What To Do When There’s Nothing To Do

In previous posts, I’ve written much about the importance of planning your day. I’ve discussed why to plan your day in minutes, how to optimally time block, and how to differentiate between urgent and important tasks.

While it’s wonderful to plan the perfect day, in reality there are moments in our days in which nothing is planned. Let’s refer to unplanned time as dead time. When we arrive at dead time, we become bored. When boredom ensues, we like to say we’re killing time.

Anything with the word “kill” make me squirm. Why is killing time problematic?

The Killing Of Time

Life is short. Killing is bad. Time is valuable.

If you agree with these three statements, then you should also agree life is too short to kill time, even if it’s deemed dead time. When we say we’re killing time what are we actually saying? We don’t value time, or at least we don’t value certain parts of our day.

To kill something is to not value that thing. If you look at time as something that can be killed, you’re more likely to waste it. With this mindset not every minute is treated equally. If life is too short we can’t go around dictating which minutes to value and which can be tossed away.

Maximizing Our Dead Time

Why is it important to recognize how we utilize our dead time? Because dead time is everywhere. It surrounds us like a pack of wolves cornering its prey.

Dead time is the wait for your unpunctual friend. Dead time is waking up earlier than expected. Dead time is time spent in the doctor’s waiting room. Dead time is the period between finishing lunch and the end of your lunch break.

Dead time fools us. It’s sprinkled frequently but for such short periods of time. As a result we underestimate how much of our day is filled with dead time. This explains why people spend hours each day on their phones. Five minutes doesn’t seem like a lot of time, but multiply those five minutes with how many times you check your phone and suddenly you’ve used up three hours of your day.

Yikes.

What’s Your Default?

When dead time occurs, what are your default activities?

This is one of the most important questions you will ever ask yourself. Most people have 2-3 activities they fall back on. Default activities can include scrolling through Instagram, reading a book, checking the news, texting friends, reading emails, listening to a Podcast, and people watching.

Let’s say your primary default activity is checking Instagram. If you spend ten minutes of daily dead time on Instagram, and multiply that by the total numbers of day in a year, you get the following result:

10 minutes x 365 days = 3,650 minutes = 60.8 hours

Therefore, in one year you spent almost 61 hours checking Instagram. Think about the other things you could have done with 61 hours. If you spent ten minutes of dead time each day reading a book you could read seven books in one year.*

Choose Your Defaults Wisely

Our days are filled with dead time. Therefore, what you choose to do in those moments becomes a major part of your life. Life is about what you do when there’s nothing to do. Ask yourself, “what are my current defaults, and are these default activities a good use of my time?”

Making the conscious effort to select your default activities could drastically improve your life. Instead of checking Instagram, read a book. Instead of checking your email, text an old friend. Instead of checking the news for the fifth time, sit in silence and see what creative ideas pop in your mind.

Charles Caleb Colton famously said “the true measure of your character is what you do when nobody’s watching.” Let’s pivot that statement and say the true measure of your capabilities is what you do when there’s nothing to do.

Time is one of our most valuable assets. Use it well.

Footnote

*This is assuming you read a 300-page book in a little over eight hours, which is an average reading pace. Faster readers could read more than eleven books in 61 hours. More on this breakdown at Capitalize My Title.


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One-Thing-at-a-Time-Fallacy

Your alarm goes off and it’s 7am.  You shut your eyes for “just a few more seconds”, only to wake up and now it’s 7:30am.  Like a sprinter at the sound of a gun, you dash to the kitchen to cook up the fastest breakfast of your life.  You toss the eggs on the pan to cook, fetch a bowl of Cheerios, and slice a piece of bread.  

In just five minutes you cooked three eggs, made a bowl of cereal, and…..oh wait.

You forgot to pop the bread in the toaster before preparing the rest of your meal. 

Gosh darn it. 

Now, either, you skip the toast and end up hangry by 10am, or you bite the bullet and make yourself later than you already are.

Starvation or tardiness. Your options are either bad or bad.

First Things First 

Ground breaking news–when you’re cooking breakfast begin by toasting the bread first.  In the time it would have taken the bread to transform to toast, you could have prepared the rest of your meal.  What culinary expertise! Chef Gordon Ramsay please step aside. 

The act of popping the toast in first is a wonderful analogy for life.  Think of the toast as the task that will take the longest to complete.  Usually when we’re given a list of items to address, we tend to put off what will take the longest and start with the shorter tasks. 

We need to rewire our minds to stop thinking “what can I get done quickly?” and instead start thinking “what will take the longest that I can take one step towards completing now?”

Why are we wired to think in this nonproductive way? There are two answers to this question, both of which play off each other.

One-Thing-at-a-Time Fallacy

We’ve been taught multitasking is a bad idea, and by all means in many contexts that’s great advice. Don’t text and drive. Don’t watch TV while listening to your spouse complain. Don’t stuff your face with food while lecturing your child.

The problem is we take this statement too far, to the point we begin functioning in a linear format. In this linear way of thinking you tackle the first task, see it through until its completion, and only then move on to the next task. This doesn’t make a lot of sense to me, and it shouldn’t to you either.

Imagine you want to grow an oak tree with acorns. You wouldn’t plant the seed and stand around for 20 years until it’s fully grown, acorns and all. In the time between planting the seed and enjoying its acorns, you could watch every Oscar nominated movie, travel to every country on the globe, and become internet famous (whatever that entails).

The key point to remember is multi-tasking works when one of the tasks can be automated. Once the seed is planted, we let mother nature go to work. Considering we live in the age of technology, there are boundless opportunities for automation. Where we fall short is starting with something non-automated, only to realize we should have started first by “planting the seed” for what could have been automated.

Start by toasting the bread. The act of toasting is automated, so all we have to do is pop the bread in. While the oven works its magic, you can handle the other necessary steps to prepare your breakfast.

Fight the Gratification

In his book Atomic Habits, the author James Clear explains we’re more likely to do something when there’s a reward at the end. Upon the completion of a task, the simple act of crossing out, checking off, or deleting the task sparks the feeling of gratification.

If gratification is what you seek, you’re more likely to start with the shorter tasks and put off the longer term tasks. This is the reason why you take out the trash, call your siblings, and do the dishes, when in reality you should have started your expense report.

Completing short tasks is fools gold. Though you receive gratification for getting things done, in the process you’ve put off the expense report, which is your most important task of the day.

The hard part about starting the long term task is you’re not going to receive the gratification of marking it as complete. Starting an expense report, planting a seed, or popping toast in the oven don’t provide the same gratification as pouring a glass of milk. Unlike pouring a glass of milk, there are multiple steps to our longer term tasks, and therefore gratification isn’t as eminent.

Your goal is to be productive, not to create a false sense of accomplishment. The blissfulness of accomplishment will turn into regret for not addressing the more complex tasks.

Ordering Tasks Strategically

When planning your days, ensure you are thoughtful about the order in which each task is addressed. Keep in mind the two keys previously discussed.

The first key is to not fall for the one-thing-at-a-time fallacy. It’s possible to start one task, complete a different task, and then return to the original task. Therefore plant the seed, and while you wait, complete your other tasks.

Secondly don’t fall victim the allure of gratification. If you simply want to check boxes, you risk blinding yourself from the more complex and important tasks.

Next time you’re rushing through your breakfast prep, pop the toast in first. While the bread is toasting, attend to the cereal and eggs. Nothing is sweeter than having prepared the rest of your meal at the exact moment you hear the “ding” sound of the toaster oven. That’s real gratification.


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The Secret to Laziness

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At one point or another we’ve all been lazy.  We’re tempted to half-ass work projects, household chores, and class assignments.  Even the hardest working people have days they feel like giving less than their best.

We may think we’re taking advantage of a situation by slacking on work.  The problem is we don’t always consider how much additional work will result by cutting corners.

You may reconsider slacking when you understand there are two choices: either you choose to work hard the first time, or you choose to work less the first time, only to be faced with more work in the long run.

As an example, let’s take a trip back in time when we were high school students.  Yay!

Poor High School Paper

Imagine your high school English teacher assigns a 10-page paper due in two weeks.  You put off writing the paper until you find yourself staring at your monitor screen (or a piece of paper, shoutout to the baby boomers) at 11pm the night before the paper is due.

The thought of doing “a good job” is out the window.  At this point it’s all about damage control and finishing the paper without having to pull an all-nighter.  You come up with an incoherent paper that impresses nobody, not even yourself.

A week later you get a failing grade on the paper.  This brings your semester grade low enough to the point your parents get involved.  For the rest of the semester your parents micromanage your academic progress.  You find yourself spending twice as much time on homework.  What was once your free block at school has turned into required office hours with your English teacher.

Not a fun story.

Laziness Breeds More Work

The previous story is a perfect example of not making things harder than they have to be.  The entire paper fiasco could have been avoided by simply doing a good job the first time.

It’s human nature to minimize unpleasant experiences while maximizing pleasant experiences.  By writing a poor paper, in the short term you were minimizing an unpleasant experience.  Consequently in the long run, you created a greater sum of unpleasant experiences.

When we cut corners, we create more corners.  Cutting one corner may limit work in that one instance, but you end up creating four more corners.  The cumulative time of addressing those four additional corners will take longer than rounding (instead of cutting) the first corner.

There are countless examples of this phenomenon:

  • Instead of parking down the street you park in an illegal zone.  As a result you have to pay a fine at town hall, which is located across town.
  • Instead of putting the dishes in the dishwasher you leave them in the sink.  As a result your apartment is crawling with bugs and you have to call pest control.
  • Instead of responding to an email with thorough information, you end up emailing the person four additional times to provide further context.

In all three examples, less work was required if you weren’t lazy the first time.  Think of time as your currency and your tasks as a cost.  You can either spend a few minutes up front dealing with the issue, or you can spend hours addressing the problem after things have blown up.  Work compounds when a task is not done sufficiently the first time.

How To Be Lazy

If your goal in life it do as little work as possible, then put in the effort the first time around.  If you make things right in the first go-around you’ll have less work in the long run.

Working hard to be lazy sounds counterintuitive.  When you realize part of laziness is to minimize unnecessary work, it’s in your best interest to work hard from the get-go.  You gotta earn your laziness.


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Proactivity Over Reactivity

We hear all the time to be proactive with our lives.  It’s great to say we’ll tackle our days in a proactive manner.  The problem is we live in a world that doesn’t always conspire the way we hope it does.  We must ask ourselves, “how do we stay proactive when we’re pulled in a million directions?”.

I’m going to explore this concept through an email interface.  Don’t get too excited!

The World According to your Email

Imagine one evening you achieved the pinnacle of greatness, you cleared your email inbox.  Congratulations!  Before logging off you type up (or write down) what you want to accomplish the following day.

All is well when you wake up the following morning.  You have every intention to complete the projects you’ve set out to tackle for the day.  When you open your email inbox what do you see?

I’ll tell you what you see.  You notice your inbox has piled up from the previous night.  Without giving it much thought you start going through your unread emails.  Three hours later you once again clear your inbox, only to realize you haven’t accomplished much of anything.  Sob.

Anti-Email Checking

In this scenario, think of the unread emails as reactive tasks.  If Joe Shmoe has emailed you asking to schedule a call, you’re in essence agreeing to reactively accept a call.  From Joe Shmoe’s perspective, requesting a call was a proactive task.  He took the initiative to email you.

If you reply to emails all day, you’re passively accepting the demands of others.  Where does that leave you with your proactive tasks?  Scheduling calls and answering other people’s questions won’t necessarily help you achieve your daily goals.

Bigger Picture

Think of your email as a metaphor for your life.  Simply put: we can either proactively do things we’ve committed to doing or we can reactively address matters called upon by others.  It’s critical to ensure enough time is allocated to proactive tasks, or else we spend our days being in a reactive state.

Some of you reading this may have lives too demanding to get from a reactive to a proactive state.  I may not know your life well enough to remedy this problem, though I have one important idea to point out.  By being strategically proactive, you can limit the number of reactive situations you must attend to.  See a few examples below:

  • Proactively do your laundry to avoid reactively scavenging for a clean pair of underwear
  • Proactively plan your day to avoid reactively checking your email
  • Proactively eat healthy to avoid reactively addressing health issues

Conclusion

We should always strive to spend time being proactive.  While it’s great to embody a proactive mindset, it’s inevitable reactive moments arise unannounced.  At any moment your boss could ask you to finalize a report in the next 30 minutes, the fire alarm in your house could go off,  or your sibling could call pleading for your Netflix login credentials.

Regardless of what life throws at you, you should always ask yourself how much of what you’re doing is proactive versus reactive.  At this very moment I’m proactively drafting this blog post instead of reactively checking my unread text messages.

Don’t fall victim to the convenience of reactivity.  Instead be proactive.  Proactivity leads to moments of creation, accomplishment, and joy.  You run the day or the day runs you.

Now get off your email (unless I emailed you).


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Productive Solitary Confinement

Much emphasis is put on things we shouldn’t do throughout our days.  Don’t watch TV.  Don’t mindlessly scroll through Instagram.  Don’t eat fast food.  Don’t watch cat videos.  Don’t check your email every ten minutes.

We have to say no to so many things because we live in a world of endless possibilities.  Our possibilities are greater than our ancestors with the advent of technology.  At this very moment I could decide to call a friend, online shop for things I don’t need,  or spend the next hour on Instagram.

On a daily basis we are bombarded with things we shouldn’t do.  We must draw the line between what we feel like doing and what we should be doing.  The question is: how does one create an environment to do only those things he or she should do?  Let’s turn to a bizarre hypothetical to figure this out.

Bizarre Hypothetical

Imagine a scenario in which you are sentenced to solitary confinement for 24 hours.  The sentencer (in the goodness of the system) explains you can leave after four hours of confinement under one condition: you do only things that are a good use of your time.  Before entering confinement, you’re allowed to bring personal items to pass the time.

If you can bring whatever you want but can only do things things worth your time, what do you bring?  First think about all the productive things you should do.  Perhaps you should exercise, read, and update your resume.  In that case all you’d need to bring is weights, a book, and a laptop.  Anything that could tempt you to waste time should be left behind (or the WiFi should be turned off).

Imagine for the next four hours doing only those three things.  You could get a nice burning workout, read well over 100 pages of your book (even if you’re a slow reader), and update your latest job description to your resume.  Not too shabby.

Normal World Application

Let’s be real, the idea of a productive solitary confinement is extremely far fetched.  The purpose of this exercise is to realize what’s possible when one eliminates the possibility of doing things not worth their time.

Though you may never be locked up in solitary confinement, there are instances in which we experience periods of confinement.  Perhaps you’re home alone on a rainy day.  Maybe your socials plans fell through and you have an entire evening to yourself.  If you’ve been on a long plane flight you know the feeling of being confined to the same seat for an indefinite period of time.

What if in these instances you made the commitment to do only things that should be done?  This is possible through a few simple steps:

  1. Identify moments of confinement (or simulate solitary moments for yourself)
  2. Decide what you should do
  3. Do only those things

We take these steps to rise above the plethora of options that makes us prisoners in our own lives.  With a lack of discipline, we fall prey to the time sucks of life. Therefore it’s in our moments of freedom we must limit our options.  Limiting options enables us to do only what we should be doing and eliminate the rest.  Instead of facing a block of time and chastising Instagram or Netflix, empower yourself to focus on the right things and pursue them to the fullest.


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Building Your Habit String

In his book The Power of Habit, Charles Duhigg discusses how to build a habit.  He breaks habits down by including three components, which include the cue, the action, and the reward.  The cue serves as a reminder to perform a habit.  The action is the actual habit performed.  Finally the reward is the feeling or physical thing received for performing the habit.  For example let’s hope we all have the habit of brushing our teeth each morning.  See the habit breakdown below:

  1. Cue – Get out of bed
  2. Action – Brush teeth
  3. Reward – Teeth feel fresh

Performing positive daily habits is critical to our health and well being.  Regardless of how many positive habits you’ve developed, there is always room to add more to our days.  The question becomes how do you add multiple habits to your day?  This involves a two step process, which includes first what I call the rapid habit time block.  The second step is to string the habits together.

Rapid Habit Time Block

When planning your day you should set aside a block of time devoted to the habits you’d like to develop.  The amount of time allocated to habits depends on your personal schedule and how many habits you want to incorporate.  Keep in mind many of the habits we aspire to build don’t take much time in our days.  Let’s say you want to build the habits of meditating, journaling, and stretching.  Devote 10 minutes to each and you’re only asking for a half an hour of your day.  For sake of an example let’s say you’ve decided to do these habits 8:00-8:30am each day.

Stringing the Habits

Once you’ve set aside a time in the day for meditating, journaling, and stretching, you must then decide the order in which you perform each habit.  This is a personal choice, but regardless the order it’s important to move quickly from one habit to the next.  The reason for this is to hone in on the cue.  If you recall the cue is the reminder to perform a habit.  By stringing habits together, the ending (reward) of one habit also serves as the cue to begin the next habit.  See the process below, with the understanding that the order of the habits are meditating, journaling, and stretching:

Habit #1 – Meditating

  1. Cue – 8am alarm reminder to meditate
  2. Action – Meditate
  3. Reward – Mind feels clear

Habit #2 – Journaling

  1. Cue – Mind feeling clear after meditating
  2. Action – Journal
  3. Reward – Satisfaction of getting thoughts onto paper

Habit #3 – Stretching

  1. Cue –  Satisfaction of getting thoughts onto paper
  2. Action – Stretch
  3. Reward – Body feels more limber

Summary

In order to bring new habits into your life, you must first decide when to do the habits and then string them together.  One of the biggest reasons why we don’t perform habits (aside from laziness) is we simply forget.  Remember that the key is in the cue.  By stringing habits together, the momentum of completing one habit cues us to take on the next habit.  Grouping your positive habits together will decrease the likelihood of forgetting about them.  Eventually the string of habits will become as second nature as brushing your teeth.


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Arranging your Smartphone Apps

Over the last 10+ years smartphones have become an integral part of our lives.  This technological innovation has become extremely polarizing.  Smartphones allow for unlimited productivity and possibility in the palm of our hands.  Conversely, smartphones can be a massive distraction and can negatively impact our general well being.

One thing we can all agree on is smartphones aren’t going anywhere.  If anything, the technological world will continue innovating, which will create a world where smartphones continue to grow in importance.  The question is how do we utilize our smartphones to encourage productivity and wellness, while minimizing the negative aspects?  One solution is to strategically arrange how your smartphone apps are displayed on your screen.

Typical Home Screen

When you unlock your smartphone what do you see?  Most likely you’ll be viewing between 16-24 apps, which also are the apps you spend the most time using.  It’s important to recognize just because an app is used frequently doesn’t mean it’s a good use of your time.  This realization sparked my motivation to rearrange the apps on my smartphone.

Extreme Makeover: Smartphone Edition

Below is my home screen before changes were made:

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Before making changes to this screen, let’s categorize smartphone apps into three groups.  Foundational apps are required frequently and act as tools to assist in your everyday life.  Time Sucks are the apps we open when we’re bored and want to “kill time”.  The last category are aspirational apps that provide genuine benefits to our life, but may not necessarily be top of mind.  I’ve provided examples of each category below:

  1. Foundational: Messages, Camera, Google Chrome, Maps, Calculator, Clock
  2. Time Sucks: Instagram, Facebook, Candy Crush, YouTube, TempleRun, Snapchat
  3. Aspirational: Headspace (meditation app), Podcasts, Tabata (fitness app)

The goal is to arrange your apps in a way so your home screen consists of only foundational and aspirational apps.  To do this it’s important to identify the apps you open when you’re bored and need a form of distraction.  These apps should be placed out of sight when you unlock your smartphone.  It’s like saying you want to eat less candy but leave a bowl of M&Ms lying on the kitchen counter.  If you want to eat less candy, leave the M&Ms in a hard to reach cabinet.  Whether it’s Instagram or consuming candy, to decrease a negative habit place the trigger out of plain sight.

After completing this exercise, my smartphone home screen now looks like this:

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You’ll notice all social media and gaming related (time suck) apps have been removed from my home screen.  After removing the time sucks, I brought in the aspirational apps.  These applications (Tabata, Headspace, Podcasts, Gratitude Plus) I desire to use more frequently.  By placing these apps in the home screen, I’ll be reminded to access them more consistently.  At the same time I’m less inclined to use the time suck apps which are now out of sight.

Conclusion

Rearranging your smartphone can make the difference in your daily output.  Perhaps instead of crushing candy, you could be journaling your thoughts or listening to a thought provoking podcast.  While ridding technology completely from our lives is an unrealistic ask, we can still be discipline in how we arrange our smartphone app layout.  Over time you’ll experience how a simple change to your phone can make a huge difference with how you interact with it.


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Optimal Time Blocking

When you set out to complete a list of tasks, it’s advisable to delegate a specific time of day to devote to each task.  This is widely known as the practice of time blocking.  There are plenty of resources that discuss the importance of time blocking.  What doesn’t get discussed as much is deciding when each task should be completed.  In order to optimize time blocking, you should align your most taxing tasks with the time slots in which you will be most productive.   Let’s look at an example with our friend Sally’s to do list.

Sally’s To Do List

  1. Read one chapter of a book
  2. Clear her email inbox
  3. Finish her quarterly report

Let’s say Sally is awake 7am-11pm, which gives her 16 hours waking hours.  Like most people, Sally has obligations.   Let’s define obligations as any block of time in which Sally is busy.  This would include such things as driving to work, family time, and scheduled meetings.

After taking into account her obligations, Sally looks at her calendar and notices she has openings during the time frames of 7am-9am, 1-3pm, and finally 8pm-11pm.  This means out of Sally’s 16 waking hours, she has 7 free hours to plan out for the day.  Let’s define any waking and non-obligated window as “You Time”.

Sally must decide when to complete each task during her “You Time”.  When doing this, there are two variables Sally should take into account.  These variables are the task’s mental investment and her most productive time slots.  Let’s see how Sally addresses each variable.

Task’s Mental Investment

The first factor is to look at each task and grade how mentally taxing the task is.  Mentally taxing tasks require intense concentration, and in some instances involve high levels of creativity.  Sally recognizes finishing her quarterly report is the most taxing, followed by clearing her email inbox.  The least taxing is reading a chapter of her book.

Productive Time Slots

The second variable is recognizing when during the day one is most productive.  Sally has already made the self evaluation she is most productive first thing in the morning.  In the afternoon Sally is slightly less effective than the morning and by night time she’s least effective.

 

As mentioned in the opening, The key is to align your most taxing tasks with the time slots in which you will be most productive.  With this strategy in mind, Sally plans her day to complete the quarterly report 7-9am, clear her email inbox 1-3pm, and finally read a chapter of her book sometime during the 8-11pm time frame.

Many (including myself) have ineffectively planned our days in which our productive times don’t align with the most mentally taxing tasks.  If you’re most productive/creative in the morning, the most common pitfall is clearing your inbox right after you wake up.  There’s a desire to “catch up” and respond to a flood of unopened emails.  If the morning is your most productive time of the day, you’re better off completing a task that requires greater mental capacity.  The emails can wait!

If you aren’t as productive in the morning, than responding to emails upon waking up may actually be a good use of time blocking optimization.  You’re better off saving the major writeup for the early afternoon or late evening.

In summary when planning your day, identify your optimal non-obligated time frames and then plan your tasks accordingly.  Simply put, know when in the day you work best and make the most of that time.


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The Problem With New Years Resolutions

We’re approaching that time of year when people begin chirping about New Years resolutions. Typically a resolution is a personal goal you set for yourself that you’ll religiously do every day in the coming calendar year.  As we all know, resolutions are more of a joke since it seems more times than not, people don’t actually follow through.

I’m not going to explain techniques on how to create the right resolution, or even try to explain how to follow through with it.  Instead I’ll explain why resolutions don’t make sense.  But to simply explain why they’re bad isn’t good enough.  Nothing is more unappealing than telling somebody there’s a problem without offering a solution.  Having said that, below are three reasons why resolutions are bad, and one resounding solution to this nonsense!

Reason #1 – Creates Procrastination

Let’s say you decide on December 17th your New Years resolutions is to exercise at least 30 minutes every day.  Does that mean you don’t exercise at all until the New Year?  Perhaps waking up at 6am to workout seemed like a great idea in mid-December, but by January 1st may not seem so appealing. By creating a resolution that you agree to start sometime in the future, you run a risk. The longer an idea wanes without taking action, the less motivated you’ll be to accomplish what you set out to do.  

Reason #2 – Allows Failure to be an Option

It’s January 1st and you’re ready to attack the 30 minute daily workout routine head on! Unfortunately by mid-January your flaming passion for exercise has mysteriously vanished.  At that point you say the magical words, “well there’s always next year”.  The second your resolution begins to slip, you think the resolution for the year is a lost cause.  Resolutions can create this feeling.  The moment we slip up, we may as well give up and wait for next year.

Reason #3 – Bad Timing

Think long and hard about New Years Day.  It’s likely you’re either on vacation, with family, or away from home.  Maybe you had too much fun New Years Eve, and therefore the thought of exercising the following day sounds like your worst nightmare.  Why is it that we decide to begin resolutions on a day when most of us are not in our daily routines?  In a way, we are setting ourselves up for failure.

The Solution

This is very simple.  Start your resolution today!  This means as soon as you finish reading this paragraph.  Don’t wait for New Years or sometime in the future.  There will never be a perfect time. The moment you come up with a resolution is the same day you should start it.  Take swift and immediate action towards whatever it is you’re aspiring to accomplish.  And if you slip up, realize this is not a one year challenge but an ongoing lifetime pursuit.  The world is your oyster, so get after it!


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Urgent vs. Important

From time to time I’ll highlight a specific point made in a book I’ve read in the past.  The book The 7 Habits Of Highly Effective People by Stephen Covey is an all-time classic.  I believe the best point made in that book is understanding the difference between tasks that are urgent versus those that are important.

In his book, Stephen Covey defines urgent as something that “requires immediate action.”  Conversely Covey defines importance as something that “contributes to your mission, your values, your high priority goals”.  Using these two components,  a task can be any of the following:

  1. Important but not urgent
  2. Urgent but not important
  3. Neither important nor urgent
  4. Both important and urgent  

Obviously we don’t want to prioritize tasks that are not important, even if they appear urgent (for example taking a phone call from somebody you would rather not speak to).

What we’re left focusing on are tasks that are important and urgent, as well as tasks that are important but not urgent.  As you’ll see it’s the tasks that are important but not urgent that matter most.  Being able to recognize this is critical to living out your life with the correct priorities.

Important And Urgent Tasks

Tasks that fall under this category typically occur when you’re pressed for time.  In my life this could look like submitting a job application that’s due in three hours or picking up my brother from school. These tasks are essential because, well I’d be a pretty lousy person if I blew off picking up my brother, and failing to submit an application before the deadline would be completely irresponsible.

Important and urgent tasks are what I like to categorize as putting out fires,  They’re the things that keep us preoccupied and stressed.  Completing tasks of this nature can relieve our anxiety levels and give us gratification for getting stuff done.  The problem is if we only focus on “putting out fires”, we can never arrive to the most essential tasks in life.  These “essential” tasks fall under our next category.

Important But Not Urgent Tasks

These are the types of tasks we know are important but because they’re not urgent we relegate them to “later when I have more time.”  Examples include exercising, spending time with loved ones, reading, and planning for the future.  What you’ll notice is these tasks are very important to living a fulfilling and meaningful life, and I’d argue even more important than the aforementioned “important and urgent” tasks.  But would you say these tasks are urgent?  Most likely not.

This essentially is where the problem lies.  The things that are most important in life are the same things we continuously put off.  We are too busy dealing with “important and urgent” matters (putting out fires) we lose sight of the things that we’ll be grateful for down the road.  Eventually the important tasks that weren’t urgent suddenly transform into urgent matters.  Having a heart condition from a lack of exercise is urgent.  Addressing a failing relationship because you didn’t put the time in is urgent.

Summary

We all can do a better job devoting time to things that are important but not urgent.  Don’t be the person who says “life happened” or “life got in the way” when making an excuse for not keeping in touch with loved ones.  An effective strategy is to time block a portion of your day to something important but not urgent.  Even 15 minutes daily can make all the difference.  This may seem burdensome now but you’ll thank yourself down the road.


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4 Reasons To Clean Your Room

During your youth, it’s likely at some point you were expected to clean your room.  Usually we do it because somebody told us to do so, and not because we wanted to (with some exceptions).  Through these experiences, many of us have associated tidying our rooms as a chore that’s done just for the sake of cleaning.

When it comes to tidying our rooms there needs to be more profound reasons for doing so.  In previous posts I’ve mentioned the importance of finding the “why” in everything we do.  The same can be applied when cleaning.  Below are four reasons why we should tidy our rooms (aside from your room looking more presentable).

Reason #1 – Save Money

Imagine you wake up one day and go to brush your teeth.  You notice you’re running out of toothpaste.  Let’s assume your bathroom is a mess and you don’t have a good understanding of how your spare toiletries are organized.  You spend 30 seconds looking for toothpaste and then make the decision to stock up on more toothpaste later that day.  Fast forward a week later when you’ve finally made the decision to clean your bathroom.  After sorting through everything you find five unopened tubes of toothpaste.  See where I’m going with this?

When you thoroughly organize your personal belongings, you get a clear picture of everything you own.  Once you know how much of everything you own, you never make the mistake of buying something that you already have.  Simple in theory but many of us (including myself) struggle with this.

Reason #2 – Create a Happy Place

Now I want you to imagine you’ve had a miserable day.  Perhaps work or school wasn’t great.  Somebody said something you didn’t appreciate.  Worst of all you were out with friends only to see your favorite team blow it in the final minutes.  You head home feeling sorry for yourself, only to be greeted by a room in total disarray.

After a trying day we deserve to return to a calming environment.  When you’ve had a messy day, the last thing you need is a messy room.  When your room is in order, you’ve created an environment that allows you recover and mentally prepare to attack tomorrow with more resolve.

Reason #3 – Reconnect With Your Past

Once you decide to clean your room you’ll likely stumble upon items that spark past memories or experiences.  Perhaps you find old letters, pictures, or certificates.  By reconnecting with old items, we relive our past.  From a firsthand experience by cleaning my own room, I found items that sparked memories I’d forgotten about for over a decade.

Finding old items may inspire you to reconnect with an old friend.  It may inspire you to recommit to an old passion or hobby.  Perhaps that old golf club in the back of your closet reminded you of the days when you were a half-decent golfer.  Or that trumpet at the bottom of the pile reminded you to start practicing again.  By reviewing our old belongings, we reconnect with our past.  And by reconnecting with our past, we can implement those things that we lost touch with into our present lives.

Reason #4 – Recognize What’s Most Important

Picture yourself opening up your closet full of shirts.  You have 15 shirts you don’t think much about and five shirts you absolutely adore.  Now what if you removed those 15 shirts you didn’t care much for and just kept the ones you loved?  Next time you open your closet you’ll be welcomed only by the things you care for.

By removing the things we don’t care much for, we can focus on the the things we care most about.  In the book The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, Marie Kondo implores her readers to keep only those things that “bring joy”.  I believe this is simple but true.  Imagine the feeling being surrounded only by the things that bring you joy.  You’re much more likely to appreciate the things you have and recognize what’s most important.

Summary

There you have it.  Clean your room for the reasons listed above.  I find it’s much easier to do something when you fully understand the positive consequences.  So the next time you’re inclined to put off cleaning your room, think not about the dullness of the act, but instead think about saving money, creating a happy place, reconnecting with your past, and identifying what’s most important.


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3 Steps To Make The Perfect To-Do List

At one point or another you’ve likely created a to-do list.  You may have done this the night before or the morning of the day you wanted to complete a set of objectives.  What you might not realize is there’s a clearer way to complete your objectives in a more efficient manner.  For the sake of an example, let’s take a look at my fascinating life.  I have created a to-do list for today’s tasks, which I’ve recreated below.

My To-Do List

  • Clean kitchen
  • Watch South Park
  • Search for jobs

I know, I know, people tell me I’m living the American dream.  Once I’ve completed an objective, I check it off and move on to the next task.  This is how I used to go about making to-do lists, but in recent months I’ve implemented three specific steps when creating a to-do list.  They are to prioritize, specify, and time-block.

1. Prioritize

When creating a to-do list, it can be easy to lose sight of what’s most important.  Without thinking too hard I might put equal emphasis on catching up on South Park as searching for jobs.  This is where prioritization is key.  You need to identify which tasks must be completed and which tasks can wait.  Let’s go back to my awesome life.  Now that I understand the importance of prioritization, I number my tasks in order of importance.

  1. Clean kitchen
  2. Search for jobs
  3. Watch South Park

2. Specify

Based off my new and improved to-do list, I’ve prioritized cleaning the kitchen as most important (sorry South Park).  But what happens when I actually begin cleaning the kitchen.  Do I only clear the table?  Do I put all the dishes in the dishwasher?  The lack of clarity lies in the fact that this is a task, when in fact it should be a goal.  A goal is something that is measurable and achievable.  You know it’s a goal when there is a clear finish-line.  The more specific the better.  Take a look how I’ve transformed my list from tasks to goals.

  1. Load all dishes and start washer
  2. Identify five new job leads
  3. Watch two episodes of South Park

3. Assign Time Slot (aka Time Block)

After prioritizing and making each task goal-specific, it’s now time to assign each task to a specific time of day.  When most people make up their mind what they’re going to do, they don’t necessarily decide when they’re going to do it.  This can lead to one of the deadliest words in the english language… procrastination.  Since procrastination sucks, I’ve decided to assign each task a specific time slot.  By assigning a specific time slot, you’re less likely to put something off for “sometime later”.  Below is the final version of my to-do list.

  1. Load all dishes and start washer (12:30pm-12:45pm)
  2. Identify five new job leads (12:45pm-2:00pm)
  3. Watch two episodes of South Park (2:00pm-2:45pm)

There you have it!  Compare this to-do list to the original and recognize how much clearer the new version is.  In a nutshell, the more specific you are with your to-do list, the greater likelihood you’ll accomplish what you set out to do.  So as you venture off with your next to-do list, be sure to prioritize, specify, and time-block your tasks.


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Maximize in Minutes, Not Hours

People always complain there is never enough time in a day.  I get it.  There are too many errands to run, too many meetings to attend, and too many shows to watch.  You have 10 tasks and by the time you’ve completed five the day is almost over.  And that’s assuming you don’t waste time!

So what’s the solution?  No matter what there are 24 hours in a day.  The fact we talk in terms of hours and not minutes is problematic.  When you think in terms of hours, you likely block one task per hour, maybe two.  Perhaps you block an hour off to submit a report to your lovely boss.  Next thing you know you’ve spent 20 of the 60 minutes on Facebook.  Even if you completed the task (submit report to lovely boss) in the one hour time-frame, a valuable 20 minutes was wasted that could of gone to completing your next task.

Now this is where it gets a bit psychological.  Lets assume you completed your objective of submitting the report within one hour.  Even though the task was completed, there’s a problem.  In your mind if doesn’t matter how much time you wasted as long as the task was completed in the given time frame.  You’re tricking yourself for a job well done.

But what if you think in terms of minutes instead of hours?  If you do the math there are 1,440 minutes in a day.  When we think in terms of minutes our relationship with time changes.  You’re more likely to allocate tasks to the actual amount of time needed for completion.  

Now let’s go back to the submitting report example.  Now that you’re thinking in terms of minutes, you assign the necessary time (40 minutes) to the task.  You’re less likely to waste time knowing you’re on a tighter deadline.  And like magic you got an extra 20 minutes added to your day.  Now imagine if you had that same mentality with all your tasks.  Think about how much time you could add to your day!

In closing, if you want to get the most out of your day, think in terms of minutes, not hours.  This is what highly efficient people do.  It’s been observed CEOs attend 15 minute meetings.  Eight meetings in two hours ain’t too shabby.  Hopefully most of you aren’t that crunched for time, but if you’re looking to get more out of your day remember to plan in terms of minutes, not hours.


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