Week 2B: Time Efficiency & the 24-Hour Equation

After a discussion on the 3 Ps of Productivity we approach the subject of time. There are two completely accurate and opposing definitions of time: to a clock a day has 24 hours, an hour has sixty minutes, no exceptions. But in human time when the bathroom is busy, a minute is exactly one and a half times the size of your bladder. A lunch hour is exactly fifteen minutes shorter than the line for the vending machines.

Time: full of trapdoors and stairs to nowhere.

For the creative type, time can be an Escherian maze of chutes and ladders that go nowhere and everywhere alternately. Watches are insulting. It takes as long as it takes. And if you keep asking me how long it will take I will find time to kill you, chop you up and hide the pieces and THIS project will take even longer. That sort of thing.

Sage Cohen again says it best: Think of the day like a pie chart. HOW LONG are you working? Playing? Eating? Do the math. The 24 hour equation of my day looks like this:

7 sleep + 3 eating + 8 day job + 6 Facebook = 24 hours

Three hours to eat is slim, unless your mom or Ronald McDonald still makes your meals. Take this week to time how long your standard activities take. Do you honestly know what a project will take to complete? If not it’s time to start clocking in and out of each item on the to-do list. Get an average of your speed. A favorite quote I like to paraphrase is “If it takes seven years to write a book, you were drunk six and a half of them.” Booya.

“What does it all mean?” you ask. Time theory is a constant, but in practice it is relative. It means you can train yourself and your perception of time and double your productivity. You can triple the length of the day. We may all have the same amount of digital hours in the day, but tick-tock reality doesn’t actually apply to you. You might not even have to crack the whip!

Another hero of mine, Daniel Pink, proposes in his inspired book Drive that effective motivation results from a happy combination of autonomy (self-determination), mastery (room for improvement), and purpose (being part of something bigger than yourself). This produces better, more consistent results than the medieval approach of punishment and reward, carrots and sticks. It’s the secret to employee morale, too.

In my case, this replaces the equally counter-productive alternatives of guilt and dessert. Dessert as a reward which eventually dissolves into remorse anyway is a pretty lame business practice.

As a writer I spend a lot of time thinking, fingers hovering above keys. That’s actually me working hard. When I paint I spend a lot of time stabbing at things with brushes. That’s all still work. Those are acceptable uses of my time. What I need to watch out for is busywork, which is “coping”, which is cleaning up after my irresponsible self, lying in bed hating my life, rehashing gossip around the water cooler, aimlessly “networking” on social media sites which is really just passing around funny quotes and pictures of kittens.

Everybody has a time management trick or two already. Don’t suddenly drop everything and change how you do your day—you’ll fall on your face. I tried the old “I’m gonna wake up every day at six instead of nine and those three extra hours will make my career!” That lasted all of 36 hours. I spend my best creative time during all-nighters and wake up at eleven. That works for me. Forcing myself to bed to make an arbitrary morning call time was a total failure.

You will have sacrifices. You can’t eat out every week night and party every weekend. You can’t turn to drink, Candy Crush or your tear-soaked pillow every time you get frustrated. How bad do you want this? Ask yourself every time you hit a crossroads. I even deleted Minesweeper and Solitaire from my computer. It’s serious business. Did you put “Knight Errant Level Ten” on the to-do list? No! Wear your bitter sacrifices with pride, like battle scars and don’t take any crap—especially not from yourself.

Speaking of crap, there is a place for that. It’s called “Office Hours”. This is permission for the rest of the world to stop by. It’s also last on the list for a reason. Your schedule is yours first, and when you’ve got time left over, share. Remind the kids that you still love them. Answer granny’s letter. Snuggle your puppy. This reduces risk of deadly “Bitter Lone Wolf” syndrome.

Lastly, you’re not in a vacuum, remember that. You’ve got friends in the same fix, heroes who’ve been there, a future generation to inspire with war stories. DON’T GO IT ALONE. And don’t expect the rest of the world to read your mind. Tell people why you’re busy, and keep your office hours clearly posted. Schedule you-time, them-time, work-time, play-time. Get a feel for your needs and the demands of the craft. It’s a balancing act nobody can do better than you, because they’re not living your life. Time for you to start living it yourself.

The below video is a summary of time management, with some additional bonus tips thrown in. Enjoy!

DON’T FORGET TO DO YOUR HOMEWORK, LISTED BELOW!

HOMEWORK:

1. Write out your 24 hour equation. We want to versions of this. A BEFORE and an AFTER. What your schedule looks like and what you want it to look like. Post both up on the Facebook event page.

2. Buy a day planner. Anything from a pocket notebook and golf pencil to a dry-erase board or full-fledged Moleskine battleship with address book, metric conversions and year-at-a-glance. I was never good at a diary, let alone a plan. College changed that and I became the kid with an egg timer that went off every fifteen minutes in my backpack to keep me on target.

3. Post a picture of your schedule. Look at everyone else’s. Be it Google calendar or a cute little desktop number with eight lines, whatever works. Expect some trial and error. Start with planning the day, then when you get good at days, try the week, then the month, then the year.

4. Watch the above VIDEO for extra credit. Refer to this video any time you need a quick shot reminder of what you should be doing each day. Think of it as that little boost back onto that wagon you keep falling off of.

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