Really? Time management?
Yup. You heard it here first. Time management. What they tried to teach you when you were in elementary school and the teacher gave you a little schedule thing to write down homework. The thing none of us ever did. It’s back. But really, why is time management so important? We all know what it is like in the depth of projects, there never seems to be enough time. We constantly seem overworked, there’s never enough time for both our work, our social lives, side projects, and more. I’ve been lucky enough to have found many resources along my career that have helped me make the most out of working time (which in turn makes my projects go much smoother), and still have time to do whatever else I want (such as blog here every week, teach in my new TouchDesigner HQ group, do side projects with friends, and still have time to re-watch Sicario for no reason).
Where to start?
The best place anyone can start is with Deep Work by Cal Newport. It’s not a long read, and it’s very straightforward, so I think most people can finish it in a few days or a week. There’s no wishy-washy wording in it. It’s written by a computer science professor, that should tell you enough that it’s going to be straight forward. Cal’s book focuses on the idea that we have too many distractions in our (work) lives, and that they stop us from really being as productive as we might be. His philosophy revolves around the concept that to really work with 100% focus on something will allow you to make breakthroughs, but you can only sustain that kind of work for a few hours. So he gives you a few different ways you can do that, such as blocking off a few hours in the morning where you don’t check your phone, answer email, or anything like that, and you purely focus on your one task that you’ve dedicated this block of time to. You can also have a few smaller 1 hour deep work slots in a day and then have some shallower work (like answering emails or taking meetings) scattered around those. His system is pretty flexible and can be molded to whatever lifestyle you want.
He’s also a big believer in scheduling your day in 30 minute chunks and planning your whole day in the morning (or even better, at the end of the previous workday). Both of these I’ve found not only keep me accountable and chugging forward through work, but planning my whole day before I get going helps me make sure I’m working on things that are actually important, and not just treading water on random tasks just because they’re on my mind. This is big trap a lot of us fall into, especially with our fluid work lives. We just have stuff on our minds and we start working on them (kind of) and hope to make progress. If you can really make todo lists every day of the few key things you need to get done, and then a secondary list of nice-to-get-dones you will find that you will start to naturally prioritize different tasks. You will probably start prioritizing tasks you know you can actually get 100% complete, instead of tasks that you might only get 50% before needing to wait for some other dependency.
You can get Cal’s book basically anywhere, and if you want to just try a sampling of what he talks about, his blog is a great place to see how he thinks and what he talks about.
Get in the right mindset
Having a work system in place is only the first step. I don’t know about a lot of other people, but my mind is a busy place. There’s constantly noise in there. Thoughts about today, tomorrow, yesterday, work, friends, family, food, coffee, travel, bills, my scratched phone screen, my laptop battery running out….you get the idea… Working with all this noise in my head is basically like walking with weights on. I’m a big fan of mindfulness meditation and think everyone should give it a try and make a habit of it. Mindfulness helps you be present and helps give you the tools and techniques you need to not be swept away by thoughts or emotions. Another way to describe mindfulness is training yourself to have hyper-focus and hyper-awareness. Many sports psychologists train their Olympic level athletes in mindfulness, not because it helps them chill at home, but because it helps them perform when it’s go time.
There are many places and ways to get started with mindfulness. I started way back with the Headspace app, which is on mobile and web platforms. You get 10 sessions for free if I remember correctly. It’s a great intro to it and really helps get you going. Recently I switched over full time to Sam Harris’ new app Waking Up. I’ve always been a big Sam Harris fan, from his books and podcasts, and he really brings the same depth and level of quality to his meditation app. There’s a lot of focus on learning the actual techniques behind mindfulness, which is nice, compared to Headspace which is a bit more routine focused. So at this point, I’d recommend people try both, but I’m definitely heavily leaning towards the Waking Up app.
You might be thinking to yourself “really, that’s it? Make a schedule and meditate a bit?” …Well ya! There’s no golden ticket, but you have to trust me on this. If you read Cal’s book, start implementing some of his strategies for working without distractions, planning your days, and then you combine that with a really strong mindset of being present and hyper-focused, you’ll find you’ll blast through work and you’ll discover all this extra time you didn’t realize you had.