Managing Your Time
“If I only had more time, I would be able to get more done!” Have you ever heard that? Have you ever said that?
Here’s the answer — no you wouldn’t.
If you had more time, you most likely wouldn’t get more done and here’s why. If you had more time that means everyone would have more time; you would probably do the same things and fall into the same patterns you are in and everything would most likely balance out the same way it is now.
Wishing for more time isn’t the answer because it’s not about the amount of time we have, but rather how we manage that time.
If you want to get more done, if you want to accomplish more in your life, the only way is by figuring out how to do a better job at managing the 24 hours a day you have.
I’m not a time management guru, I’m a natural procrastinator. And for some psychological reason, instead of doing what I know I should do, I do something else. Anything. Including things I would never do, like hand scrubbing the couch covers.
I’ve heard all the tips and read all the books and posts about morning routine rituals, the magic elixir of cold showers, and meditations on Stoic philosophy. They don’t work for me.
Maybe I’m screwed up and I probably won’t ever be a productivity ninja with every minute of my day optimized for high performance. But I do want to improve myself and I have found something that has skyrocketed my productivity and improved my general feelings of happiness throughout the day.
Every night, right before bed, I take 5 minutes to answer three questions.
Three Nightly Questions For Higher Productivity
Question 1: “What did I do well today?
Why It’s Important:
1. It gives me positive things in my life to see before I go to sleep. In my nightly reflection, the first thing I try to look at is what I would consider my “wins” for the day. I don’t have to look at everything, but I try to get a general idea of what things I did productivity-wise that I feel good about. Mostly this is based on what I wrote down for question 3 the previous night (we will get to this), but it also has to do with any areas I consider little victories in the battle against myself.
2. It builds a momentum of accomplishment. Seeing myself accomplishing things on a regular basis starts to build a positive momentum in the productivity aspect of my life. When I’m not doing the things I know I need to do, I fall into a malaise of sorts and I just feel bad. Seeing a consistency of “wins” builds a psychological momentum that makes my life seem more fulfilling.
3. It gives me confidence. When I see and reflect upon the important things that I accomplish in my life, it gives me confidence that I can do more — that I can try things that are more difficult. You can’t underestimate the value of confidence in moving beyond your abilities into the uncharted waters of difficulty, but that’s where growth happens. If we never get out of the boat, we will never walk on water.
Question 2: “What did I screw up today?
Why It’s Important:
1. I begin to learn my areas of weakness better. When I look at what I did wrong or what I didn’t do and why, I learn more about myself. Sometimes I was lazy. Other times urgent circumstances took priority over the important things. But it’s important for me to see those shortcomings and understand how they happened and why I didn’t do what I wanted to do.
2. It forces me to own my failures. Sometimes, we justify our failures or weaknesses by blaming them on circumstances or other people. When we see our shortcomings, we can take an honest examination of the reasons behind why we didn’t live up to our own expectations. Self-awareness is the first step in becoming better and asking this question forces me to take a harder look at myself and my failures.
3. I begin to see the patterns in my own behavior that prevent me from accomplishing the things that are important to me. After doing this for a while, I start to see the same things appear over and over. Negative patterns have a way of hiding themselves from our awareness. Maybe psychologically our consciousness keeps us from seeing those things. Asking this question regularly allows me to begin to recognize patterns that I may not have seen before and new ones that may be establishing themselves in my life. I may not correct them, but at least now I’m aware of them and I can learn to identify them as they are happening in real time. I don’t have to address them, but now I’m aware of the pattern when I am choosing to be lazy.
Question 3: “What are the top 3 things I want to do tomorrow?
Why It’s Important:
1. It decreases my stress. For me, it’s too much to write down an unrealistic list of 10–20 things I need to do. That type of list can be overwhelming and usually causes me difficulty in sleeping because I’m stressing about all the things I need to do tomorrow. Of course, I probably have 10–20 things that need to get done the next day, but in my moment of reflection, I find the three most important things that I feel I can realistically accomplish and those become the target.
2. I’m prioritizing my list of tasks. Based on the Pareto principle (the 80/20 rule), I’m taking the top 20% that will give me the most return and laser focusing on those for the next day. For me, my lack of productivity happens because sometimes I focus on the wrong things. I’m putting a lot of effort into things that will not bring the biggest personal ROI. Picking the top 3 things at the end of the day gives me a bit of distance and allows me to be a little more strategic in my prioritization.
3. I’m setting myself up for a win. When I pick 3 things I want to get done, I make sure they are things that I can realistically achieve. That way, if I get them done, I’ll be in a good emotional place at the end of tomorrow. Then tomorrow night, when I reflect on the day, I’ll find it much more fulfilling because I did what I said I was going to do.
4. I’m surreptitiously forming productivity habits in my brain’s neural networks. We all know the power habits have in our lives. How hard they are to break and how hard they are to form. By establishing a simple 5-minute reflection and prioritization, I’m hacking my brain to do some things that will reap huge benefits and establishing a habit at the same time.
5. I’m doing the things that are the most important. Let’s be honest. Most of the things on that list of 10–20 won’t be huge factors in our lives. If #19 never gets done, it probably won’t have significant consequences. But the top 20%?? If I can do the most important things — the top 20% — not only will that bring an 80% ROI, but it will give me the satisfaction of doing what I really want to do. And that’s huge.
Last Thing — Write It Down!
Get a Moleskine, journal, or even a piece of paper to keep a record of these reflections. Here’s why it’s important:
1. It helps you to remember. We don’t always forget things when we sleep, but sometimes we do. I can’t tell you how many times the idea that was going to change the world disappeared overnight. So I’ve learned the lesson of writing it down. When we write down our reflections we can be sure to remember the things we thought were most important.
2. Writing it down establishes a record that you can go back and examine. Not that you will go back and look at them, but if you want to, you can. You can see the “wins” you’ve had. You can see the patterns and areas where you need to improve. You discover things about yourself — strengths and weaknesses that might have been outside of your awareness. If you’re that into it, you can even try and figure yourself out. But you can’t do any of that if it’s not written down.
3. Most importantly, writing takes something that doesn’t quite exist and brings it into time and space. Thoughts are ephemeral. They can vaporize and dissipate in the midst of busyness and action. They can even appear to us as illusions of things that could never happen in our reality. Writing those thoughts down brings them into existence and forces us to deal with them. They are no longer just thoughts, they become actual things in reality.
If you’re like me and productivity Ninjitsu seems outside of your capabilities, this 5-minute nightly practice can really pay big dividends in accomplishing your biggest goals in life. Don’t make it a big deal, but take the time each day to answer the three questions and see how it helps you to be more productive and live a more fulfilled life.