I recently conducted a simple experiment: I recorded the timestamps of the last 50 e-mails in my sent messages folder. These timestamps covered one week of my e-mail behavior, starting on Thursday, October 22nd and ending Thursday, October 29th. My interest was to measure when during the day I spent time on e-mail. No Internet. No computer. No to-do lists. Simultaneous with writing my dissertation I finished the manuscript for my third book, which was handed in a month after my PhD defense and will be published by Random House in the summer of During this past year, I also managed to maintain my blog, Study Hacks, which enjoys over 50, unique visitors a month, and publish over a half-dozen peer-reviewed academic papers.
But with only a few exceptions, all of this work took place between and , only on weekdays. My exercise, which I do every day, is also included in this block, as is an hour of dog walking. I really like my post free time to be completely free. The idea is simple:. The beneficial effects of this strategy on your sense of control, stress levels, and amount of important work accomplished, is profound.
The notion is not new. He argued that much of the work we do is of questionable importance and conducted at low efficiency. In this article, I want to tell the stories of real people who successfully implemented this strategy — radically improving the quality of their lives without scuttling their professional success. He attributes the success of these books to his research discipline. As he revealed in a New York Times profile from last May, he leads teams of up to a dozen undergraduates in the process of information gathering. His books require, on average, a half-decade of time and a half-million dollars of expenses to get from their initial premise to the polished ideas.
In other words, Collins is a hardworking guy. You would expect, therefore, that like many hard-charging business-world types he would be a blackberry-by-the-bedside workaholic. The numbers on the whiteboard are a snapshot of his current distribution. He tracks his time with a stop watch and monitors his progress in a spreadsheet.
Collins is a pristine example of fixed-schedule productivity in action. An author with his level of success could easily fall into an overwork trap: long nights spent updating twitter, signing partnerships, building elaborate web sites and launching product lines, speaking at every possible venue.
But he avoids this fate. His web site is mediocre. At some point, she snapped. Saunders adopted a hour a week schedule. This new structure had two immediate impacts. First, she found herself focusing only on the most important tasks. Instead she focused on the core activities that produced results, such as sales calls or the development of new products. The focus generated by this constraint ended up generating more results than her previous schedule, which was more expansive, but also more scattered.
Her flagship service is called a Schedule Makeover. Michael Simmons, a good friend of mine, reported a similar story. His company, the Extreme Entrepreneurship Education Corporation , expanded quickly in the years following college graduation. It was his company, I argued, so why not take advantage of this fact to craft an awesome life.
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Among the specific topics we discussed, I remember suggesting that Simmons cut down the time spent on e-mail and social networks. He took care of the baby in the morning, then worked in the afternoon while his wife, and company co-founder, took over the childcare responsibilities. Evenings were family together time. Halle forced Simmons into the type of constrained schedule that he had previously declared impossible.
Now I have no choice. I have to make the decisions because my time has been slashed in half.
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Collins, Saunders, and Simmons all share a similar discovery. When they constrained their schedule to the point where non-essential work was eliminated and colleagues and clients had to retrain their expectations, they discovered two surprising results. First, the essentials — be it making sales calls, or focusing on the core research behind a book — are what really matter, and the non-essentials — be it random e-mail conversations, or managing an overhaul to your blog template — are more disposable than many believe. This sounds simple. Satisfying rule 2 is non-trivial. For example, you may have to:.
In the abstract, these are all hard goals to accomplish. My schedule from my time as a grad student provides a good case study. To reach my relatively small work hour limit, I had to be careful about how I approached my day.
I saw enough bleary-eyed insomniacs around here to know how easy it is to slip into a noon to 3 a. Here are some of the techniques I regularly used to remain within the confines of my fixed schedule:. You could fill any arbitrary number of hours with what feels to be productive work. Between e-mail, and crucial web surfing, and to-do lists that, in the age of David Allen, grow to lengths that rival the bible, there is always something you could be doing. Fix the schedule you want.
Then make everything else fit around your needs. Be flexible. Be efficient. For more articles on earning more and marketing, go to the index page , or follow the links below. Get started with the Earning Potential quiz.
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And how do I stop being lazy? It was my friend's birthday on Saturday, so a bunch of us went out to eat in SF. Apparently a couple people at the other end of the table ordered some wine and nobody was paying attention Recently I have been somewhat discouraged and down. This article gave me a lot of good ideas and encouragement.
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Many of the links were excellent, as well. Thanks a bunch! The idea that having a baby can compress and then double your output is cute and fanciful. Sure, you can farm out your child care to a nanny or day care, but then, what are you working for? Have you tried it? Of course it is difficult and for a few years you will always be tired, but — this post aims at people with some control over their schedules, not classical work. If it takes an occasional babysitter or long child-free weekend to create that life, why not?
This post was wicked awesome! I never really thought changing my work style in this way before but now I have a few more books to read and a whole bunch of co-workers to dominate. This is a great post. I love reading real world examples of ordinary people accomplishing extraordinary things. It is shocking about much of our days can be spent on unproductive busy work.
Amazing things can be accomplished in 40 hours a week if you are ruthless with your time and commitments. I think we all need to stop being busy and focus on the things that really matter. That Pareto fellow was definitely on to something. Evidence continues to pile up that constraint based scheduling works well for many people — particularly entrepreneurs.
One tip — start by tracking your time and understanding what you do in 15 minute blocks. If you can break your day down into 15 minute segments, it will give you a baseline for determining HOW you should be scheduling your day on a regular basis. I have no doubt this basic idea would work.