I’m always surprised when people say, “I don’t know how you do all that stuff.” I feel like I hardly do any work at all, honestly – I think I’m the least hard working person of anybody I know. I just follow six simple rules:
Rule #1: Decide that you want to be incredible. If you’re okay with doing an okay job, then you don’t need any time management. But if you want to have incredible results, you’re going to have to do incredible work. That doesn’t mean working long hours – it just means thinking differently about your schedule.
Rule #2: Never budget less than whole-day increments of time. Your life is chock full of things you need to do for your own sake: cooking, eating, washing clothes, talking to your significant other about their day, catching up on email, watching TV, exercising, and sleeping. When you commit to something, budget doing it for the entire day, and you’ll do an incredible job. You’ll grab that piece of work by the horns, wrestle it to the ground, put it on the grill and eat it for lunch. People will remember how you showed that task who’s boss.
Rule #3: Leave one whole day per week to do absolutely nothing. What you call doing nothing, your spouse calls being a good, attentive partner/parent. They have a honey-do list, and you need to do it, or resentment piles up. If you find yourself with nothing to do on that day, surprise your spouse with something, or just veg out and recharge your batteries by doing something unrelated to work. Go read a book, visit a museum, play with your dog. You need to sand off the edges if you want to be a well-rounded individual, and if you work all the time, nobody will want to handle you because all your edges will be sharp.
Rule #4: Leave one more solid day per week to pounce on incredible opportunities – blessings you couldn’t have predicted and can’t imagine skipping. Life rewards those who are flexible and can say “Yes” on short notice. The coolest things aren’t planned in advance.
Rule #5: If the incredible opportunity runs more than a few weeks, it’s work. There’s nothing wrong with work, but it has to fit within the 5 work days, because we have to keep one day per week open for new incredible opportunities. Shoehorn work into your schedule, or quit doing it. Saying no after the opportunity’s in motion is much harder than saying no initially, so that’s why rule #6 might be the most important.
Rule #6: Say no early and forcefully to everything else. When something comes up, immediately do an honest assessment of the number of days per week that it will require work. If it’s a volunteer position, talk to someone else who’s held the role about how much time it took them. Were they doing an incredible job? If not, it’ll probably take you more time to do an incredible job, so double their time estimates. If you can’t do an incredible job, say no, because your life is full of other things that need you to be incredible. The more work you add to your plate, the less incredible you can be at each one.
If you follow those six rules, you’ll find that most of the stuff you’re doing during the week is harmful baggage that’s holding you back from what you really want. Just because you’ve got an opportunity to do something doesn’t mean it’s a blessing: very often it’s a curse.
Update: Mike Fal responds. Mike reacted to this post by explaining how similar rules work for him as a full time DBA.