168 Hours: What I’ve Learned Tracking Every 15 Minutes of My Week

Time Tracking Bitches

For the past two weeks I’ve been tracking every 15 minute interval of my life. I borrowed this time-tracking practice from Laura Vanderkam, who writes helpful books including 168 Hours, which outlines the practice in a lot of detail.

One of Laura’s principles is that “you have more time than you think.” Through her research, she’s found that most people who claim to work more than 50 hours a week tend to over-report their work hours, sometimes dramatically so. In other words, a lot of the time they think they’re working, they’re not. It’s not just that their priorities are out of order; they also waste a lot of time.

I was happy with my productivity and work habits until a year or two ago. Then I began feeling frustrated, constantly carrying the sense that there were never enough hours in the day—though of course I had access to the same amount of hours as everyone else. Even more, being self-employed I have a lot of freedom in how I plan and spend those hours. I’m careful about commitments that aren’t rewarding, I try to have no more than two meetings or extended phone calls a day, and so on.

Still, like I said, I’ve been frustrated.

I don’t have all the answers yet, but I’m pretty sure that some of them will be found through this time-tracking process. (If you’d like to try it for yourself, download a free spreadsheet from Laura’s site.)

What I’ve Learned So Far

A few early observations:

1. Time tracking takes time! But mostly it takes mindfulness.

Learning to monitor what you’re doing every 15 minutes takes some getting used to. I often find myself looking up and suddenly realizing I’m not sure what I’ve done for the last 40 minutes, sometimes longer—which of course is notable in itself.

On the positive side, I like seeing the columns fill up. I can tell there are patterns to be deciphered and improved upon.

*There’s an option to track your time every half-hour if fifteen-minute intervals feels excessive, but so far I’m thinking I’ll stick with fifteen.

2. The mere act of tracking my time helps me be more intentional.

When I know I have to account for my time, even if only to myself, I find myself making wiser decisions. I plan my days more carefully. I started writing this post a few days ago, but I’m finishing it while waiting for a replacement driver’s license at the DMV.

It’s not unusual for me to productively use waiting time. I think what’s different is that today I made this my default state instead of just looking at my phone or zoning out. I knew I’d need to account for what became a 30-minute wait, so I made sure to use it well.

3. Momentum matters.

Week I of tracking my time flew by and I only got behind a couple of afternoons. With a trip to New York City and a few other things that threw off my schedule in Week II, I got much more behind. There’s definitely a sense of momentum or inertia to this process: stay on track and you’ll want to keep it going, lose a few hours and you’ll feel discouraged.

Laura notes that most people have irregular weeks, but you shouldn’t wait for a “regular” week to start tracking. Disruptions happen in every week. I always have different projects to work on and I typically travel every week, so if I waited for a “normal” week at home I’d be waiting a long time. If I continue this discipline beyond another couple of weeks, I’ll need to make sure I integrate it into my traveling life.

4. I don’t feel guilty about intentional time that isn’t spent productively.

I don’t really have hobbies (I’ve tried!) and I sometimes say that relaxing stresses me out.

There are a lot of intervals I filled up with items “reading,” “walking to gym,” “phone call with a friend,” or even “search for mistake fares for post-WDS Asia trip.” And I liked that! I don’t feel that these things detract from my other goals at all. I don’t want to avoid or minimize them; in some ways I’d like to do more of them.

What I want to avoid is wasted time. Almost every day I have numerous 15-minute intervals that I don’t know what to label because I don’t remember what I did. This, at least for me, means that I frittered away the time without doing anything productive or taking time for myself in an intentional way.

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So what do I do with this info—or to rephrase, if you try it out, what do you do with the info you gain? Well, I’m not completely sure yet. Like I said, simply paying attention to it as I go is helping a bit on its own. I’d like to do more analysis with the data once I have another couple of weeks of good reporting.

In other words, I’m hoping to rally for Week III and gain more insight.

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Image: Eder Pozo

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The Limits of Lifehacking: What Happens When You Approach Optimization?

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I have a weird memory of my dad explaining math to me when I was a kid. I never actually learned real math, at least once it went beyond how to pocket extra lunch money, and still haven’t learned 30-odd years later.

But my dad was a good storyteller, and often taught me lessons using examples. One time he told me how if you stood across the room and moved halfway toward the wall, and then halfway again, and then kept moving only halfway over and over, you would never actually reach the wall.

Practically speaking, after a few moves you might not be able to take small enough steps to continue “halfway,” but technical speaking, if you only moved halfway, you’d never arrive.

As a ten-year-old, my mind was blown. You’ll never reach the wall if you only move halfway, even if you spend 1,000 years moving over and over?

Yep, even then. Furthermore, the margins get tighter and tighter. Once you’ve played your first big moves, any other distance becomes marginal. The first time you move halfway across the room, you’ve made a ton of progress. The tenth time, not so much.

I thought about this story as I thought about my lists.

See, I am a list person. I live by my lists. When I’m at my office, I have two screens: the laptop I work from, and a separate monitor next to it that shows only my list of tasks, nothing else. When I’m on the road, I use an iPad for the same thing. “Work from the list” is a classic productivity mantra.

Writing lists helps me write books.

I organize my thoughts using Scrivener, Evernote, and OmniFocus—the trifecta of tools that I use every day.

I wrote my first book using only Microsoft Word, and seven years later I have no idea how that was possible. It seems that people have been writing books since at least the days of the Palm Pilot, but don’t ask me how they did it.

Writing a list helped me visit 193 countries.

Somewhere around country #30, I wrote down where I’d been so far. This led to a goal: visit 100 countries before I die. Impossible, right? It was actually quite easy. Pursuing this endeavor eventually led to another goal, one that presented a real challenge: visit ALL the countries. (I concede that I can be somewhat compulsive.)

Lists are directly connected to productivity-or at least that’s always been my experience and assumption. But there’s also an obvious problem with organizing and optimizing your life: you can’t do it infinitely.

If you keep getting better at doing things, can you just do more things? Sure, for a while.

But eventually you hit a ceiling, and that’s not even the worst part. The danger in optimizing your life to the nth degree is that you lose the ability to do the things you really should be doing, not just the things that are so clearly and efficiently organized on your lists.

My dad was right that you can’t ever get somewhere if you keep moving halfway. But still, I keep writing lists and keep doing more things. What’s the end game?

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Hat tip and inspiration: How to Do Everything

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The Best Productivity Hack Is to Care About What You Do

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I’m heading out to speak at a tech conference this week. The conference will undoubtedly have many smart people in attendance. In fact, I don’t think it’s self-depreciating to assume that most of them are a lot smarter than me. It’s just true.

Continuing with the theme of “Is this really what it’s about in the world of productivity?”, a common question I get at these events is “Tell us about your productivity hacks.” This question usually comes from someone who’s not only smarter, but also most likely far more organized than me.

I don’t have a ton of hacks to share. I do have a system of writing things down and then working from my list. I suppose there’s a bit more to it than that—I use software called OmniFocus on all my devices, and I regularly transfer my hand-written notes to digital—but the main principle is just “write it down, make it happen.”

I’ve noticed that if there’s something I don’t like to do, sometimes I can make more progress by better organizing it. That’s good—I guess—but it also means that I’m reinforcing tasks and actions that I’m not excited about.

When I care about something, however, the system or workflow of choice becomes far less relevant. I don’t need to psych myself up to work on it.

The question isn’t “How can I make myself write this chapter?” (or prepare for a talk, record a podcast episode, etc.). The question is “How soon can I get started on this?”

If you believe in the work you’re doing—if you look forward to it and care about what you choose to spend time on, this factor will be far more motivating than any trickery you can devise.

So maybe that’s the hack you need: stop doing stuff you don’t care about. Focus on what matters most.

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Image: Craig

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The Key to Productivity Isn’t More Rest, It’s Intentionality

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Link: “Darwin Was a Slacker”

For some of us, the notion that working only part-time on a legacy project is the best approach is tempting. Is it possible to do such a thing? Sure, of course. Free time and the ability to choose how you spend your time in the first place is a privilege.

But is it ideal to follow that approach? I don’t think so.

I stumbled upon this article and simultaneously liked and disliked it. Read the whole thing—you might relate to it more than me.

“Figures as different as Charles Dickens, Henri Poincaré, and Ingmar Bergman, working in disparate fields in different times, all shared a passion for their work, a terrific ambition to succeed, and an almost superhuman capacity to focus. Yet when you look closely at their daily lives, they only spent a few hours a day doing what we would recognize as their most important work.

The rest of the time, they were hiking mountains, taking naps, going on walks with friends, or just sitting and thinking. Their creativity and productivity, in other words, were not the result of endless hours of toil. Their towering creative achievements result from modest ‘working’ hours.”

I enjoyed the examples, and as I said—it’s tempting to think this is the answer. Just take it easy. It will come to you.

And sure, maybe it will.

I just know that for me, there’s more to it than “work in the morning, sit around and think in the afternoon.” That’s how it’s always, always been.

The answer isn’t only “work hard all the time,” because of course you can work hard all the time on the wrong things. But I don’t think the answer is to coast either.

It’s more like: find the right thing, then give it all you’ve got. A two-step plan, essentially:

1. Do whatever it takes to find this thing

2. Do whatever it takes to keep it

These days I’m basically working all the time, from before dawn till way past sunset. I’ve always worked hard, but the non-stop pace of a daily podcast added to everything else has increased the (self-applied) pressure.

Yet I honestly haven’t felt more productive in a long time. I feel good! I’m shipping work out and connecting with people.

It’s great that an audience has responded to well to the show (it’s currently receiving over 1.5 million downloads a month), but I can honestly say that I love the work for its own sake. I’m planning a book launch for the fall, a major tour, and several other projects that I’ll keep close to my chest until they’re ready.

I have zero desire to pull back on any of this. If I could make any impossible change to the order and structure of my day, I’d have two hours added to it.

It’s fine if you disagree with this pace or routine, by the way. But before you decide that you do, ask yourself: have I found my mission? Do I truly know what I hope to accomplish in my life, or who I wish to become?

Because Darwin certainly had a mission. So did Rodin and Thomas Mann, two other people mentioned in that article. If you have a mission, why would you slow down? If the goalpost is in front of you, it’s time to sprint, not stall.

The other thing is that we’re all going to die, something I try to remind myself of every day. I think I’ll make another cup of coffee… and keep working away.

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Image: Tim

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Morning Rituals

When I’m not jet lagged from flying around the world, I have a clear routine that I follow as much as possible. This routine allows me to stay relatively sane while also working as much as possible on things I believe in.

I love living on the west coast, but working on Pacific time can be a challenge. Even when I get up early, I’m three hours behind the other side of the country. My 6am is their 9am—most people have been awake and starting their days for a while. Their idea of an early call is extremely early for me.

When I have a book out, I do my best to accommodate anyone else’s schedule. Drive time radio for a major show on the east coast? That usually means even if I’m in the later portion of the show, I’ll be calling in at 5am or earlier. It’s okay; I do what needs to be done.

But that isn’t my preference. My preference is to start early but start on my own. Up between 5:30 and 6am, checking on stuff for a bit, drinking herbal tea, sending some quick email replies, and making a plan. A long-ago habit from my days of living on a ship is to do one thing every day that makes a substantial improvement in my main projects. Otherwise I inevitably get sucked into the flow of responding instead of initiating, and I never end up creating anything of real substance.

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I have breakfast and my first coffee of the day around 7am. I take my Adderall (yep, still on it, and yep, it’s still working great) and get into more intensive work as the rest of the west coast comes online.

Working on the business, as they say, not in the business.

And then I spend a lot of time working in the business. I do my best to avoid meetings and calls before 11am, but that’s not always possible. Every day usually has at least one interview and one meeting, usually two or more of each. Busy days have 4-5 interviews or 4 meetings or both … but if that’s the case, I get up even earlier because I know my time will be limited once everything gets underway.

The whole trick is to start well. If I get in the right flow, I know it’s going to be a good day. If I start off rocky or sleep-deprived or extroverted out from early calls, it’s tough to recover.

So I do everything I can to start well.

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Images: 1 & 2

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Get Your First 1,000 Email Subscribers

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UPDATE: This presentation is over, but you can still get a FREE 30-day trial for the service.


Also known as: Why I Fired My Email List Provider

For more than 8 years I used the same email provider. At one time, long ago, they were the best in the business. As the years went by, they became… well, definitely not the best. I had countless frustrations, including one time where the whole system was down for several days and the company only acknowledged the disaster after people complained.

Still, I resisted change, because change is hard—or so I thought. Over the past few years, a good friend of mine named Nathan Barry has been developing a new service that promised to fix many of the frustrations I had with the larger company that slowly declined over time.

I was skeptical at first, because, well, change is hard. But I finally decided to give Nathan’s service a try, and I was impressed right away. It’s much, much better than every other service I’ve seen, and depending on how you use it, it can be cheaper too.

I finally fired the company I’d paid a lot of money to over the eight years. I’m still in the process of moving everything over, but as of now more than 80% of my email lists are on the new service. I’m a paying customer, and a happy one.

Nathan and I will be giving a free presentation on how to get your first 1,000 subscribers. 

The presentation will demonstrate his email service, but you don’t have to use it to benefit from the presentation. I’ll share what I’ve learned in 8 years of blogging and building email lists of well over 100,000 people.

If you already have an email list provider, maybe you’ll do what I did and fire them. But even if not, you should still learn something from the presentation. They’ll also be giving away free stuff… because who doesn’t like free stuff?

Link: Get Your First 1,000 Email Subscribers

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Images: 1 & 2

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8 Ways to Have More Time

I’ve always wanted to be one of those people who needs only four or five hours of sleep a night. Unfortunately, I’m not—without a consistent minimum of 6-8 hours, and usually on the high side of that range, I don’t perform very well.

If you’re like me and need your sleep, and if you’re not otherwise superhuman, you may need to hack your way to greater time and productivity. Many of us are constantly looking for more time. These 8 tips might help.


  1. Don’t let other people schedule your life

First and foremost, do everything you can to remain in charge of as much of your schedule as possible. Learn your most productive periods and schedule your work around them. If you do any kind of creative work, you need to find a way to reserve time and space for your projects in a comfortable environment and on the schedule that works best for you.

Sure, you probably don’t have complete autonomy over your life, but that’s okay. Wherever you do have autonomy, or wherever you can reclaim it, assert your independence and make your own choices.


  1. Decide what’s important and do it first every day

In our modern age, there’s always one more thing that can be done. To battle against the limitless options, decide from the very beginning what’s most important. Then before you move on to everything else, tackle that task.

I usually choose 2-3 things that are “most important,” and I’ve noticed a recurring pattern: getting one of those things done is no problem. Getting two of them done is usually feasible. I can also get plenty of other things done throughout the course of any given day—but trying to do three big things is often a challenge for me.

I’m not sure why, but for whatever reason I work best with a combination of “two big things + other small stuff” every day. Since I know that about myself, I try to work with that combination as much as possible.


  1. Pay close attention to what makes you happy

If you work on things you enjoy, you’ll complete them faster and be less tired. With the extra time, you can move on to other tasks—because there’s always more work to be done—or you can do something else.

Consider it bonus time! Oh, and you’ll also be happier.


  1. Stop watching TV

I don’t actually think watching TV is terrible. If you have a favorite show on Netflix—no big deal. If you have six favorite shows on Netflix, however, that might be a problem.

Use TV or other entertainment as rewards for completing tasks. When you finish that big important thing on your day’s task list, spend half your lunch break watching an episode of that show. But otherwise, keep your head down.

We all make time for what’s important to us. What’s most important to you?


  1. Schedule your breaks and enjoy them

Break time is important, and none of us can focus forever. If you don’t allow yourself to slow down, your body and mind will mutiny on you and force the slowdown. Better to be in control of the process, and better to enjoy the down time instead of just sitting in a slump and trying to plow through something that isn’t working.

Just as you give yourself a “most important” assignment every day, give yourself at least one long break or two short breaks every day.


  1. Look through your calendar and cancel things you aren’t excited about

You know how sometimes you agree to something you don’t have a good feeling about? Whenever possible, avoid going through with it. This is a great way to free up hours, blocks of time, or whole evenings from your life.

Cancel that appointment or opt out of a group activity you’re dreading. Then, to avoid getting in these situations in the first place, see tip #1.


  1. If you keep putting something off, just let it go

There are two great ways of dealing with that thing that you’re procrastinating over:

a. Just get it done (AKA “push through the pain”)

b. Give up

Either of these ways are preferable to the choice that many of us make: to just keep deferring the item, leaving it on our list or in our mind, taking up space and draining energy that could be put to much better use elsewhere.


  1. Before you go to bed, decide on tomorrow’s most important action

Ask yourself, “What’s the big thing for tomorrow? If nothing else gets done, what’s the #1 action that will get me closer to my goals?”

The next morning, start working on that thing that you’ve prepared. Then when you watch Netflix later, or do whatever it is that serves as your escape, instead of feeling regret you’ll feel the satisfaction of having done something important.

And you’ll also have more time, even with sleeping at least 6-8 hours every night.

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Images: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, & 6

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My Morning Routine: Why I Do the Same Things Every Day, and How I Work from Anywhere

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I’ve been a longtime fan of MyMorningRoutine.com, which regularly interviews interesting people to learn how they spend their mornings. Some of my favorite profiles include features from Steve Kamb, Lisa Congdon, and Yuko Shimuzu.

The founders recently asked to feature me on the site, and of course I was thrilled! You can read my full answers over there, or just peruse a brief selection below.

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What is your morning routine? (Please note the approx. time you wake up.)

First things first: I’m on the go to at least 20 countries each year, in addition to more than 100,000 miles of domestic travel. At the moment I’m kicking off a 30-city book tour that has me waking up in a different place nearly every day for five weeks. Therefore, sometimes there’s not a routine, or at least the routine varies greatly by time zone.

I was recently in Jakarta, Indonesia and ended up working a modified night shift for most of the week. I worked on my projects through the night, woke up for “morning coffee” at 2pm in the afternoon, and then everything was pushed back from there. It felt a little disorienting because I’d show up at the hotel restaurant for “lunch” around 10pm, right before they closed for the night. Then I’d have “dinner” during normal breakfast hours before falling asleep as the sun rose.

However, let’s talk about the normal routine when I’m home in Portland, Oregon or at least on the road in the U.S. or Canada. I try to wake up early, usually around 5:30 or 6:00. I drink two glasses of water right away. I make my first cup of coffee and spend twenty minutes catching up on the news and seeing if anything urgent came into my inbox or social feeds during the night. Then I make a shift—I shower, head to my office by Uber or Lyft while picking up breakfast along the way, and get down to more “real work.”

When I’m writing a book, I try to spend at least two hours every morning working on it. I often have interviews or calls, usually at least 1-2 a day and sometimes more, and typically 1-2 meetings as well. But as much as possible, I try to reserve 8-11am for my own independent work. I drink sparkling water and listen to ambient music while I plow through my list of tasks and projects.

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How has your morning routine changed over recent years, and are you currently experimenting with adding or removing anything from your routine?

The morning routine hasn’t changed much. I’ve actually added more to an evening routine, which I realize is not the focus of this great interview series. At the end of the day I ask myself “Did today matter?” and journal a few quick notes related to that question. I drink herbal tea and sometimes take melatonin to help with falling asleep.

Do you do anything before going to bed to make your morning easier?

In addition to the “Did today matter?” journaling prompt, I usually decide what I’m going to wear and pack my laptop bag for the next day. Making decisions about that stuff in the morning takes too much energy that should be reserved for creative work.

Oh, and I also try to identify one small thing that I’ll do when drinking the glasses of water and looking at the news early in the morning. It could be completing a batch of edits, finishing up a group of interview questions like these, or making the initial outline for a talk. I’ve learned that this little touch helps a lot on busy days. By the time I get to the office, I already have something off my plate.

Do you answer email first thing in the morning, or leave it until later in the day?

First thing! Well, I don’t spend my whole morning doing email, but I also don’t leave it until later. Long ago I learned a great trick from Chris Brogan: spend a short period of time going through and answering urgent queries, firing off anything important, and deleting junk mail. Next, focus on your creative work for a while, and then return to the rest of the mail.

I love this approach because if I completely ignore email and leave everything for later, I end up getting way behind. Once I get behind, it’s a disaster because people are waiting on things and it takes hours upon hours to catch up and get back to everyone. By doing a little at first, I’m much more prepared for the day.

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Image: 1, 2

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It’s Not How Much Email You Get, It’s the Lack of Purpose in Your Life

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If you misidentify a problem, your proposed solution probably won’t work.

Let’s say you have a headache, so you decide to amputate your leg. You’ll probably still have the headache, and then you’ll be missing a leg as well. For more effective treatment of headaches, consider a glass of water and perhaps an aspirin.

Many other treatment plans fail for the same reason. Something is wrong, and you think you know what it is, but that’s just because you’re looking at the obvious.

You may feel, for example, that you’re “overwhelmed.” And perhaps you are. Or you may feel generally anxious, and perhaps you are—or maybe it’s something else entirely. But before you dash off to treat the symptoms, declaring email bankruptcy or a digital sabbatical, promising to return with a 28-day series of themed Instagram photos, take a look at the bigger picture of your life.

Because while you think the issue is all those emails or notifications you’re getting, maybe that’s not it at all. Maybe the real problem isn’t too many inputs, it’s not enough purpose. Maybe you need to ask bigger questions of yourself:

  • If I accomplish only one thing today, what should it be?
  • Who is most important in my life?
  • What am I working toward?
  • How can I be happier?

When you get these things right, the rest of the decisions matter far less. You can spend your time online or not. You can rent a mansion or own a tiny home. The decisions are up to you, like they always are.

Don’t be misled by thinking that the answer is always to simplify. Living with purpose in the digital age isn’t any harder than it’s ever been.

That anxiety you’re feeling isn’t your phone. It’s your soul. It’s your inner voice saying, “Is this all there is?”

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Image: Farid

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The Best Time Management Strategy: Don’t Find the Time, Find the Why

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Over the past few months, I’ve been interviewing people for my upcoming book on dream jobs. Many of the people I’ve talked to are really busy—they’ve found or created their dream job, but they also tend to do a lot of other stuff as well. Some of them have side businesses or run ultramarathons on the weekends. Some of them have active family lives and spend a lot of time running around to kids’ sporting events or other activities. Some of them do all those things… and more.

I don’t always ask the same questions of interviewees, but one tends to come up pretty often: “How do you find the time?”

I liked this answer I heard yesterday:

“It’s less about how do I find time and more about why do I find time. You’ll always find time for things that have a strong enough why.”

Isn’t that good? You’ve probably heard the one about how to get something done, ask a busy person—but this feels even better, because it’s not just about getting things done.

Maybe the best time management strategy is to find your why. Once you have something to work toward, it’s much easier to find the time.

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Image: Cyndy

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To Be More Creative, Schedule Your Work at 80% Capacity

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I’m fortunate to work with great partners, including a wonderful design studio right in Southeast Portland called Jolby & Friends.

I was recently with the Jolby crew on a site visit, and one of them mentioned something about how they deliberately operate their studio on an “80% capacity” model.

The idea is that they schedule themselves only 80% full in order to be available for last-minute client requests, as well as their own work. I thought this was really interesting!

I wrote to Steven, the studio manager, to ask more about how it works. Here’s what he told me:

When Josh and Colby started Jolby & Friends, they were leaving a larger advertising agency. At that agency they would collaborate on work together, but always after hours. As they took the plunge to start their own business they knew that they wanted to have the ability (and their employees to have the ability) to be able to work on things in the studio they were passionate about.

Therefore, Jolby & Friends runs on 80% capacity. What this allows us to do is go after clients that may not have the largest budgets, create work for art shows, and build out other internal passion projects (like this one, for example).

What this doesn’t allow for is people taking extra long coffee breaks, playing foosball, working on freelance work or anything of that sort. The idea isn’t for people to have to only work 32 hours but rather enable our staff to be able to create work that in a larger agency they wouldn’t have the opportunity to do. This practice often influences our client work and allows us to always be learning and pushing our current skill sets.

Lastly, it allows us to be the heroes. When a client calls and says “Is there any way you can do this for me in a week?” the answer is often replied with a smile and “no problem.”

This isn’t always the case, though. For every upside there’s obviously a downside. One issue we often encounter is contractors and vendors not being able to budget their time as efficiently as we do. We actively work on this by explaining our process in detail as well as showing the upsides to some of our processes.

The whole idea is based around a simple idea to create a creative environment in which our staff is comfortable, focused, and—most importantly—excited about what they’re doing.

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As one of the people who’ve called to ask for something in a short period of time, I appreciate the 80% model. 🙂

But I also think it’s a great idea for people who don’t do direct client work. I often find myself scheduled so tightly that I’m not able to step away to think. Deliberately reserving 20% of time for a different kind of creative work is very attractive.

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Image: Dyxie

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A Better Approach to “Never Check Email in the Morning”

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You’ve heard the conventional wisdom: never check email in the morning.

That sounds great, unless your job involves communicating with people, or if you happen to care about what people have to say to you. In either of those cases, you very well might want (or need!) to see what’s happened overnight just as you sit down to work.

It’s also true, though, that it’s easy to get sucked into replies and never end up creating or building or just working on something that requires long-term focus, all because you can’t get your nose out of the inbox.

Years ago I found a better way that I still use most days of the week. Here’s how it works:

I check email every morning—not always “first thing” but usually pretty early. I take a quick scan, delete or archive anything irrelevant, and send any urgent replies. This quick scan takes an average of 10-15 minutes on average.

Then I set out to accomplish something on my real task list, which usually consists of a) writing, and b) moving things forward in various projects.

After working on something for a while and making measurable progress (1,000 words written, two posts scheduled, a draft chapter reviewed, or similar), then I get back to email and pay attention to it off and on throughout the rest of the day.

I think the difference is important:

1. Check email quickly in the morning

2. Do other stuff that involves creating or long-term progress

3. Come back to email after you’ve accomplished other things

That’s the goal: Forget about the goal of “never checking email in the morning,” yet don’t get sucked into spending all your time on it. Try out this approach and see if it works for you.

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Image: Stephen

Decide for yourself what you want, then find a way to make it happen.

Re: “Let’s talk when you’re free”

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Productive people are never “free.” They don’t have 15 minutes on their lunch break to “have a quick call.”

They don’t “kill time”—a terrible phrase. You can always put a window of time to good use if you work for it.

Productive people schedule their priorities—not always their time, but always their priorities. When they don’t have something to do, they find something to do.

By the way, it’s not that productive people don’t make time for friends, family, recovery, and play time. They do. But because they do, and because they have plenty of other things to consider… they’re rarely “free.”

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Image: Taaalia

Decide for yourself what you want, then find a way to make it happen.

How Valuable Were Your Last 40 Minutes?

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Q: What are your tricks for time management?

“The simple answer is to attempt to avoid, at all costs, situations that waste people’s time.”

“Regarding my personal time management, I also try to live by the philosophy that focuses on: ‘What did I do that was productive and beneficial in the last 40 minutes?’ I literally sit at my desk completing a task and ask myself if I am actually being valuable. If I have not done anything constructive or useful in the last 40 minutes, I am not managing my time well and need to adjust what I am doing to execute more effectively.

“It’s also tremendously important to focus on what I am doing in the moment.”

Link: Interview with Wayne K. Johnson

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Image: Camilo Rueda López

Decide for yourself what you want, then find a way to make it happen.

Helpful Email Tip: Always Draw from the Top

I’m pretty good at keeping up with a lot of projects, but inevitably I fall behind on some emails. The way it works for me is that I get stuck on a final batch—I fly through a couple of hundred messages a day, but then there are at least a dozen that stymie me.

I mentioned this phenomenon on Twitter recently, and @kavla made an interesting comment:

In other words: first in, first out. Address the issues related to one email at a time without skipping ahead.

I should mention that I don’t think this will always work for me. Part of the reason I can fly through 200+ messages is because I work on them somewhat out of order, focusing on clearing the easier messages first.

Nevertheless, I can also see that if you’re able to follow the strategy with no exceptions, it might help you.

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Decide for yourself what you want, then find a way to make it happen.