Spaghetti on a Plate – Hard-Coded Time Versus Soft-Coded Time

Spaghetti on a plate.  That’s what many of our calendars – electronic or paper – look like. All of our appointments and lists of to-dos mixed together in one place. This accomplishes one of our goals: to get everything written down in one place. However, it doesn’t accomplish our primary goal: to get everything done in a timely fashion with minimum stress.

Another (food-related) way to look at this issue is to answer these questions:

  • Do you have a kitchen?
  • If so, do you have a silverware drawer?
  • And a junk drawer?
  • Does your calendar look like your silverware drawer or your junk drawer?

This is the fun, interactive example I use during my Focus Pocus: 24 Tricks for Regaining Command of Your Day seminar to get people thinking about how they can be more efficient and productive. The point is that getting everything into one place is the first step in efficient productivity. The second step is having a sorting system for all those things so your brain doesn’t have to constantly sort things before selecting which to do next.


The Wisdom We Left in the Third Grade


Two things happened today that prompted this article. The first occurred during a keynote speech I was delivering at the Society of Financial Examiners annual educational conference.

The room was filled with four hundred executives who had gathered to hear some modern-day time management suggestions. I was talking about how important it is to get some down time during the day to refresh and refocus. In a moment of clarity, I blurted out, “And whatever happened to recess?” The question drew a rousing cheer and loud applause! I thought to myself, “Yeah, whatever did happen to recess?”

An hour later, I was reviewing my e-mail on the way to the airport. There was a fairly lengthy thread started by my business partner in my other business – Outdoorplay. He was congratulating our Customer Service Manager on closing a large phone order.

The conversation really took off though when our General Manager announced that tomorrow’s lunch would be pizza compliments of the company. Everyone was congratulating Stacey, thanking Brian, and debating what type of pizzas should be ordered. You can’t mandate the kind of collegiality a simple pizza party can produce.


Finishing – The Second Hardest Thing

Much is made of starting; it is the hardest thing. We lament its prospect. We’ve named the behavior of non-starting – procrastination – which many consider a condition or a failing or a personality type.

In “Do the Work,” Steven Pressfield’s insightful analysis of this difficulty with starting, he names the force we experience Resistance. Resistance, says Pressfield, is the ever-present enemy within us all that must be battled daily so that results can be produced.

Many have addressed starting and its accomplice, proscrastination.  Here are a few:

Techniques and suggestions for beating procrastination and getting started can be found in those works.

Fast Forward to the End

But what of starting’s silent partner – finishing? Getting our work to closure is often a struggle too. If fact, behind starting, finishing up is the second hardest thing to accomplish.  Whether it’s the actual work or its remnants, failure to lay tasks and projects to their final rest can create just as many problems as failure to start can.


Gerbils on a Wheel – Making that Wheel Roll Forward

“Gerbils on a wheel.”  I use this expression frequently when talking with audiences about how we feel after busting hump all day and feeling like nothing got done.  Wouldn’t it be nice to feel like the wheel actually moved forward once in a while?

Breaking Free from the Frame

Like most wheels, the wheel we each run on during the day is held in place on either side of its hub by forks.  Imagine looking down on a bicycle wheel to where the forks attach to the hub.  The wheel spins at the hub and the forks keep the wheel in place.  That’s good on a bicycle because everything works together so that the spinning wheels assist in making the bike move forward.

The gerbil’s wheel is similarly secured but its forks are fixed to the bottom of the cage.  Thus, no amount of spinning will move the wheel forward.  The wheel must break free from the forks for it to roll forward.


10 & 2 – The Rhythm of Productivity

Anyone who’s spent more than ten minutes with me knows that fly fishing is one of my life-long passions.  It’s a product of my Montana upbringing.  Long before Robert Redford brought Norman Maclean’s beautiful novella A River Runs Through It to the big screen, I was standing in the dirt lane in front of my childhood home trying to master the art of fly casting.

Finesse Versus Force

What makes fly casting unique is that it’s the line that’s being cast, not the nearly weightless artificial fly tied to the end of it.  You see, the fly follows the line and the objective is to cast the line out so that the fly comes to rest on the water delicately.

Brute force has no place in this endeavor.  It’s about rhythm and finesse. The harder we try to drive the fly out to where the fish are, the less chance it will happen.  However, if we settle into the rhythm of the cast and work with the forces of nature, the more successful we are.


Playing with the Box

The April issue of Spirit, Southwest Airline’s in-flight magazine, shows a group of kids playing outside on its cover. That makes sense with spring right around the corner.  Surprisingly, though, the associated article inside discusses why adults should play more.  The article’s opening example is illustrative:

Unbox a toy for a toddler and as often as not, the child will play with the box instead of the toy!

Why?  Because the box is more fun!  It can be anything – a hat, a fort, a cup, a ship.  On the other hand, modern toys are typically activity specific, which allows for little imaginative input by its recipient.

Lessons Learned

This doesn’t mean toys are bad. It means boxes are good!  Specifically, Jay Heinrich, author of the “It’s Called Play” article noted above, cites the following lessons we can learn from playing with the box;

  • Fancy toys, programmed activities, and “enrichment” don’t hold a candle to a kid’s own improvising.
  • Unsupervised activity of the kind that terrifies modern, safety-obsessed parents can be good for developing brains and bodies.
  • Outdoor trumps indoors, fitness-wise.
  • Adults can benefit from the same sort of pointless, stupid activity [as playing with a box].


The Noisiest Place on Earth … Between Your Ears

The modern work environment is a symphony of interruption and distraction. But it’s not the real productivity saboteur.  The true villain resides inside our head.   It’s that little voice constantly reminding us of all that needs doing – the “Oh, ya!” and the “Can’t forget that.” and the “That too; gotta get that done!”

It’s a fact.  The noisiest place on earth is between our ears.  Yet it’s the place that must be quietest for us to focus because focus drives productivity.  The more focused we get, the better work we do and the more of it we get done.

The problem is that the outside world is constantly demanding our attention.  Consequently, it seems impossible – even counter-productive – to pursue quieting strategies.  In essence we’ve become dependent (addicted?) to the frenzy, the activity, the urgency of the frenetic world.


Time Management Ain't Sexy; It's Vital

Telling people I work in the time management field produces the same result as telling people I was once a lawyer. They make a polite remark about my choice of endeavors and move on to another, more interesting subject. The only difference is that no one has ever felt compelled to tell me their favorite time management joke.

There’s a blessing in that last bit.

Seriously, though, I know speaking on time management doesn’t sound exciting. It pales in comparison to things like, “I do product design for Apple.” or “I’m in marketing at Nike.” I get that, but unfortunately I possess a driving need to find better, faster ways of getting things done. In the bio I provide those tasked with introducing me at speaking engagements it says that at age thirteen I found the quickest way to vacuum the family store so I could spend more time fly fishing. It’s true. I’m afflicted. I’m okay with that. Let me tell you why.

What is Time?

In conversations about QuietSpacing® – my time management methodology – and the related programs I conduct, I often explain to people that the overarching principle of all my work is this:

Time is a limited, non-renewal source with an undisclosed expiration date for each of us.


Serving Up Productivity

Authenticity – Doing What You Do Best – Is The Essence Of Productivity

“Go stand in line!”  That’s what the diminutive overwrought 20-something hostess at Coop’s Place said to the semi-inebriated patron pestering her to seat his party in the amazingly authentic low-country tavern we were dining at in the French Quarter of New Orleans last week.  (Pic at right).

Now, before you go all customer-service on me, understand that this guest had walked past the growing line on the sidewalk outside the door with two (count them: two) very clear signs on those doors with large black arrows pointing down the sidewalk and with the following printed on them – Stand at the end of the line.  If there’s no line, stand here until you’re seated.  The message was very clear.  If you want to eat here, stand in line.


Live Simply, Work Passionately

Over the last eight months, I’ve been wrestling with a combination of Bright-Shiny-Objectisis and existential/professional angst.  The root of the problem was a sense of restlessness.  The restlessness arose from twelve years of involvement in Outdoorplay and seven years of QuietSpacing® efforts.   Done enough times, all things lose their luster. Such was the case with these two endeavors.

I kept getting distracted by new and exciting topics – simplicity, lifestyle choices, Tenkara fly fishing.  Instead of focusing on my core business of developing solid content to help my clients solve their time management struggles, I was drafting tables of contents for new books and making lists of authors to read and people to follow.