While I have a considerable freedom in working remotely, I realized that I don’t take nearly as much advantage of that gift as I should. Specifically, even though I’m able to get a considerable amount of work done in a brief period of time (since I don’t have nearly as many meetings or interruptions as I did when I was in the office, and since I’m a “sprinter” by nature), I fill up the time savings in extremely unproductive and stupid ways – reading Digg, playing video games on the XBox, batting at a ball of yarn, etc. The result is that though I have a ton of flexibility in how I structure my life, I have little to show for it other than a high ranking in NBA live and a very comprehensive knowledge of all things Ron Paul related.

It’s something I’ve tried to remedy in the last year, and I’m pleased to say that today I feel much more effective, much more balanced, than I ever have. What follows are the best strategies and tactics that have helped me get there – your mileage may vary, but for me this stuff has represented the best of what I’ve read and tried given my disposition, station in life, etc.

  • Start with values

    Part of my problem historically was that I spent considerable time on things that weren’t really that important to me. I’d get stuff done, but it wasn’t stuff that I was proud of, didn’t advance my goals, and didn’t represent what I value in life. So I wrote out what my most important values were. These were more than goals – they were the aspects or values in my life that were important to me, and for which my goals (subconsciously) were trying to facilitate.

    I pick between 3-5 and focus on those for 3 months. The idea is that after 90 days I would have done a lot in a few areas, and developed new habits that would then be ingrained into my life, even as I moved on to addressing other values.

  • Translate values into goals

    Each week I tried to make at least goal related to each value. It could a reminder to call someone, or read something, or call for information, etc. As I made these goals, I’d try to schedule them in my calendar. This kept me from having them be vague goals that I wouldn’t get around to. They become appointments that I wanted to keep.

  • What’s most important today?

    Each morning I try to think about the most important thing I need to get done that day. I ask myself “If this is the only thing I accomplish, will I feel good about how I spent my day?”

  • Eliminate switching costs

    Every time I get interrupted with a phone call or an email, or particularly an instant message, it distracts me from what I’m working on. The time it takes to get re-focused on what I was doing is lost, useless time. So I’ve made a strong effort to eliminate those distractions. When I’m working on something that needs my concentration for a few hours, I turn off IM, I put my phone on silent, and I close my email. When you remove the things that create the distractions, the distractions don’t happen nearly as much.

    That one took a little bit of risk on my part, since there was a risk that people would think I wasn’t doing anything, or was trying to avoid them. But the reverse actually happens – focus leads to increased output, and since a big chunk of what I do is very tangible people think I’m actually working more.

  • Focus on one thing at at time

    I’ve found that the switching cost thing impacts many areas of my life – talking to my wife while I’m working means I don’t focus on either and both suffer. So as much as possible, I try to focus on one thing at a time and be fully present. Fully engaged on the phone, fully participating in conversation, fully tuned in to my work, etc.

  • Use tools that work for you

    In college I dabbled with a PDA, but just ended up playing that snake game with it. I also bought Franklin Covey planners, but found I never used them because they were too bulky. Even having a small moleskine didn’t work because I didn’t want to take it with me everywhere. As a result, I never had a system that worked for me.

    That was until the brilliant combination of the iPhone, Omnifocus and Evernote came into my life. I now have a reliable, elegant system for capturing notes, info and things to do wherever I am, without having a bulky planner (or anything other than my phone) at my disposal. Everything syncs up in the cloud so I can access it from wherever I am.

    The point is less about the technology though, and more about the tools that work for me. Many people prefer paper – my wife loves being able to create a list by hand and have the satisfaction of crossing things off as she tackles them. I don’t think she should force herself to use a different system – it works for her.

  • Batch email

    Taking a cue from Tim Ferris, Merlin Mann and others, I became obsessive about batching email – I schedule an appointment with myself twice a day where I go through all the emails in my inbox. The goal is to have an empty inbox with everything being read and processed one time. That means replying to emails that I need to reply to, deleting junk, archiving stuff I might need later, and moving stuff I need to do into Omnifocus.

    Having an empty inbox leaves you with a sense that you’re on top of things. And batching it reduces the switching costs I mentioned earlier – you can get a lot more done when you’re doing email and only email vs. email and talking on the phone and working on a design concept.

  • Schedule recurring talking appointments

    I used to routinely kick myself for not calling my friends as much as I’d like. And while I’m still working on that, one thing that has helped me is to schedule appointments on my calendar to talk with them. I make them recurring, which means that I don’t have to remind myself that I haven’t talked to someone in a while. My system does it for me.

  • Make appointments with yourself

    There are some goals that I’ve always had a hard time with, most notably to read the Bible more and work out regularly. I’m still pretty mediocre at both, but I have found some success by scheduling appointments with myself. Again, if it’s in the calendar it becomes more real to me, and I’ve found it’s much more likely that I’ll do it.

    Even better is to make appointments where you’re on the hook with someone else – a good example is my basketball league. I’ve never been able to keep up a workout regimen for more than a few weeks, but for a year I played in every single game unless I had to be out of town. When you’re accountable to others you don’t miss it nearly as much.

  • Delegate everything you can

    This one has been one of the hardest for me to learn, but it’s been extremely helpful. I have a very arrogant and misguided perception that I’m always the person most qualified to do something, and that has gotten me into a ton of trouble. But even if it were true, that doesn’t mean that I should be the one to do it. The fact is that most things don’t need me to do them at all – someone else can do them for me. And either they’ll do them better than I would, or they’ll do them worse and give me an opportunity to teach them how to be better, which makes their lives an career better as well.

    I’ve become much better about delegating stuff at work, and even have started delegating personal stuff as well. A few months ago we started dabbling with an outsourced personal assistant, and it’s been awesome. We don’t use her a ton yet, but we have been able to have her tackle projects that we’ve wanted to do for a long time but never seem to get around to. And for $6 an hour, it’s been completely worth it.

What about you? Do you use any tricks or strategies to be more effective on things that matter to you?

Additional resources for managing your time

Getting Things Done was the book that started me down my path of time management enlightenment. It’s fairly complicated to get set up, but the benefits of “next action thinking” and the weekly review have been immensely valuable for me.

The Power of Less is simple and to the point. I got particular value from his conversation on focusing on one thing at a time. It seems intuitive, but I found myself constantly struggling to maintain focus. The upside of forcing yourself to eliminate distractions is immense.

The Four Hour Workweek isn’t just about time management, but it does go into detail about how to eliminate 90% of the “stuff” that you do that’s unnecessary. Batching email came from here, as did my dabbling with a personal assistant.

  • http://KsaFusion.net/ KittyMelissa

    Hi Sean!

    Right now… I am struggling with time management and I have been for quite awhile. I can start something… but then I never finish or continue it later on. I liked the part above in “Eliminate switching costs” about turning off the IM, and not paying attention to email. That helps a ton! I do realize this works, as I’ve discovered it myself also when I would feel like such a robot and just leave my computer/internet for a week, and I became so much more social I would get so much more done. This is probably because I was living in the present. But in the end I can’t leave the internet for long because I have projects on here that I like to do. So, in the end I need to manage my time. Oddly, as knowing the effect of turning off IM… I exited Windows Live Messenger and closed my mIRC before searching off to see how people manager their time.

    I read a book once called The Present. Which reading your entry here has greatly reminded me of this book. Because it reminds me that I need to focus one thing at a time, but I’m just not sure how to make things stick in my life. Every once in awhile i’d remember “Live in the present, Learn from the past, and plan for the future.” its a great reminder to myself.. but its not enough if I don’t follow it each day.

    As I am thinking right now, the only thing i’ve ever done for myself that has stuck is drinking water, and not soda. I have special occasions/reasoning that I allow myself to have a soda. Like… if its the only thing available, someone offers me one(already paid for) or we’re out to dinner to have pizza(rare occasion). At this time, I can’t even think when I last had soda. Which now lead me to believe that linking goals with values is probably why I was able to stick to that. As I saw it, drinking soda was empty calories, it has no purpose, and it is a waste of money. Its not good for my health to continue to drink that. I can spare the extra 100 calories!

    This is the first time I’ve stumbled across your site here… It looks pretty interesting. I love the top portion where it says “Intentionally. Live on purpose.”

    Today, I am going to live on purpose.

    (Oh and by the way, I’m the same way with the e-mail, if its empty, I feel like im on top of things also… but there are times.. where I just sink… and I allow it to build up to the point that I realize I am losing that track….and I HAVE.. to start again. Which is where I am right now. 100+ emails.)

  • http://KsaFusion.net/ KittyMelissa

    Hi Sean!

    Right now… I am struggling with time management and I have been for quite awhile. I can start something… but then I never finish or continue it later on. I liked the part above in “Eliminate switching costs” about turning off the IM, and not paying attention to email. That helps a ton! I do realize this works, as I’ve discovered it myself also when I would feel like such a robot and just leave my computer/internet for a week, and I became so much more social I would get so much more done. This is probably because I was living in the present. But in the end I can’t leave the internet for long because I have projects on here that I like to do. So, in the end I need to manage my time. Oddly, as knowing the effect of turning off IM… I exited Windows Live Messenger and closed my mIRC before searching off to see how people manager their time.

    I read a book once called The Present. Which reading your entry here has greatly reminded me of this book. Because it reminds me that I need to focus one thing at a time, but I’m just not sure how to make things stick in my life. Every once in awhile i’d remember “Live in the present, Learn from the past, and plan for the future.” its a great reminder to myself.. but its not enough if I don’t follow it each day.

    As I am thinking right now, the only thing i’ve ever done for myself that has stuck is drinking water, and not soda. I have special occasions/reasoning that I allow myself to have a soda. Like… if its the only thing available, someone offers me one(already paid for) or we’re out to dinner to have pizza(rare occasion). At this time, I can’t even think when I last had soda. Which now lead me to believe that linking goals with values is probably why I was able to stick to that. As I saw it, drinking soda was empty calories, it has no purpose, and it is a waste of money. Its not good for my health to continue to drink that. I can spare the extra 100 calories!

    This is the first time I’ve stumbled across your site here… It looks pretty interesting. I love the top portion where it says “Intentionally. Live on purpose.”

    Today, I am going to live on purpose.

    (Oh and by the way, I’m the same way with the e-mail, if its empty, I feel like im on top of things also… but there are times.. where I just sink… and I allow it to build up to the point that I realize I am losing that track….and I HAVE.. to start again. Which is where I am right now. 100+ emails.)

  • Sean Johnson

    Thanks for the note. It’s important to remember that time management doesn’t always lead to less procrastination – in fact, having “more time” to do things often results in a lack of urgency, and the free time is wasted.

    Re: the email piling up, the nice thing about this is that once you get in the habit, it’s much easier to get back on the wagon once you fall off. Going from 100 emails to none is much easier than several thousand.

    A book you might want to check out related to the whole ‘being in the present’ thing is The Power of Less by Leo Babauta. Very simple book and a quick read, but a lot of powerful stuff in there about focusing on one thing.

  • Sean Johnson

    Thanks for the note. It’s important to remember that time management doesn’t always lead to less procrastination – in fact, having “more time” to do things often results in a lack of urgency, and the free time is wasted.

    Re: the email piling up, the nice thing about this is that once you get in the habit, it’s much easier to get back on the wagon once you fall off. Going from 100 emails to none is much easier than several thousand.

    A book you might want to check out related to the whole ‘being in the present’ thing is The Power of Less by Leo Babauta. Very simple book and a quick read, but a lot of powerful stuff in there about focusing on one thing.

  • http://www.futureprooflife.co.nz/ Jason

    Hi Sean,

    Great post! Simple and to the point. I find it very hard to manage my time. There always seems something more important to do…which is actually far from the truth.

    Where are you getting your outsourced PA from?

    All the best,
    Jason Armishaw

  • http://www.futureprooflife.co.nz Jason

    Hi Sean,

    Great post! Simple and to the point. I find it very hard to manage my time. There always seems something more important to do…which is actually far from the truth.

    Where are you getting your outsourced PA from?

    All the best,
    Jason Armishaw

  • Sean Johnson

    Hi Jason –

    I actually found her through a friend, who found her from a friend. I have heard good things about using ODesk though for managing a personal assistant. My parents (who run a business consulting company) have used it to manage a writer in Maryland, etc.

    There’s also Your Man in India, which Tim Ferris recommends highly.

  • Sean Johnson

    Hi Jason –

    I actually found her through a friend, who found her from a friend. I have heard good things about using ODesk though for managing a personal assistant. My parents (who run a business consulting company) have used it to manage a writer in Maryland, etc.

    There’s also Your Man in India, which Tim Ferris recommends highly.

  • mahnam khizer

    good work.thanx a lot.

  • http://yahoo mahnam khizer

    good work.thanx a lot.

  • Nethajee.Ms

    A lot of thanks for you sean….
    Particularly for giving notes about delegating the responsibilities. because of which i suffer a lot having no time at all…

    Your ideas works….

  • Nethajee.Ms

    A lot of thanks for you sean….
    Particularly for giving notes about delegating the responsibilities. because of which i suffer a lot having no time at all…

    Your ideas works….

  • Anonymous

    I’ve tried rescuetime, which isn’t exactly the same thing – it shows you how much time you’re spending on certain sites or in certain applications so you can make corrections. At our last company we experimented with Tick and with Basecamp’s time tracking features, but they never got traction.How has it helped you so far?

  • BJ

    Have you tried any of the time tracking/management software tools out there? The one I just bought & am trying is TimeTracker Xpress (http://www.exemplartechnology.com/Products/tabi…) and so far it's a big help. There are other similar programs out there but this is the only one I found that doesn't require being online. Just curious what you think of tool like that and if you've found them helpful. So far it's really helping me out a lot.

  • seanjohnson

    I've tried rescuetime, which isn't exactly the same thing – it shows you how much time you're spending on certain sites or in certain applications so you can make corrections. At our last company we experimented with Tick and with Basecamp's time tracking features, but they never got traction.

    How has it helped you so far?

  • John

    Well written! I had a hard time getting rid of this habit of procrastinating. I am not sure how many articles I read about time management only to find that I am again putting off my tasks reading them.

    Jason, I have a VA from lifenzyme (www.lifenzyme.com). They are very good and I make the best of them to clear mundane and tedious tasks off my plate.

  • joleen

    This was a good and informative article but I find it very arrogant and misquided that you only pay your awesome personal assistant $6.00 an hour.

  • Anonymous

    Thanks for the comment Joleen – re: the hourly rate, it’s the rate she requested. $6.00 in the US is not the same as $6.00 elsewhere. The same thing happens in the US all the time – living in Fowler, CO is considerably less expensive than living in Manhattan, and as such salaries for the same work tend to be lower.

  • Bobmorise

    There alway seems something moer important to do…. which is actually far from the truth.simple and to the point. i findvery hard to manage my time. Great post.

  • Jiju9269

    thank you sir

  • Tasknavigator

    Thank you for the great article,
    Let me add that Delegation (as you say “Delegate everything you can”) is the only tool that makes any business possible to work… Translation of your business values into objective goals is the second one – you cannot complete what you cannot measure. The paragraph “Use tools that work for you” is quite loose, but the point is brilliant – we always need an effective instrument to manage what we measure, plan, delegate and, after all, accomplish… We, in our small company, use a tool called VIP Task Manager (http://www.taskmanagementsoft.com/) that is quite simple for delegation and setting of our business tasks across the team of 10 people…

  • Alison Harris

    Thanks for these words of wisdom. I am going to give this a try!

  • Jonathan

    Hi Sean great post, these tips are very useful, informative and concise. Like you I read a couple of time management write up from David Allen (Getting Things Done) and Tim Ferriss (The 4-Hour Workweek). It inspires me to manage my time efficiently and improve productivity. I manage time with the use of online tools which tracks my time accurately on different tasks. Using this tool I list my entire tasks on it and set an estimated time when working on each task. The key that I can follow tasks and finish it on time is discipline. With discipline that helps me ignore distractions at work and the right online tools I can manage time effectively.

  • visiteur

    very good article, i just loved, i am a bit disorganised in my daily life, and finding tips on how to manage my time is always a good thing. Although i would really love to share with you 2 websites i use to manage my time and plans. http://www.plangr.com and http://www.astrid.com.

    greap post. 

  • Haile

    Well written. I like it. Will try to implement it. Thanks!!!!

  • Ruta

    Thank you so much! Just when I needed some answers…you have given me constructive advice that is so straightforward. God bless:)

  • shiva Panahi

    these ways of managing our time might work well for business men,but i am a mother & housewife. i need something more practical & lifelike.

  • Zahra

    thanx alot sir!!!
    its really helpful for students and professionals

  • hamed pk

    thank u sean…thats great

  • Melissa Peterson

    I am so glad right now I that I came upon your blog by chance, because this has given me some really helpful advice that I kinda sorta knew, but never truly thought about until now. I think this will be a game changer for me, because now I can see what I want to accomplish right in front of me, making that much easier to plan out what I need to do next to accomplish it. Before I thought if I just internally remember it, that I would be fine, but after pretty much failing at that and now seeing this (which couldn’t have come a better time) I have a better understanding of what I need to do to get myself in order. Thank you for this inspiring post!

  • http://www.sean-johnson.com/ Sean Johnson

    Glad you found it helpful Melissa!

  • Mario

    Hello Sean.

    I found this article very helpfull. I must admit I am that kind of a person that gets quickly distracted. I’m not able to focus on my work because I’m the problem. I always have IM, Skype, Facebook and these things opened and that gets me distracted too much. I fell into level where I’m not able to manage my time and meet my goals. Why? Because I got myself used to it. Result of this bad habit is disaster. I can’t complete my work on time, can’t reach success in school, can’t choose the right valuable activity and sometimes I do everything at once. I feel bad and ashamed. My habits for playing PC games, Facebook stuff, TV shows have taken too far. I allowed them to be master of my time instead of me being the master of my time. The relax and reward which I gave myself for no work or lack of work became my luxury which I find hard to leave. But inside me I feel I can do better, be great and successful. I want to achieve something in my life, master the skills which are required for the job. I have ideas and dreams which I want to live and make them true! Your article is an inspiration for me how to get it right in my life. I know it is going to be a hard work, but I would love to see myself happy with how I did my day. I’m 23 and one thing is sure! I will focus on my work, manage my time right and stop telling myself lies and face the facts. It is now or never. Thank you for this excellent article!

    All the best,

    Mario

  • Amisha Ekaant

    Our daily schedule can be filled with multiple tasks that can be made easier with the right tools. Technology has improved alot, we can find many number of time management applications through online.

    Recently, I have come across one such application for time recording ( http://www.replicon.com/olp/online-time-recording-software.aspx ) from Replicon. I have tried it and benefited a lot by it. I’ve also recommended it to some of my friends who needed a good software.

  • Aether Trinidad

    well written. Succinct and very simple. Thanks

  • http://www.sean-johnson.com/ Sean Johnson

    Thanks Aether – glad you found it helpful!

  • hope wadi

    for me if something waste my time, i got rid of it. for example if my smart phone make it hard for me to control my time, i replace it with another basic phone with less of choese>

  • Shenoi

    This is great advice for everyone. You could have ended with one final great tip. According to me, time management skills are more important to manage ourself. I found myself stuffed by all the tasks I needed to do, and I had a lot of trouble organizing them according to priority.

    Then, I’ve started to use time recording software from Replicon ( http://goo.gl/yGF1mm ), which allows me to categorize tasks by pages, which I use for task categorization. This tool is great and has really helped me organize my life.

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