Final Words on Time (part five)

Part Five: Final Words

Do Less

  • Every day, choose three things on your to-do list and decide NOT to do them. Ever. Now cross them off.
  • Say no.
  • Say no.
  • Say no again.
  • Only do things that are in line with your purpose.

The Hardest Part Is Starting

  • Plan and prioritize.
  • Set yourself up the night before for success the next day.
  • Get started.
  • Work for at least five uninterrupted minutes. Then keep going.
  • Time yourself. I like Tick Tock Timer (hat tip to Write to Done).


  • Chunk your time.
  • Do one thing at a time. Don’t multi-task.
  • Do the three most important things first. Do them before you check email / facebook / twitter / phone messages.
  • Do a thing until it’s finished.
  • Keep a notebook beside you to jot down the distracting things. Go back to them later rather than interrupt what you are working on now.
  • Use Leechblock if your internet self-control leaves something to be desired.
  • Have a scheduled time to crash through all the little things that get in the way and take up your time.
  • Set time limits on how much time you are willing to spend on a project. If writing a document is supposed to take you one hour, then schedule an hour, write it, and then call it done. Good enough.
  • Move away from your computer.

Don’t Let Email or Meetings Get in Your Way

  • Especially move away from your email.
  • Set a personal goal of limiting the length of your emails – save your time, and the time of those who read them (see
  • Don’t answer emails that don’t need answers. No emails that say “Thanks.”
  • Chunk your email time. Limit your email chunks to a 15/30/45 minute chunks 1/2/3 times a day.
  • Suggest alternatives to meetings.
  • Be a vocal advocate for meeting efficiency. Speak up, do time checks, and arrive and leave on time, whether or not the meeting ends on time.

The Big Picture

  • Do a monthly time audit.
  • Make sure you’re creating space in your life for fun. Otherwise, you might try to get your fun fix by fiddling away a whole bunch of time on something work-related that’s unimportant but more fun than what you really need to do.
  • Be clear on your purpose, and plan actions that are in line with it.

If you need a system, check out:


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Purposeful Big Rocks (part three)

Part Three: Purposeful Big Rocks

Multiple productivity and time management systems tell me to do the important things first. To really get this into my head, though, I needed the explanation from Zen Habits about Big Rocks.

The Big Rocks are the most important things. The things that are in line with my purpose and the things that stand the best chance of propelling me towards my goals. They are the things that are often easy to put off or hard to start. They are the things that take up a chunk of time that’s hard to find if I am constantly checking emails, paying bills, updating websites, or running to meetings.

Zen Habits explains that if I put all those little “pebble” tasks first, my week will have no room for the Big Rocks. But if I put the Big Rocks into my schedule first, then all the little pebble-y things will just fill in and find space around them.

Getting Things Done comes at the concept in a different, but also useful, way. The GTD system uses “time available” as its second criteria for choosing an action in any given moment. I used to look at my schedule and see two free hours before my next scheduled appointment, and think, “How many items from my to-do list can I cross off in two hours?” I aimed for quantity, because I am easily reinforced by looking at a list with twenty things crossed off.

Now, I look at two available hours and I go find the thing on my to-do list that is going to take two hours, and I do that. And somehow, all those other little tasks have a way of finding themselves tiny time slots where they can get done. My quantity of production hasn’t gone down. But the amount of Big Rocks that I’m getting done has substantially increased. And that means that I am working more and more on the projects that are most in line with my purpose, which is to help people grow and change.

As one of my yoga teachers used to say, “If you make time for yoga, yoga makes time for everything else.”

I find that if I make time for my purpose, my purpose makes time for everything else.


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Do You Have Time? Or Does Time Have You?

At one point or another, every single person I’ve coached has talked about prioritizing and managing their time. Time – what an invention. Someone built a machine that ticks away regularly, and suddenly we are all held captive by how many ticks it gives us in a day. (Neil Postman’s Technopoly provides a fascinating description of how the invention of the mechanical clock changed society – “the transformation of the mechanical clock in the fourteenth century from an instrument of religious observance to an instrument of commercial enterprise” (p. 27) – the whole book is worth reading!)

If you feel like time is running you, here are some experiments you could try:

Imagine your ideal day. If time was yours to spend, what would be the flow of your ideal day? How would it start? How would it end? What would be most important to you? And once you’ve imagined that… ask yourself, how much of it is available to you right now?

Imagine a magic wand. If you had a magic wand that gave you enough time for everything, what would there be time for? And once you’ve thought that through, what have you learned about your true priorities?

Trade your to-do list for a priorities list. For example, if your priorities right now are “health” and “family”, you don’t need to rely on a list of things to do in both categories. Wake up each morning and ask yourself, “What am I going to do for my health today? What am I going to do for my family?” It can be that simple.

Know what your values are. Anytime something tries to worm its way onto your to-do list, run it through your values filter first. Does it honour your values enough to be allowed onto your list?

Say no more often. As Peter Block writes, “If we cannot say no, then our yes means nothing” (The Answer to How is Yes, pg. 28). Set yourself a goal. How many things are you going to give a true “no” to this week? How many things deserve your true “yes”?

Go a week without your to-do list. Experiment. What do you discover?

Go a week without a watch, or any other time device. Notice: if you aren’t using a watch, what are the signals that tell you what needs your attention in a given moment?

And for many, many more ideas, and some of the posts that are inspiring my current approach to time, check out these links:

How to Live Without the Clock

Three Ways to Get More Done with the Power of Less

Being Lightweight: Business Design (and related posts)

Getting Real (technically about building software, but useful in many areas of life, or for anyone running a business)

How to Stop Digital Fiddling and Start Writing (or start anything else)