem. Saved me time! Every time a new problem came up, all I had to do was plug the numbers into my spreadsheet and presto-change-o! Taking 30 minutes to set up a macro or type up a bit of oft-needed boilerplate text can save you many times that in the long run. Macros, password managers, there are so many ways for you to use technology to save time that you don’t know about or have been reluctant to learn. That’s a shame. Learning is important, but not urgent. Make an appointment with someone who can teach you these techniques. You’ll thank me later.

What did I tell you? Short and sweet.

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