We can divide time management into two parts.
Time Management = Planning + Willpower
We can handle the planning part in three steps.
I explained each step of the planning part in the previous two posts of this series.
Planning is a critical part of time management, but not sufficient by itself.
If you don’t have the willpower to follow up on your plans, no amount of planning will save you.
Today, I’m going to share an exercise to measure and improve your willpower to execute your plans.
Face Reality. Establish a Baseline.
The first step of improving your willpower is to determine where you are right now.
Come Up with a Weekly Plan
The first step of establishing a baseline is to come up with a weekly plan. If you’ve done the exercises in the first two posts, you have your weekly plan. If you haven’t done the exercises, come up with a weekly plan now.
Measure Your Time Usage for a Week
For a week, write down what you have done at the end of each hour on a piece of paper. This sounds like overkill, but do it for a week. Do it only for the hours when you’re awake.
I heard this practice from Dan Peña, an American businessman and business coach. I tried it for a few days, and it was an eye-opener. I do this exercise from time to time when I feel distracted.
Interpret the Results
Bookmark this post and mark your calendar to reread it one week later. Studying the same material multiple times with set intervals in between is called the spaced repetition method. It’s an effective learning method.
At the end of the week, compare your results against your plan.
- What is the percentage of the action items that you have completed?
- How many hours did you spend productive?
- How many hours did you waste?
Interpret the Percentages
- If you completed more than 80% of your action items, your plan was in your comfort zone.
- If you completed less than 80% of your action items, either you have willpower challenges, or you are overestimating your performance.
- If you completed around 80% of your action items, congratulations. You have the ideal task completion rate.
It’s also important to calculate the percentages accurately. If you came up with four easy and one hard action items and completed the four easy action items, this doesn’t mean that you have completed 80% of your plan. Be honest when evaluating your results.
Improve Your Execution
In the previous step, we established a baseline for the execution of our plan. In this step, we are going to improve it. The first step in improving our execution is to analyze it.
Find the Critical Points in Your Execution
In this step, we’ll go over our activity log and look for critical points in our execution. These are the points when we deviate from our plans. Think about those points as dropout points. You drop out from your plans in those critical moments.
Find the Root Cause of the Dropout Points
If we can find the root cause of the dropout points, we can eliminate them from our execution. Let me go over a few examples from my experience so that you have an idea how to carry out this step.
Vague Task Descriptions
I deviate from my plans when my tasks aren’t defined clearly. When I don’t know what to do precisely at a certain moment, I get confused and become prone to distraction.
The solution to vague task descriptions is to define them precisely. For more about this, read the post What Gets Scheduled Gets Measured.
When the task at hand is too big, overwhelming, or unattainable, I feel discouraged. My motivation suffers, and my productivity follows suit.
The solution is to divide big tasks into smaller tasks that can be completed in a single sitting. The ideal duration of a task is between 20 minutes and 1 hour.
As I explained in the post How Do I Publish a Post Every Day, I don’t aim to write a post in a single sitting. I first come up with an outline. Then, I write each section separately. That way, I have a feeling of accomplishment when I complete each step and section.
The Fallacy of Minimum Marginal Costs
- What is the marginal cost of watching another YouTube video? 5 minutes?
- What is the marginal cost of reading another tweet? 15 seconds?
- What is the marginal cost of scrolling your Facebook feed once more? 30 seconds?
The marginal costs of those actions look negligible, but those numbers add up. That’s why the activity log is crucial. You’ll see how much time you’re wasting on a given day.
If you waste an hour a day, you lose 15 complete days in a year, and an entire year in 24 years. Think about it! What could you do with those days and years?
Low Energy Levels
We usually look at our problems on the level of our mind. Sometimes, the issue is on the level of our physiology. Low energy levels are one of those problems.
When I look at my activity log, I see that I deviate from my plan after the breakfast or lunch. Once that digression happens, I get distracted for the rest of the day. For that reason, it’s critical to avoid it.
My solution for the after breakfast or lunch dips is physical activity. I either walk around a little or work for an hour standing up after the breakfast and lunch. I didn’t invest in a standing desk. I use my kitchen counter for this purpose.
Planning is the first half of the time management equation. The other half is the willpower to follow up on your plans. You probably aren’t aware of your level of willpower at the moment. Your productivity and performance might suffer as a result.
To become aware of your level of willpower and to optimize it, follow the steps below for a week.
- Come up with a weekly plan.
- Measure your time usage for a week.
- Measure your task completion ratio.
- Find the dropout points in your execution.
- Find the root causes of those dropout points.
- Eliminate the root causes of your dropout points.
If you think one week isn’t enough to optimize your execution, repeat this exercise as much as you want.
There are some mind hacks that I use to improve my productivity. They are easy and simple tricks that you can use right away. Yet, they make a big difference in my performance.
I’m going to publish a post about those mind hacks soon, so stay tuned and sign up to the email newsletter for weekly roundups of my latest posts.
- How did the activity log exercise work for you? Are you surprised by the results?
- What are your dropout points?
- What’s your plan to deal with them?
Software developer with a Ph.D. and 15 years of experience. I write daily on personal development and life lessons. Sign up to my email newsletter to receive a weekly roundup of my latest posts.