time management


You need to make a decision

Right now, there is something that is waiting for you. Perhaps it’s an email that you are not sending or just some work that you are not doing.

Of course you could check Facebook real quick and then take another sip of coffee, look around, change your desktop background but you are just not making a decision. Actually that’s not true, you are making a decision: you are deciding to wait (perhaps not consciously but still this what you decide). And your email or your phone call or that important work that you have to do, well… it’s still not done.

It took me at least 15 minutes to start writing this. I’m sitting in a café and I spent 15 minutes doing absolutely meaningless things. I also have an email that I have to answer to and I’m thinking of it and not doing it. I’m sure it would have been faster to just write it, it’s a 4-5 line email anyway. But instead I wait. I don’t even know why…

You know what? I’m sure that like almost everybody you think you don’t have enough time. I know the feeling… The question is not about time, it’s about the decisions you make. Time goes as fast for everybody and some people just make awesomeness with it. It doesn’t even seem possible that they put so much focus to make these things happen.

I guess their secret is that they don’t even take time to think they do not have enough time. They just take a decision to do something. And then they take another one and they keep that pace.

I’m sure by now you have a little something in mind that you have to do. You wanted to spend some time reading this? Instead I’m offering you some time to get stuff done… Now you can go and come back when you’re done, it’s your decision. I’ll wait here… (and send my email).

So, back already? What decision did you make? Did you decide to do what you had todo or did you continue to read this post? How did it feel?

Now don’t lose your focus. Take another decision, a conscious one.

You don’t need more time, you just need to make decisions.



The problem with the push generation

In my quest to be more efficient, I found that I lose most of my productivity and focus in letting others steal my time. This way to do things is considered as normal or even productive when it is just a way to transform us into robots who deal with pushes, alerts and notifications. This is the push generation.

In the push generation world you get hundreds of notifications every day, your phone is ringing, blinking, virbrating all the time, you get little boxes opening in all corners of our screens and you are constantly connected and available for everybody, but you are never available for yourself. Does it feel familiar?

I went to a conference the other day and one of the speaker was promoting this way of working. This guy describes himself as a creative but all he is doing really is making what others are asking him to do... all the time. That means he answers emails, tweets, phone calls on weekends, vacations, at 5 am, at 1pm at 11pm. And it feels great for him because he has this feeling of being busy. And also this is “new technology so it must mean that it’s efficient, right?” I understand this feeling: I used to work like this and I thought it was awesome except I didn’t get much done really. I actually spent several years doing a project that should have taken a month or two because I let people interrupt me literally all the time. I don’t know… this doesn’t sound like focused or creative work to me but rather like being a puppet.

Turn off all notifications

I’ve turned off all notifications on my Iphone earlier this week. Because I can easily spend 5 minutes navigating without any real purpose on my iphone when I get a notification that someone liked one of my Instagram pictures.

[Actually it’s not really true, I kept the notifications from only one app: Re.Minder (ugly app but it works well) because I program the really important stuff I have to do every day in this app]

As I write this my phone is in the kitchen at he other side of the appartment. It’s turned off. This way I’m pretty sure I won’t be bothered by someone calling me. I find people are more focused when they have to leave a message anyway. They go straight to the point.

Also my email client is closed. And I have blocked email domains (gmail, etc…) with SelfControl. Self Control also blocks Twitter, Facebook, Reddit (etc…) for an amount of time that I predefined. In this case: 2 hours. I know that I can be weak and open by Facebook news feed several times an hour if I don’t pay attention (really!).

You can totally explain this strategy to your friends, your colleagues, your clients… They generally accept it without any question. Actually they often respect you for being organized and straight with them.

Now, read your emails at least once a day (on work days), consult your answering machine too. A few years ago, I had a colleague who tried to apply read his emails only once a day  because he didn’t want to be interrupted. Good idea except he actually processed maybe 3 or 4 random emails every day and let the other ones unread… After a while he had several thousand unread emails in his inbox (I puked a little in my mouth when I saw his inbox one day). It was really bad and nobody really trusted him or his method.

Talking about urgency…

When you start to master your own time, you realize that most urgent problems are really not that urgent. And it’s really frustrating when you consider them as important and realize then that you could have done something that mattered instead of letting someone interrupt you. We have been trained to answer to stimuli as urgent life-or-death signals. Just watch the reaction of people when their phone rings, their facials expressions, how they move… You can have a really important discussion with someone and they will stop listening to you to say hi to their Mom who randomly called in the middle of the day (or worse because one of their friends from college posted a cute picture of their new cat on Facebook). And they act like they had absolutely no choice. When that happen, I leave. I start something else. And also I lose a lot of confidence in this person I was talking with.

Start today

My suggestion is to ignore the “pushes” and notifications you get. You don’t really need them. Keep the ones you really need (if you think you really need Facebook notifications, think again). And also organize your email account so that most mails get processed automatically with rules (it’s not rocket science), you will only have to process important messages and you will save hours.

And finally: you know what is important. I know you do, so focus on that.

Always be ready

Hello there! It’s 4am in Montreal as I am starting to write this post. This is what insomnia feels like. It almost never happens to me. Watching Breaking Bad before going to bed and dreaming about it did not really help. So I made some coffee and I’m just going to start my day a little earlier. And since it is early and I have nothing planned until later today, I thought that I could bother you with a new post.

It’s about why I actually love doing dishes. Not really that I enjoy the fact of washing dishes but I like it when everything is done.

We had a dishwasher before. Actually we got it almost for free when we moved in this apartment.  After a year or so it started to make weird noises. I tried to repair it but completely failed. So one night I put it on the sidewalk and some scrappers took it after 15 minutes ; that’s good efficiency on the part of these scrappers  considering there was a snow storm that night. (Note: I’m not really the kind of guy who just put a broken dishwasher on the sidewalk, I would normally take it somewhere to be recycled but I called the city recycling department and they told me: “put it on the sidewalk, some scrappers will take it” and that’s what happened).

Since then, we have washed our dishes manually like normal people (and I mean ‘normal people’ in terms of “Humanity spent more time doing dishes by hand rather than using a robot”) and I’ve started to find an interest and even enjoyed it. I think it started with something that my Grand-Father taught me when I was a kid. He was a cook and one of his “secrets” was to “always do the dishes as soon as you can, this way everything is always ready to use”. You need that pan? baaam, here it is! So that’s why I do the dishes as soon as I can now. The good side of this is that I usually get a really small amount of dishes to do at a time which is always better than a sink overflowed by dirty plates. I still don’t really like the act of doing the dishes so just a little amount is fine with me.

Everything always ready? Of course I can do this with other stuff:

  • Why not trying to answer this email right now instead of waiting for emails to pile up? (I don’t understand how people manage to have several thousand unread emails in their inbox by the way).
  • Why not fixing up this little bug in a software instead of waiting the end of the project?
  • Write a blog post as soon as I have an idea (or an insomnia)?
  • Why not put this dishwasher on the sidewalk right now instead of waiting for another recycling option?
  • And why am I waiting to give this phone call when I am playing Angry Birds?…

It’s really incredible the number of little things we can do quickly. After all, every (EVERY!) project is just a sum of small tasks that can be done really fast as they come up. Would we be able to work in “real time” with tasks done as soon as a problem emerge and always be ready for the next thing? That would feel great.

Let’s work on this… but first I have to wash this coffee cup.

(Final note: I am not perfect and  I am not that good with other domestic tasks but I am working on it… I’ve experimented with the laundry but I ended up with the famous red sock that got lost with white laundry and coloured everything in pink)