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2010-11-05

For Neil Strauss, every second counts. What about yourself?

Neil Strauss is an author and journalist who has written books like "The Game: Penetrating the Secret Society of Pickup Artists" (how he transformed himself from a hopeless geek into maybe the best pickup artist in the world) and "Emergency: This Book Will Save Your Life" (how he went from a city slicker to a survivalist who can survive the next apocalypse). He also has a mailinglist where he sends out info about his most important activities.

His most recent email was about time management, and if you don't know much about the subject, maybe this can get you inspired to achieve more in your life and use your time wiser.

If after reading this you want to know more, take a look at Brian Tracy's excellent book/e-book/audio book "Eat That Frog: 21 Great Ways to Stop Procrastinating and Get More Done in Less Time", possibly the best and shortest book ever written about the subject of time- and life management.

And if you want to receive Neil's emails, sign up through his site.



From: Neil Strauss
Subject: Every Second Counts
Date: 04.11.2010

I recently tried an experiment.

I decided to see if I was a morning person.

Instead of staying up all night writing, I decided to do one of my thirty-day experiments: I spent a month going to bed at 9:30 p.m. every night and waking up at 5:30 a.m.

Though it meant dashing out of dinners early, turning down all nighttime plans, and going to sleep with work still unfinished, I discovered that I was much more productive this way. By the time most of my friends were waking up, I'd already finished much of my work for the day.

While it did destroy my social life, I learned a lot that month, in part because during those extra morning hours, I began reading books on time management and productivity.

So, in response to several hundred email questions I've received about time management, I thought I'd share some of the advice I picked up.

The books from which I picked up the following tips include "Getting Things Done" by David Allen (a birthday present from Mystery); "First Things First" by Stephen Covey; and "No B.S. Time Management For Entrepreneurs" by Dan Kennedy.

QUICK TIME MANAGEMENT TIPS

1. Know what your time is worth. There's an easy formula to calculate this: Take your earnings for the year. Divide that number by 1760. The resulting number is roughly what you make hourly in a work week. However, considering that statistically most people work for an average of one-third of a work hour, multiply that number by three. Now you know what your time is really worth. Treat it that way.

2. Make lists. For those of you who don't keep running lists of the things you need to do, it's time to start. Get to-do items off your mind and down on paper. Then prioritize them. One way to do so is to mark them as "A" tasks, which must get done right away; B tasks, which must get done that week; and less urgent C tasks, which simply need to get done sometime in the next six months.

3. Link what you do with your time to your longterm goals. With the Internet available as a constant distraction, most of us are constantly busy but not constantly productive. So always ask yourself: "Is what I'm doing right now bringing me any closer to my goals?"

4. Beware of people who suck up your time. Wean them off their dependence on you and teach them to respect your schedule. If they continue to call, text, or distract you, put them in their place politely. Explain, "I'm really busy, so I'm only dealing with things that are urgent do-or-die priorities. If what you need to talk to me about isn't an emergency, let's deal with it later in the week." Handle your priorities first, not theirs. If your door is always open, people will always be walking through it.

5. Turn off the phone while you're working and do not check your email, so that you aren't constantly distracted. Most things can wait. Unless your work requires being available by phone and email all day, set yourself one or two specific windows of time during the day when you deal with emails, phone messages, texts, Facebook, and all the rest of the technological innovations that consume your time and energy.

6. To further manage this, narrow your avenues of communication. Choose one medium for most of your indirect contact: whether it's phone calls, text, Facebook, or email. Create a new phone number or email account and only give it to your inner circle. Then set up vacation responders, voicemail greetings, or autotexts on the rest that tell people who contact you that you're no longer checking those inboxes due to your current workload. Doing this just with my email account saved fourteen hours a week.

7. Try to do something active and physical every day. Though it takes time, it improves focus, so you can use the time you do have more productively and feel better about yourself. In general, as we discussed in one of the first emails I sent you, the secret to happiness is living a balanced life.

8. Keep a log for a week: Write down everything you do in fifteen to hour-long increments. At the end of the week, analyze it and find out how you really spend your time. Then adjust your schedule and priorities accordingly to minimize the distractions that eat away your time and expand on the things that bring you closer to your goals and passions.

9. Since as a writer, my priorities are different than that of the business people to whom these books are often directed, I've developed some additional strategies. These are not for everyone, but unplugging your Internet if you don't need it for work saves countless hours. If there are things you need to research on the Internet, make a list and look them all up at once. Even when I'm not working, I always have my ringer and text alerts off on my cell phone, with special exceptions programmed in only for very close friends, family, and work people. In addition, I will sometimes light a candle when I'm writing and not stop until the candle burns out; this also serves as a signal for anyone in the house not to disturb me (unless there's an emergency, like the candle's set the house on fire)

10. In addition, a simple rule that most people have trouble following: Do the most important thing first, not the easiest thing to get it out of the way. There's a book I haven't read, but the title illustrates this point nicely: "Never Check Email in the Morning".

11. And finally, have a plan and a direction. Know what you want to accomplish: not just for the day, but in the big picture. I'm going to share with you something Spencer from Emergency taught me: have a detailed (but adjustable) five-year plan for your life. If you don't know where you're going, you're never going to get there. If you need help creating one, just download this worksheet I put together for some of my students:
 http://www.neilstrauss.com/fiveyearplan.pdf
  (right-click to download)

You only live once and you never know when it's going to end, so by making sure you get the most out of your time, you'll also be making sure you get the most out of your life.

Hope this helps some of you get to your dreams and goals that much quicker. If you have any of your own productivity tips you want to share with the list, send them to me at this email address and title it QUALITY TIME, and I'll share them in a future email.

Yours This Second,
Neil
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