So last week, I shared some ideas on how to manage your time as a creative, or even as any working professional. These were more principle based – high level concepts to consider, ideas like making the time, managing energy, and using time blocks.
This week, I’ll go a little deeper and share some more, granular tips on how you could manage your time better or squeeze productivity out of the hours you already have.
Without further ado, let’s get into it.
Respect the Pareto Principle
The Pareto Principles states that generally speaking, 80% of our results come from 20% of our efforts. So, for instance, 80% of our income probably comes from 20% of our activities or clients. In lieu of this, we have to take stock of our activities and efforts and figure out which ones actually bring in results and learn how to maximise those.
This is very similar to the idea of the ‘One Thing‘ from Gary Keller. Amongst all the different things we have to do, there is probably one thing in the mix. The one thing we could do that would make everything else easier or irrelevant. The one thing that would move things forward the most. The one thing that would have the most impact.
We all have many things we have to do in a day, from the important and the urgent to the little niggling admin details of our lives. The more we can focus on and put our best energies on the most effectual tasks of our day, the more success we will encounter.
Reclaim lost time
So if you really wanted to be that guy and squeeze more out of the hours of your day, you could consider making some of the things you do dual purpose at least. The easiest spaces to do this are with things like travelling, cleaning, laundry, relaxing – activities that keep your hands busy while your mind has the space to wander.
That could be the time to get some calls in, or listen to a podcast or ebook, or follow a course.
Or if you are working on a big project and have chunked it down to its component parts and tasks, you could fit some of those smaller pieces into little pockets of time that you find empty like waiting at the Doctor’s office, or in between meetings.
Make your down time productive
An idea I learned recently from Captain Sinbad was this concept of making your down time productive. And you do this by connecting the thing you do for fun or to relax to what you do productively.
As a YouTuber, he is interested in film, and everything that goes into the process of making movies. So on his down time, he likes to watch specific movies from directors he admires. While he is enjoying some time relaxing, he is also watching out for tips, dissecting cinematic styles, and learning as he is watching.
As an entrepreneur you could favour movies or fiction books about business people or great people of history as a way to inspire yourself while chilling. Or you could watch documentaries for fun. That is a great way to relax and learn something new.
Beware Parkinson’s Law
Parkinson’s law states that tasks will swell up to fill the time allocated to it.
If you have 3 months to write an essay, it will probably take you all that time to write the essay. Unless you are truly disciplined and able to manage your efforts properly, you would probably procrastinate to the last moment and then get it all done in an all nighter session the day before it is due.
One way to combat this human tendency is to set artificial deadlines and limit the amount of time you have to do certain things. The shorter the time, the more you are forced to strip the task down to its core most important bits. You have no time to dabble and dwaddle or try to noodle and make things perfect and just so. With limited time, you just have to focus on getting things done.
Make it fun
This is another tip from Ali Abdaal. He maintains that the key to productivity lies in learning to enjoy what we have to do, or find ways to make it more interesting. That could be from inviting people to work with you or join efforts, to discovering ways to gamify the experience.
It could be as simple as pairing your work with the right music, so you are jamming along with your favourite tunes as you create. Or watching items on your todo list get scratched out as you knock out task after task.
You could also do this by building out your environment to be an awesome inspiring space that encourages you to do good work. Making it fun to be in your productive space.
All these little tricks and hacks can help us become more productive, more effective in the time we do spend working, and allow us the space to fit more of life and build a more fulfilling existence.
In the tech world, there is the concept of the stack. This is the combination of technologies a company or entity uses to build and operate an application or project. It is all the different pieces that come together to give the final solution.
It is also a concept that has expanded to use in adjacent fields to refer to the idea of a collection of tools or resources to yield a result. For instance, the full stack creative might refer to a person who is able to conceptualise, write, design and code. They employ a wide range of tools to take a project from start to finish.
What does that have to do with you
Life is crazy. Our world is perpetually in motion, from the rotation and revolution of this rock of ours, to the ever grinding gears of industry, we are always moving. Things are always changing. shifting. Technology continues to change and upend our lives with new realities and new possibilities, and new challenges. What worked yesterday, will falter tomorrow.
How do we stay resilient? How do we remain robust? How do we thrive?
By building a stack – your collection of skills, your portfolio of resources, your body of work.
In a world of perpetual change, it is better to grow a body of work than to stay in one strict lane if you want to remain in the game.
The successful are always building stacks
If you look at creatives, entrepreneurs and the like, you will noticed that they are never really just about one thing. Sure, there is a need for focus and specialising and conquering a domain, but eventually, successful people expand into a web, or cluster of related hustles or projects. You can’t just be one dimensional.
The biggest musicians don’t just record music, they perform, go on tour, make appearances, branch out into branded businesses, investments, etc. The biggest churches don’t just get people in the pews, they broadcast on tv, they sell books, and albums, and so on. Your favourite YouTuber probably doesn’t just make videos, they also do brand deals, they stream, they sell merch, they do Patreon.
We all need a portfolio of tools, a cluster of strategies all working together to move us forward towards our chief goals. When they all function, they can support and reinforce each other. If some fail, the others can keep things afloat. You end up building an ecosystem, with things growing, evolving and dying but working together and balancing things out.
Build a stack for anything and everything
You can apply this concept to different areas of life.
Many of us probably have just one or two sources of income – a skill we peddle, or a job, or a business. But that keeps us very fragile. If something happens to that one skill or avenue, we are fucked.
To combat this, you’ve got to build a stack. Find ways to open up more avenues, to offer more things, to give more value outside of your core expertise. This applies to things like skills, it also applies to areas like finances and business.
Let’s talk about skills. It is great to have a core skill, for instance I have the core skill of design, it is the thing I have practiced the longest. But over time I have had to evolve and add more things to that list. And I continue to work to add more.
Having only one viable skill is a fragile situation to be in. Not to mention boring. If something happened to my hands, or my workstation, or if AI suddenly became smart enough and cheap enough to replace designers, then I’m toast.
But I have built different skills – brand strategising, web development, writing, speaking, facilitating, these allow me to do more, to offer more value and be better even at the original core skill.
Let the pieces connect to each other
Even better if these skills feed to or relate to each other. It is a natural progression from designing a brand, to building a website for it. Or creating a brand strategy, or helping them to write or create their content. If one thing dries up, maybe the other picks up. I have months where I’m mostly building sites, and months where I’m doing more designs, etc.
In business, it pays to build a portfolio of strategies, of creating products and services or solutions that complement each other. In this way, you can meet different segments at different points and provide a richer solution over all. Maybe you go from just servicing clients and executing designs to building an audience online, and creating digital products and tools for them.
Maybe you start creating workshops and meet-ups, maybe you do online courses. The point is you are building and weaving multiple threads that weave together into a brilliant tapestry, your stack.
So make your stack cohesive. Let it leverage your strengths. Craft the pieces to be complementary and be able to feed each other. And make sure it is all designed and organised towards a chief aim.
More reasons to build your stack
- It keeps you growing and evolving
- If you do it right, you can create things that can live on and bring returns for a long time
- It makes you antifragile and able to stand when the inevitable hits happen
- It increases serendipity, making it easier for amazing things to happen to you
- It offer variety and a richness to life
The other day, I was watching a productivity course on Skillshare, and I learned something interesting about what separates very productive people from non-productive people.
It has to do with how they perceive and relate to time.
This idea was so profound, it has radically changed the way I approach my days and weeks. And that is understanding that the idea, the excuse we give when people ask us why we are not doing the things we are supposed to do, why we are not living the dreams, or operating at the level we seek, this excuse – ‘I don’t have time’ is just a myth.
This is a knee-jerk reaction that comes up a lot.
There are so many things and ideas we have. Many lives yet un-lived inside us that we want to get out and make real, but we sometimes we don’t never do. But it is not because we don’t have time. it is because we don’t use it well enough.
We all get the same 24 hours. How are some people able to get a lot done, balancing full careers, learning new skills, maintaining relationships, indulging in hobbies while others can barely keep it together.
I mean this guy I’m listening to is a doctor working full time, who also lectures, maintains a YouTube channel, creates courses on Skillshare, and runs a small business. How does he find the time to do all of that? And there are many people like this. What separates someone like that from someone like me who can barely manage a blogpost a week.
It is the relationship with time, and how intentional you are with it.
Exposing the excuse
When we say we don’t have time (especially for things we say are important to us), what we are really saying is, I cannot be bothered to make time for it.
Perhaps I’m already overwhelmed, or maybe I am just lazy. Whatever the reason, I have just abdicated responsibility for my life’s greatest asset – my time.
If you took a closer look at how you spend your time, you would most likely find a lot of time that is just spent…lost scrolling through feeds, or travelling, or watching something or just doing nothing at all. If we did a time audit on our lives, we would find that we do have the time, we could probably just use it well.
When we say we don’t have time, what we really mean, is that we don’t have enough time to do all we have to do as leisurely as we are doing everything right now. We live like we have all the time in the world.
And sure, unstructured time is also important, downtime, even wasted time can be useful in allowing yourself to be bored and receive flashes of inspiration. But for the times that you are ‘on’, when you need to get things done, you become more effective, the more intentional you are about how you use your time.
Being intentional with your time
The idea that you don’t have time is a myth. All you have is time, and not an infinite amount of it. It is about how you deploy it. It is constantly moving, it is up to you to use it in the things that are important to you.
You have to shift to the mindset of making time.
To decide that if a thing is important to you, be that a relationship, a business, a skill, a project, a goal, then you have to make time for it. As basic as that sounds, that is really what it comes down to. If you want to get it done, make time for it.
We all have the same 24 hours. And there is only so much that can be done in a day. For many of us, most of that time is already taken up by our responsibilities, it can be legitimately hard to get things done. Our time is limited, so we must maximise our investment. We have to be clear on what our priorities are, on what is important for us to get done.
It is easy to do this when the priorities are backed by social pressure, or imposed deadlines from work or school. But when it comes to self-directed projects, things we deem important to do, but because no one is holding a gun to our heads to get it done, it becomes way harder. There is too much distraction in the world around us.
That is the battle – making time for what is important, protecting and properly using that time.
What shall I do with this 24?
Is the question that pops into my mind every morning lately when I wake up.
I’m up to a new 24 hour cycle. What am I going to do with it?
I have responsibilities, I have errands, I have deadlines, I have people to talk to, and things to get done. I also have the projects I want to start, the thing I want to learn, the idea I want to research, the art I want to make.
If I’m intentional enough, I can plan ahead, I can consider my time, and only try to take on only what is appropriate. I can decide what to prioritise and what to put on the backburner. To set asides the times that are to be invested in certain activities, and make sure that nothing else intrudes on them.
I can systemise and hack my way to becoming better at using my time and better at execution. I can become skilled and massively productive, my results compouding over time, solving intractable problems quicker than normal and being present enough to pounce on opportunities as they arise.
Because if it is a lie that we don’t have time. Then the truth is that all we have is time.
And time can be anything we want it to be. It is literally a matter of what we make of it.
Or how to throw time at your problems.
We have all heard about throwing money at your problems, paying to get things fixed. The core of the idea is that of deploying the resources you have against your problems to get to optimum results.
But what of how we use our most valuable resource – time? How do we use it, how do we throw it at our problems?
Time is a surprisingly malleable entity, at least in perception. It seems to slow down and expand while you are stuck toiling away at a boring mind-crushing task, but then find yourself having a good time and watch it speed up and slip away like sand through your fingers
Sure, time is an objective thing that we measure with our watches and clocks, but it is also very subjective in our experience of it. Plus it is always moving and we all have a finite amount of it to use.
It is our most precious resource and asset because once it is spent it can never be recouped. Worse still, it is always being spent, and how we use it is everything. We can invest it, we can use it productively or we can waste and squander it. But it will always keep moving, with or without us.
In my mind, there are 3 different ways we can use time.
On a long enough timeline…
There’s the quote attributed to Jeff Bezos I think, that basically says that on a long enough timeline, you can find the solution to any problem. I always liked that quote. It meant that no matter what problem I was facing, if I approached it with the right timeframe and worked on it consistently, eventually I would crack it.
That is what I would call throwing long time at it. Investing an extended and consistent period of time moving in a certain direction. We already do this automatically in many areas of life. School is one such example. You throw 3-4 years at the problem of obtaining a qualification. You make the consistent effort at the time, eventually, hopefully, you get there.
I have expressed this idea in a previous post about making time work for you. You do so by installing the right habits and routines into your life, so that as time passes, you get better, things grow exponentially, life improves. This is investing. Making your resources work for you.
If we think in this way, then we know that every action we take today is an investment to recoup or a price to pay for tomorrow.
So we are intentional and deliberate about what we do. If we fail to do so, if we laze around without direction, we will find ourselves lost to time.
Shorten the time
Tackling things over the long term is good. It works well for tackling particularly thorny issues and solving intractable problems. But shortening the time you use can also be a very powerful tactic.
This is the power of the deadline. Restricting the amount of time you have to get something done, forces you to work faster, smarter and more efficiently. It causes you to bring massive effort within a focused concentrated burst of time and can this yield powerful results.
It is when you give yourself 3 hours on a Sunday to get your finances in order. It is spending 30 minutes to bang out a blog post.
If there is a nagging problem in your life, an absolute thorn in your side, something you have been procrastinating on, you could probably go extremely far in solving it if you spent a few hours just working the shit out of the problem – googling, YouTubing, researching and experimenting until you solved it.
Here the quality of the time you spend here must be high. This demands full focus, no distractions. So, unless you need it for what you are doing, put that phone far far away and get to work.
Or capturing the moment.
Kairos is an ancient greek word meaning the right, critical or opportune moment. In rhetoric, it is described as a passing instant when an opening appears which must be driven through with force if success is to be achieved.
This is taking advantage of time as opposed to merely using it.
There are those special moments that arise. Sometimes, out of the blue with no warning. Other times as a slow steady build you can see coming. But this is a moments when things come to a head, where the all the factors collide and something powerful happens.
Usually this is a time of great volatility and instability. If you are awake, if you have been preparing, using long time and short time to position yourself, you can seize this moment and take advantage. This is the moment of the big opportunity, the big break. It is the chance interview, or introduction. It is the moment of chaos where sparks fly and the great flame erupts. This is when the iron is white hot, this is when you must strike.
It is the time ordained by God, the universe, the higher power and powerful things happen if you are at the right place when this moment arrives.
So use time, in all its glory, in all it’s forms. We are bound to it and its relentless flow. It is up to us to be skilful in our use of it. In this way, we honour it, by making the most of it.
We all know that person. The one full of hot air. The one that talks a whole lot but never executes. They can regale you of tales of their ideas and plans. But nothing ever comes of them. You will most likely find them in the same place in a decade. Still talking about their ideas. They probably thought of Uber before Uber, and Amazon before Amazon. But it never went further than a fleeting thought in their mind.
Don’t be that guy.
Don’t be the person who just talks and never takes action. Because, you miss out on a lot. It is important to execute on your ideas. The ones that come to you, the ones that are uniquely yours. The ones that never seem to go away. Sure, you don’t have to execute every single thing. But it is important and massively impactful when you take a concept of yours from idea to reality.
Here is why.
The more action you take on your ideas, the more they will come.
Creativity is an infinite resource. The more you use it, the more you of it you get. Ideas beget more ideas. And clearing out ideas by executing them provides the space for new and more interesting ideas to emerge in your mind. But if you do not act in the first place, those new ones never come. If you are stuck for ideas on what to do and work on, take look back. What ideas did you abandon without executing? Revisit them, dust them off and work on them now, or release and let them go. Create the mental and psychic space for new ones that you will commit yourself to executing on.
Executed ideas open up doors
When you execute on an idea, make it real and release it into the world, it provokes a response. Sure, they might hate it, or they might like it. Either way, it is a response, far better than the deafening silence that is the back of your closet or mind where that idea resides wasted. When you put something out, it allows you to be seen, heard and interacted with. People can find you, talk to you, and open more doors for you. Imagine if JK Rowling never published the first Harry Potter book, or George Lucas never made the first Star Wars movie, the entire massive cultural phenomenon they both became would never have existed. Execute.
They help you learn
Executing on your ideas will teach you more than any amount of theory could. The actual experience of learning, practicing and creating encodes lessons deep into your mind and soul. They teach you about who you are, in the process, in the failures and heartbreaks, and the successes. They give you character, they build grit. You will learn as you execute, and you will learn after the execution. Did the idea work? Did it resonate with people? Did it fail? Why? What can we do better next time?
Executing on your ideas builds your confidence
Confidence is a huge part of the game of success. If you don’t believe in yourself, why should the world? The act of executing is a bold statement of belief, in yourself in your ideas. You move from being a passive consumer, to being an active creator, contributing to the fabric of the world around us. As you execute, you learn to value yourself and your opinions more. You hold a higher respect for yourself as you can point to tangible things you have done and created. The more you execute, the better you get at it, the more confident you become in your skill and in yourself.
Executing on your ideas helps you become more YOU
Our ideas are an extension of ourselves, our programming, our environment, our life and experiences. As we create and execute them, we are forced to come to terms with a lot of things, to examine our biases, to clarify our thoughts, to define ourselves more clearly. The creation processes allow us to become more of who we are. As we create things and execute things, we create ourselves, we affirm what we believe, we engrain the values and traits we believe in.
Honour your ideas and dreams with execution, and watch your life transform.
It is a general principle of life that for all things, there are two sides of the same coin – pleasure and pain. Everything is a delicate dance between these two extremes, good and bad, pleasure and pain, light and dark. And even each extreme contains the seed of its opposite. This is the essence of the tao.
Relax all day and enjoy the pleasure of watching movies or playing video games, and then get hit later with the pain of depression or self loathing, feeling like you wasted the entire day later. Endure the pain of working through the day, and enjoy a leisurely guilt free evening later.
Endure the pain of going for a run every morning and enjoy the pleasure of higher energy levels throughout the day and the feeling of accomplishment. Enjoy the pleasure of sleeping in and living a sedentary lifestyle, feel the pain of bad health and weakness.
Pleasure and pain. Always present.
If these two things are always constant, How do we balance them? We could indulge in pleasure first and tackle the pain later. This is the essence of procrastination. Avoiding the pain of a task to bask in present pleasure or delusion. Until the pain of not getting it done is too much and now we are forced to deal with it. Or we can do the opposite, paying the pain upfront to reap the pleasure later. Sure, this can also backfire, deferring reward so much that you never get it, or you get it when you can’t enjoy it.
Balance as with all things.
Another thing to understand is that the more you let something accumulate, the greater force or impact it has when you do release it. So if you avoid paying the pain now, it accumulates over time and becomes an even bigger pain. If you pay it early, it is still painful sure, but it is relatively smaller.
The reverse is also true. the longer you delay gratification, the bigger the payoff. Think of saving or investing or studying. It is the same premise. The more you save or invest without tapping into the account, the more money you accumulate to use down the line. Endure pain today, endure it long enough, and maximise your pleasure down the line.
Of course, the alternative is tempting. Why wait. You could die tomorrow. Or who is to say, that tomorrow will be better than today. As with all things, there is always the risk. The trick is managing it.
This principle of pleasure and pain is important because everything we do as humans is predicated by deep instinctual reactions to those extreme poles. We are constantly trying to maximise our pleasure and minimise our pain.
But life itself is a mix of both, we cannot hope to have all pleasure and no pain. It is impossible because life by its nature is full of challenges. And those challenges are the gift.
In a video interview with Tom Bilyeu, Mark Manson speaks about talks about this fact, expressing that we should not seek to have no problems at all, that is impossible, what we should strive after is gaining better problems.
Problems exist at every level of life, and for good reason. It is these problems that inspire us to act, that move life forward. Without challenges, we would wither away. The rich have problems, just as the poor do, just different ones. With every choice, and at every level there are challenges. You just have to choose what problems you are willing to deal with.
Because getting what you want is about tackling the challenges and problems surrounding that which you want. If you want to excel at your career, you have to tackle the problem of developing yourself, of improving your skills, of networking and being more seen and heard.
If you want to make more money, you have to tackle the problem of creating or proving something useful, of learning to sell it, of getting paid for it. Problems everywhere. If you want to gain better health, you have to tackle the problem of working out and eating correctly, and there are many problems to be tackled around that.
If life is full of challenges no matter our station and circumstance, then it is better in general to live with a predisposition to the pain, with a bias to taking action, responsibility and tackling problems. And the longer we lived this way, the easier it would get.
If you woke up everyday looking for the price to pay, looking for the pain to endure, you would get better at tackling and managing the pain . Over time, you would begin to even derive a perverse joy from the strain of pain. Pulling out the seed of pleasure from your pain.
All things have pleasure and pain, even pain, even pleasure.
It is in this way that we become skilled in the art of living. We learn to pay in pain, we learn to do it upfront, to maximise our gains and pleasure down the line.