Tag Archives: Time Management

The Paradox of Time Management

With all the automation and productivity tools available to us, you would expect that we have a lot of spare time nowadays.

That’s obviously not the case for most of us. More and more people are struggling with time management today. How’s that possible?

The technology that brought us the automation and productivity tools also brought us a wider range of distractions. On top of that, new ways of filling our spare time became available to most of us.

We have more spare time than before, but we have even more videos, podcasts, events, and Tinder dates fighting for our time.

Obvious distractions such as social media and video gaming are easy to be labeled as time wasters. I already discussed several ways of eliminating them.

This post is about pursuits that seem to be beneficial on the surface but a waste of time, energy, money, and attention in reality. Time is only one of the resources that we have to manage in our lives.

An Example

When I first started training with weights, I followed the advice on YouTube and trained with the heaviest weights that I could lift for a certain amount of repetitions.

I had a good workout, but I had less energy for other activities during the rest of the day. My energy allocation wasn’t optimal, because having an athletic body wasn’t very high on my list of priorities.

The solution to this problem wasn’t to give up training altogether but to reduce the time and energy I invested in it. I decreased the number of days I went to the gym and the intensity of the workouts.

Nowadays, I have a moderate workout in the gym three days a week, and I have more energy to invest in other endeavors during the rest of the day.

Resource Allocation Based on Your Priorities

Prioritizing your life doesn’t mean to invest all of your time, energy, finances, and attention to a single endeavor. It means that your resource allocation is in alignment with your priorities.

Robert S. Kaplan points out the connection between vision, priorities, and time management in his HBR article What to Ask the Person in the Mirror, also available in the book HBR’s 10 Must Reads on Managing Yourself.

You draft a vision for your future. Based on your vision, you come up with a list of priorities. Finally, you adjust your usage of your time according to the list of your priorities.

I’d rather call it vision, priorities, and resource allocation because there’s so much more to resource allocation than just time management.

Needless to say a list of priorities needs to be restricted. If you have a dozen priorities, you don’t have any priorities.

Success requires sacrifices because we have unlimited desires but limited resources.


Our desires are unlimited, and the marketplace offers us numerous opportunities to fulfill them. This is a challenge for our time management in particular and our resource allocation in general.

Obvious distractions are easier to detect, but there are other activities in our lives that seem to be beneficial on the surface but wasting our resources in reality.

The road to success starts with defining our vision of our future, determining our priorities, and then auditing and adjusting our resource allocation accordingly.

This Is Why You’re a Failure

Make an honest assessment of your life.

Do you consider yourself a success or a failure?

If you consider yourself a success, great.

If you consider yourself a failure, keep on reading. You’ll find out why you’re a failure and how to eliminate those reasons from your life.

Before we continue, take a moment to answer the following questions.

  • What are your top 5 life goals?
  • What are your top 5 goals for the next 10 years?
  • What are your top 5 goals for the next 5 years?
  • What are your top 5 goals for this year?
  • What are your top 5 goals for this quarter?
  • What are your top 5 goals for this month?
  • What are your top 5 goals for this week?
  • What are your top 5 action items today?

Maybe, you don’t have 5 goals for each term, but do you have goals for specific terms?

  • Are your goals specific and measurable?
  • Do your goals have deadlines?
  • Are your goals, their satisfaction criteria, and their deadlines written down somewhere?
  • How often do you read or remind yourself of your goals?

How Do You Spend Your Time?

Write down how you spend your time for a week. Set your timer to go off at the end of each hour while you’re awake. When it goes off write down what you have done in the previous hour. Do this for a week.

At the end of the week, look at how you spent your time. Now, imagine those sheets are from someone else. Examine those time sheets and answer the following questions.

  • Does this person have any goals?
  • If yes, what are their goals?
  • Prioritize their goals according to the time spent on each of them.

Now, compare your answers to your goals. Do they match? To which extent do they match? What’s the percentage of the time you spend on your goals?

Sure, we have to spend time sleeping, eating, and recuperating, but what about the rest of the time? Especially, your spare time? Do you do anything about your goals in your free time? Or is it entirely spent on entertainment and distraction?

How Do You Spend Your Mental Energy?

Now, we’ll go to a deeper level. Do the same exercise above, but now with your thoughts instead of your time.

At the end of each waking hour, write down how you spent your attention in the previous hour. Which thoughts did you think? To which thoughts did you pay attention and invest mental energy?

At the end of the week, ask the same questions for your thoughts.

  • Does this person have any goals?
  • If yes, what are their goals?
  • Prioritize their goals according to the mental energy spent on each of them.

Do your answers above match the goals you’ve written above?

Now, You Know Why

If you’ve done these exercises or have a rough idea of what your answers would be, you know why you’re a failure. It’s one or more of the following.

  • You haven’t written down specific, measurable goals with deadlines.
  • The way you spend your time doesn’t match your goals.
  • The way you spend your mental energy doesn’t match your goals.

Become a Success

Once you determine the reasons you’re a failure, it’s time to work on becoming a success.

  • Write down your top 5 specific, measurable goals for different terms with their deadlines.
  • Make sure that the way you spend your time reflects your goals and their priorities.
  • Make sure that the way you spend your mental energy reflects your goals and their priorities.

If you don’t do these steps, don’t expect any success in your life.

Resource Allocation Is a Critical Skill for Your Personal Success

Economics is about allocation of scarce resources. But what does that have to do with personal development? Why do I write about it in a personal development blog? Isn’t economics about the finances of countries, big banks, and corporations?

If you read the economy sections of newspapers, you might think so. But economics, or allocation of scarce resources, is every bit relevant to individuals and small businesses as it’s relevant to countries and big corporations.

We all have infinite wants, but finite resources.

On the surface, it seems easy to allocate the resources of a person, a family, or a small business. In reality, most of us don’t pay attention to how we allocate our resources. Most of us don’t have a budget or plan. As a result, we don’t make the most of our resources.

An excellent resource in this topic is the audio program Thinking like an Economist: A Guide to Rational Decision Making by Prof. Randall Bartlett.

What comes to your mind when you read about economics and resources?

You’re probably thinking about money. However, I’m not only talking about money. I’m talking about time, attention, and energy as well.

They are all scarce resources. They are all at least as important as money and critical to your success. I recommend managing your finances, time, energy, as well as your attention.

When you spend money, you can always earn it later. When you spend time, it’s gone forever. That makes time even more valuable than money. The same is true for attention and energy.

Managing Your Energy

We all have 24 hours in a day, but our levels of attention and energy vary throughout the day. Therefore, it’s critical how we spend our time when our attention and energy is at its peak on a given day.

We can also increase our energy with proper diet, exercise, and rest. If you think that you don’t have time for any of that, consider your lack of energy as a result of improper diet, and insufficient exercise and rest.

How do your low levels of energy affect your performance even if you spend most of your time working?

To learn more about managing your energy, I recommend the Harvard Business Review article Manage Your Energy, Not Your Time. That article is also in their book HBR’s 10 Must Reads on Managing Yourself.

Setting Up a Personal Budget Isn’t Rocket Science

I like the budget explained in the book Secrets of the Millionaire Mind by T. Harv Eker. You divide your income after taxes into following accounts.

  • 10% financial freedom account
  • 10% play account
  • 10% long-term savings for spending account
  • 10% education account
  • 50% necessities account
  • 10% give account

The money in your financial freedom account is only used for investing and creating passive income streams. The principal of the funds in this account is never spent. You only spend its interest when you’re retired.

You need to spend 10% of your income to enjoy yourself to avoid burnout. Long-term savings for spending account can be spent on unexpected expenses like medical bills or car repair.

Don’t forget to invest 10% of your income into education. That’s not only the education of your children but also your own education. Participating in seminars and workshops, hiring a mentor or coach, buying books, audio programs, and online courses count toward your education.

50% of your income is allocated to your basic necessities such as mortgage, rent, electricity, groceries, and other bills. 10% of your income is allocated to charitable donations.

These percentages might be different for you, but the idea is to have a structure for your spending and to follow that structure. Also, don’t forget to allocate money to each account no matter how low your income is.

Time Management

The idea behind time management is to have a vision, priorities, and a daily and weekly routine to work toward the realization of that vision. You can also increase your productivity by keeping your schedule simple.

Managing Your Attention, a.k.a. Mindfulness

As a personal development topic, managing your attention isn’t as popular as time management. Nevertheless, it’s as important as time management, if not more.

There’s a term for managing your attention. It’s called mindfulness. Just like our time, money, and energy, we can also waste our attention or make the most of it.

We can focus our attention on thoughts and input that benefit or harm our lives. It’s up to us to make a conscious choice about how we use our attention.


It’s one thing to know what the ideal allocation of resources is. It’s another thing to apply that ideal allocation in reality. The difference between both is your willpower to follow up on your plans, budget, and decisions.

You have to invest time in coming up with plans, budgets, and decisions, as well as developing the self-control to follow up on those plans, budgets, and decisions.


We, humans, have infinite wants but finite resources. That makes resource allocation a critical skill in life. Resource allocation isn’t only relevant to countries and corporations. It’s equally applicable to our lives as well as to our work.

When we think about economics, the first thing that comes to mind is money. However, there are other, irreplaceable, invaluable resources that we have to manage well. They are our time, energy, and attention.

For a successful life, we need to learn to manage our finances, time, energy, and attention well. Willpower is an essential variable of this equation because we need it to follow up on our plans, budgets, and decisions.

Mastery of resource allocation doesn’t come overnight, but it’s a critical skill that’s worth investing your time and effort in.

Simplicity Is the Precursor to Productivity

There’s a principle in computer programming called KISS. It stands for “keep it simple, stupid.”

KISS is also a productivity principle. The more complicated a process is, the less productive it is.

“Complexity is the enemy of execution.” Tony Robbins

Creating and following complex processes give some people a false sense of hard work. Complex processes result in hard work but not in satisfactory results.

If you aren’t satisfied with your results in your private and professional life, take a look at your day-to-day execution.

How simple is your day-to-day execution?

I prefer the Ivy Lee Method for my day-to-day execution.

  • Determine six tasks to be completed on a given day.
  • Prioritize those tasks.
  • Start with the most important task.
  • Don’t move to the next task before a task is complete.
  • At the end of the day, move the unfinished tasks to the list of the next day.

It’s a simple yet effective method. It helps you apply the Pareto Principle.

The Pareto Principle

The Pareto Principle is also known as the 80/20 rule. Vilfredo Pareto was an Italian economist who realized that 80% of Italy’s land was owned by 20% of the population. We can recognize the same ratio in various fields.

  • 20% of the salespeople make 80% of the sales.
  • 20% of the work produces 80% of the results.
  • 20% of the workers make the 80% of the mistakes.

And the list goes on.

If you can determine the task that produces 80% of your results, you can schedule it as the first task to be completed on a given day.

When that task is complete, you will have produced 80% of the value of a working day within a few hours.

After that, you can continue with the remainder of your list in peace, knowing that your working day is more or less over. You can even take a free afternoon once in a while if you need some rest.

Do you have a daily routine?

To keep my working day simple, I follow a daily and weekly routine. I have a checklist of tasks to be completed every day and every Sunday. Those tasks serve my long-term goals. They are sorted according to priority and recorded in my Evernote.

I also have checklists for each month, quarter, and year.

Having a routine for each day, week, month, quarter, and year has two main benefits.

  • I don’t need to think and decide about what to do next. I start working immediately on the most essential task.
  • Forgetting a task is impossible.

If you don’t have a daily routine, I recommend you come up with one.

How Simple Is Your Daily Routine?

Take a look at the actions in your daily routine and answer the following questions.

  • Which actions are essential?
  • Which actions are nice-to-dos?
  • Which actions produce the most value?
  • Which actions produce only marginal value?

Once you answer those questions, it’s time to rearrange your daily routine. Schedule the essential and high-value tasks earlier in the day and nice-to-dos later in the day.

A year ago, I used to start the day with an hour of fitness workout. Back then, I wasn’t satisfied with my results. Working out is a nice-to-do for me. I moved it later in the day, just before dinner. Now, I’m more satisfied with my results.

When working on my blog, the first task I complete is to write and publish a blog post. That is at least 80% of the value I produce with my blog. Reading and responding to comments and emails and participating in social media come after that.

Let Go of the Inessential

If a task doesn’t add any significant value to your life or work, let it go. Don’t waste your precious time with it.

I realized that reading news, scrolling the Facebook feed, and checking my email multiple times a day don’t add any value to my life. I avoid those actions as much as possible. As a result, I have more time to produce real value and enjoy my life.

Back in the day, I’d invest in a variety of investment vehicles with a variety of hypotheses. That sounds complicated, and it is. As a result, I had to follow the price movements of each investment and check whether they satisfy my hypotheses.

At a certain moment, I realized that my investing practice was just a waste of time. It didn’t produce the results that justified the amount of time I invested in it.

Throughout the time, I wound down that portfolio. Now, I’m investing in only two instruments. I check two prices once a week and don’t think about it much, because I believe in the long-term profitability of both instruments.


Complicating our work and life gives us a false sense of hard work. It makes us feel smart. The reality is the complete opposite.

Complex procedures produce poor results. Inexperienced and foolish people complicate their work and life. Experienced and intelligent people simplify every aspect of their work and life.

The first step in simplifying your work and life is to come up with daily, weekly, monthly, quarterly, and yearly routines.

When drafting your routines, take into account the Pareto Principle and prioritize the tasks that produce the most value.

When executing your daily routine, work on a single task at hand and don’t move to the next task before completing the current one. In other words, apply the Ivy Lee Method.

Once you establish a daily routine, scrutinize it and eliminate the inessential and low-value actions from your daily routine.

If you do all of that, you’ll end up with a lot of time and resources to enjoy your life.

The Overlooked Variable of Time Management

When we think about time management, the first thing that comes to mind is planning. Planning is a critical part of time management, but not the only component.

The other component of time management is the willpower to follow up with your plans. You might analyze and prioritize your projects and plan them in your to-do lists. If you don’t complete the tasks on your to-do lists, all of that work means nothing.

Execution is as important as planning. I shared how you can audit and improve your execution in yesterday’s post. Today’s post will be about practical, yet effective mind hacks that you can apply right away.

The Optimal Emotional State for Maximum Performance

There is an optimal emotional state for maximum performance. It’s neither being too happy nor being too depressed. It’s neither being too optimistic nor being too pessimistic. It’s a sweet spot between those extremes.

Acknowledge Your Accomplishments

As humans, we tend to downplay positives and exaggerate negatives. As a result, we end up being too pessimistic and get depressed.

To overcome that pitfall, acknowledge your accomplishments, and be grateful for what you have. That doesn’t mean to ignore your mistakes or weaknesses. Acknowledge them too and convert them to points of improvement (POI).

The golden ratio between accomplishments and POI’s seems to be around 5 to 1. At the end of each day, write down five achievements and one POI. This practice boosts your self-esteem and keeps you motivated to achieve more.

Build Momentum

Once you have momentum, you’re unstoppable. You’re driven to create more, deliver more, and accomplish more.

You build momentum by completing a series of tasks, no matter how small those tasks are. The secret to creating momentum is to divide your big tasks into smaller tasks.

Ideally, your tasks should take somewhere between 20 minutes and one hour. That way, you can complete them in a single sitting.

Work through a Checklist of Bitesize Tasks

Before starting a work session, come up with a checklist of bitesize tasks. That way, you don’t need to think about what to do next. You have clarity.

You won’t lose time between steps. You won’t miss a step. You won’t have to deal with massive, hard challenges. All you have to do is to finish those tasks one by one.

You can even convert creative activities to checklists of bitesize tasks. For an example, check the post A Creativity Exercise to Come Up with Counterintuitive Blog Post Titles that Get Clicked.

The more you accomplish, the more motivated you get to accomplish more.

As you complete the tasks on your list one by one, you feel a sense of accomplishment. You feel like a machine.

Focus on a Single Task at Hand

You can start ten tasks and feel like you’re working hard. Or you can complete one task and make actual progress toward your goals.

Starting ten tasks won’t make any difference in your life. Completing a task will. Focus on a single task until its completion. Check it on your to-do list. And then, proceed with the next one.

Gamify the Process

Assign a duration to the next task on your to-do list. Set the timer and try to complete the task within the duration you set.

Create micro-challenges for yourself. Those micro-challenges have to be attainable, but slightly outside of your comfort zone. That way, you’ll push yourself to perform a little better each time.

Adopt the Optimization Mindset

Small improvements add up over time. If you improve your life 1% a day, you’ll improve it 38 times over a year. That is 3800% improvement.

Ask Yourself Motivating Questions

Work toward Weekly Goals

To-do lists consist of action items that are entirely under your control. It’s up to you to get them done or not. For example, it’s under your control to publish a post every day for the next thirty days.

Goals aren’t completely under your control. They involve events that are outside of your control. That’s what makes them exciting.

Focusing on short-term goals such as weekly goals can make you obsessive about your work. That’s the type of motivation to achieve enormous feats.

Your weekly goals have to be related to your long-term goals. Ideally, you start with a meaningful long-term goal and break it down into smaller goals until you come up with a weekly goal. Check how I came up with my weekly goal.

Find Accountability Partners

Find a person or a group of people that will hold you accountable. Report the completion rate of your to-do list and your progress toward your goals, ideally once a week. You can find an accountability partner or build an online mastermind group.

Create a Failproof Identity and Environment

Most of the time, we focus on our actions to accomplish our goals. There are two other ingredients of success. They are more fundamental than our actions because they influence our actions directly. These two ingredients are our identity and our environment.

Building an identity might take some time, but that doesn’t mean you can’t start working on it right away.

Creating an environment is easier if you have the means. To start with, get rid of everything that distracts you and get the best equipment that would improve your performance.


Even though we can improve our performance, we all have limitations. Failure and dry spells are inevitable in any meaningful endeavor.

When I fail at a specific goal, I look at the big picture of my life and my long-term goals. That motivates me to keep going.

Your long-term goals could take longer than you expect. You need to survive those long stretches of dry spells. You can do that by focusing on essentials and letting go of everything else.

Reward Yourself

Last but not least, promise yourself some downtime and rewards. If your life looks like one big stretch of hard work, you might get discouraged and give up. To avoid that, schedule some quality time for yourself and for your loved ones.


There are a lot of little tricks you can use to improve your motivation and performance. I don’t expect you to learn, internalize, and apply all of these tips in a single week.

Pick one of the tips, and apply it for a week. Bookmark this post and come back one week later. Pick another tip and repeat the process.

Make continuous improvement in your life. Never stop improving your life and processes.

Your Turn

  • Which tip is your favorite?
  • Which tip will you apply this week?
  • Do you have any tips that I haven’t mentioned here?

Optimize the Execution of Your Plans with This Simple Exercise

We can divide time management into two parts.

Time Management = Planning + Willpower

We can handle the planning part in three steps.

  1. Analysis
  2. Prioritization
  3. Scheduling

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.

What gets measured gets improved.

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.

Overwhelming Tasks

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?

If wasting time is a problem for you, I recommend you read the posts The Fallacy of Minimum Marginal Costs and The Ultimate Self-Motivation Guide.

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.

  1. Come up with a weekly plan.
  2. Measure your time usage for a week.
  3. Measure your task completion ratio.
  4. Find the dropout points in your execution.
  5. Find the root causes of those dropout points.
  6. 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.

Coming Soon

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.

Your Turn

  • 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?

What Gets Scheduled Gets Done

In yesterday’s post, I shared the simple formula of time management.

Time Management = Planning + Willpower

I split planning into three steps.

  1. Analysis
  2. Prioritization
  3. Scheduling

I explained the analysis and prioritization steps in yesterday’s post. Today’s post will be about the third step, scheduling.

What Is Scheduling?

By scheduling, I mean the planning of day-to-day activities. Technically, scheduling is assigning a date and time to an activity. Sometimes, I assign a specific time to an activity, for example, in case of an appointment.

In other times, I indicate the order of the action items, without indicating specific start and end times. This order usually matches the priority of the action item, but not necessarily so.

In some cases, I might have an appointment early in the morning and a more important task in the afternoon.

The Level of Detail

It’s up to you how much detail you want to include in your scheduling. I prefer to plan only critical and important tasks in my day-to-day schedule. Check yesterday’s post for what I mean by critical and important tasks.

By including only critical and important tasks, my daily plan doesn’t get crowded. I can quickly see the top 4-5 essential actions I have to take on that day. On some days, I go over 5, but 4-5 essential tasks seem ideal to me.

The Pitfall of To-Do List Apps

In the past, I used a to-do list app. I added every idea that crossed my mind as a to-do item to that list. As a result, I ended up with thousands of action items. The critical and important action items got lost among the “nice to-do’s” and “one day, I’ll do’s.”

I stopped mixing my casual ideas and high-priority tasks. I add my casual ideas to a separate note in Evernote.

The Tool that I Use for Scheduling

The app that I use the most is Evernote. I use it for scheduling as well.

I like the flexibility of a note. I can structure and format it any way I want. I can combine several notes together with the internal link functionality. Here are some of the features that make Evernote an excellent scheduling tool for me.

  • Shortcuts
  • Duplicate a note
  • Checkboxes in notes
  • Copy internal link to a note
  • Format a note

How Do I Schedule?

The goal of scheduling is to plan predetermined activities over days. If you wonder how I identify and prioritize my activities, you can check yesterday’s post.

I make a distinction between two types of activities.

  • Repetitive
  • One-off

Repetitive activities repeat themselves one or multiple times every week, every month, every quarter, and every year. I use templates to plan my repetitive activities.


I have three templates.

  • Yearly
  • Monthly
  • Weekly

I include the quarterly activities in the monthly template.

A template is a simple note that contains the repetitive activities to be carried out in a given time frame. For example, a yearly template includes the following items.

  • Birthdays
  • Anniversaries
  • Tax and insurance administration and payments
  • Car maintenance
  • And so on…

Those are the events and actions that happen once a year. I divide the yearly template into twelve months. The formatting functionality of Evernote is perfect for doing that. Similarly, I divide the weekly template into seven weekdays.

Fig. 1. Weekly Template

Creating an Actual Schedule

I create an actual schedule before the related period starts. I create a note for the next year, the next month, and next week, before they start. That is really simple with the “duplicate a note” functionality.

The “duplicate a note” functionality creates a copy of the note, in this case, our template note. Then, I adjust the title of the note to the related year, month, or week, and that’s it. For the week, I use the start and end date of the week as the title.

Once I duplicate a template note, I have the repetitive tasks in my note. Then, I add the one-off tasks to the period note.

How Long Does It Take?

Once you have the analysis, prioritization, and templates ready, it takes around 10-15 minutes to create a weekly plan.

It takes more time to prepare the analysis, prioritization, and templates. Those tasks are never complete.

As time passes, your life evolves, and your priorities change.

Your analysis, prioritization, and templates change with your priorities. You need to invest time in those activities to keep up with the priorities of your life.

How do I Create an Actual Schedule?

I work on scheduling once a week on Sunday. I complete all the scheduling work in 10-15 minutes.

  • If the next year is approaching, I create a note for the next year.
  • If the next month is approaching, I create a note for the next month.
  • In either case, I create a note for the next week.

Once those notes are ready, I move specific action items from the year note to the month note, and from the month note to the week note. Then, I add one-off activities to the week note. After that step, my weekly schedule is complete.

I only include specific action items on my schedule. I don’t add vague plans.

For example, “bring the car to maintenance” is a specific action item. “Think about buying a new car” isn’t. Vague plans have to be analyzed, made concrete, and prioritized in the analysis and prioritization phases.

Long Term Note

In addition to my year, month, and week notes, I have a long-term note. Don’t confuse the long-term note with a long-term vision or any other abstract idea. Those ideas go to the analysis document.

The long-term note contains the action items that have a deadline that’s after the end of the next year. For example, I have to renew my password and id every five to ten years.

Putting It All Together

There aren’t many options to order notes in Evernote. As a result, you end up with a bunch of notes without any logical order. I create an index note to overcome that problem.

Fig. 2. The Index Note

Every time, I create a new year, month, or week note, I add that note to my index note. This is really easy in Evernote with the “copy internal link” functionality. Then, I paste the link to the index note.

Quick Access to Important Notes

The index note and the template notes are important notes. I add a shortcut to them on the left panel.

Fig. 3. Shortcuts

The Order of Tasks in a Day

As I mentioned before, I don’t assign timeslots to tasks in a day. The only exception to that is the appointments with set start and end times.

I plan the tasks without set start times according to their priority. The higher priority a task has, the earlier it is scheduled.

Having a set order of tasks has several benefits.

  • Minimizes the time wasted on thinking what to do next.
  • Minimizes decision fatigue by avoiding deciding on what to do next.
  • The tasks with higher priority get done first.

The Impact of Planning on Your Life

“Every minute spent in planning saves as many as ten minutes in execution.” Brian Tracy

I included the quote above because I like the idea behind it. I don’t agree with it 100%.

In some cases, planning could be a massive waste of time.

In the past, I got lost in details and kept planning. As a result, I lost a lot of time planning without getting much work done.

As the years past, I learned to focus on the most critical and important tasks and let go of the rest when planning.

Focus on the most critical and important and let go of the rest. If you do that, planning has more benefits than 10x time savings. It makes impossible possible.


Time management involves planning and willpower. Planning requires analysis, prioritization, and scheduling.

I discussed the analysis and prioritization in yesterday’s post and scheduling in today’s post.

Scheduling involves two steps.

  1. Having yearly, monthly, weekly templates that include repetitive tasks.
  2. Creating actual period schedules based on the templates by adding the one-off tasks.

When scheduling, I focus only on the most essential, specific tasks. I order my tasks according to their priorities if they don’t have set start times, like appointments.

I use Evernote to create my day-to-day schedules. It has several features that make creating and using a day-to-day plan efficient.

When it comes to scheduling, the proof is in the pudding.

You have to go through the steps explained in yesterday’s and today’s post to see what it does for you and your life. Work on setting it up for a month and use it for a month. See the effects yourself.

Coming Soon

Most of us make the mistake of equating time management to planning. Planning is only half of the equation. The other half is willpower.

If you don’t have the willpower to follow up on your plans, no amount of planning will save you.

Stay tuned for a post on the willpower aspect of time management. That post won’t be the average motivational post shouting at you to get things done. I’ll back it up with some mind hacks that you can use right away.

Your Turn

Do you have any questions or feedback over the system explained in yesterday’s and today’s posts? Let me know in the comments. I’ll do my best to answer your questions and write a follow-up post if necessary.

The Simple Formula of Time Management

Do you have time management challenges? Do you read a lot about time management, but don’t make much progress?

If you answer yes to those questions, you’re not alone. I was exactly at the same point until I came up with my own system.

Time Management Is a Complex Problem

We treat time management as a simple problem. It isn’t. It’s a combination of several problems. Let’s divide time management into two problems. Then, we’re going to divide each problem into smaller parts.

Time Management = Planning + Willpower

If you have a time management problem, you either have a planning problem, a willpower problem, or both. Don’t worry if you have both. I’ve been there as well.

Now that we have the formula, we can work on each component separately. In this post, I’m going to discuss the first two parts of the planning component. I’m going to discuss the third part of planning and willpower in future posts.

Divide and Conquer

Dividing a complex problem into smaller problems and solving each part separately is called divide and conquer. It’s an effective problem-solving method.

Solving its small parts separately is much easier than aiming at the big problem. When you solve the small parts, the big problem is solved automatically. Let’s start with the planning part.


I’m going to divide the planning problem into three parts.

Planning = Analysis + Prioritization + Scheduling

In this post, I’m going to discuss the analysis and prioritization parts. I’m going to discuss the scheduling part in future posts.


The analysis part involves dividing a big project into smaller tasks. You can consider your life as one big project and divide it into life areas.

  • Family
  • Work
  • Finances
  • Social Life
  • And so on…

The list above is to give you an idea. Everybody has a different list. Some people have a few items on their lists, others a lot.

I’m not here to tell you how to divide your life into its components. It’s a decision you have to make. But I recommend dividing your life into areas and focusing on each area separately.

Divide Each Life Area into Projects

Once you have the main areas of your life, it’s time to divide them into projects. For example, your job might involve more than one project. Again, work on those projects separately.

Now, go over each project and break it down into tasks. Some of those tasks will be one-off tasks. Others will be repeating tasks.

Ideally, you should divide each project to a point where you can complete a task in a single sitting.

That’s a Lot of Work!

I can hear you screaming “that’s a lot of work!” Yes, it is! But you don’t have to do all of it in a single sitting. Moreover, you don’t have to go into detail for each area, for each project, or for each task.

Simply focus on the most urgent and important areas, projects, and tasks. That already involves some prioritization.

If you can’t divide a life area, project, or task to the point of single sitting activities, you won’t be able to schedule them in a specific timeslot on a given day.

If you can’t schedule a task, you won’t be able to complete it. As a result, your time management challenges will perpetuate.

What gets scheduled, gets done.

Which Tool Should I Use?

There are a lot of planning, scheduling, and to-do list tools out there. For the analysis part, keep things simple. Use MS Word.

MS Word has some less known features that make it more than enough to do an analysis like this.

  • Use heading styles to divide your plan into its parts.
  • Collapse and expand headings to focus on the sections you’re working.
  • Use the navigation pane to have an overview of the headings.
  • Use bullet points to jot down tasks.
  • Insert page breaks between life areas and projects if necessary.

In the navigation pane, you can use the following functionalities.

  • Click on a heading for quick access to it in the text editor.
  • Drag and drop headings.
  • Promote or demote headings.
  • Add a new heading or subheading.
  • Expand or collapse a heading or a subheading.
  • Adjust the level of headings to be shown.
  • Adjust the width of the navigation pane.
  • Move the navigation pane.

MS Word Life Plan Template

Adjust the Width of the Navigation Pane

The overview of your planning is as important as the details of it. For that reason, you can increase the size of the navigation page up to 50% of the screen.

Move the Navigation Pane

I prefer the working space to be on the left and the navigation space to be on the right of the screen. You can move the navigation pane if you want to try a different setting than the default one.


This step is a critical part of scheduling. Which tasks are more important than others in your analysis? Which tasks are less important?

In a previous post, I explained the Eisenhower Matrix. The Eisenhower Matrix is a method to categorize tasks. It has two dimensions, importance and urgency.

Prioritization means categorizing your tasks according to their importance. The Eisenhower Matrix has two categories in the importance dimension, important and not important.

The ABCDE Method

Today, I want to introduce the ABCDE method. As the name suggests, the ABCDE method has five categories. Each letter stands for a category.

  • A. Critical task. Serious implications if not addressed timely.
  • B. Important task. This task has significant benefits in the long run.
  • C. Nice to do.
  • D. Delegate. Someone else can do this cheaper, faster, better than you.
  • E. Eliminate. No benefits. Even harmful.

Now, you have to go over your plan and assign a letter to each task.


I first read about the ABCDE method from the book Focal Point by Brian Tracy. I came across the Eisenhower Matrix for the first time in the book The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen Covey.

The ABCDE method focuses on the prioritization of tasks. The Eisenhower Matrix also branches out into scheduling with the urgency dimension.


Don’t underestimate the letter D. It is the most avoided letter in this system. There are two counterarguments against delegation.

  1. Lack of money
  2. Lack of trust

Lack of Money

In some cases, lack of money is a legitimate argument, but not always. Think about it from another perspective.

  • What’s your hourly rate, your hourly income?
  • What’s the hourly rate of the person that you’re going to delegate the task at hand?

If your hourly rate is higher than the person you’re going to hire, then it’s only logical to delegate.

Moreover, some people complete a task faster and better than you. There’s a person who helps me with household once a week. They complete the task in half the time that I do. They do a much better job than me. I’m grateful for their work.

Lack of Trust

Some people want to do everything themselves. You can’t scale your life and business by doing everything yourself.

As I explained in the post, A Buddhist Monk’s Take on Business, employees are one of the four stakeholders of a business. If you want to get to the next level in your life and business, you have to start delegating some tasks.

If you have a difficult time trusting others, start slowly. Start delegating small tasks to freelancers.

Come up with clear requirements in advance and verify the work against those requirements. Once you build trust with your freelancers, you can increase the amount of work you delegate.


Time management is a complex problem. It can be divided into two parts, planning and willpower. Planning can be broken down into analysis, prioritization, and scheduling.

In the analysis part, we come up with an overview of all the areas of our lives. Then we divide each area into projects, tasks, and action items. In prioritization, we assign different priorities to each task.

Delegation is a critical yet avoided part of time management. If you avoid it because of lack of money, compare your hourly rate with the hourly rate of a freelancer.

If you avoid delegation because of lack of trust, you can build trust by delegating small tasks and following up on them.

Stay tuned for my posts on scheduling and willpower. They are also critical parts of time management.

The App that I Use the Most

There are a few tools that I use on a daily basis. Evernote is the tool I use the most. I can’t imagine my life without it. It’s like a second brain to me. It’s almost as important as Google in my life. I have two Evernote accounts. One is for private purposes and the other one is for my work.

When you first download and install Evernote, it looks like a simple note taking software. You just take notes and Evernote stacks them on each other. You might wonder what the buzz is about.

When you dive into different functionalities of Evernote, you realize that you can customize Evernote in various ways according to your own wants and needs. If you read different articles by different Evernote enthusiasts, you will come across different usages of Evernote.

When you look at how different people use Evernote, you might think that they are using different software. That’s the advantage of Evernote. It’s a simple software that can be customized the way you want.

In this post, I’m going to explain the way I use Evernote. It doesn’t mean my way is the best way. This is what works the best for me.  I will introduce you the functionalities that I use. Feel free to use as much or as less as I explain here.

What do I use Evernote for?

I use my private account to

  • Capture ideas,
  • Organize ideas,
  • Use it as a combination of an agenda and a to do list,
  • Take notes.

I use the work account to

  • Maintain a knowledge base,
  • Use it as a notepad.

Here are the Evernote features I use the most.

  • Synchronization between laptop and smartphone
  • Linking notes to each other
  • Duplicating notes
  • Tagging notes
  • Searching notes
  • Shortcuts

Capture Ideas

As I have mentioned in a previous post, I write down around ten ideas a day that pop up in my mind in Evernote. This is what I call capturing ideas. It is rather an easy process.

This is where the synchronization comes handy. I can take notes whenever I want, wherever I want with my smartphone. Then those notes are synchronized to my laptop and I can work on them at home with my laptop.

Organize Ideas

Capturing ideas is the easy part. Organizing them are the harder part, but it’s necessary to be able to use them, for example when writing blog posts.

Once a week, I go over these ideas and process them. I put the similar ones together. If there are sufficient ideas around a certain topic, I create a separate note for them. For example, I have separate notes for business, writing, productivity, and so on.

When you use Evernote for a long time, you end up with thousands of notes. They need to be organized to be useful. In the past, I used the shortcut functionality for that purpose.

Unfortunately, the shortcut functionality hasn’t been stable recently when synchronizing notes. Old versions of shortcuts started to override new versions. That meant I lost my work. So, I stopped relying on them.

I create a few index notes, which contain links to other notes. Index notes are more flexible and stable than shortcuts. Now, I use a few shortcuts on my sidebar. They point to my index notes. Even if those shortcuts are lost due to synchronization errors, I can easily find my index notes via the search box.

Use It as a Combination of an Agenda and a To Do List

When I got my first smartphone, I experimented with a lot of calendar and to do list apps. Calendar apps are great for keeping track of appointments. To do list apps are great for keeping track of your tasks. However, I wanted to have a combination of both.

I couldn’t find an app that combined the both, an agenda and a to do list. I created a system on Evernote instead. Setting it up and optimizing it took a while, but now, it doesn’t take more than fifteen minutes a week to maintain it.

I have separate notes for yearly, monthly, and weekly templates. Those notes contain the tasks that need to be completed every year, month, and week.

If a task requires several steps to complete, I create a separate note for it and add a link to it in the relevant template. For example, collecting the documents for tax returns is a separate note that is linked in the yearly template.

Besides the templates, I have separate notes for the current week, current month, current year, and longer term. I organize them in an index note using the structure below. Each line is a link to the corresponding note.

  • 2019 – 2021
  • 2018
    • 2018 March
      • 20180305 – 11
      • 20180226 – 0304
    • 2018 February
      • 20180219 – 25
      • 20180212 – 18
      • 20180205 – 11
      • 20180129 – 0204

It is really easy to create these notes, because I have the templates in place. All I have to do is to create a new note by duplicating the template note. Every year, I duplicate the yearly template, every month, the monthly template, and every week, the weekly template.

After duplicating the template, I update the dates and add the extra tasks for the related period, which doesn’t take more than fifteen minutes a week.

This system is the backbone of how I organize my life, including the administrative tasks such as company taxes, personal taxes, or birthdays, appointments, repetitive tasks, and so on.

Take Notes

This is an obvious use of Evernote, but this shouldn’t be underestimated. Especially, the search functionality plays an important role here once you have thousands of notes in your account.

Sometimes, I write down some notes or copy and paste something from the Internet when I’m at home using my laptop. Then, I can easily find that information back when I’m outside using my smartphone.

That’s a lifesaver, especially when you’re traveling. You can write down as many details as you want and plan your travel in advance. When you’re traveling, you don’t need to hold anything in your mind. All you have to do is to refer to your notes.

Maintain a Knowledge Base

A knowledge base is a lifesaver at work. A lot of public information can be found via Google, but I regularly need private information as well.

There are some procedures that I have to go through every once in a while. They have to be done every year or every quarter. Since they are so infrequent, I don’t know every detail of them by heart. If I saved those procedures in a document somewhere in my computer, it would get lost and not be well-organized.

Evernote is the perfect tool for maintaining a knowledge base. I create separate notes for each procedure. Then, I tag those notes with the name of a customer or a technology. Then, I can access notes related to that customer or technology easily by filtering the notes according to those tags.

Use It as a Notepad

When I start a complex task, I come up with an execution plan first. I write down that execution plan in a separate note in Evernote.

I can add as many details as I want to those notes, including screenshots, which are very handy when developing software. I keep an index of all of those tasks in a separate note.

Sometimes, I come up with an idea that is not urgent. Or I come across a bug or a point of improvement. I write them down in separate notes. I keep those notes indexed in a separate backlog index note.


As you can see, I use Evernote heavily in my private and professional life on a daily basis. It made a huge difference in my life and in the way I organize my work and private life.

I didn’t go too much into detail in this post. I just wanted to mention the possibilities. You can easily google the details of each feature.

You can customize Evernote according to your own wants and needs. It takes some time and experimentation. If you stick with it, you’ll find a way to make it work for you. If you get stuck, you can find a lot of documentation online using Google or ask your questions on their forum.

Fixing Facebook

Mark Zuckerberg declared his intention to fix Facebook, explained how he’s going to do it, and Facebook shares lost 4% of their value in a single day.

How is that relevant to personal development?

A lot. Facebook’s business model is about catching your attention, keeping that attention, and then selling that attention to marketers. This made them a $500+ billion company. Now, think about it. This is how valuable your attention is. And you’re donating something that precious to Facebook.

What could you create in your life, if you directed your attention to something productive instead of donating it to Facebook?

My Personal Experience with Facebook

Facebook is a great product for people who have friends and family all over the world. It’s a great way to stay in touch with those connections. The downside of Facebook is its news feed. That is a huge time waster without adding any value in return.

Unlike many people who quit Facebook in the past, I never quit Facebook. My connections on Facebook are too valuable for me to do that. However, I have quit reading the news feed. I just check the notifications once in a while.

If everybody used Facebook like I use it, Facebook will be out of business soon, because their business model is based on engaging people with their news feed and selling advertisements on the news feed.

Stock Market’s Reaction

Mark Zuckerberg stated his plans to emphasize posts by friends and family in the news feed and their shares lost more than 4% of their value in a single day. This is something I don’t understand. They have been doing that all the time and it’s actually good for the business.

If you ever run a Facebook page, you know that the only way to get in front of the users is to advertise your posts, i.e. pay Facebook to distribute your post to users. That only makes sense if you’re a business monetizing its posts. That’s why I’ve quit running Facebook pages. So, this will not change anyway.

  • Why does the stock market overreact?
  • Do they not know that this is already the status quo in Facebook?
  • Do they not know that this is good for Facebook’s business?
  • Do foreign government’s Facebook advertisements make the 4% of Facebook’s income?
  • Was Facebook’s stock already overpriced and did the market use this news as an excuse for a correction?

If you have an explanation, please let me know. To me, the last scenario seems to be the more realistic than the rest. However, don’t take this as an investment advice, I have quit working on individual stocks. I’m happy with the S&P500 index funds. (Don’t take that as an investment advice as well.)


Your attention is so valuable that it created multiple multi-billion companies, including $500+ billion Facebook. If you’re spending any time on any of the social media channels, you’re donating something irreplaceable to the businesses behind those channels. What are you getting in return? How could you use your attention for something more beneficial to yourself and to your loved ones?


This post is for information purposes only and not intended to be investment advice.