8: How to Manage Your Time

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Atomic Habits – James Clear
Deep Work – Cal Newport


 Hello, and welcome back to another episode of the Minimal Minds Podcast, the show where we talk about all things self improvement. I am your host for this episode, and also every other episode. My name is Alex, and if you’re new here, this is a place where we try and develop what I like to call the Minimal Mind, hence the name of the show.

To cultivate the minimal mind means to be asking yourself the question, what is the minimum amount of effort and time I need to spend to get the most amount of benefit? This show is all about efficiency and following the Pareto principle, also known as the 80 20 rule, you’ve probably already heard of it.

But if you haven’t, the rule says 80% of your results come from 20% of the contributing factors. This rule can be seen literally everywhere in your life. 80% of business sales come from 20% of the clients. You wear the same 20% of your clothes 80% of the time. 20% of drivers cause 80% of the traffic collisions, and most importantly for this episode, 80% of your results come from 20% of your time.

So in today’s episode, which is episode number 8, we’re going to be talking about something that is a constant struggle for a whole lot of people, and that is time management skills, or lack thereof. Today I’m going to be exploring why you probably struggle with time management, and showing you a better system so you can finally make the most out of your time, and extend that 20%, which is actually giving you results.

So let’s begin with the question, Why does your time management suck? Well, there’s probably a lot of reasons why your time management sucks. The most likely reason is that you don’t have a time management system. A system that helps you organize your life, or you do have a system, but it just doesn’t really work, or you’re not very consistent with it.

Now if you don’t have a good system in place, And I’m assuming your life often feels chaotic, or you might be very forgetful. You may also feel like you don’t have any time to do the things you want to do because you’re so busy. Or you’re exhausted, but at the same time you don’t feel like the work you’ve done warrants that level of exhaustion.

I’m going to share with you a couple of uncomfortable truths about time management, that you’re really going to have to understand and embody if you have any hope of getting better. If you can really take these two things to heart, then it’s going to make your transition to becoming a better manager of your time a whole lot easier.

So, number one. Your free will is an illusion. Now, this is not a conspiracy theory, so please hear me out. But as a human, we all make the basic assumption that we have free will. We have the ability to choose to do things. Or not to do things, right? It’s a free country, bro. Here’s the thing, though, money aside.

If it was really that simple, then we would all be living our best life, 24 7. We would never eat unhealthily. We’d be in the gym every day at 5am, and none of us would have any bad habits. And if you did have any bad habits, you could just choose to quit them instantly, whenever you want. And you’d never experience any cravings or desires for things that you know are bad for you.

But this is not the case. So why is that? So obviously, you do have free will. You can, of course, choose to do or not do certain things. But the reality is that you only have partial control. It’s not as simple as just deciding to do something, and then doing it. Every time you make a decision that requires any amount of effort to follow through with, you’re using some of your willpower in order to brute force your way through it.

And this willpower has a limit, it’s not infinite. If you make too many decisions, you’re going to suffer from what’s called decision fatigue, and eventually, you’ll just give in to your lower level desires and not follow through with the things that are going to require effort. Leonardo da Vinci once said, You can have no smaller or greater mastery than mastery of one’s self.

Now, before realizing this, I spent years of my life, literal years, thinking that I just don’t have any willpower, and that I’m a slave to my monkey brain. When actually, this is probably the same for pretty much most people. It’s just that the outliers, the people who really shine and appear to have never ending willpower, they’ve designed their life in such a way that enables them to do harder things with less willpower, and they’re doing that by making far less decisions each day than the average person does.

So they’ve optimized their time to such a point that only decisions they face each day are the harder decisions, and because of that, those things feel easier to do in the moment. So I’ll give you an example. It’s the difference between doing something difficult as the first thing you do in the morning, Instead of late at night after a full day of work and doing all your house chores.

Of course it will feel easier in the morning, because you haven’t spent an entire day mentally exhausting yourself by making constant decisions. It’s the same reason why Mark Zuckerberg wears nothing but a grey t shirt and jeans. It’s because it’s one less decision that his brain has to make each and every day.

Now, obviously, Picking something different to wear each day isn’t really much of an ordeal, at least I hope not. But the point is that if you keep removing constant decisions from your life, that affect compounds over time. So if you spent 5 minutes deciding what you need to wear each day, well, over a year, that’s 30 hours of decision making.

Now imagine that you remove 10 decisions from your day, each and every day. And each of those decisions took five minutes to make. Well, over a year, that’s over twelve and a half days of decision making. And over three and a half thousand separate decisions you didn’t have to make. So this now brings me to my second point, which is a quote from one of my favorite books, Atomic Habits by James Clear.

Uh, you will not rise up to the level of your goals. Instead, you will fall to the level of your system. If you have dreams and ambitions that actually require a lot of work, And I’m talking about months or even years of dedicated, deliberate work towards a goal. You will not achieve it, unless you have a system in place to get you there.

Having goals is not enough, not even those fancy smart goals people keep telling you about. By not having a system, your behaviors will naturally sway to whatever is easiest to do in that moment. And what is easiest to do in the moment, Typically is not what is best for your long term health or goals.

You can brute force it, yeah, but that only contributes more to your decision fatigue, which isn’t sustainable. So here’s a basic example of a system through redesigning your environment. It’s easier to sit on the sofa all day and binge watch a show on Netflix than it is to read an insightful book. So most people will watch Netflix instead.

But mindful people who are trying to read more books might look at their lives and think, How can I design a system that makes me read more books? How can I design a system that forces my default behavior to be the one I want? Well, I could remove the TV, so that watching isn’t even an option for me.

Then reading books from that point just becomes the easiest option. Why did the average middle class person 100 years ago read more books than the average middle class person today? Because it was the easiest option for entertainment. So now I’ve talked to you about those two thruths, what I’m going to describe to you now is the system that I personally use to organise my day.

It allows me to be as effective with my time as I possibly can. Now, I’ve tried different systems like planners and calendars on my computer, on my phone, and on paper, but this is the simplest and best method I could find that actually gives me consistent results. I know for a fact that when I don’t use this system for a day, and I just rely on willpower, I always achieve less.

There’s never an exception. I always achieve less when I don’t use this. You can do this on black paper, but I use a notepad that combines a to do list and a daily schedule on each page, which makes it a little easier for me. I’ll link the one that I use in the description. Okay, so you have your paper. On the left, you have your entire day spread out in 15 minute increments.

And on the right side of the page, I have an empty to do list. Now to start, I’m going to write down the things I need to do in my to do list. And then next to each one, I’ll write down how long I think it will take in minutes, in increments of 15. Even if I think it’s only going to take 5 minutes, always overestimate how long you think something will take.

So just round up to the next 15. You with me so far? So for all of these tasks, I use a different color for each type of task. Now these tasks aren’t separated by importance or how long they take to do. They’re actually separated by how difficult they are to do. So use the colour red for important tasks that require a higher level of concentration.

This could be something like writing an essay or doing research or creating something. These sorts of tasks take up a lot of your mental bandwidth and it’s really really important that you’re not distracted during this time or your work will seriously suffer. And I don’t recommend having more than three red tasks per day or you’re gonna wear yourself out really fast.

I use the color blue for what is known as shallow tasks. These are things that are important but don’t necessarily require that much concentration. This is for things like checking your emails or doing odd jobs around the house that you can listen to music with. Things that don’t require too much attention.

Then I use the color black for anything that isn’t related to work or a project that I’m working on. Think like going to the shop or plans you made with your friends. These things don’t require you to concentrate at all, really. The purpose of these is more to show blocks of time that cannot be used for the important things you need to get done.

So, like something you’d put in a calendar. Okay, now you’ve done your to do list, in different colours, I hope. From here, you’re gonna wanna total up the amount of time you think it will take to do all the blue and the red tasks. If the total is above 8 hours, then you need to move some of those tasks to a following day.

You can change the number to whatever you like, but it should not exceed the amount of hours in your workday. Now, this part is important, because if you consistently don’t complete your daily to do list, That’s just depressing, isn’t it? If you know you realistically can’t do all the stuff you’ve written down, you shouldn’t be putting it down on that day’s to do list.

So from here, we have to transfer the things in our to do list to the day’s schedule. We’re going to do what is known as time blocking. So if you can, put the red things together at the start of the day. This is because when the day’s new, you’re going to have willpower on your side, and it’s going to help you push through the initial discomfort.

Now like I said earlier, it’s really important that during the time you’re working on red items, You are not being distracted. If you’re trying to concentrate in a place where things are constantly poking at you for your attention, you’re not going to get anything done. After the reds, you’re going to want to do the blues, and then the blacks after that.

Now, it’s okay if you want to mix the colours up, but you’re going to want to avoid constant task switching. The more you switch up things you’re doing, the longer it’s going to take you to get back into the rhythm. It’s going to take you an extra 15 minutes, usually. So if you can batch together similar tasks like housework jobs, then go ahead, do it.

So that’s it, that’s the fundamental concept. Uh, not too hard I hope. Once you get into it, it only really takes a couple of minutes to plan out the whole day. And it’s really effective if you’re consistent. Using this system is probably the most important thing you can implement when it comes to time management.

It’s gonna be the 20% that gives you 80% of your results. So I’ve got three tips for you today. First one, use an end of day ritual. When you’ve finished your workday, do something that helps your brain transition to rest mode. It sounds silly at first, but doing something that tells your brain that it can switch off for the day is very powerful for your mental health.

For a lot of people, their end of day ritual is the drive home from the office. But if you work from home, and this is something I’ve experienced myself, if you don’t have a ritual, your brain isn’t going to turn off, and instead you’ll just keep getting urges to do work related things like checking your emails or whatever.

Tip number two, use different devices for different things. Now the problem with having tools that do everything, like a phone or a computer, is that you’re going to resort to using their easiest functions. I’ll use myself as an example. So I have two computers, I have a desktop which I use for games and going on the internet, and then I have a laptop that I just use for writing.

Now my desktop lives on a shelf in a different room, but to use it, I have to go and move it all the way to my desk in the other room, and then plug it in, turn it on, whatever. But the laptop lives on my desk, so it’s easier to use. But here’s the thing, it doesn’t have internet access. So I’ve literally removed the Wi Fi card from it, so I can’t go on the internet with it.

And having done that, all I can do with it is write Word documents. and play a song that I use to concentrate. So, by removing its ability to distract me, I physically cannot get distracted by it. Sounds a bit extreme, you don’t have to go to such lengths like I do. But again, like I mentioned earlier, it’s about removing willpower from the equation entirely.

I no longer have to rely on my willpower To not go on the web browser, go on YouTube, look at a meme compilation while I know I’m supposed to be writing. Now, because I’ve done this, giving in to the distraction now takes more effort than doing the work I’m supposed to be doing. And my final tip, tip number three, set yourself artificial time limits.

When you’ve got long term goals that have no real end date, they’re less likely to get done. This is known as Parkinson’s Law, I think I’ve talked about it in a previous episode. But basically, it says that the time it takes to complete a task, Expands with the deadline that you have for that task. So for most people, if you have a project due in one week, it will take you one week to do.

That same project, if you had two weeks to do it, it would take you two weeks to do it. Most people don’t complete projects early, it’s just, it’s not in human nature. So the more time you have, the less you will achieve. You have to give yourself an artificial due date on tasks that you need doing, and do your best to stick to it.

That’s everything I have for you today. I hope you found value in this episode. The books on time management that I used to help you write this are in the show notes, where you can dive deeper into the subject. These books are such a worthwhile investment. Please pick them up. They’re so good. They’re only like 10 quid.

Please buy them. If you do decide to buy them, please consider using the links that I’ve put in the show notes. It doesn’t cost you anything extra, but it really helps support the show, and it allows me to create these podcasts for you for free and without ads on them. I’ve left Amazon links for all my top listeners countries, that’s the UK, Germany, Canada, and the US.

As well as a link to a non Amazon bookstore If you don’t like using Amazon because you don’t want to support a maker corporation. I completely understand again I hope you gained value from spending your time here with me today, and i’ll see you again in the next episode. See ya