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Inner Game

3 Time Hacks for Getting More Done Every Day

flux capacitor, baby!From JP Moses, Director of Awesome...

So how are you at managing your time?

When you don’t have much going on in your life, it doesn't really matter how much – or little – you get done in a given day, does it? I’m thinking of those endless summers as a kid I spent cruising around on my bike and playing army all day, and mastering Super Mario or the Legend of Zelda all night.

Well welcome to grown up life as a small business owner, where winning demands that you redeem your time and find ways to blast through self-limiting behaviors – like time inefficiency, for example – to move beyond the inertia that keeps crippling you from reaching your goals.

Confession: I Can Be a Really Awesome Time Waster

That’s right, I've been known to struggle with personal productivity and time management. Keep me away from Facebook and YouTube during the day, for example. Left to my own devices, I can find endless ways to spin my wheels until I've dug a deep rut of procrastination and complacency, stuck in a single spot, and feeling flat out unable to get the mojo flowing.

It’s not laziness… but endless distraction, lack of focus and indecision that can most often keep me glued to a single spot.

The good news is, over my dozen + years in this business, I've actually come a long way, and am much more adept at mastering my time than ever before. And its thanks in large part to some really powerful time hacks I've learned from some of my incredibly bright friends in the industry, and in this lesson I’m going to share three of them with you.

Pay attention and start practicing these little “hacks” in your own life, and I guarantee you’ll find yourself cracking the productivity code better than ever.

Time Hack #1: Just 3 Rocks, In the Right Order

My good friend Shaun McCloskey taught me this secret, and it’s based on a pearl of wisdom advocated by Stephen Covey, among others. In case you’re not familiar with the 3 Rocks concept, this is it in a nutshell:

A college professor placed a huge jar on a table in the front of a lecture hall, filled it to the top with fist-sized rocks, then looked at the class and asked, “Is the jar full?”

big rocks firstSeeing that no more of the rocks would fit into the jar, the prevailing opinion among the students was, “Yeah, it’s full.” He looked at them, shook his head and said, “Not so fast. It’s not full.”

Watching carefully, the students saw the professor reach beneath the table and pull out a jar with some gravel in it, which he poured into the larger jar. As he poured, the gravel slipped between the larger rocks and filled in the leftover spaces.

Again he asked, “Is it full now?” This time, the students weren't as certain. “Maybe?”

After filling the jar with sand, once again he asked the question, to which the students – who were getting brighter by the moment – enthusiastically shouted, “NO!”

Finally, after filling the jar with water and tightly sealing it, the professor asked, “You’re fairly bright kids. Is it full now?” Convinced that it was finally full, they all agreed that, yes, the jar was full.”

The professor looked expectantly at his class. Now, what have you learned from this little geological exercise?”

One student, ready to show how much he had learned, spoke up with, “If you work hard enough, it’s always possible to pack more into your life, kind of like that jar.”

Shaking his head, the professor said, “Sorry, the correct answer is this: If you hadn't started with the big rocks, how much of the other stuff could you have crammed into the jar?”

This incredibly freeing nugget of knowledge was a life changer for me, and can be for you, too. Here’s what this means to you in a practical sense:

  • Picking the right rocks is crucial – You gotta make sure you pick the right rocks every day. Not all rocks are created equal. In my opinion, it’s a “big rock” if it directly impacts your ability to make more money from real estate, meaning that it counts as an income-producing activity.
  • Do the big rocks first – Just like the professor said. If you start with the smaller rocks, more often than not, you’ll find yourself without enough space in your daily jar to fit all the big rocks in. One of the best things you can do for your productivity after planning what your “big rocks” are, is to actually discipline yourself to tackle them first each day.
  • Don’t have more than 3 big rocks – Stick to three big rocks per day whenever possible. If you go over this limit, you’ll feel overwhelmed and wind up spinning your wheels. If it’s a rock, and it rightly deserves its place on your agenda, roll that rock onto another day to ensure that it gets the treatment it deserves.
  • Make sure you know the difference between rocks and other stuff – Be sure you know the difference between rocks, gravel, sand and water. Being important doesn't necessarily make something a rock. For instance, it’s important that you pony up enough cash every month to keep your lights on, but it doesn't make paying your utility bill a big rock. And don’t let inaction on your part wrongly elevate an activity to “big rock status” just because you didn't handle gravel before it grew into a boulder-sized problem.

Time Hack #2: Stop Multitasking, Start Singletasking

multitaskingIf you’re a proponent of multitasking, thinking you can get more done by bouncing from one thing to the next, think again. Tim Ferris teaches a brilliant concept in The Four Hour Workweek that everyone should apply to their lives:

Stop multitasking, and start singletasking – which is basically doing just one thing at a time.

Think of yourself like a little kid with a one-track mind. You know the type. Send them on a mission for you. As long as they stick to their single agenda, they make excellent progress towards reaching their goal. The minute they stray from that one thing on which they’re working, it’s all over.

 This is the story of my 5 year old’s life. Give her one thing to focus on and she’ golden. Give her multiple steps and she’s toast.

Multitasking does the same to you.

Are You Dumber Than a Pot Head?

“But wait, no!” I hear some of you crying, “I’m a really excellent multitasker! I’m positive I can get way more done working on lots at once!”

No, seriously. Multitasking makes you dumber. At least while you’re doing it. Yes, even for the ladies.

Don’t believe me? Here’s some proof:

According to the University of California-Irvine, people (of both genders) who get distracted by a quick phone or email interruption take an average of 25 minutes to fully recover. Nearly half an hour per interruption, these delays slice and dice their way through your productivity until you find yourself staring at a clock at the end of the day, wondering why nothing got done.

In 2005 an in-depth research study found, “Workers distracted by e-mail and phone calls suffer a fall in IQ more than twice that found in marijuana smokers.”

How you like them apples?

So stop kidding yourself. You pot head. Stop multi-tasking, start single-tasking and you’ll actually end up getting more stuff (and better stuff) done in the end.

Time Hack #3: Work in Sprints, Not Marathons

short cutFinally, another really excellent lesson I've learned about kicking time’s tail was taught by Preston Ely. Maybe you've heard of him.

Yes, Preston is incredibly energetic. But turns out, he actually paces himself brilliantly in a way that gets the most mileage out of every step he takes. He calls it working in “sprints” rather than “marathons”.

Marathon working is sitting down for hours on end, working. It’s what most of us do, and how we’re trained to be productive: “Just keeping working on it (whatever it is) until it’s done, dang it!”

Sprint working is when you turn this on its ear, and work energetically in measured, hyper-focused spurts, then take a short break doing something totally fun and/or relaxing, then jump back into another hyper-focused burst. And this is basically how you spend your day – in little sprints of work.

There are a couple of ways of doing this, but one that works very well for me is the 45 or 50 minute rule. What this rule does is it forces you to stay in one place, focusing on nothing else except the task at hand for 45 or 50 minutes.

In other words, you sprint for no more than 45 or 50 minutes, then reward yourself with 10 or 15 minutes of downtime. Then get right back to it, with another 45-50 minutes of awesomeness.

This downtime is good for anything, nibbling on some health food, jumping onto Facebook for a quick status update to let the world know how much you’re getting done without breaking a sweat, etc. Personally I like to get up and play a couple rounds of Mario Kart Wii. Don’t judge.

In short, sprint like Carl Lewis for less than an hour, going all out until you reach the end of the (time) line. Don’t fall into the marathon trap that so many people set for themselves. We’re not really wired for it. Give it a try yourself and see how it works for you.

Extra Credit

Here’s a nifty (and super short) little video clip of The Ferris elaborating more on the perils of multitasking, and specifically how to counteract it - really good stuff!


Do It To It! Immediate Action Steps

Try each of these things for at least a week and see how much of a difference it makes in your personal productivity:

  • Identify your “big rocks” each day, and put them in first. Try to fit in only 3 biggies a day tops, and force yourself to do them first so they don’t get squeezed out.
  • Forget multitasking, start singletasking. Shut down your email, clean off your desk, turn off the phone, get away from any other easy distractions and do just one thing at a time.
  • Work in Sprints, not marathons. Hyper-focus on just one thing 50 minutes, then give yourself 10 minutes to flat out waste. Rinse and repeat. See how you feel. If this time frame doesn't quite do it for you, adjust the numbers, but keep with the concept: short, intense bursts of work, followed by quick breaks. 

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