Archive for the ‘time management’ Category

When faced with a problem or issue, ask yourself, “Do I need to solve it?” This question is important because you don’t need to solve every problem. I have a tendency to want to solve any problem I come across: mine or anyone else’s. Over time I have trained myself not to try and solve every problem. Some problems don’t need solving. Or at least, not every problem needs me.

I was explaining this idea yesterday to a co-worker. We ran into an issue building a server. As you might guess with information technology, the majority of the build process is automated. We’re not consuming up actual resources like wood and metal because we’re talking about information technology. The biggest consumable resource here is time.

He had already spent a good chunk of time trying to solve an issue with what he was building and the typical solutions weren’t working. Troubleshooting the problem further was likely going to take hours. More hours than it would take to simply blow away what he was working on and start over. This raised the question, “Do we need to solve why we’re encountering an issue?” The short answer is, “No.

Think Like a Freak book cover

Think Like a Freak book cover

In Think Like a Freak, the authors talk about knowing when to quit. Basically, does it make sense continuing to try and solve the problem at hand based on the cost? They cite Winston Churchill, famous for his “Never Give In” speech, who was a serial quitter when it came to things like politics. However, there was good reason for quitting each time.

In the case of my co-worker, it didn’t make sense to continue trying to find out what went wrong. There’s a whole host of reasons why we could have experienced the issues. Going down the path of each one was going to take time. The server was in the process of being built, meaning it hadn’t been delivered yet. It was time to quit. The “reward” or “earnings” for solving the problem was more than the effort to solve the issue. This was not a problem that needed solving.

When you are facing a problem, ask yourself that question. Some things have an intangible cost and/or benefit. You can still ask the question. It’s just the consequences or benefits don’t factor down to a money amount. Know what’s valuable to you in those intangible areas. Know what’s important.

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On workdays I don’t have a lot of time for breakfast. I had gotten into the habit of eating poorly, whether that be grabbing a couple of Pop-Tarts, stopping at a fast food joint for a biscuit (and soda, since I don’t like coffee), or getting a 3-egg omelet from the restaurant downstairs in my office building. Eating is important to getting physically fit and it’s the area I fail the most, which is why I’ve struggled a lot with building fitness and losing weight.

In one of my runner magazines, I saw a suggestion for “summer porridge,” because it was easy, healthy, and something that can be prepared the night before. If you’re not familiar with summer porridge, it’s basically oatmeal that has time to soak the liquid up overnight in the refrigerator, removing the need to cook the oatmeal. Perfect if you have a limited amount of time in the morning. Here’s my simple recipe:

1/3 cup quick cook steel cut oats
1/3 cup milk
1/3 cup plain yogurt
1/3 cup fruit
1/2 tablespoon honey

Note that all the key ingredients are 1/3 cup. That’s what makes it easy to remember.
I throw the ingredients into a container, mix the ingredients together with a spoon, and then put the porridge into the refrigerator, where it’s waiting until morning. It’s been great! I find the meal refreshing, filling without being too heavy, and I stay full until lunch time. Also, I’m getting real fruit, not fruit juice (which too often has added sugars), I’m getting the oatmeal for fiber, and the yogurt helps with digestion.

Now you may be thinking, “What kind of yogurt?” I did. There are some recipes that say to use Greek yogurt and that if you substitute with regular yogurt, you need to reduce the milk. I am using regular yogurt but I didn’t reduce the milk. For me, it’s the right consistency. For my wife, it’s a little too much liquid, so you’ll likely need to adjust the milk/yogurt amount depending on what type of yogurt and how much liquid you like with your oatmeal.

As for the plain yogurt, I did see recipes that called for vanilla flavored yogurt. In my case, I’m getting enough sweetness through the fruit and the honey. Therefore, I didn’t want the added sugar that you get with flavored yogurt.

That brings me to the last item, which is the fruit. We’re in winter and fresh berries aren’t available where I live. I do have frozen blueberries, strawberries, raspberries, etc., in my freezer. I have found that if I measure out the 1/3 cup and combine, that by morning the fruit are chilled but no longer frozen. Therefore, I don’t bother trying to defrost them.

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Admittedly, one thing I’m terrible at is sitting down and doing future planning. This is different than laying out the tasks and work for a particular project and effort. What I mean by future planning is when you sit down and ask yourself, “Where do I want to be in X amount of time?’ I’ve considered why I’m so bad at this and I’ve come to a simple conclusion: it’s hard to do.

It’s one thing to say, “In 5 years I want to be an astronaut,” or some other pie-in-the-sky goal. It’s quite another to consider where you want to be based on a reasonable set of criteria:

  • What is realistic?
  • What do I really want?
  • What will I have to give up?

I realize that for some folks, wanting to be an astronaut in 5 years may be a very possible goal. I’m not one of those people. Of these criteria, however, the one that gets me the most is, “What do I really want?” It drives everything else. Not knowing what I want makes planning difficult. Knowing what I want requires serious time and effort devoted to answering that question. It’s far too easy to put off the question and deal with the Tyrannies of the Urgent. However, by not dealing with, “What do I really want?” I continue to leave myself open to the Tyrannies of the Urgent. It’s not a good place to be.

Others who have worked past this difficulty, like Brent Ozar (blog | twitter), have made steady and effective process in where they want to go. Seeing their success, it reinforces the importance of pushing through and spending the time to answer that ever important question.

Have you answered that question in your own life? The only way to do so is to plan the time and buckle down and do it. If you’re like me, this can be a colossally difficult challenge. Yet it is that important in order to make progress in the direction you ultimately determine you want to go in.


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My schedule and my duties don’t permit me the luxury of a rigid schedule. Yet I want to be able to be efficient and maximize the amount of work I can accomplish in the time allocated. My reasoning for this is simple: if I don’t get the work done in the time allocated, in a lot of cases I’m going to have to spend more time working. This takes away from any personal time for me (needed to help with stress), with my family, with my church, etc.

Daily RiItuals: How Artists WorkIn reading through most of the book Daily Rituals: How Artists Work, I noted that most of the artists profiled had a strict schedule for their workdays. A lot of them worked primarily in the morning, usually getting up early to do so. However, regardless of when they worked or when they awoke, what was true of the majority of the artists was that iron-clad schedule. I can understand the need for this: it reduces the brain power to process the mundane.

What if you’re like me and you don’t have the option of that rigid schedule? As Sebastian Marshall points out, some highly productive folks have the ability to work anywhere. Sebastian talks about just getting some work done with the tools at hand, even if they aren’t ideal. I’d rather have the tools I need always at hand. This caused me to think, “What tools do I need to be able to work efficiently anywhere?” Some things off of the top of my head:

  • laptop or tablet
  • journal
  • pens or pencils
  • smartphone (if I don’t have Wi-Fi)
  • Backpack to carry my tools

I’ve wandered around this question in the past, but I’ve never given serious thought to it. I’d like to basically come up with “an office in a backpack.” If you’ve tackled this question before, what are some of the tools you find essential to work anywhere?

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Like most folks, there are days when I’m running late in the mornings. Usually, I choose to skip eating breakfast at home. If that’s the case, that usually leaves the following options:

  • Grabbing a fast food meal on the way.
  • Snarfing doughnuts and other unhealthy foods that co-workers typically bring in.

Special K Protein BarNeither of those options are very good ones. Another option is to simply stock up at work. This can be a healthy alternative.

Meal replacement bars are cheap and have a long shelf life. Therefore, you can buy them and store them for a while, grabbing one when needed. With that said, there are some recommendations on what to look for in meal replacement bars, because not all of them are exactly healthy. There is also bottled/canned juice which also tends to have a decent shelf life and provides a fruit or vegetable serving for the day. You can add to that by having fresh fruit at the ready at home and grabbing that on your way out the door.

The key is to be prepared so that you don’t make a poor choice because of a lack of time in the morning.

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Bee mysteryI’m digging deep into The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, because it’s a foundational book for many folks. I have found in it a lot of reinforcement for principles I’ve learned previously. Here’s one illustrated beautifully with a word picture:

“If the ladder is not leaning against the right wall, every step we take just gets us to the wrong place faster.” – Stephen Covey

Or, observe the consequences as a football player recovers a fumble and takes the ball the wrong way.

Some folks mistake busyness for effectiveness. Don’t do this. Just because you’re busy doesn’t mean you’re making progress. A lot of times, busyness can cause us to not have time for our goals. Therefore, when you expend effort, make sure it’s for the right things. For instance, if you’re someone who has trouble saying, “No,” to things you ought to, give this post by Mike Cane a read – 1922: Why I Quit Being So Accommodating. It is the transcription of an article that appeared in a 1922 issue of The American Magazine and details why not knowing how to say, “No,” means you end up costing the ones who matter the most to you.

Stop being busy to be busy. Be busy when you need to be, but not because you can’t say no and certainly not because you feel like you have to be busy. Instead, use that time and energy to pursue other goals.

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chessOne of the sayings I picked up from competitive chess is:

“A bad plan is better than no plan.”

The idea is simple to understand. In chess, high level games are between two competing plans. Whoever’s plan is better throughout the course of the game has the best chance of winning. If one player has a plan, even a bad one, but the other player doesn’t, that first player has some idea as to what objectives to accomplish and how to coordinate pieces, how to stave off the opponent’s threat, etc. As a result, that player stands a better chance of winning simply because there is some organization and purpose to his or her moves.

Life is the same way. Staying with the wrestling theme, my oldest and I were discussing why he didn’t do so well on a particular drill. He is a freshman and he was matched up against a senior. The senior obviously had a lot of experience on my son. And the senior quickly countered what my son did and finished the drill. However, this isn’t the main reason my son did worse than he expected. Here’s how our conversation went:

“So when you took your shot, did you set it up?”

“No, not really.”

“Were you expecting him to sprawl on you? What were you going to do if and when he did?”

“I didn’t think about that. I just took the shot. And he was able to stop me because he had four years of experience on me.”

“Son, he didn’t beat you at the drill because he had four years of experience. Let me ask you, did you have a plan? Because when I listen to your answers, it sounds like you didn’t.”

“No, I didn’t. I just took the shot.”

“When you spar in karate, do you have a plan?”

“Yes. I use my side kick to keep distance and…”

“Exactly. You have a plan in karate. For the drill you didn’t. That’s why he beat you. Now, if you had a plan, likely his experience would still have meant he beat you. However, the reason you didn’t do well never got to that. You didn’t have a plan. Likely he did. He expected you to take the shot. And he already lined up his defense to counter you. That meant he had a plan. Remember, a bad plan is better than no plan.”

Experience only gets you so much. We make a big deal out of experience. Actually, we make too big a deal. That’s something you can learn more about by reading the book Talent Is Overrated. That’s one of the points I was trying to make to my son. However, the bigger point is that he needed to have a plan. He knows he has to have a plan when he does point sparring for karate. Freestyle wrestling is no different.

And neither are your goals. Having a plan, even if it isn’t fully fleshed out, is important if you actually want to achieve those goals. Realize that after you get started, you will likely have to make adjustments to your plan. That’s normal. And you may find out that you’ve taken a wrong turn and you need to backtrack some. That’s okay. You didn’t know that before you started and chances are you wouldn’t have learned it without getting started. In other words, you’ll still have made progress towards that goal. That’s why we say in chess that a bad plan is better than no plan. If you have an end in mind and a way to get started, you can re-evaluate in the changing circumstances. You know where you’re headed, and that means you can execute and make progress.

Pick a goal. Develop a plan. Start on that plan. Make progress.

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