Tag Archives: tim ferris

Keeping your eye on the present

In December of 2009 I posted a blog called Threads of interruption: How to keep your day from spinning out of control . In it I described a process that I use to keep myself focused on what’s important and abstain from being distracted by the “seemingly urgent”. In the second part of this series, I will explore the Pareto Principle , more commonly known as the 80-20 rule, and how you can use procrastination to your advantage.

The 80-20 Rule (applied to time and task management) basically means two things to me:

– Limit tasks to the important to shorten work time
– Shorten your time frame to ensure heightened levels of focus

Following these two principles will allow you to focus on execution with a very clear deadline.

Remember in high school or college when a teacher assigned a term paper three months in advance? What most of us did is procrastinate until the very last minute to get it done. When you think back on that experience, can you remember the final days or hours before the paper was due and the intense focus you had on completing that task?

That same level of intensity should be utilized in your professional life as well. I am not saying that you should freak out management by doing nothing for weeks and then pulling a handful of ‘all-nighters” to complete a project. But what I do advocate is to create short, compact time lines to immerse yourself into projects. Block out that time on your calender so you can focus on the project. NO PHONE CALLS, NO E-MAIL. I don’t care if you are a programmer, outboard engine mechanic or a writer; this act of compartmentalizing a project into a compact time line and then executing with intense focus to complete the task in my experience produces the best results.

Working on a project a little at a time far in advance of a deadline is ineffective. That’s because there is a ramp-up period each and every time you start working on a project. What people tend to do who perform a “little at a time” is attempt to multitask. The illusion that you can effectively multitask is the biggest time waster of them all.

QUICK TIP: Keep your calendar empty. Some of the most effective time managers I’ve met guard their calendar’s with their life. They will not schedule meetings too far in advance, so that they can remain nimble and thus shorten their work time. If something important comes up last minute they are able to make time for it on their calendar. In addition, don’t be afraid to say “NO”. If the meeting, event or task you are being asked to do isn’t in alignment with what’s important to you politely decline.

Further Reading:

Tim Ferris: 4 Hour Work Week Blog: How to Learn Any Language in 3 Month

@about.com: Pareto’s Principle: The 80-20 Rule

Threads of interruption: How to keep your day from spinning out of control

I will admit that I am easily distracted. Staying focused on the “task at hand” has always been a challenge for me. Some people call it ADD others call it a “creative mind” with a lack of “attention to detail”. I imagine if I grew up in the agrarian age I would have a better go of this. If it were my job to plant 10 acres on a given day, there probably wouldn’t be a lot of distractions (no e-mail, no cell phone). Assuming the neighboring tribe wasn’t on the warpath.

In today’s information age we are barraged with interruptions. Besides this blog, how many other interruptions are staring you in the face? You’ve got e-mail, instant messages, Skype calls, Twitter messages coming from tools like TweetDeck, Facebook alerts, LinkedIn requests, etc, etc. And that’s just your computer. We haven’t gotten to your “smartphone” that has apps for all of the above, your office phone and lastly the constant communication (interruptions) from employees and co-workers.

With this “hostile” environment as the backdrop, you must be armed with a plan each and every day. At DockMaster (Exuma Technologies) we developed a strategy called the EX-PROCESS. This process was inspired by two of the greatest writers on task management (note I didn’t say “time management”) that I’ve run across: Stephen Covey (Seven Habits of Highly Effective People) and Tim Ferris (The Four Hour Work Week). Here’s how it goes:

First a Covey-ism. You must begin each year, each quarter, each week and each day with the end in mind. If you do not have a plan when you walk into your office, you are already a target for interruptions. Covey developed a prioritization technique called the 4-Quadrants. This will give you a framework for deciding what is important. Take your “quadrant 2” tasks and assign them to various roles you play throughout the week (e.g. father, husband, manager, soccer coach, etc). Click here for an Excel 2003 version of my Weekly Worksheet. This process will give you a framework for deciding what is important. I like planning tasks by the week. Go through this exercise either on Sunday night or Monday morning and ask yourself: “What are the most important tasks I must accomplish this week” and commit them to writing. (one-page only).

Next, you must follow a set of rules to keep interruptions to a minimum. This is what our EX-PROCESS looks like.


The best tip I can give you is to NOT check e-mail when you first walk into the office in the morning. If you plan to be in the office all day, start the day by tackling a project. Stay heads down on the project for 1 to 2 hours before you start checking e-mail, talking to staff and taking phone calls. This one idea alone will change your life!

Quick Tips:

1. Turn OFF the “tray icon” notification each time you receive an e-mail
2. Do not schedule meetings too far in advance, keep your schedule open as much as possible so that you can evaluate how important a meeting is with a 24-48 hour window.
3. Don’t dwell on projects with deadlines far off in the future (this will be the subject of my next blog)