July 6, 2020

How I learned that time management isn’t everything and the right habits for success

I took a personality quiz the other day to determine my spirit animal – one of the questions was about how I like to spend my days off and there was a scale to answer the question. On one end of the scale, it said “busy bee” and on the other end “sloth”. I thought about how I spent my weekends and a lot of it is reading, but I also try to write every single day, whether it’s blogging or writing in my journal and I decided to answer with the scale slightly tipped towards “busy bee”.

Productivity was and is currently my obsession. I remember doing extensive research on to-do apps, the GTD system by David Allen, time management, managing my calendar to the minute and a lot of things that I now look back on and think “‘productivity’ maybe isn’t for me”.

Every single day I get back home from work and have a spare moment, I think about how unproductive I am and how I should be more productive. It’s a weird OCD thing; I even get stressed thinking about how much I’m not doing at that point in time which is really weird. Of course, there are lots of studies that show that taking a break can help you get more things done. I’ve also used the Pomodoro technique in the past and have found the alternating breaks in between focused periods of work have helped me get things done. Maybe it’s because I’m a management consultant and that I charge my clients by the hour that makes me think I should be working all the time. Whatever the case though, inevitably, when I have some free time at home after work or on the weekends, I think to myself a few similar things:

“I don’t have time to do all the things I need to do”

“I wish I had more time”

“How can I tackle this with a full time job and other commitments on the go?”

But lately, I realized that it’s not an issue with time management. Lots of people get lots of things done in a number of ways: waking up early, ruthlessly cutting out non-essential activities, buying more time, etc. I could wake up early. I could buy takeout all the time so that I didn’t have to cook or clean. I could try to automate things like grocery shopping or cleaning so that I could free up more time; however, it’s not an issue of time. It’s an issue with my ENERGY.

Once I realized that it was an issue of energy management, it re-focused my time and energy (heh) into the things that helped to build up my energy reserves. Here’s what I do to manage my energy, based on reading about the habits of successful people from books such as Choose Yourself by James Altucher and Tools of Titans and Tribe of Mentors by Tim Ferriss.

Successful people have a routine in the morning when they get up

I was going to say that successful people wake up early, and I do think that there are more successful people that wake up early than successful people that wake up late but regardless of when successful people wake up, most of them have a routine that involves one or more of the following things:

Meditating / gratitude / journal / self-awareness

Exercise

Mapping out your priorities

Quality time with loved ones

All of these things affect your energy in some form or another – meditating helps you clear and train your mind to focus, exercise helps you physically have more energy, mapping out your priorities means that you do not have to think about what to do throughout the day, and quality time with loved ones (such as your partner or kids) helps to ‘fill your emotional batteries’ and remind you that there is more to life than just hustling.

Successful people ruthlessly say no to non-essential activities

A pilot once asked Warren Buffett what his secret to success was. Warren told the pilot to write down his top 25 goals. After the pilot did so, Warren then told the pilot to circle his top five goals. Once the pilot had circled his top five goals, Warren told him that the pilot needs to spend all of his energy focusing on his top five goals. The other 20 goals are on his ‘not to do’ list, that is, he is not to spend any energy on the other 20 goals until the pilot has achieved his top five goals that he circled.

I really like this story because it’s not so much on what Warren has done to be as successful as he is, it’s also but what not to do and based on the story above, focusing your energy on the right activities and goals goes a long way towards success. How does this apply to your life? Figure out the activities that are draining your energy: parties with people that you do not really know or like, meetups or networking events that do not excite you, coffees with strangers who cannot provide you with anything, etc. and then start saying ‘no’ more.

Take some advice from Derek Sivers who provides a nice maxim to live by: any time you are asked to do something, if it’s not a hell yeah, it’s a no.

If it’s not in my calendar, it’s not getting done

Like I mentioned before, I have tried tons of different to-do applications and methods: notebooks, sticky notes, Todoist, Any.do, Remember the Milk, etc. and the only app that has really stuck around is a good ole’ fashion calendar app. Any calendar app will do. Any time you have any commitment or an activity that you want to get done, schedule it in your calendar, set a reminder to notify you and then follow your calendar ruthlessly. I’ve scheduled things like workouts, podcast recording sessions, writing, meals with friends – even times to rest (weird I know). When the event notification comes up, I do it. It’s a weird way of setting myself up to be accountable but it works for me.

Eat healthy foods

This will deserve a more complete post but I am always considerate of what I am putting into my body – your body is like a car, if you put incredible gasoline that helps it rev up to optimal performance, you’re going to get more out of the car; if you put in regular gasoline, you might only get an average performance from the car. If I put junk food and lots of fat and sugar into my body, I’m going to be sluggish and lethargic after my meal and not very productive. On the other hand, if I put in health plants, vegetables and fruits in my body, I’m going to feel more energetic and get more things done.

Jocko Willink has an excellent book called Discipline Equals Freedomwhere he talks about food and hunger. We’ve all been there: we have had a long day, maybe we are traveling or maybe we have been going all out to meet a deadline and we skip a meal or two. We feel hunger pangs and we pass by that vending machine or fast food restaurant where the food smells or looks so good. We figure that we are hungry and that a burger or bag of chips or two won’t hurt. What do you do? Or rather, what should you do?

Jocko says “fast”. Don’t put that unhealthy garbage into your body. Skip a meal (or two) because it won’t kill you. The alternative of putting unhealthy food into your body is worse than skipping a meal.

1% improvement every day

James Altucher, one of my favourite authors and bloggers, has a fantastic post about 1% improvement every day. He talks about how there are four areas to improve: physical, mental, spiritual and emotional and that if we improve by 1% every single day, we’ll have achieved 37x growth in a year (that’s 1.01^365). Imagine a bank account that gave you a 1% return every single day, if you started with one dollar in your bank account, you’d get $37 by the end of the year!

So that’s what I try to do every day. I try to manage not my time, but my energy. I have a morning routine (map out my priorities, drink lemon water, read), I try to cut out non-essential activities, I schedule things in my calendar as much as possible, try to eat as many fruits and vegetables as I can and I try to slowly improve every single day in the four quadrants. Maybe the next time you wonder where all of your time went, it might not be an issue of time, but rather, energy!

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