Posts Tagged ‘time management’

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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I first heard about this book at SQL Saturday #51 when I was talking with Joe Webb and Thomas LaRock. Joe was describing the basic premise of the book, which is that everyone has more to do than can possibly be done. As a result, someone is going to get less of us than they want. Unfortunately, too many folks choose to let the family take that hit, which is completely illogical (I’ll explain in a bit). Then Joe Webb posted a quick blog post about the book, so I went ahead and grabbed it and read it.

If you’re looking to get more efficient with what you do by looking at a program like Getting Things Done, you want to read Choosing to Cheat first. Part of the Getting Things Done system is understanding your priorities and goals. GTD has the same premise as Choosing to Cheat: you can’t do everything you want to do or that people expect you to do. So you’re going to have to make choices. Either you can consciously make choices which support your priorities, or you can be driven by whoever is screaming loudest right now.

Why should you read Choosing to Cheat first? Quite simply because it lays out things in a logical manner as to where our priorities are and where they should be. Right up front I’ll point out this is a Christian book written by Andy Stanley, son of Dr. Charles Stanley. And Andy does use Scripture to back up his points. However, he doesn’t just use Scripture. He uses great illustrations that get his message across, he argues logically why some of the choices we make are illogical, and why when we often choose to do nothing because we think that dealing with an issue will cause severe problems, what we’re forgetting is that by not doing anything, those problems come about anyway. Here’s an example:

Work and family compete it today’s world. We can’t give enough time to either one to fully satisfy one or the other. There will always be more work and there is always something else we can do to build our family, to grow our relationships with our spouse and children. So we’re forced to make a choice of how to allocate our time. We’re going to have to cheat someone, but who? For most folks, it’s easy to give work more of our time. However, this is an illogical choice. In today’s work environment, we may have a great boss and work for a great organization, but one change in managers or in the economy or whatever else you can think of can change everything. I’ve seen it in every civilian job where I’ve worked and so likely have you. So we can pour time above and beyond into our jobs where we could find ourselves out the door tomorrow. And that’s what a lot of folks do. Or we could pour our time above and beyond into our families, who generally accept us unconditionally, who aren’t going to put us out the door tomorrow on a whim (even when we think it’s a small issue that’s caused a schism, it’s usually a build up over time of a lot of little things… death by a thousand cuts, basically). And that’s where the logic hits home: why do pour extra effort into a relationship where we could be dropped tomorrow over a relationship that is unconditional and sustaining?

Now based on the title you might think that Andy Stanley is recommending you shirk work for family. That’s not the case. You still do your best. You still look to be as productive as possible. However, you make clear determination of what is acceptable and what is not. For Andy, even as a pastor of a church plant, that meant coming home at 4 PM every day because his wife, with two young children, needed him badly at that time. She had a full time job with the children and by the time 3:30 PM rolled around, she was about spent. She needed someone to spell her. So Andy made the hard choice, after talking and discussing with his wife, to be home at 4 PM every day. He wasn’t going to cheat his family any longer. But that didn’t mean he could leave off his responsibilities, either. It meant working better with others. For instance, he delegated some of his counseling to other members of the church staff. He made sure meetings didn’t him past the 4 PM time frame. That meant coordination and negotiation. You get the idea. He still had work that needed to be done, and he still had to figure out how to get it done without the “luxury” of throwing a bunch of extra hours at it.

Even if you’re not a Christian, this is a good “work-life” or “life-work” balance book to read. It helps one put things in proper perspective. And it gives real, practical advice on how to approach making the appropriate changes to reallocate your time accordingly. Most folks can’t go in and blindly tell their bosses, “These are my hours and you’re going to like it!” After all, we have a relationship with our bosses, too. There’s a way to approach our work superiors. Andy’s example is out of the book of Daniel from the Bible, but it is logical, it shows proper commitment, and it is respectful to all involved. Anyone can apply these principles to see if work is amenable to allowing a change to occur. And there’s also practical advice if the answer is, “No.” That’s reality. Not everyone is going to say, “Yes,” or even, “Let’s give it a try.”

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I’m making an earnest effort to work through Getting Things Done in an effort to being more productive. The harsh reminder that every moment counts means I want to be as productive with my time as possible. I had an pastor, the man who licensed me into the Gospel ministry, who had a favorite saying (I know it wasn’t his, but he said it all the time), “Children spell love T-I-M-E.” I believe that. And I’ve heard the arguments of quality time versus quantity of time and the fact of the matter is you can endeavor to do your best with respect to time with your children, but there are moments that come about unexpectedly, that catch you by surprise, and that make you glad you are a father or mother. You can’t plan for those moments. And the only way you get those moments is to have enough time. So that means the time away from my wife and my children I need to be as productive as possible. Hence, GTD. Which reminds me, a SQL Server friend, Marlon Ribunal, started a blog on being more productive, called Productivity Bits. It’s definitely worth checking out.

Okay, so what’s this emergency scanning versus processing thing? It’s actually quite simple. I carry a Blackberry. Actually, I now carry two. One is for work and one is for personal/ministry/professional. I have carried a Blackberry since August 1999 with only a few months interruption. It has become an integral part of my toolset. But one of the bad habits I got into with respect to my BB is emergency scanning. This is when you quickly look through your emails looking for the ones that you know you need to take care of RIGHT NOW. The problem is when you get caught up in doing a lot of emergency scanning, you never actually process the other ones and they sit there, lonely and forlorn. And so eventually they get to critical mass (some large number of unread messages) and you end up either asking for more storage space from your mail server administrators or deleting en masse a large number of unread messages. When you work operations for as long as I did, you tend to do this a lot. Actually, it becomes the way you operate and handle e-mail. And it’s a terrible habit because it means you are constantly reactive and only rarely proactive.

Processing, on the other hand, is when you look at the inbox as a list of things to make decisions on. OK, I’ve read what’s in the canteen for lunch. What do I with this? Well, I don’t need it anymore, so in the trash it goes. The next email needs a short response, so I’ll reply back, being concise and to the point. The other one requires me to wait on someone else. Okay, I need to put that email somewhere so I’ll check back up on said person. And the last one is about something I need to do tomorrow, because I can’t do it today. Ok, on my calendar (or actually, in my tasks with a reminder) it goes. You get the idea. And you do this with everything in the inbox. No exceptions. And you don’t skip around, because then the tendency is to go back to emergency scanning.

This is going to be a major habit to overcome. I’ve spent close to 10 years being in this mode it’s going to take time to undo. I can look at my different mailboxes, though, as proof that it’s time to act. Some amount of emergency scanning is expected. But when it’s the primary way one handles email, or tasks, or any sort of work queues, it’s a problem that needs to be fixed.

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I’m slowly working my way through the book Getting Things Done. And I do mean slowly. I’ve got to part 2, which deals with putting the system into practice. And of course, the first thing to do is to attack the desktop. We’re not just talking about cleaning, but compiling all the inputs.

Basically, if it’s not one of the following, it’s something that needs to be put into the system or gotten rid of:

  • Supplies – pencils, blank notepads, paperclips, etc.
  • Reference material – anything you keep around to look up things in – like all of my SQL Server books
  • Decoration – pictures, MVP award, things which are there for an aesthetic or morale-boosting reason
  • Equipment – computer, phone, etc.

The idea behind gathering all the inputs up at once and then processing them is to reduce the context switches between identifying an input and processing and moving on to the next one. Also, it ensures that you attack it all at one fell swoop and not get side-tracked. Now most of the stuff I had at my office desk needed to be thrown away. I’ve been at my organization for 10 years and I found as I sorted through things that I had papers and notes from my first year with the company. These were notes for systems that we didn’t have around anymore. Therefore, to the trash they went. I also found a lot of old business cards. It’s amazing how many folks you meet over seven years as an infrastructure/systems architect. Most of these business cards I had no use for. So in the trash they went. The ones I needed to keep I set aside until I processed the inputs. So the long and short of it is there are two trash cans full of debris, as well as a small pile of boxes and old MSDN CDs waiting to be picked up. About those MSDN CDs… some were from 2002. So definitely the clean-up was much needed.

Once I had got what relatively few inputs I had in physical form (most everything is electronically stored now), I set about dealing with them. The business cards I needed to process were input into my contacts system. The workstation folks were contacted about an old laptop battery that needed to be disposed of. And I’ve got tickler reminders (in Remember the Milk) for tomorrow for some other old equipment (server hard drive, and old iPAQ, power cables for our racks, etc.) to get them to the right people. I’ve grabbed my ministry certificates, my license to preach the gospel and my deacon ordination, and I’ll take those to the church since I have an office I can put them up in.

Now, how do I feel? A lot better, to tell the truth. My work area feels uncluttered for the first time in a great while. And that means I should be more productive here overall. I still have a TON of work to do at my church office and at home, but this is a start. One step at a time as I try to implement the system.

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One of the things I’ve been convicted of this week is how much TV watching I do. It’s simply too much, especially considering how busy I stay. Part of it is because I’ve felt so badly in recent days due to my migraines, that sometimes the only thing I feel like doing is laying down and resting. It’s an easy thing to do to just turn on the TV, find some sporting event or an old movie and watch. The problem is I’m not productive during this time and I could be. Now I know I don’t feel like doing a whole lot, but I could be using this time to watch video that will help me in ministry or professionally. I could also be using this time to read and catch up on all the books I have that I have yet to touch.

I say this as the old version of Clash of the Titans plays in the background. Actually, I did turn it on to see if it is as cheesy as I remember. I’ll have to admit to being wrong here, because it’s not. Still, I’ve seen enough that I’ll be turning off the TV shortly, even though I won’t have watched the movie. I’ve got a number of tasks to do, including review copies of two professional books I need to finish and then do the write-up on. So a full viewing of Clash of the Titans is not on the agenda.

Also, I want to set a better example for my children. I know growing up I watched a lot of TV. That’s because my parents watched a lot of TV. And most of the time, TV is one of the least productive activities one can do. Now I know some that know me well will say that compared to a lot of folks, I don’t watch a lot of TV now. It’s true, I’ve cut back quite a bit. For instance, it’s rare that I’ll watch an entire sporting event any longer. But it’s not about how I compare to others. It’s about how much time I waste in this activity. And currently it’s too much and my children are copying my example. So I need to cut back, let them see me cut back (because the TV will be off), and then we can discuss the particulars in hopes that they will learn to carefully monitor their TV viewing habits, too, especially as they grow older.

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