My 6 Rules for Incredible Time Management

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:

Even my mirror self-portraits are incredible. And by that I mean lacking credibility.

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.

Posted on by Brent Posted in Blog Posts

About Brent

I'm a geek goofball who lives in Chicago, Illinois with my girlfriend Erika, my small dog Ernie, and a lot of bad habits. I like wine, travel, photography, and sharing everything I've learned so far.

16 Responses to My 6 Rules for Incredible Time Management

  1. Andy Galbraith (@DBA_ANDY)

    I guess I have one big catch with your points….first, you are spending one day a week being “a good, attentive partner/parent” and most weeks it seems like my family needs more than that (as do I sometimes).

    By contrast, I fully agree with #6 (although it is hard to do) – Jes recently wrote a great post about volunteering for the PASS Submissions Review committee, but in that she mentioned that last year when she did it she spent ~10 hours a week for a month working on it – while it sounded interesting, I know I don’t have a spare forty hours in any one of my upcoming months, so I didn’t pursue the opportunity. Maybe in a future year I will have that time and consider it then.

    Thanks for great content as always!

    • Brent

      Andy – yep, it’s really tough being a good entrepreneur and a good parent at the same time. In fact, I don’t know any! I’d be curious to hear if you do. I think you can be good ENOUGH at one and still be good at the other, but not really good at both.

      Jes’s post was one of the reasons I wrote this, actually, along with a private email I got from another community member about health risks of burnout. The SQL Server community is so wonderfully welcoming and offers all kinds of opportunities, but you just have to be careful with overextending yourself.

  2. Mike Fal

    I think people underestimate the values of #1 and #3.

    First, #1: I’m reminded of a tweet by @FakeGrimlock. “BE SELF. ITERATE UNTL AWESOME.” Deciding to be incredible isn’t such a huge transition, it’s just taking what you do well and to keep doing it. Accentuate that, emphasize to the world how awesome you are, and the rest will follow. I’ve seen an incredible turn around in my life over the past two years simply by thinking in that way.

    #3: For some reason, it seems *easier* to work more nowadays. People check and respond to their email, monitor system alerts, and generally do everything from everywhere. Based on some comments from Tom LaRock, I’ve started hiding my Blackberry when I’m not on call. I make time to read fluff sci-fi and play video games. I force myself to disconnect so I don’t burn out on the stuff I love to do. I think it’s vital that others learn that as well.

    Great post Brent and I hope others take these simple steps to heart.

    • Brent

      Mike – thanks! I also think #1 means boiling down “what you do” to smaller units. Nobody can be incredible at everything. Pick what you want to be known for, and just focus on that exclusively.

      I agree about it being easier to work more these days. As a consultant, I’m not on call, but I still have to have my phone within audible distance in case somebody’s server explodes. I have my devices set to not make noises for incoming emails, and I try to just walk away from the computer when it’s quitting time. I still do a *lot* of emails when I’m out walking the dog in the morning or when I’m grocery shopping, but I try to be present when there’s human beings around. It’s hard, though.

  3. Andy Galbraith (@DBA_ANDY)

    “…I try to be present when there’s human beings around. It’s hard, though.”

    I think that sums it up.

  4. Steven Ormrod

    Great post! I love how you boil it all down to digestible nuggets. Any thoughts on making number two work in a work-a-day office where your often made to allocate you time in hour chunks, or even multi-task to an insane degree?

    • Brent

      Thanks, sir! Generally I tried to allocate my time in whole-day units when working on company projects. When someone came running in asking me to work on something else, I’d calmly open my task list in RememberTheMilk, show my list of tasks, and ask them where their newly added task should fall in relation to the other tasks already on my plate. If they wanted it higher, I’d say, “Sure, let’s call the other internal customers on my list right now and make sure they’re okay with that,” and I’d literally hit the speakerphone button on my office phone and start dialing. People learn extremely quickly that if they don’t have a genuinely urgent issue that overrode what other people wanted, that they couldn’t just waltz into my cube and dump stuff on me.

      You have to fight like a boxer for your schedule. Nobody else is going to do it for you, and you’ll make a lot of enemies – but the good part is that if it’s done right, with kid gloves, you’ll only alienate the people that you never really wanted as friends anyway – because they just wanted you to do crappy work.

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  6. Mala

    Brent, love #1,2 and 3. Oh and 6 too. Not sure about 4 and 5 ,esp for those of us w/salaried jobs. Perhaps you meant something different than what i have in mind. (What i have in mind is some business opportunity perhaps put on hold due to lack of time or something else). Also would you say something more on how to find time to study/keep up w/technology. Something like what my favorite time management author Stephen Covey calls ‘sharpening the saw’. thanks.

    • Brent

      Mala – incredible opportunities don’t have to be business work. They can be writing chapters in a book, volunteering for a local SQL user group, or jumping in to do a presentation on short notice.

      For me, studying and keeping up with technology is part of my work. Whether I’m a full time DBA or a consultant, I’m only valuable to my employer if I can keep the saw sharp. I’ve always set aside time every day – yes, on work time – to read up more on the tools I’m using and to try new tricks. If you only budget that on your own personal time, you’ll never learn enough to stay valuable to your company.

  7. Mala

    Thank you, yes am a volunteer for 9 years now :) ‘ If you only budget that on your own personal time, you’ll never learn enough to stay valuable to your company.’ now that line is very true and very valuable, might use it on my review :)

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  10. Kristen

    @Brent
    Loved your article. As someone that has personally made it her goal this year to “put time management on the grill and have it for lunch” so much of what you said rings true. #2 and #6 I’ll try first. I often commit to things like there are 3 of me and there are 30 hrs in day and I’ve concluded its no way to live. I think it’s really hard for people to set barriers and leave room for the opportunities. They are so afraid of “missing something” yet what they are missing most is their true potential. What is it that you have decided to be incredible about?

    @ Mike, I’m considering getting a tattoo of this “BE SELF. ITERATE UNTL AWESOME.”!
    People are always so connected to emails and responding to what other people put in front of them, that it’s so easy to forget what the Self needs. The company I work for, Awayfind, actually specializes in freeing people from their inbox so they can focus on what truly matters. So far I think we’ve helped a lot of people! We don’t want people to have to check email when walking their dogs ;)

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