Friday, July 23, 2010

Your Stop List

Catch for us the foxes, the little foxes that ruin the vineyards, our vineyards that are in bloom.
Song of Solomon: 2:15

It's funny how every day, no matter what you do, you manage to completely use up twenty-four hours (solar time). Some days seem to fly by and others take forever. Some days feel amazingly productive and others feel wasted. Nonetheless, every minute of every day (1440 of them) is completely consumed by activity.

Some people seem able to get more done in their twenty-four hours than others. At first it may appear that they're simply less encumbered by life. They may have money to pay others to help them. They may have fewer obligations: single versus married; no children versus many children; typical children versus atypical children. They may have a less demanding job or not work at all. They may have more energy or need less sleep.

Some people seem truly better at managing their time: they squeeze the marrow out of every second; they accomplish everything they set out to do. And yet, at the end of the day, they have the same number of minutes than everyone else.

What about you? Do you find more than ample time in your day to accomplish all that you want to accomplish? Do you find yourself leaving things undone (or un-started) simply because you don't have enough time?

A Stop List
If you'd like to make more effective use of your 1440 minutes, the first and most important task to work on is the creation of a stop list. Time management courses are not about managing time, they're about managing priorities. Priority management can get quite tricky, especially when trying to choose among tasks all of which are important. However, the reason that we often find ourselves forced to make difficult choices among important tasks is that our time (and resources) have been consumed by unnoticed, little tasks of no import whatsoever.

You'd be amazed at how much time can be spent deciding what to wear or what to eat, or worrying over and over about exactly the same unlikely event, or getting every hair perfectly in place. Tasks that could be easily stopped altogether or minimized if you were just to pay attention. Tasks that belong on your stop list.

A Temporal 401K
In many ways, effective time management is like a 401K: long term growth and accomplishment can be achieved by consistently saving a relatively small percentage each day. For example, let's say that you could gain an additional two-hours per day to do with whatever you wanted. If you sleep eight hours per night, then two hours represents 12.5% of your waking day.

In terms of money, if you make $40,000/year, 12.5% would mean saving $417/month. Saving $417/month with an annual interest rate of 2% would give you more than $200,000 at the end of thirty years. At 3.5% you'd have nearly $300,000 and at 6% you'd have over $500,000. Over that same thirty years, were you to withhold 20% in taxes and social security, you would have earned a total of $960,000. Imagine that: accruing savings of more than $500,000 with a total income of only $960,000. Saving and investing a relatively small percentage of your income can yield tremendous wealth.

Now, to save that $417 per month, you'd start cutting out little things. Skipping that daily triple no-foam latte would garner you about $120 a month. Skipping the sale at the shoe or clothing store might save you another $100 or $200. Walking or taking public transportation or using Zip cars when you need them could save you hundreds or even thousands in gas, maintenance and insurance. Items like these would represent your financial stop list.

Your financial stop-list provides you the principle for your investment, the two hours out pulled from sixteen. Whether you get a 2%, 3.5% or 6% return is determined by how well you invest your newly accrued free time.

What to Stop?
One of the reasons we often find it difficult to stop tasks is because we glide past the easy decisions and dive right into the contention between high-priority items. The first step is to think through your day considering everything you do and how long it takes you, and then writing down all the potentially stoppable tasks, even ones that don't seem that significant.

Black on Blue
For example, for the past ten years or so, every day I wear some combination of black t-shirt, jeans and sandals. More accurately, I wear one of two black t-shirts, one of two pairs of jeans, and one of one pair of sandals. Lately I've got a little wild and incorporated a couple of colored t-shirts in my wardrobe; in the winter (sometime in late November or early december), I switch to shoes.

Why black t-shirts and jeans? It's just way easier and takes less time. I never spend any time in the morning considering what to wear. I don't have to ask whether or not A matches B. I don't have to think about colors and whites getting mixed up in the laundry. I don't have to take special care washing delicate clothes or drop things off at the dry cleaners. Doing the same thing repeatedly is simple and saves a lot of time.

Elegant Coiffure
The same goes for my stylish coiffure which I owe to my Mach-3 razor. One might think that it's time consuming to shave one's head daily, but, when you do the same thing the same way every day, it gets to be quick and easy.

Short Trips
Lately, I've had to pull even more time out of my daily budget. I'd kind of exhausted my excess sleep allocation and so I tapped a source of time I'd never considered before: the coffee shop. Each morning, I normally get up and head to the coffee shop to spend the morning writing and working. I'm really productive there and it seems worth the investment. Nonetheless, driving into town takes fifteen-to-twenty minutes, getting coffee and catching up with everyone, another twenty minutes, and then driving back another twenty. By not going to the coffee shop in the morning, I gained another hour.

Biking Nowhere
A few years back, I spent $300 on a Schwinn exercise bike that I keep in my office. Going to and from the gym had been taking about forty minutes and I'd ended up working out less frequently. With the bike sitting in my office, I am able to work out every day. The daily workout (without the overhead of going to and from the gym) more than pays for itself in increased focus and productivity (increased interest rate).

What's on Your Stop List?
Are there things in your life that you'd love to do if you only had time? If so, there's hope. Doing all that you want to do begins with creating a stop list. Once you get started you'll be amazed at how much untapped free time you have. Moreover, the more you stop, the better you'll get at stopping. I guarantee that, if you've never created a stop list, then you have at least two hours of free time per day just waiting for you to find them.

Happy stopping,

1 comment:

  1. My stop list is more like a to do list:
    I tend to sit on the computer when I am tired - and I know that this is time to a) sleep b)meditate or c) go for a run.

    For some reason I sometimes believe that there are something which is more important than one of these, EVENTHOUGH I am tired and these are the times I end up "loosing" time.


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