I just purchased a new time-tracking gizmo to get a better sense of where my time goes as well as to learn how much time I invest in projects. I hoped the device would strengthen my efficiency and also provide some empirical evidence to structure my billing rates.
I have been amazed at how much more productive I have become – not because of anything the device does per se, but because I find myself actually staying at my computer to keep tracking. It’s my dissertation advisor’s old adage of “butt to seat.” I keep my butt in the seat so the tracker shows one full hour vs. 5 minutes plus 25 minutes plus 10 minutes plus 10 minutes with other diversions in between. Now I’m sticking with one task for a hunk of time and then switching to another project instead of hopping between email and multiple projects intertwined and making gains from the forgone transition time.
It reminds me of the gold star method in kindergarten – the teachers cultivated all kinds of good behaviors so we could earn that coveted star on the chart – and we did it over and over so there were no blank spaces. It’s a tried and true method that has worked for Jerry Seinfeld to write jokes, James Clear to develop habits and diet plans to incentivize weight loss – you’ll overcome a host of excuses to keep a streak alive.
Whether you utilize a bullet journal, a chart on the wall, an external device or another method, some visual reminder of accountability can have powerful results. What should you start tracking today?
The owner of The Biggest Little Farm (see dot #2649) speaks of a “flywheel in motion” to establish the land’s ecosystem where multiple elements of the farm all support and enhance each other. It reminded me of the flywheel concept in Good to Great, one of my favorite concepts from one of my favorite books.
Jim Collins writes: “The flywheel image captures the overall feel of what it was like inside the companies as they went from good to great. No matter how dramatic the end result, the good-to-great transformations never happened in one fell swoop. There was no single defining action, no grand program, no one killer innovation, no solitary lucky break, no wrenching revolution. Good to great comes about by a cumulative process – step by step, action by action, decision by decision, turn by turn of the flywheel – that adds up to sustained and spectacular results…We have allowed what change looks like from the outside to drive how we think it must feel on the inside, but really it is an organic development process.”
Wouldn’t it be nicer if there was a secret sauce – giving us hope that if we could just find it, we would have the magic elixir to turn our idea into a grand success? Unfortunately, it doesn’t work that way. But if there is a path to greatness, it is paved with consistency, turning the “flywheel” with coherence and intentionality in the same direction toward a sustained goal rather than giving in to the temptation to give up if results aren’t achieved quickly.
Success comes from plodding away with persistence – for longer than we’d like – until the momentum builds in our favor and synergies begin to occur. It’s hardest to make that first turn, still hard to make the second, third and fourth (and twentieth), but eventually a host of actions toward the same goal will allow the flywheel to compound your results.
Don’t trade short-term flash for long-term momentum.
Most would agree that relationships are important and for the majority of people it seems like “time flies” –yet too often we fail to make the connection between these two statements. Well-intentioned people plan to get together with friends and family or to strengthen ties with colleagues but months often go by without an encounter.
I’ve found a super-simple technique that helps me prevent these gaps: we schedule our next rendezvous before we depart from the current one. That’s it: every time we pick the next time.
I have monthly calls with a colleague, quarterly lunches with former staff, and monthly-ish lunches with friends that all are on the calendar for “next”. Without the advance planning, time would zip by as it always does and I know we would fail to talk with each other as frequently as we do now.
I also use recurring events as triggers to make in-person connections. A local service organization does occasional “burger nights” where another couple and I always dine together. With siblings living in four states, we’ve also found a groove that certain holidays trigger gatherings at different homes so we essentially know when we’ll assemble again. Different friends come to visit in conjunction with annual events near me, and I hope my niece’s visit becomes the first thing she does when school is out every year.
Rely on your calendar — rather than your good intentions — to help your relationships thrive.
Today is back-to-work time for many after a three-day weekend. I know for myself that I wish I had a do-over for the time. I did a little bit of work and a lot of procrastinating about doing more work. The end result is that I don’t feel like I was really productive, nor do I feel like I took a true break and had serious relaxation. I just frivoled away the weekend doing little bits of projects and little bits of avoidance-of-projects. It doesn’t make for great motivation or rejuvenation.
I am reminded of the children’s book Alexander, Who Used to Be Rich Last Sunday by Judith Viorst. Beloved Alexander frivols away his money until at the end of the story he has a pile of purchases with nothing really to show for it. For example, he rents a snake for an hour, buys a half-melted candle at a garage sale, and loses some coins in a magic trick — leaving him without his dollar or anything of substance.
I’m not usually like Alexander, but I was this weekend. What about you? Think of under what circumstances you exhibit Alexander-like tendencies where little bits of time (or money) pass without intention or results. Instead, try to go all-in with rest or work – and then go all-out. Trying to straddle the middle produces more guilt than benefits.
Alexander, Who Used to be Rich Last Sunday by Judith Viorst, 1978 (a classic!)
Planes may use runways in the literal sense but I have come to embrace the concept for many other aspects in life. A runway is a way of initially moving toward your destination – being in motion when you’re not quite ready or able to fly. By intentionally incorporating a runway phase to a project or idea, you can accelerate progress in the early stages.
The dreaded icebreakers at a workshop can be reframed as “runways” – allowing participants to get focused and mentally prepared to dive into the main content
An internship can provide a runway for a new hire or career
Short-term financial and housing assistance provided to a new graduate can serve as a runway to launch them until they are established
A side hustle can serve as a runway to test out a full-fledged entrepreneurial venture
A pilot or beta-testing acts as a runway to a product launch
Dog-sitting can be a runway to personal ownership of an animal
Writing a blog could serve as a runway to authoring a book
Planes do not go from the gate directly into the air – they travel from stopped to airborne via the runway. The bigger the plane (aka: idea), the longer the runway that is required, but no plane takes flight without the initial path of acceleration. Your ideas can benefit from a similarly planned ramp-up of energy.
As I was listening yet another book on creativity, it occurred to me that I really did not “need” to learn more on this topic. Most people who know me would consider me to be creative already and I have been teaching workshops in this area for decades. And then a thought from James Clear’s Atomic Habits popped into my head: “I don’t need to because I do things I don’t need to do.”
Those who routinely go to the gym when they don’t need to, don’t need to go because they go regularly
People who save money when they don’t need to, don’t need to save because they save routinely
Folks who clean their homes or maintain their yards when they don’t need to, don’t need to deep clean because they have a habit of regular maintenance
Those who take a vacation don’t need to take a vacation because they regularly take time away
Students who study when they don’t need to…well, you get the idea.
The same applies to me listening to a book on creativity, and the concept is relevant for most any positive habit that you wish to develop. Engaging in a practice is something that you do over time, not just once in hopes that the behavior embeds itself.
Think about the skills or habits that you wish to cultivate or maintain. The best way to do so is to work on those things – even when you don’t “need to”.
The more layers retailers and service providers can put between purchase and outlay of money, the easier it is for people to buy. Thus, there seems to be an intentional strategy today to put consumers at least one step removed from actually paying for anything directly.
Buying online seems like typing in some numbers more than it feels like taking cash out of your wallet – and buying through an app that stores your information is even easier to do
Choosing a book with and Audible credit from your subscription happens much more quickly than if you had to consciously pay $15 for that same listen
Skipping a college class doesn’t feel like throwing away money because it was all billed as the semester’s tuition but those same students would never waste the equivalent amount of their cash
Purchasing a car wash coupon book makes it more likely that you will wash your car when you can just use a coupon instead of hesitating before you pay $15
Having insurance removes some of the pain of how much medical care truly costs and numbs the realization of how onerous the burden is for those paying directly
Subscribing to a movie pass or a gym membership makes it seem like participating is free even though it isn’t
Utilizing a gift card, purchasing card from a rebate or income tax refund feels like you have bonus money even though you paid for it in another form
Retailers intentionally craft ways to remove every decision point and barrier to making purchasing as easy as possible. Therefore, it pays to apply equal diligence to counteract their subterfuge and be conscious of all the money you spend – no matter in which manner you spend it. A dollar is a dollar – whether through the airwaves, over months or out of your wallet. Don’t let the ease of spending subdue you into doing too much of it.