6 ‘New Rules’ to Follow in 2019

With a primary focus on time management and productivity

Photo by Jessica To’oto’o on Unsplash

One of my favorite TV shows, although I don’t watch it as much as I’d like, is “Real Time With Bill Maher” on HBO.

At the end of each episode, Bill does a segment called “New Rules,” in which he pokes fun at current events by offering satirical advice.

To take a page out of Bill’s book, I’d like to share six new rules — on the more serious side, however — with which I experimented a lot in 2018, and plan to cement in 2019.

1. Focus most of your work time on urgent and important tasks.

The more I speak with people about time efficiency and productivity, the more I realize just how many people (my former self included) confuse importance with urgency.

There is always a laundry list of important tasks to complete, projects to start, and meetings to hold, but more often than not, they aren’t terribly urgent. In other words, it won’t make a major difference if we tackle them today or tomorrow, this Friday or next Monday.

Why, then, do most people cram as much as possible into an eight-hour or nine-hour workday, as they’re becoming exponentially less productive throughout the day? When you take into account that tasks and missions in the latter half of the day take us longer to do, with a higher rate of error, we’re really just spinning our wheels as the day wears on.

Why not, for a change, focus on the most urgent and important matters at the start of your day (what Daniel Pink calls “the peak” in his book When: The Scientific Secrets of Perfect Timing), and leave everything else that’s important but not urgent until the next day, when you’re refreshed and most vigilant?

Sure, you can check and reply to emails throughout the day, but most of us can do this remotely, which means you don’t need to stay at an office for eight or nine hours straight. Go home. Exercise in the early afternoon. See a movie at 3 pm on a Thursday. Meet friends for coffee. Take your dog for a long walk. Spend some time in nature (of which studies after studies have proven the replenishing benefits). Read a book.

This might sound like blasphemy, but it’ll actually produce more efficient and productive work, which is critical in a world that often mistakes motion for progress. Give it a try and see for yourself. Worst case, you can go back to the traditional way of doing things.

If you’re feeling extra-ambitious, check out the practice of Daily Theming, which complements this urgent-and-important approach.

If you’re interested in reading more about the Eisenhower Matrix (pictured directly below), click here >>

Hack My Time

2. Only eat food at a restaurant that you probably can’t or wouldn’t make at home.

Recently, I took up cooking, and it’s been a game-changer for my bank account, health, and happiness. This doesn’t mean I spend hours in the kitchen. Often, I can prepare a nutritious, gratifying, fresh meal in 10-to-15 minutes. (It probably helps that I follow a mostly vegan diet, but still.)

The more I cook, the more I realize what a waste it is to eat outside — unless you’re eating food at restaurants that you probably can’t or wouldn’t make at home. This “rule” also makes eating at restaurants inherently more interesting, since you’re bound to eat more unique meals when you hold yourself to this standard.

3. Pay more attention to when you do certain types of work, not necessarily the work itself.

When we take on a new task, project, hobby, mission, or goal, we usually start by asking some variation of:

What should I do in order to be as successful and efficient as possible?

It’s certainly a fair and rational question. But, according to Daniel Pink, the bestselling author of When: The Scientific Secrets of Perfect Timing, the time-of-day in which we do something is just as important as what we do.

This is known as chronobiology, the study of how living things (i.e. humans) interact with, depend on, and perform according to time.

It’s why students who take a math class in the morning are more likely to have higher test scores and GPAs than students whose math class is later in the day. It’s why the error rates for surgeries between 1 pm and 3 pm can be two-to-three times higher than normal. And, it’s why there’s a disproportionate number of records in speed events broken between 4 pm and 7 pm local time.

In fact, according to Pink, time-of-day effects explain approximately 20-percent variance in how people perform. This is to say, you can be 20-percent better or worse, depending on when you decide to do certain tasks and activities throughout the course of a day.

If you’re interested in reading more about time-of-day effects, click here >>

Hack My Time

4. Be more conscientious about how you learn new skills, or develop existing ones.

I used to think skill development was a combination of trial and error, consulting with people who’ve been there and done that, and using intuition.

But, after reading the book Peak: Secrets From the New Science of Expertise, I realized just how wrong I was. Turns out, there are four fundamental principles to what authors Anders Ericsson and Robert Tool call purposeful practice:

5. Stop checking your email so much. Seriously.

I used to check my email ad nauseam, to the point where I was potentially addicted. I’d open my phone and the first app I clicked on, without even thinking about it, was Gmail.

What could be so interesting about email, that it became my digital default?

Actually, it makes a lot of sense (at least according to science). When you receive an email you’re anticipating, you get a dose of dopamine, which creates a cognitive process called motivational salience. This process is a type of attention that motivates, or propels, our behavior towards a particular object, perceived event, or outcome (which is known as incentive salience).

Cravings are a state of incentive salience, which progressively increases by repeated use of addictive substances, such as — you guessed it — TVs, computers and smartphones. This process significantly promotes greater wanting, or the craving response, and increases risk of chronic addiction.

Now, I check my email no more than five times a day — and no one in my life has said a single world. In other words, there’s no difference between checking my email five times and 50 times a day.

If you’re interested in reading more about why and how I stopped checking my email so much, click here >>

6. Focus on making a career out of the lifestyle you prefer, not your passions.

After I published an article about this topic here on Medium, someone commented saying:

“As someone in their 40s who’s forging a new career, your quote about pursuing a lifestyle is quite possibly the most enlightened piece of advice I’ve ever read.”

I think he might exaggerating just a bit, but if you’re interested in reading more about this topic, click here >>

Josh Hoffmans runs Hack My Time, where he helps people take better control over their most valuable, limited resource — their time.