Posts in Time Management
The Problem with the 2 Minute Rule
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Life comes at you pretty fast.  My morning began with getting up for my morning routine by 5:30am, waking my daughter for work by 6:15am followed by my wife at 7am.  After dropping off the teenager at work, I began my own work as a director of a national non-profit.  The morning was filled with email, project lists and a few phone calls.  By the time lunch came around at noon, I was ready for a break.

Some of our work demands that we tackle it right then and there:

  • The realtor calls with an offer for your house.
  • Your son is sick and needs to be picked up from school.
  • The water bill needs to be paid by Friday.

You know something urgent when you see it.  I bet your list is much the same.  Different items but a healthy variety of whatever makes up "life" for you.  

A question that I often think about is whether to address tasks when they show up or is it better to schedule them at a time when you can more fully engage with them.  

The former approach is probably most linked to David Allen's famous Two Minute Rule.  In other words, deal with it when it shows up rather than when it blows up.  Allen once told Success magazine the following about the Two Minute Rule, "If you determine an action can be done in two minutes, you actually should do it right then because it’ll take longer to organize it and review it than it would be to actually finish it the first time you notice it." (Source)

I understand this approach but the older I get, the more I'm uncomfortable with it.  Even further, the more I work the less I want to use the Two Minute Rule altogether.  

Let me explain, the Two Minute Rule sounds really good and there is something good about getting things off your plate as quickly as possible.  It presumes that you are in an interruption-rich mindset and that you don't mind being taken off task.  Think of it as "knowledge work" triage- a few tasks related to this and a few related to that.  Keep it all moving, etc.

Where The Two Minute Rule becomes a problem is when you are trying to find blocks of time to do uninterrupted work.  Think of Cal Newport here, i.e. “deep work”.  How can I be truly immersed in my work if I'm allowing myself to be interrupted here and there to practice The Two Minute Rule?  

Two Different Approaches

If you don't want to use The Two Minute Rule, I suggest the following as alternative mindsets for work:

1. Consider theming your days.  I've used this approach for years and it's a game-changer.  By giving each day a distinct "theme", you are creating containers for your work.  Tim Uhl of the Catholic School Matters podcast and I talk about it here.

At work, this means that I'm creating content on Monday and focusing on constituents on Tuesday.  Each other day has a theme as well.  At home, this applies to some of our administrative asks as a family.  I don't like to process the mail more than once a week.  As a result, each Sunday, I go through the mail as it's been put into a pile during the week.  This way, I don't have to deal with it on another day when it might throw me off my game.  I’m doing the mail when I want to do the mail.

2. Schedule Interruptible Blocks During Your Day.  If you can't use option one (day theming), you might be able to schedule some smaller blocks during your day.  As an example, your morning might be dedicated to focused and uninterrupted work but you know that some things need to be addressed before day's end.  To do this, you could schedule 1-2pm for those Two Minute Rule kinds of tasks.  Then, the rest of the afternoon could be given back to your focused work.  

However you work, whenever you work, do it in a way that works for you.  Instead of giving in to the most urgent tasks, schedule them when you want to deal with them.  That’s a form of productivity on your own terms.

3 Apps That Will Help You Focus at Work

We’ve all been there- you sit down to do some work at your computer and you get distracted. 

If you’re like me, it goes something like this:

  • I’ll just check Twitter real quick...
  • ... and follow a link from a sports writer to a story online...
  • ... which makes me think that maybe there are related stories so I turn to Google for a quick search...
  • ...which then takes me down the rabbit trail of three other articles related to the same topic.

Can you relate? 

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The rabbit trail is a dangerous thing. It's seductive really. The rabbit trail taps into our desire for quick, dopamine-inducing searches and internet expeditions. The rabbit trail affects us all, whether we are aware of it or not.  If you have an internet connection, you've experienced this.  If you use social media, you've experienced this.  If you have a smartphone, you know what I'm talking about.

I suppose the question is this: what are you going to do about it? 

If you need to work online and can’t become a monk (although that sounds good sometimes right?), the good news is that there are a number of apps you can use to stay focused. Here are the three that I use regularly:

  1. Self Control. This Mac-only app is very smart. It allows you to create a list of applications or websites that you know you’ll be tempted to visit. Then, by launching the app, it knows to not allow you to open those websites. I’ve used Self Control for months and find it very handy. You can also launch the app and tell it how long you want to do focused work. Self Control then begins and ends when your timed work is done.  (cost: free)
  2. Coffitivity. Cofffitivity is a website (and app) with some pre-recorded sounds that simulate a coffee shop. The makers of of the application have stepped up their game and now offer a handful of different coffee shop soundtracks. Just launch the one that fits your mood and you’re off and running. There’s something about a little bit of back noise that helps you to focus and do your work. (cost: free; a $9 premium version is also available)
  3. White Noise. White Noise comes in both a free and for-pay version and it’s great. There are tons of sounds that you can try out, from the sound of a hairdryer to the purr of a cat to the sound of a rowboat along the water. White Noise is what I use when there is some other noise in the house or in my office. I launch White Noise and it serves to negate most of the other noise around me. This is very subtle but good news- it actually works. (cost: free; a premium option is also available)

Another tactic you might try is to use an iPad for as much of your work as possible. While you can certainly multi-task on an iPad (with split-screen that allows you to have two apps side by side), it lends itself to using one application at a time. 

Whether you go with the iPad or the apps that I mentioned above, the key is to outsmart the distractions in your head. Once you do that, you’ll be more free to do your focused work.


BONUS: if you’re a person of prayer, you may want to try White Noise in order to set the mood and tune out the other noises around you. While this isn’t practical for praying at church, it does the trick for those times when you want to have a quiet time at home but just can’t seem to tune out the noise. 

Be Honest- How Much Work Really Gets Done at Work?

A friend of mine recently decided to quit his job in the city.  His office was big.  His title was impressive.  His salary was more than enough for him and his family to live on.

What led to his leaving a cozy job?

It wasn't the money nor the responsibilities he had at work.  Rather, it was the soul-sucking nature of living in the burbs and having to drag his butt into the city each and every day.

He had had enough.  After prayer and more than a few long talks with his wife, he decided he was going to leave and pursue something very different.  

He hasn't looked back since.

Jealous?  I was when I first heard and then, with a smile, I congratulated him and admired his bravery.  If only others had the guts to do the same, I told myself.

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What Steve realized, long before he quit his job, was that he wasn't actually getting getting that much work done when he was at work.  

Be honest- how much work do you get done when you're at work?  I suspect that, if your job is anything like Steve's was, your day is full of any of the following time thieves:

-commuting to and from work (30-90 minutes)
-meetings (30-60 minutes)
-chit-chat (15-30 minutes)
-lunch (30-60 minutes)

A worse-case scenario could rob you of 150 minutes of your day- that's over two hours!  Tack on to the lost time of 150 minutes is the hard-to-measure moments that you lost due to distractions and being interrupted.  

That's not ok.

It's exactly why my friend Steve decided that he had had enough.  He's now doing work that allows him to focus, enjoy fewer meetings and work at his strengths.  Oh, and not having to commute into the city- that's the cherry on top.

If you're tired of these time thieves (as I am!), I suggest the following as an antidote to the problems of the modern workplace:

1. Attend as few meetings as possible.
2. Cultivate time, each day, to think deeply and focus, without interruption.  
3. Find quiet spaces during the day to do work.  
4. Create a personal workspace that you enjoy and look forward to.
5. Have as short a commute as possible.
6. Explore the possibility of working from home, 1-2 days per week.

I'm not saying that it's that simple.  But, it kind of is.  It takes humility to realize that and guts to stick to the simplicity of the whole thing.

Try any one of these six action-steps this coming week and let me know which one makes a difference in your time management and work.  I'd love to hear from you!

Simple Ways for Working Smarter Every Day

A friend of mine recently decided to quit his job in the city.  His office was big.  His title was impressive.  His salary was more than enough for him and his family to live on.

What led to his leaving his cozy job?

It wasn't the money nor the responsibilities he had at work.  Rather, it was the soul-sucking nature of living in the burbs and dragging his butt into the city each and every day.

He had had enough.  He hated the commute.  He hated the lack of trees in the city.  He hated the daily obsession with "beating the traffic" to get out of the city.  His workplace was a hotbed of interruption and BS.  After prayer and more than a few long talks with his wife, he decided he was going to leave and pursue something very different.  

He hasn't looked back since.

Jealous?  I was when I first heard and then, with a smile, I congratulated him and admired his bravery.  This guy has guts.

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What Steve realized, long before he quit his job, was that he wasn't actually getting getting that much work done when he was at work.  This led him to resent his job and feel as if there had to be a smarter way to work.

Be honest- how much work do you get done when you're at work?  

I suspect that, if your job is anything like Steve's was, your day is full of any of the following time thieves:

  • commuting to and from work (30-90 minutes)
  • meetings (30-60 minutes)
  • chit-chat (15-30 minutes)
  • lunch (30-60 minutes)

A worse-case scenario could rob you of 150 minutes of your day- that's over two hours!  Add it up and you could be losing over eight hours a week or one full workday- not good.  Tack on to the lost time of 150 minutes is the hard-to-measure moments that evaporated due to distractions and being interrupted.  

That's not ok.

It's exactly why my friend Steve decided that he had had enough.  He's now doing work that allows him to focus, enjoy fewer meetings and work to his strengths.  

If you're tired of these time thieves (as I am!), I suggest the following as an antidote to the problems of the modern workplace:

  1. Attend as few meetings as possible.
  2. Cultivate time, each day, to think deeply and focus, without interruption.  
  3. Find quiet spaces during the day to do work.  
  4. Create a personal workspace that you enjoy and look forward to.
  5. Have as short a commute as possible.
  6. Explore the possibility of working from home, 1-2 days per week.

I'm not saying that it's that simple.  But, it kind of is.  All it takes is a bit of courage and a sense that you're fed up with a work day that keeps you from actually doing your work.

Try any one of these six action-steps this coming week and let me know which one makes a difference in your time management and work.  I'd love to hear from you!

7 Surprising Attributes of Patient People 

Do you think of yourself as a patient person?  Do others give you feedback about your patience, or lack thereof?

This might look like a friend making a casual comment like, "As if you'd wait in line!" Or, your family might laugh when you tell them that you're patient.  

Family is good like that, sort of a built-in polishing of the stone.  There's no flaw that doesn't go unnoticed.  

My family has been telling me for years that I'm not very patient.  I wore it around my neck as an odd badge of honor.  You see, my father is not very patient and I just figured that was how it was supposed to be as a "St. Pierre man".  Add in the cultural myth that leaders are classically impatient and there I was- impatient as all get out.

Something inside me told me that this might not be a good thing after all.  What if patience was actually better than impatience?  What kinds of opportunities might open up if I could become more patient?

I chose Lent as the time of year to begin to study this further.  During a chat with a local priest, he asked me which one thing I could do to show God that I was more grateful.  It immediately came to me- I had to work on my patience.   

Since then, just before Easter, I've done just that. It's been work to flex my patience muscle and pause my impatience enough to grow and learn. I've realized that I was pretty much a zero in the patience department. 

It didn't feel good.  Something needed to change. 

After a few months, here's what I've found about learning to be more patient:

  1. Listening is part of patience.  To the degree that you can look someone in the eye and not just be waiting to say something is an act of patience.
  2. In between-spaces are part of patience.  Think of line waiting, etc.  
  3. Silence is part of patience.  How hard is silence for you?  For many people, it's terrifying.  Just closing your eyes, listening and doing nothing... this is an aspect of patience.  You're just "there".  For me, as a person of faith, this is integrated into my daily time of prayer.  
  4. Daydreaming is part of patience.  When was the last time you looked out a window and let your mind daydream?  Patient people, I've learned, enjoy a good daydream from time to time.  They're not in a rush to get to the next thing.
  5. Humility is part of patience.  To put someone else above yourself is an act of humility.  Thomas Merton, the Catholic Trappist monk, once said that the simple act of reading is a gesture of humility.  Just as it takes patience to read, it takes humility to be patient.
  6. Focus is part of patience.  A patient person can focus on thing at a time, whether it's a work task or a conversation.
  7. Contentment is part of patience.  If you can be happy doing one thing at a time, you're flexing your patience muscle.  

Patience is a rare virtue.  Our workplaces expect a lot out of us and bosses are typically impatient. As high performers, we demand a lot out of ourselves, always pushing towards excellence.

Through it all, we would do well to practice patience, with ourselves, with one another and with our work. 

Why Is It So Hard to Work ... at Work?

Working at work is hard.  

The distractions, interruptions, poor lighting, climate control, and constant meeting schedule make it hard to work when you're at work.

I'm mindful of Jason Fried's Ted Talk from 2010 which first caught my eye.  In the years since it went viral, it became a reality for me.  Here's the video in case you haven't seen it in a while:

There are likely two options for people with whom Jason's talk strikes a chord:

a) Fix what you can of your current working environment.
b) Find another situation that allows you to work remotely, even if it's only for a portion of your week.

Which can you choose?  Which will you have the courage to choose?

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