Thursday, March 6, 2008

Do it now - Azara Feroz Sayed

Came across this article by Steve Pavlina on Time Management. Steve's life is inspirational for anyone wanting to pursue Goals in Life. Steve went to jail for stealing and lost 2 years of his life. To makeup for lost time, his goal was to complete 4yrs of college in three semesters. Steve achieved his goal and even took a full time job in his final semester, which paved way to he owning Dexterity, a software gaming company.

The main goal of time management is to take your good life and transform it into an exceptional one. By getting clear about what you want and then developing a collection of habits that allow you to efficiently achieve your goals. Time management is not about self-sacrifice, self-denial, and doing more of what you dislike. It's about embracing more of what you already love.

Below are some techniques that worked for Steve. As Steve mentions in the article, we need to experiment with our strengths and weaknesses and develop time management techniques that will work well for us.

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Clarity is key - The first step is to know exactly what you want. It's easy to spend a whole day at your desk and accomplish nothing of value. The key period I've found useful for defining and working on specific goals is ninety days. In that period of time, you can make dramatic and measurable changes if you set crystal clear goals. Take a moment to stop and write down a snapshot description of how you want your life to be ninety days from now. Just as an airplane on autopilot must make constant corrections to stay on course, you must periodically retarget your goals.

Be flexible - There's a key difference between knowing your destination (goal) and knowing the path (plan) you will take to get there. You cannot know the exact path to your goal in advance. Renowned author and business consultant Stephen Covey often uses the expression, "integrity in the moment of choice." What that means is that you should not follow your plans blindly without conscious awareness of your goals. Sometimes you can reach your goals faster by taking advantage of shortcuts that arise unexpectedly based on your new knowledge. Other times you should stick to your original plans and avoid minor distractions that would take you further from your goals. Be tight on your goals but flexible on your plans.

Use single handling - Use to Todo list and cross off items in the list. If I had a 10-hour term paper to write, I would do the whole thing at once instead of breaking it into smaller tasks. I'd usually do large projects on weekends. I'd go to the library in the morning, do the necessary research, and then go back to my dorm room and continue working until the final text was rolling off my printer. If I needed to take a break, I would take a break. It didn't matter how big the project was supposed to be or how many weeks the professor allowed for it. Once I began an assignment, I would stay with it until it was 100% complete and ready to be turned in. A lot of time is lost in task switching because you have to re-load the context for each new task. Secondly, I believe this habit helped me remain relaxed and unstressed because my mind wasn't cluttered with so many to-do items. It was always just one thing at a time. I could forget about anything that was outside the current context.

Failure is your friend - Most people seem to have an innate fear of failure, but failure is really your best friend. People who succeed also fail a great deal because they make a lot of attempts. Sometimes the quickest way to find out if something will work is to jump right in and do it. You can always make adjustments along the way. It's the ready-fire-aim approach, and surprisingly, it works a lot better than the more common ready-aim-fire approach. The reason is that after you've "fired" once, you have some actual data with which to adjust your aim. Once you succeed, no one will remember your failures anyway. Microsoft wasn't Bill Gates' and Paul Allen's first business venture. Who remembers that their original Traf-o-Data business was a flop? We have electric light bulbs because Thomas Edison refused to give up even after 10,000 failed experiments. Letting go of the fear of failure will serve you well. If you're excited about achieving a particular goal, but you're afraid you might not be able to pull it off, jump on it and do it anyway. Even if you fail in your attempt, you'll learn something valuable and can make a better attempt next time.

Do it now! - W. Clement Stone, who built an insurance empire worth hundreds of millions dollars, would make all his employees recite the phrase, "Do it now!" again and again at the start of each workday. Whenever you feel the tendency towards laziness taking over and you remember something you should be doing, stop and say out loud, "Do it now! Do it now! Do it now!" I often set this text as my screen saver. There is a tremendous cost in putting things off because you will mentally revisit them again and again, which can add up to an enormous amount of wasted time. Thinking and planning are important, but action is far more important. You don't get paid for your thoughts and plans -- you only get paid for your results. When in doubt, act boldly, as if it were impossible to fail. I use a 60-second rule for almost every decision I have to make, no matter how big or important. Once I have all the data to make a decision, I start a timer and give myself only 60 seconds to make a firm decision. I'll even flip a coin if I have to. Usually delaying a decision will only have negative consequences, so even if you're faced with ambiguity, just bite the bullet and make a decision. If it turns out to be the wrong one, you'll know it soon enough. If you can speed up the pace of making decisions, you can spend the rest of your time on action. One study showed that the best managers in the world tend to have an extremely high tolerance for ambiguity. In other words, they are able to act boldly on partial and/or conflicting data. Many industries today have accelerated to such a rapid pace that by the time you have perfect data with which to make any decision, the opportunity is probably long gone. Where you have no data to fall back on, rely on your own personal experience and intuition.

Triage ruthlessly. - Get rid of everything that wastes your time. Use the trash can liberally. Apply the rule, "When in doubt, throw it out." Cancel useless magazine subscriptions. I once told a professor that I decided not to do one of his assigned computer science projects because I felt it wasn't a good use of my time. The project required about 10-20 hours of tedious gruntwork that wasn't going to teach me anything I didn't already know. Also, this project was only worth 10% of my grade in that class, and since I was previously acing the class anyway, the only real negative consequence would be that I'd end up with an A- in the course instead of an A. I told the professor I felt that was a fair trade-off and that I would accept the A-. So my official grade in the class was an A-, but I personally gave myself an A+ for putting those 10-20 hours to much better use. People spend years climbing ladders only to realize when they reach the top that the ladder was leaning against the wrong building. Remember that failure is your friend. So if a certain decision you've made in the past is no longer producing results that serve you, then be ruthless and dump it, so you can move onto something better. There is no honor in dedicating your life to the pursuit of a goal which no longer inspires you. This is another situation where you must practice integrity in the moment of choice. You must constantly re-assess your present situation to accurately decide what to do next. Whatever you've decided in the past is largely irrelevant if you would not renew that decision today.

Identify and recover wasted time - Instead of watching a one-hour TV show, tape it and watch it in 45 minutes by fast-forwarding through the commercials. Don't spend a half hour typing a lengthy email when you could accomplish the same thing with a 10-minute phone call. Batch your errands together and do them all at once. Observe and develop habbits that help you save even few mintues. If you've taken the time to develop a sense of purpose that reaches deep into your soul, you'll be automatically motivated to put your time to better use. If you get the highest level of your life in order (purpose, meaning, spiritual beliefs), the lower levels will tend to self-optimize (habits, practices, actions). Apply the 80-20 rule. Also known as the Pareto Principle, the 80-20 rule states that 20% of a task's effort accounts for 80% of the value of that task. This also means that 80% of a task only yields 20% of the value of that task. In college I was ruthless in my application of this principle. Some weeks I ditched as many as 40% of my classes because sitting through a lecture was often not the most effective way for me to learn. And I already noted that I would simply refuse to do an assignment if I determined it was not worth my time. There was one math class that I only showed up to twice because I could learn from the text book much more quickly than from the lectures. I only showed up for the midterm and final. I would pop my head in at the beginning of each class to drop off my homework and then again at the end of each class to write down the next assignment. I actually got the highest grade in that class, but the teacher probably had no idea who I was. The other students were playing by the rules, not realizing they were free to make their own rules. Find out what parts of your life belong in the crucial 20%, and focus your efforts there. Be absolutely ruthless in refusing to spend time where it simply cannot give you optimal results. Invest your time where it has the potential to pay off big.

Guard thy time - To work effectively you need uninterrupted blocks of time in which you can complete meaningful work. When you sit down to work on a particularly intense task, dedicate blocks of time to the task during which you will not do anything else. I've found that a minimum of 90 minutes is ideal for a single block. If necessary, warn others in advance not to interrupt you for a certain period of time. Threaten them with acts of violence if you must. Checking email or web surfing is not a break. When you take a break, close your eyes and do some deep breathing, listen to relaxing music and zone out for a while, take a 20-minute nap, or eat some fresh fruit. Rest until you feel capable of doing productive work again.
When you need rest, rest. When you should be working, work. Work with either 100% concentration, or don't work at all. It's perfectly fine to take as much down time as you want. Just don't allow your down time to creep into your work time.

Multitask - The amount of new knowledge in certain fields is increasing so rapidly that everything you know about your line of work is probably becoming obsolete. The only solution is to keep absorbing new knowledge as rapidly as possible. The best way I know to keep up is to multitask whenever possible by reading and listening to audio programs. When watching TV, read a computer magazine during commercials. Just grab a couple magazines, or print out some articles you wouldn't otherwise have time to read, and put them in your bathroom. Whenever you go out, carry at least one folded up article with you. If you ever have to wait in line, such as at the post office or the grocery store, pull out the article and read it. You will be amazed at how much extra knowledge you can absorb just by reading during other non-mental activities. Listen to educational audio programs whenever you can. When you drive your car, always be listening to an audio program. One of the best ways to save time is to learn directly from people who already have the skills you want to master. Audio programs often contain more practical material than what you would learn by taking classes at a university. Whereas people with degrees in marketing or business have been taught by college professors, you can learn about these subjects from millionaires and billionaires who've learned what works in the real world. You can probably find numerous opportunities for multitasking. Whenever you do something physical, such as driving, cooking, shopping, or walking, keep your mind going by listening to audio tapes or reading. The idea of multitasking may seem to contradict the previous piece of advice to work all the time you work. But whereas the previous tip refers to high intensity work where you must concentrate all your mental resources in order to do the best job you can, this tip addresses low intensity work where you have plenty of capacity to do other things at the same time, like standing in line, cooking dinner, flying on a plane, or walking from point A to point B.

Experiment - Everyone is different, so what works for you may well be different than what works for everyone else. You may work best in the morning or late at night. Take advantage of your own strengths, and find ways to compensate for your weaknesses. Whenever you come up with a wacky new idea for increasing your productivity, test it and see what effect it has. Don't dismiss any idea unless you've actually tried it. Partial successes are more common than complete failures, so each new experiment will help you refine your time management practices. Even the ongoing practice of conducting experiments will help condition you to be more productive.

Cultivate your enthusiasm - The word "enthusiasm" comes from the Greek entheos, which means literally, "the god within." I doubt it's possible to master the art of time management if you aren't gushingly enthusiastic about what you're going to do with your time. Go after what really inspires you. Remember that failure is your friend. Listen to that god within you, and switch to something that excites you once again. Your work should serve your life, not the other way around. I've always found that whenever I want to take my business to a new level, I must take my thoughts to a new level first. When your thinking changes, then your actions will change, and your results will follow.

Eat and exercise for optimal energy - What you eat can have a profound effect on your productivity. Animal products take significantly more time and energy to digest than plant foods, and when your body must divert extra energy to digestion, it means you have less energy available for productive mental work. Effectively your work will seem harder while you're digesting meals containing animal products, and you'll be more inclined to succumb to distractions. So if you find yourself having a hard time focusing on mentally intense work after lunch, your diet may very well be the culprit. Even Benjamin Franklin credited eating lightly at lunch time as being a significant factor in his productivity. Regular exercise is also necessary to maintain high energy and mental clarity. In college I would go running for 30 minutes first thing every morning before breakfast. And of course I'd be listening to motivational and educational tapes at the same time. If you want to master time management, it makes sense to hone your best time management tool of all -- your physical body. Through diet and exercise you can build your capacity for sustained concentrated effort, so even the most difficult work will seem easier.

Maintain balance - I don't think it's easy to sustain long-term productivity, health, and happiness if your life is totally unbalanced. To excel in one area, you can't let other areas lag behind and pull you down. While in college I made an effort to take off a full day each week to have a personal life.


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