What Can You Achieve in 30, 60, & 90 Minutes?

When I ask my clients where they found the biggest benefit in my How to Use a Calendar program, they often reply:

“Scheduling for 30, 60, or 90 minutes.”

It’s tempting to block off a massive chunk of time for a big project. Whether that massive chunk of time is a an afternoon, a day, or a series of days – doing so subtly encourages procrastination in two ways;

  • It doesn’t specifically define the desired outcome
  • The extended duration of time allows you to constantly say, “I’ve got plenty of time to figure it out.”

Overcoming both of these requires peeling apart the project into smaller, more discreet, incremental tasks. Then estimating the time to accomplish each of those specific tasks. Finally, scheduling those tasks with their corresponding estimated duration on your calendar.

This has three subtle benefits:

  1. Timeboxing each task mildly increases the sense of urgency to complete it, for this is the only time available for this part of the process (er, project).
  2. Increasing the number of completed tasks makes it easy to see progress and build momentum toward a larger goal.
  3. Discreet task level scheduling makes it easier to confidently communicate expectations of progress to yourself and your collaborators (at whatever granularity is appropriate).

I encourage my clients to use the following estimation framework I talk about The Power of When:

  • 30 minutes for a small, known* task.
  • 60 minutes for a small, unknown task.
  • 60 minutes for a large, known* task.
  • 90 minutes for a large, unknown task.
  • Tasks taking longer than 90 minutes should be broken up into more smaller, more specific tasks.
    *known = something you’ve done before and can confidently complete within minutes

Why 30, 60, and 90 minutes?

  1. Nothing takes less than 30 minutes.
    Once you factor time for preparing do do the work (including switching mental contexts), reviewing the work to ensure it has in-fact created the desired outcome, and properly closing out the work – nothing takes less than 30 minutes. Not even replying to that important email or phone call. This is before factoring in any disruption or interruption.
  2. If you can’t achieve the outcome in 60 minutes you need to step away.
    Sixty minutes is a long time to be intensely working. In endurance running it’s here at 60 minutes where you need to start considering additional food & water to counter act the physical and mental fatigue. The same goes for intense creative work. Fifty minutes into a task, you know if you’ll reach the intended outcome within the next ten minutes or not. Either way, stop after those ten minutes, step away from the work environment, and get something to eat and drink, take a walk around the block. I’d be willing to bet, when you return you’ll have a new perspective – if not a breakthrough.
  3. After 90 minutes you’re fried.
    Maybe you figured, this tasks is just a little bit bigger, a little bit unknown, but totally do-able with a little push past the 60 minute mark. Ninety minutes would get you to a more substantial milestone and more resilient stopping point. Fantastic. Go for it. Know that at the end of it, you’ll be completely fried, totally mentally drained. The break we talked about at the 60 minute mark? Yeah, it’ll need to be longer and even more re-energizing than before. Especially if you’re expecting to do it again when you return. The best place for intense 90 minute tasks is very first thing in the morning and the very first thing after lunch.

Now, what if you reach the outcome before the estimated time is up?

  1. Review it thoroughly to confirm it is in fact completed. You might be surprised to find one or two more small, quick, easy things that could make it that much better.
  2. Pat yourself on the back for beating your estimation and take a break.

If you’re interested, I wrote this post in two 60 minute sessions with an hour lunch in between.

Switching Costs

In CBS’s world adventure race program ‘The Amazing Race’ there’s a game element called the ‘Detour’. The ‘Detour’ is a team activity requiring completion before continuing on the race itself. Each ‘Detour’ includes two activities – each team needs to select one from an opaque two- or three-word description of each.

The goal is to complete the selected, obscure activity quickly and continue racing to that leg’s pitstop – and not be the last team arriving. For, as Phil says at the beginning of each leg, “The last team may be eliminated”. 
The vast majority of teams select their activity, complete it with some level of difficulty, and continue on. A few teams struggle so substantially that they decide to cut their losses on the initially selected activity and switch to the other activity. With this decision they’re betting that, even with the additional time cost of transporting themselves to the new activity and figuring out what it is, they’ll complete it more quickly than continued attempts at the initial activity. Mathematically, the odds are against them. Each minute they spent on switching (transitioning out of the first activity and into the second – both physically and mentally) could have been spent on another attempt to successfully complete the first activity. 

“…An old Dutch farmer, who remarked to a companion once that it was not best to swap horses when crossing streams.” – Abraham Lincoln.

While the costs of switching are substantial and obvious from the armchair, they’ll more invisible and subtle in the banality of our own lives. We pay switching costs in; time commuting, time moving between meeting rooms, time switching between projects, time switching between different kinds of activities all from the same swivel office chair. It doesn’t matter if these activities are two equally important projects, a project and email, a project and an unexpected interruption by a co-worker, a project and a Facebook notification. Each switch delays the completion of the initial task by diffusing available mental energy. Across a team of any size these individually invisible minutes quietly evaporate hours and days. 

This is horribly unfortunate considering the entire purpose of a firm, of a company with employees in a centralized office, is to minimize these switching costs. It’s a promise that if everyone is in the same office at the same time, day in, day out, and applying effort in the same direction then coordination, collaboration will be easier and business value will more likely be captured than would be with a distributed group of solo practitioners. 

Unfortunately, the promise is not always fulfilled. Today’s corporate environments are chockfull of switching costs; sudden interruptions, unanticipated ‘urgent’ meetings, multiple high priority efforts running concurrently within the same team. Each response, each pull from focus, subtly and imperceptibly subtracting from the available time to do the work, across teams, across departments.  

I first felt the pain of switching costs early in my independent career where I, far too late, realized I could sell the work or I could do the work I sold – but I couldn’t do both in the same day. Not that I didn’t try, time and time again. Each time I tried, found myself mentally stuck halfway between the two contexts – completely unsure where I left off or what I needed to do next. I was paralyzed – watching the hours melt away. 

Since that time, I’ve found 5 strategies to dramatically minimize losing time to switching costs:

1.  Schedule work of the same tightly-defined context into a single uninterrupted timeblock. 
 Think of contexts as singular ‘trains of thought’ that you want arrive at the station as quickly as possible. Anything slowing the train down is likely a different context. Schedule that context separately and distinctly.
The expectation of supporting two very different contexts simultaneously is not unique to solo practitioners (e.g. selling/working as I described above) – it’s also surprisingly common in the corporate world. A member of a management team I work with stacks their 1:1 team meetings three-deep at 1pm everyday. Same kind of conversation, same kind of energy, same time each day. 

Some of my clients alternate days of the week for individual projects; Monday for Project Alpha, Tuesday for Project Beta, Wednesday back to Project Alpha etc. This ensures a fixed day-long context for each project, uninterrupted by the others. This is the only definition of multitasking that I’ve found to be both productive & sustainable. The in-between day also bakes-in the creative benefit of stepping away and returning with fresh eyes. 

Processing messages (email, voicemail, snail mail), replying to them, and doing the work they describe is in fact three contexts masquerading as one. Break them up and schedule them accordingly – yes I regularly have appointments on my calendar like, “reply to John’s email about research questions.” This also means only checking inboxes at the appointed time – for even tabbing into the inbox risks a switching cost. 

2. Schedule your interruptions.
I hear audible disbelief every time I suggest interruptions can be scheduled. There are a number of ways to do it.

The first is eliminating visual and auditory interruptions from devices (i.e. silence your phone). One of my clients always has their phone on silent. Always. Has for years. My phone (Motorola Pure X) automatically silences itself when there’s an appointment on my calendar. It won’t ring if I’m in a client meeting or deep into project work (for both are scheduled).

Extending beyond needy devices, college professors for years have had ‘office hours’ – scheduled time where they expect to be interrupted by needy students. In recent years that notion has extended into the venture capital realm. Recently, in an effort to reduce interruption and stay focused on a substantial, strategic project, one of my client teams has instituted weekly ‘office hours’. To date it has wholly eliminated interruption outside of those pre-defined hours. Presuming you start with a couple sessions a week, it’s rare the issue is so pressing it can’t wait a day or two. 

If you don’t yet feel comfortable with scheduled office hours, a first step in that direction would be to encourage your reports to explain their problem to a rubber duck before bringing it to you (the problem, they’ll need the duck later). Too often our knee-jerk response is to add another person to a problem – when what we really need is to fully describe the problem out-loud and without interruption (oh, the irony). 

3. Find the best location for each context – maximize your time there.
I meet my best clients outside their office, for we’ve found that stepping slightly outside those familiar four walls helps our conversation stay focused on solving tomorrow’s challenges, not today’s urgency. I regularly stack appointments in the same neighborhood, sometimes even the same restaurant or coffee shop. This minimizes overall transportation costs. Back, when I worked more on-site, when I had a conversation unrelated to that specific client’s project – even if it was with a different buyer at the same company – it was far easier to focus our conversation out of the office (out of the office is likely where your best work happens anyway). 
Similarly, just as there is some work that’s best done in front of the screen, some work is done best completely away from the screen. Maybe your best thinking comes from staring out across Silver Lake. Then schedule your thinking there – not feeling trapped in a dark, cramped office overlooking the city bus garage. Don’t rush back after you found the answer you were looking for. Linger, find one or two more. Your brain just got warmed up.  If ‘where’ you work includes the tools you’re using, my best thinking usually comes from one of two places; three-pages handwritten, or one of my four 36″ * 48″ whiteboards.  

4. Minimize commutes.
Traffic is one of the most challenging things to consistently estimate. If Scheduling was a superhero, Traffic would be the arch-enemy. An easy 20-minute trip always has the potential to suddenly and unexpectedly take 60 minutes for visible reason. Doesn’t matter if you’re traveling by car, bus, airplane, or bicycle. Each mode has this risk. Effectively and consistently accounting for travel time for any distance over five miles makes minimizing switching costs a challenge. One way is to travel outside of peak hours. Here in the midwest that often means planning to arrive at the office before 8am – which is great if the intention is to get ahead of the afternoon rush hour and arrive home before 4pm. Unfortunately, it too often becomes 7pm. 
Another method is to shorten the commute either in distance or in frequency – this is where working from home (or within walking distance of home) all or some part of the week is beneficial. The people I work with are always surprised and delightful how much can be accomplished when a regular commute is swapped for actual doing. The world is a touch easier with when your schedule is ever so slightly out of sync with the rest of the world. Breakfast with the family is completely worth it. Target at 2pm is completely worth it. The DMV at 8am is completely worth it. 

Commutes come in all sizes. Today, look for those little commutes you do regularly. Maybe it’s walking across the building to the printer. Maybe it’s an elevator ride or two, next time you’re doing it – ask yourself, ‘How can I retain the benefits of this trip while minimizing the switching costs?’

5. Schedule your switches and fuel through them. 
You can deliberately schedule your transitions. You can add margins to your commitments.
While our digital calendars allow us to specify travel time to a commitment, travel time from a commitment is a little trickier. You could schedule an appointment (‘travel from x to y’). As a way of universally solving this across all my commitments, I leave 15-30 minutes of white space between commitments. While not ideal (protecting white space requires constant vigilance – both to ensure it doesn’t evaporate and remembering why it’s there) it has made transitions far easier. Even with this small technique you can see how quickly context switches can chew up your day – 15-minute transitions on either side of a 30-minute conversation turns it into a 1 hour commitment. If you include even a paltry 30-minutes of prep & follow-up, the same phenomenon invisibly turns a 1-hour conversation into a 3-hour commitment. It’s all these invisible parts of ensuring commitments are successful that we underestimate when we make the commitment. 

Even the smallest transition, say from working on a screen to face-to-face conversation is a context switch requiring a deliberate transition. Give yourself 15-minutes to come to a complete stop out of one context and prepare for another (hat tip Jamie Thingelstad). During the transition – grab a glass of water and some quality fuel (e.g. a handful of fruit, veg, nuts). 

6. Make fewer commitments. 
Fewer commitments inherently means fewer switching costs. It also means more time to ensuring the commitments you do make are as wildly successful as they can be. Not every discomfort needs to be resolved. Not every discomfort needs to be resolved now. Say ‘No’ more. Decline more. Delegate more. The time & mental space you open up by eliminating the work you don’t want to do will inevitably be filled by the work you do. As my good friend Patrick Rhone says, “Saying ‘No’ is saying ‘Yes’ to other things.”

Both – or the Underly Deceit of Focus

As I write this, I’m slowly, steadily, recovering from a running injury. Pain so bad in my right knee that it’s painful to walk and stand. A visit to the sports chiropractor diagnosed the problem as a lack of flexibility in my left hip. The right-side of my body continually compensated for this lack of flexibility, and boom, knee pain. 
The sports doc said we could simply focus my recovery efforts on increasing my hip flexibility and eventually the immediate knee pain will subside enough to comfortably run again. Conversely, just relieving my short-term knee pain today means it’ll return tomorrow and the day after. In the interest of getting me running pain-free sooner rather than later, we’re going to work on Both.

In my conversations with leadership, I find some leaders have their focus on the distant horizon – 18 months out or further. Others are completely swallowed up by the weeds of day-to-day operations. Each neglecting the other horizon. There are a few, like my sports doc, that know the most sustainable results come from simultaneously working the short- & long-term horizons. In fact, working both simultaneously is the only way to make the long-term goals stick and the day-to-day tolerable. 

Both isn’t just in our business lives as leaders. 

Both is in our lives as a whole. 

Each day we need to fuel and rest. These day-to-day operations needs may crowd out hours achieving our long-term goals, yet without food & sleep we’re in no condition to work. We have dreams and we need groceries. Both. 

As I wrote in Rebuilding Blocks:

“Laundry, groceries, housekeeping, commutes, errands, entertainment, the constant maintenance of banality—all short game. Yes, they can bring a lot of joy and drama to our lives. Yes, not taking care of them appropriately and effectively makes achieving our intended goals more tenuous—that’s the definition of short game. The long game: satisfying relationships with family and friends, meaningful work, fulfilling avocations—these things take decades to achieve. These things require persistence, discretionary time, and time free of short game.”

The underlying deceit of advocating a singular focus to improve productivity overlooks our world of Both. Our brains find periods of intense, challenging work satisfying. Our brains also thrive on periods of downtime, enjoying some degree of boredom on a regular basis, not to mention sleep. Both

Both is the person laying the foundation for their new business while still a full-time employee. Both is knowing that your next opportunity may be at your current company – or not. 

The small day-to-day tasks – the things that we’re currently using as an excuse is for not moving forward on the big, meaningful, long-term work – will persist and multiply if we allow it.

Worse, executing superbly on them doesn’t prevent them from returning (e.g. relieving my knee pain). Done is temporary. Nor does small stuff provide any leverage with the big stuff (e.g. solving my knee pain doesn’t fix my underlying body mechanics problem). Conversely, an amazing 18-month strategy is meaningless if it can’t be supported by day-to-day operations (Oh, did I mention I’m registered for another marathon and I can barely run one mile). This is why Both.

Take a look at your agenda for next week.

Does it have more of a short-term or more of a long-term horizon?

Which horizon, if you dedicated just 60 minutes to improving could you improve? 

Schedule that today. 

To a Stronger Second Half

It’s the first week of a January 2017.

I’d like to raise a glass of my homebrew to the new year.

When I crack open the bottle and pour it gently, perfectly into a glass half the size of the bottle, it’ll be brilliantly clear. So clear you can see the other side of the room through the beer. For the vast majority of beer styles, this brilliant clarity is the goal. In homebrew competitions this brilliant clarity is often what moves a beer into the second round of judging. Despite appearance accounting for three of 50 points. Now, if I grab a second glass and poured the remainder of the bottle in it, the second glass is likely going to be cloudy, hazy, and in at least one case – murky. In competitions, it’s this glass the second round judges are evaluating. It’s in this second round evaluation where the judging is more critical, the faults weighed heavier. This is where winners are declared. This is where everything matters more including appearance. Yet, this is where I regularly present the worst half of a beer.

This phenomenon of performing worse when it matters more isn’t unique to my homebrewing or even homebrewing. It’s also the consistent story – as you read in Rebuilding Blocks – of my kubb team’s experience at the US National Kubb Championship. We’d handily win the group play and position ourselves well in for the more competitive bracket play. Unfortunately, it’s here in these more competitive matches where our performance falls apart because we’re fatigued from playing too hard, too intensely in the early rounds. In the heat of the Eau Claire summer sun this past July, I had the epiphany, “kubb is an endurance sport.”

Like I said, this isn’t unique to homebrewing. Or kubb for that matter.

The gym air is filled with freshly declared resolutions. There’s a renewed optimism, a renewed enthusiasm, to achieve a new level of success. At the office, new strategic initiatives – and their respective clusters of projects – are kicking off (I know cause we’ve been working on them since Sept). It’s tempting to go into these new efforts with the throttle fully open. It’s tempting to overload this quarter, this month, this week with every success and performance metric for the year. Often however, it’s these early stages where we have the least information about the actual, specific, detailed challenges to our success, where we have the least structural support for our progress, and we simultaneously have the greatest chance of fatigue and burn out. This temptation, here in this first breath of the new year is in many ways self-sabotage. Perhaps counter-intuitively the best thing we can do is temper our enthusiasm for the new, under-committing, and celebrating the small, early, steady wins.

There’s going to be a second quarter. There’s going to be a second half of the year. Let’s position ourselves to be able to perform then with the same level of enthusiasm we have now. This means, rather than launching 34 brand new projects this week, launching three of the most well-understood, most foundational initiatives across January. Then, with laser focus, making clear, steady, progress on them throughout the quarter. Then kicking off the next three. Repeat.

The only way for me to sustainably put the clear beer on the bottom half of the bottle is to improve my process for pulling more yeast out of suspension prior to bottling. The only way to sustainably make deeper into the U.S. National Kubb Championship bracket is to play well with more ease. This improves the early rounds and the subsequent rounds. The way to sustainably kick this year off is to focus on fewer and more foundational efforts.

Where are You in Your Calendar?

Your email inbox is one thing.

Other than turning the spam filter to 11, having an unguessable address, and or sending everything to dev/null – if you have an email address – it’s going to receive email. Your email inbox is, painfully, for others.
You’re calendar is something completely different.

Nothing goes on your calendar without you explicitly accepting it and – at least implicitly – committing to it.

Yet, if you ask anyone – anywhere on the corporate ladder – if they have a commitment today, this week, or even this month (!) that’s just for them, selfishly, guiltlessly, just for them, for their fulfillment, their response is likely:

“I can do that?”

or, slightly the better

“I’ve tried that. It always gets bumped by someone else’s meeting request.”

The need doesn’t go away. It just manifests itself in sneaky and unhealthy ways. People I’ve spoken with have confessed to blocking off afternoons in fictitious conference rooms (CC 86) with fictitious people (Mr. Nunyobizniz) just so they can get some actual, focused, uninterrupted, work done. They’ve taken a day off, to ensure no one expects them to respond.

They’ve found all to often, the moment there’s an opening in their schedule they’ll receive an absolutely-urgent meeting request. If it’s outright declined – the sender will be at their desk insisting upon acceptance. It says you’re available!

A damned-if-you-do-damned-if-you-don’t scenario.

What to do?

First – explicitly schedule that solo work – and protect it. Just as you would your most important meeting. It is an even greater commitment.
I know. That sounds somehow strange and counterintuitive.

It’s as if we’ve been taught meetings with others belong on the calendar but not our commitments. The project status meetings are scheduled but not the work in-between them. It’s as if 9-5 is open season for meetings and the actual work must happen outside of those hours. It’s as if serving others is always more important than completing the work we we’ve been hired for.

This is one of the ancillary benefits of the scheduling (and keeping!) your Bi-Weekly Preview. It preemptively closes these open spaces in the calendar week-after-week-after-week. It asks you to answer the following question for each unscheduled hour:

“What’s the most significant thing I can do at this time with the energy I honestly anticipate having?”

Perhaps;
– prep or recap time for those important meetings with others (a significant step in making meetings more effective).
– the solo work that you’ve mentally pencilled-in, but haven’t actually committed to by scheduling it.
– a visit to your favorite art gallery.
– a leisurely walk down the riverfront and back.
– a game of solo kubb.
– the first step in that project you keep putting off (if it’s considering why you keep putting it off).
– exploring a new tool or technique that could substantially improve your everyday work.
– staring across the Endless Bridge envisioning where you and your team will be this time next year.

You get the idea.

These are just some of the things you have guilt-free permission to schedule into your work day this week. The degree in which others see the details while stalking your Outlook is completely up to you. Feel free to set everything as ‘Private’. 🙂

Oh, and when you do receive those inevitable requests for your attention during those commitments. Decline them. You have a prior commitment with someone you don’t spend enough time with.

This isn’t just a challenge between 9am and 5pm. We have spouses, children, friends. There are those in our life we love and enjoy spending time with. There are an infinite number of professional events we could attend every night of the week.

It’s easy for the wants, needs, and aspirations of others to crowd out our own. It’s easy to move heaven and hell for their basketball game, their networking event – but not your yoga class or learning a new song on your guitar. It’s easy to decompress in-front of your spouse’s favorite Netflix exclusive rather than studying to increasing your beer judge ranking.

Yet, resentment and burn-out fester when we don’t serve ourselves the way we serve others. When we don’t commit to our own happiness the way we commit to others’.
Every day there is time to put the things most fulfilling to you – selfishly fulfilling to you – on your calendar. Explicitly and obviously scheduled on your calendar. Something to anticipate, something to refuel you, something to pull you through all those meetings with others.

The Bi-Weekly Preview isn’t restricted to the work day. It’s for your entire day. It’s for all of you.

The Before 2020 List

A few years back, when the weather wasn’t conducive for playing kubb outside, I started a mindful meditation practice. It quickly provided me much the same mind calming benefit indoors as kubb does outdoors.

After steadily building a daily practice for about a year, my schedule shifted, my priorities shifted. Today my practice is much less frequent.

In fact, my practice is currently a bi-weekly guided meditation class at my neighborhood gym. Though I can (and have) successfully maintained my practice solo – having an appointment involving other people at a specific time suddenly makes it An Important Meeting.

There’s the added benefit of a yogi focused on keeping it fresh through a new technique or suggestion. I always leave refreshed, more centered, and more proactive.

It’s easy to allow each day to bleed into the next. Easy to commute into work on Monday and commute home on Friday without knowing quite sure what happened in-between. You probably replied to some emails and sat in some meetings.

But what did you accomplish?

It’s not that you or anyone else is disappointed in your work. You’re actually moving things forward quite nicely.

It’s just…

It’s just that it you feel like you’re only reacting, just putting out fires, never moving the big, important work forward. Never quite being able to work on the most exciting projects, or solving the most irritating problems. Always feeling behind – not to mention running late. Or, not quite sure where to best apply your energy.

In working with the most ambitious, creative, and driven professionals, I’ve found they continually struggle with two things;
– blocking off time for planning their work (and keeping that commitment to themselves) and

– ensuring all their most important commitments have an appropriate place on their calendar within the next two weeks.

If there was one key technique, one key habit providing the benefits of the How To Use a Calendar program in concentrated form it would be The Guided Bi-Weekly Preview.

Clients have asked me what they need to get the most out of The Guided Bi-Weekly Preview. Perhaps counter-intuitively, you need two things:

– Some sense of all your current commitments, their milestones and deadlines.

– At least one trusted list. This list isn’t a ‘To Do’ list or even a ‘Someday Maybe’ list- it’s far too exciting, far too inspiring to include ‘vacuum stairs’. It’s an ‘Won’t It Be Amazing When I’ list. This list is for all the things ‘You’re too busy’ for, all those things the resistance is keeping you from.

A ‘Bucket List’?

Um, sure, if you must be pessimistic about it. I prefer “Before 2020” for that begins to answer When?. The 3-5 year time frame is long enough to dream outside of your daily banality, yet short enough to be see the end. Whether or not it’s a Bucket List really depends on where you’re at in 2020 🙂

I don’t care if it’s currently empty. I care that it’s where you go when you’ve have an idea for something fitting that description. I care that during your Weekly Preview you ask, “What’s one small step I can take next week?”

For an extremely limited time, just Fri Sep 16th in fact, I’m offering four 1-on-1 sessions of my Guided Bi-Weekly Preview for just $250.

Estimate 2x the 1st Time

Over the weekend, I replaced a broken bulb in my van’s tail lights.

The van told me which one was broken. A quick YouTube search told me how to fix it, and a quick Google search told me the part number.

Easy.

So, I headed to my neighborhood auto parts store and picked up a 2 pack of bulbs.

I promptly swapped out both bulbs – just to make sure. It took minutes.

Until I discovered that I replaced the wrong side – and had somehow lost the original bulbs.

So, back to the auto parts store for another 2 pack.

Which was a nice reminder to: Always estimate 2x the 1st time.
– always pick up 2x the parts you think you’re going to need. For you’ll either use them on this project, use them on another project, or be able to easily return them. All are fine.
– always estimate 2x the time you think you’ll need. For you then you won’t feel rushed and you’ll be able to accommodate any unexpected ‘discoveries’ and you’ll either have plenty of time to test and clean up, you’ll need the time to finish the core task, or you’ll have just found time for something else. All are wins.

Sure, in the moment it feels like excess. Too many parts, too many tools, too much time. Once you factor in unknown unknowns (and considering this is the first time – there will be lots) that excess is just the price of learning. The price of solving the problem calmly and mindfully and successfully.

A second $6 pack of light bulbs is a small price to pay to not have to run across town once more.

Your Calendar is Your Humanity

Before I understood how to use a calendar, I had blank, 3*5 index cards. I’d carry a fat stack of them, bound with a bulldog clip, in my messenger bag. I’d use them for everything; idea capture, task capture, ad hoc business cards, inspirational quotes, everything. One discreet notion per index card, detailed specifics on the back if needed.

When it was time to work, I’d go through the binder, find the card with the best combination of urgent & enjoyable and I’d get started. The first step:

Place the selected index card between keyboard and monitor.

That way, when I got distracted, when I forgot what I was doing, when my attention was pulled away, I would just look down at the card to get back on track.

This worked really well, and if you find getting back into a task after being pulled away difficult, I highly recommend the visual reminder of an index card.

Notice however, none of the items I selected were ever sufficiently compelling to keep me from being distracted, either by internal or external stimuli. I was always looking for something more urgent, more interesting, more exciting, than the card I selected. Which meant every task took longer than it should.

Then, I determined my distractibility was a problem. I turned first to naps then to meditation to tame my monkey mind and identify what was actually important. I reconfigured my office to be more comfortable and enjoyable to work in. I increasingly said ‘No’ to the small ball work the seems so prevalent. All of this helped evaporate my guilt of disconnected for minutes (hours! weekends!) at a time. Simultaneously, the number of nights and weekends I spent on client projects was reduced to zero.

It turns out, most everything doesn’t need to happen immediately – if at all. That tweet doesn’t actually require a reply. Nor does that email. No one cares if you don’t publish another podcast. No one cares if you don’t publish that blog post. Some things, in fact, can be left unresolved without consequence.

It turns out, not one of those index cards ever included anything actually satisfying;
– have lunch with your wife,
– take a nap,
– contemplate the sunrise,
– hug your kids,
– go to bed by 10pm.

In the end, that fat binder of 3*5 To Dos turned out to be a precious collection of brain farts, drunken texts, chindogu, and deck chair rearrangements. Each one assumed it was more necessary than the next, that only I could perform it, and that I was some immortal vampire desperately looking for something, anything to keep me from realizing I’d lost my humanity (perhaps I had).

Let’s make three assumptions:
1. We’re here to make a unique, positive, and lasting contribution to the world.
2. Tomorrow is not guaranteed.
3. The world will keep spinning.

Now, without looking at your To Do list, close your eyes, take three clarifying breaths (in through the nose and out through the mouth), and complete this sentence:

Across all my entire life, the one thing I most wish I could do at this moment is __________________.

Whatever your answer is, I bet it was far more exciting, interesting, and satisfyingly human, than anything in your collection of To Dos.

Imagine doing that thing, from start to finish. What’s actually keeping you from doing that thing right now. Yes, right now. The number of things you’re completely restricted from doing right now are very few. Surprise yourself and just do the thing. If you are in fact totally hampered from completing it at this moment, take the first step in fulfilling your wish:

Open up your calendar and schedule it for the first absolutely possible moment you can.

Maybe that’s later today, maybe that’s tomorrow morning. No later. Now, set it recurring. If not every week, every month.

Welcome to your calendar practice.

It’s not just for doctor appointments and staff meetings. It’s for all of you. It’s for trips to art museum, it’s for dates with your spouse, it’s for bike rides with your kids, and neighborhood kubb games.

It’s your calendar that contains the unique activities most likely to make you smile and remind you why you’re here.