Looking for More Time is like Hunting for a Unicorn

“If you carry on like this, you will spend most of your time on reactive work… …you will never create anything truly worthwhile.” – Mark McGuinness, http://www.LateralAction.com

You have a thousand teeny, tiny, miniscule things to do, and even though most are extremely tedious – they are also somehow crucial and urgent.  RIGHT.

Does that make sense?  Will your world fall apart from one single grain of sand in the gears?

For arguments sake let’s say it does(we’ll save that for another post), and you need to get everything done.  ASAP.

But for some reason it never does.  There’s always things left on your list and they get added to the things on tomorrow’s list and that builds up more things to get done on an impossibly growing list of things to do that – for the most part, will never get done.

If only you could find more time in the day…

The Workhorse

You may do the obvious thing and stay late to finish more of what you can.(why is this obvious and not ludicrous?)  Which will make you happy and feeling like you have achieved something(short term win) while losing time, energy and possibly sleep, money and moments(moments are those times when you are actually living your life, I hope you can still remember them).

The problem is is that you will come back to work again with a new list that is just as impossible to complete with less reserve or initiative to put towards it than you did the previous one.  This increases the time required to complete it and the chance that there will be errors(taking even more time to correct) and sub-par quality when you are finished.  Not to mention the exhaustive carry-over if you stay late again.

But we can’t admit that the day’s hours are limited and you have to deal with that fact.

Master of the Day

Author Mark McGuinness is a London-based coach for creative professionals, working with creative companies all over the world and is a columnist for 99U

He says that building a great(and realistic) daily routine is a personal endeavor, but there are a few guidelines that can help.

1. Create First

Dedicating the time of day that you most feel energetic to creative tasks, usually in the morning before anything else.  This might sound like corporate suicide and the fear that you will find a 1000+ emails/voicemails from angry clients when you return to your laptop may take the importance out of this task, but Mark assures that it is far from that,”I never schedule meetings in the morning, if I can avoid it.  So whatever else happens, I always get my most important work done – and looking back, all of my biggest successes have been the result of making this simple change.”

2. Trigger Creativity

Repeatedly doing your work in the same environment and with the same tools when you work will help build associations between them and your creative zone.  It’s like telling your brain,”Hey, this is where I get to have fun and build.”  Other stimulus like smells(flowers) and sounds(music) can also trigger your creativeness to start its engines.

3. Limit Your List

Starting your day with a to-do list is fine, until it gets long enough to roll out the door and down the block.  A limit is an excellent way to crunch all of the minutia down to the tasks that should have the utmost priority.  Mark suggests using a 3×3 post-it note(just one) for your to-do list and leave the rest for tomorrow.

4. Write It Down

I’m a devoted note taker.  If something needs to be done or a commitment is made, I write it down.  Sure, I don’t always write everything in the same spot – but I am getting better at it.  I have a single soft covered booklet instead of my previous five.  Every day I allocate this information to my online calender/schedule with minor tasks and deadlines included.  I also keep a copy of this saved in my phone.  Don’t trust your brain to retain and recall every bit of information that you need for all of your work and projects, there is a reason why the term human error was coined right?

We are flawed, forgetful, limited and at times, lazy.

Keeping a written record relieves us of being our own liability, keeps the ball from being dropped and our focus in the right direction.

This increases efficiency and confidence, while eliminating distraction and the chance of looking like an amateur.

5. Stop

We can all make a note in our schedule when to start certain work; but do you know when to stop them?  Mark suggests creating “hard edges” to the different types of work in your day, from meetings and creative time to administrative and correspondent,”These hard edges keep tasks from taking longer than they need to and encroaching on your other important work.” 

He also says that it helps to avoid workaholism, which is the leading killer of entrepreneurial businesses in North America*.

And don’t just say you’ll stop at lunch – because you know that won’t happen, you will work right through it as always.  Set an alarm when to stop;  and keep your hand off the snooze.

My Experience

I’ve changed up my schedule quite a bit lately.  I was tired of feeling like my wheels were spinning trying to cater to clients whose work I wasn’t really into making.  Sometimes I even felt like the wheels weren’t even spinning at all.

What was needed was everything above and more.  Rest periods.  Play time with my son.  Meals, yes meals – I know you’ve missed countless ones yourself, admit it.

My schedule runs like this:

8:00am – get up and have breakfast with family

9:00am – 10 minute breathing exercise(meditation)

               – hard focus on one single personal project(creative work, 90 mins max)

               – no phone/internet

               – work done in studio

               – when creatively blocked, play with son or “thought focus”(I coined this term as a better and more effective alternative to brain storming)

10:30am – complete “mindless” tasks(not mindless as in brainless, but as in mind-off-of-work)

                 – garbage/compost/dishes/clean living area

                 – kettlebell swings/freeweights/squats

12:00pm – Lunch

                 – Check phone/email/social media correspondence

                 – take a moment to center myself, 10 minute breathing exercise

                 – Go for run(min 5kms)

1:00-1:30pm – Nap time for son

                        – Reactive work(this is the time to complete tasks regarding clients and work for other people)

3:00pm – Snack and play with son(this is a warm 3pm, sometimes my son sleeps until supper.  I use this time for extra reactive work)

5:00pm – Supper

               – 10 minute breathing exercise

6-7pm – complete leftover reactive work of the day

This is a pretty sweet schedule and more productive and organized than what I was doing before.  It’s still not perfect and sometimes I miss things, switch items around or life just happens and it’s out of my control.

The greatest effect that this has had on my work is that no matter what monkey wrench gets thrown into my day, when the smoke clears I can go back to this schedule, check the time and get right back on track again.

For instance, my son is now just waking up from his afternoon nap.  Luckily, I’m also finishing this post to go start supper – right on time for 5pm!

Before this schedule, I could never find the time to do all I wanted and needed – chores, quality time with family, dedicated work for clients, frequent creative work, etc, etc, etc.

Make It – Don’t Break It(Your Brain That Is…)

I realize now that finding time is impossible, there are only so many hours in the day.  You have to make time to achieve things that you want, and by doing so you will be a better and more decisive person in all aspects in life. 

I make time for my family, I make time for my creativity, I make time for my clients. 

You can schedule a meeting right?  Why not schedule personal project time?  Or play in the park with your kids time?  Treat these like appointments and when you’re approached by a client that wants that time, simply tell them that you have an appointment but can schedule around it.

Don’t take time or go looking for that elusive 25th hour – make it and be done with this pointless and desperate unicorn hunt.  It doesn’t exist.

You can read more about Mark McGuinness and other great authors and thinkers in the book, Manage Your Day-To-Day: Build Your Routine, Find Your Focus & Sharpen Your Creative Mind

Cheers,

Michael Carty

*statistic may be unverified

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