There are some people who seem like they get 25 hours out of every day, even without the aid of magic (suck on that, Granger!). Now, I am certainly not one of those people, and I definitely do not know all of their secrets, but I have sort of figured out one thing all on my own.
Time is like money. Some people say time is money but they wear suits and shout into cell phones about stock options and hedge funds. I mostly wander around in old jeans looking for hedge clippers, so again, I am certainly not one of those people. In my worldview, time is merely like money. Time, like money, is something that people generally desire in large chunks where they are free to do with it what they will. Who doesn’t want entire weeks free to tend to the backlog of work or start a new art project or finish that grading or learn to moonwalk?
But, how often do people get huge chunks of time or cash, no strings attached? Basically never. Generally speaking, there’s a great deal of budgeting that goes on and scrounging around for loose change. Many people are super into and on top of budgeting their time. It makes sense and once there are committee meetings and hiring meetings and seminars and classes and all of that going on, it is imperative to at least keep decent track of time. This part of the money-time analogy is hammered in real nice, and it helps provide a framework for talking about time management.
But there was a second part to the metaphor ““ scrounging around for loose change. In monetary terms, this means buying the store brand cereal and pocketing the extra dollar or whatever. In time terms, it means recognizing all those little windows of time that are so far going unused, the 15 minutes and under crowd. These windows of opportunity are often dismissed because some people feel that there’s no point in starting to work if there is an inevitable interruption coming soon. For work that requires a lot of prep time, this is a totally legitimate argument.
Fortunately, not all work requires a lot of prep time. Those five minutes are just enough time to get a little reading done, or make a plan for the day, or write down a few thoughts, or run one analysis, or read about how to run one analyses, or answer one email.
And the beautiful thing about doing that in those short bits of time? Well, there are two beautiful things. The first is that there is not time to over-think things. You’ve got five minutes! There are better ways to spend them than second-guessing yourself! Second-guess in your next five minute chunk! The second is that the imminent and short deadline makes it much easier to focus. It is hard to work at top pace for an hour without breaks. It is easy to work for five minutes. Hell, even the least fun tasks can be tolerated for five minutes. I can make awkward phone calls for five minutes. Five minutes is cake. And it’ll feel just so good to get those things done.
Unfuck Your Habitat, the amazing, motivating, organizing, life-fixing brain-beast of our awesome PileOfMonkeys, talks about how to “embrace “˜a little at a time’-ism” and reinforces the notion that getting a little done is better than getting nothing done. Here, instead of the “a little at a time”-ism, I am pushing “a little bit of time” ism: sure, that paper won’t get written in five minutes, but you can get a mean outline going in that time.