Contrarian Time Management

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What is Time-Management? Generally people looking for help with time management are looking for two different things:

  • How can I get more done in the time that I have?
  • How can I feel less stressed out about a lack of time?

In this workshop we will address both of these problems. These exercises will help you find more time in your week that you could put to better use, not just for the sake of productivity but to make your life more enjoyable. The exercises will also, hopefully, help you change your relationship with "time" and reduce your stress levels.

Why "Contrarian"? Because most time management advice is bad, and originates from the "do as I say, not as I do" school of productivity advice. Here I share only time management or productivity advice that I have actually used to manage my own time better and be more productive, and have left out anything that I haven't personally found to work. Some of my recommendations are contrary to what might be considered the accepted wisdom on the subject; I still think I'm right.

Instructional Material

Cohort Activity

For each of the following, each person in the group should contribute their answer in turn. Where appropriate, others can add their commentary and suggestions to help with an issue or opportunity.

Calendar App [15 minutes]

Do you have a calendar app or to-do app with calendar integration? If so, share your tool/system with the group, and describe its benefits. If not, sign up for one during this session — either Nozbe or a suggestion from one of your cohort mates.

Weekly Committments [20 minutes]

Do you have weekly commitments to other people where you work on projects together? If so, and if you feel comfortable doing so, share a brief description of these projects with the group.

If not... do you have any projects or interests that could be tackled in this way, that you aren't currently taking advantage of? Are there other people in your cohort you could coordinate with on such projects? If possible, find a coworking partner in your cohort.

Examples of weekly commitments.

  • An exercise class - Crossfit, martial arts, dance, etc.
  • Any other sort of recurring class - painting, cooking, languages, music, acting.
  • A book club, though this might work better as a monthly obligation.
  • A podcast. If there's a topic you can't shut up about, then just do it in front of a microphone!
  • A weekly scheduled phone call with a friend. Keeping in touch with old friends suddenly becomes easy with this one weird trick.

Break [10 minutes]

Take a ten-minute break.

Break the Cycle [20 minutes]

Share one thing that you do regularly, that you don't want to do and don't enjoy doing. (For example: Aimlessly watching bad TV when you get home from work. Browsing Reddit or YouTube for an excessive length of time as you wake up in the morning.)

If at all possible, commit verbally to not doing that thing for one week. Importantly, first come up with a replacement activity that you can do instead of your usual time-filler activity. Note that this replacement activity does not need to be "productive", just something that you actually would enjoy doing, and not feel bad about afterward. Sketch a self portrait, look up the best chess opening, read a Wikipedia article on rattlesnakes. Anything but the usual thing you would do. (The aim isn't to make a permanent new habit, but merely to realize that you can control how you use these zones of dead time.)

Harness Dead Time[15 minutes]

Are there any consistent dead times in your schedule, such as commutes or evenings, that you could take advantage of to do something that you would find more useful or enjoyable?

Describe the window of dead time to your cohort and briefly (one or two sentences) make a plan for how to use that time better. No need to commit to following through, but articulate at least one thing you could do with that time slot.

Pain is Not the Unit of Effort[15 minutes]

Do you often feel like "productivity" or "good time management" requires that you make yourself miserable?

Think over the past week about any time that you felt stressed about how much stuff you had to do, and felt negative emotions surrounding your work or your commitments, concerning a lack of time, or a lack of motivation. Attempt a cognitive reframing on these feelings, and help each other with this process. Remember that a day well spent is a day where you accomplished one thing.

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