How Einstein Achieved 48 Hour Days
Time management is a waste of time. If you follow this site, you may think you just read that incorrectly. You didn’t. I really Really REALLY hate time management. Yet it is one thing I have been obsessed with and the bulk of my reading material centers around this very topic. But I HATE it. Why? Because it’s one critical thing you need to succeed, yet the concept of time management doesn’t even exist. So how do you master a skill that doesn’t exist?
The Time Management Myth
Time and management are two words that should never be put together. Because no matter what you do and no matter how hard you try, you cannot manage time. It absolutely cannot be done. Time is the one resource that is truly limited. You can’t reserve some in the bank and you can’t grow more of it. You get what you get.
Einstein’s 48 Hour Day
We all know Albert Einstein to be one of the greatest minds in recent history. How did he learn so much and achieve so many things in his lifetime? Simple. Einstein learned how to have 48 hour days. He was a math guy, you know, so he figured out how to bend the rules and squeeze 48 hours out of a 24 hour day. Pure genius!
You know I’m totally making this up, right?
My point is to draw your attention to the fact that you have exactly the same amount of time in your day EVERY DAY to achieve the same successes and grand discoveries as anyone else in the entire history of the world. Pick anyone – your role model, your sports hero, your favorite rock star… Yup – you get the same 24 hour days as they do. No exceptions.
So what’s the problem?
The problem is not lack of time. We just established that. The problem is that we lack personal management. We either lack the skills or motivation to manage ourselves. There are three basic areas that suck our time away from us. When you learn to control these, you will be golden. I can promise you that without hesitation.
Your Stuff Sucks
We’ve touched on this topic a little bit before so I won’t expand too much on it here, but your stuff is sucking the life out of you as you read this. Look up from your screen for a sec and look around at your environment. How much stuff do you really need? How much time does it take every day to manage it all. How much time does it take to clean, maintain and organize your stuff every single day.
One thing I’ve learned is that even those folks who are “born organized” (ok so that’s me) can still be trapped under piles of their stuff. No matter how neatly you file it, containerize it or sort it all out, it will still steal time away from you at some point. Just think into the future when you will have to replace a part for it, clean it, purge it or replace it with a newer version. All that takes time to manage. If you can look into the future and it drains you to think about doing anything with that item, then it’s time to rethink how necessary it really is to hang on to it.
Time management principles often like to wrap things up in neat little packages. You know, pretty calendars, fancy writing instruments, color coded time boxes and cutesy notebooks with plastic pockets for coupons and business cards. Don’t get me wrong… I love all those things. Don’t ever take me to Staples or an office supply store because you will have to drag me out kicking and screaming. The funny part is…although I could spend all day in there, I am likely to be dragged out with only one or two things and often nothing at all. As soon as I start thinking about where I will use the item or how I am going to store it, my head explodes. So I put it back on the shelf. I don’t want it to suck away my future.
Your Commitments Suck
This is a big one and it’s hard. If you think getting rid of stuff is difficult, try getting rid of people. Yes, I’m going there. I’m not advocating that you be anti-social and become a hermit or that you start purging your friends list on Facebook, but when it comes down to time commitments, people take up the majority of our time. So ask yourself…am I connecting with the right people? This isn’t probably going to be a quick answer, but don’t ignore it just because it’s tough to answer.
We’ve been taught all our lives (at least I hope you’ve been taught) to be polite. Politeness is often synonymous with nodding and saying yes. Even when we are screaming “NO NO NO” inside our already over-loaded heads. The problem here is that while we may be being polite to the other person, we are being incredibly rude to ourselves. What happens next is that we start to become irritated that the person is sucking away our time, yet we just smile and nod and let them continue. It’s not their fault. It’s ours for letting it drag on.
Now I’m not suggesting that we be disrespectful, cut people off and become a total jerk. What I am suggesting is that we become very mindful of the conversation, the request or whatever the commitment may be and be honest about whether we are really truly going to make that commitment AND (and this is the clincher) whether it contributes to our happiness. If it drags you down or in anyway makes you sigh, cringe, become depressed or immediately start thinking of ways to procrastinate, then rethink, renegotiate or better yet – just say NO in the first place.
When your commitments are stripped down to only the things you truly enjoy, you become a much happier person which in turn makes your relationships better. Picture a relationship you have with someone right now who is constantly draining your time and energy by asking you to do things you don’t want to do. Are you smiling and nodding and doing them anyway? Then stop! You won’t ruin the relationship by saying NO. You will actually strengthen it. The more you continue to smile and nod, the more irritated you become with that person until it gets to the point that you cringe every time they call. That’s not a good relationship. Start saying NO to the stuff that irritates you and start rebuilding the relationship based on things you DO enjoy doing for or with that person. That will make a HUGE difference.
My real life example involves the almighty time suck known as Facebook. I love Facebook. I enjoy Facebook. I check it several times a day and I have it on my iPhone so I can connect to it any time I want. I have 955 Facebook friends and I personally know about 900 of them. So how do I reconcile keeping up with Facebook and not spending all day on it? How do I justify the time I do spend on it?
For starters, I hide all the apps. I want to connect with people, not their farms and their aquariums. But the bigger tip here is that I organized all of my people into categories by how I know them. I have work, high school, college, neighbors, etc. But I also have one for family and one called “inner circle”. Family is obvious, but the “inner circle” group is about 20 or so people that I really care about and those are relationships I want to invest in. So I usually just read my news feed for my family and “inner circle”.
And the cool part? Of those 20 or so people, most are connected in some way to the other 935. So when there is big news from the other groups, I usually find out from the chatter within my inner circle. I really don’t miss much. I get to remain friends with everyone and I have the opportunity to connect with people when it really counts.
Your Focus Sucks
Most time management systems want you to list out all your “projects” and “commitments” and then break them down into bite sized pieces. This is all well and good, but the next steps in the process to completion are a total mess. Most systems have you working on little bits at a time. In my opinion, the system creates a warehouse of storage for stuff you want to procrastinate on. If you’re procrastinating on it, are you really that committed to doing it or are you really that overwhelmed with things to do? It’s a very, very fine, almost invisible line.
So what you end up with is a long list of stuff you have to manage, organize and spend time and brain power trying to wrangle until it’s completed. We’ve trained ourselves to multi-task and it’s killing us. Do you know where we mastered this art? At school! We learned how to learn by cramming material in to 45 minute classes and then sending us off to switch gears for another subject and so an and so forth for an entire day. We learned how to make schedules and then do homework from multiple subjects every night. Then we do it again the next day and the next day and the next day… But in reality, is that how we learn best?
Think about it for a moment. What do you do when you are really interested in a subject and you want to learn more about it? You study it. And when you are passionate about it, you don’t give yourself 45 minutes to learn as much as you can and then switch to another topic. You focus. You absorb it. You take as much time as you need and you really dig in and grasp the material until you really master it.
Time management gets a big, epic fail for teaching us to try to juggle so many things at once and to cram them into “little windows of time”.
So what if your days were not crammed with a schedule and you didn’t have to rush off to the next event on your calendar. What if you had entire days to just work on whatever you felt like working on. What if you could get lost in the focus of the things you are truly passionate about? How would you feel? Think about it for a moment. Do you feel the stress starting to melt away?
Implementing focus is not an overnight change. For most of us, we have to start at the top of the list and master our stuff first, then our commitments, and finally we can begin to master our focus. Mastering focus involves 3 things:
- Shorten your list. Keep your projects pared down to only 3-5 at a time. This is hard, but when you learn to keep a smaller list, you can get them done at a much more relaxed and quicker pace than you will when you are juggling 50 projects. Pick no more than 5 projects and don’t add any more to your plate until you’ve fully completed 1 or 2 active ones. Put the others on a “someday” list and let them incubate.
- Stop scheduling your day. When you wake up in the morning, start on the items that have your full attention. This morning, I woke up thinking about this topic so I started writing as soon as my kids walked out the door for school. I haven’t even showered or checked my email. Nothing earth-shattering has happened by ignoring my inbox for the last hour and a half. I will get to it when I’m in the mood to handle email. Probably after I shower.
- Go with the flow. When you start working on the things that have your undivided attention, you will find you do a much better job and you will find it much more enjoyable to stay on the project and continue working until you feel you are at a good stopping point. Arbitrary limitations like “time boxing” and scheduling have their place, but you will be much more productive if you eliminate those as much as possible and just work on the task at hand with as little interruption as possible.
If you’ve ever read any biographical history, you may notice a pattern among the great inventors, Olympic athletes and other famous figures. They pretty much followed the above principles for achieving their dreams. They didn’t let their “Stuff” get in the way. They were selective with their commitments, choosing only ones that pushed them further with their goals. And they were very, very focused on their passions. Successful folks usually pick a very small number of things to do and learn to do them very well. The only way to achieve that is to minimize your stuff, be choosy with your commitments and keep your focus on the essentials.
Your challenge this week is to picture yourself 1 year from now or even 5 years from now. If you had the full 24 hours to do whatever you wanted to do… what do you see yourself doing? What do you need to minimize or eliminate to get there? Is your biggest dream even listed as a project on your todo list?
Let me know what you’re thinking. If you’re stuck, post a comment and I’d be happy to brainstorm ideas with you.