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Drops in a Bucket

Originally from Matt Baier’s Organizing Works Newsletter, September 2008

DROPS IN A BUCKET

Getting the most out of your time requires many of the same principles as getting the most out of your space, including benefiting from a series of small gains rather than expecting one big one.

Creating space is my central promise.  One of the things I like to tell people is that creating space does not happen by finding a hidden door that leads to an empty room.  It happens by making a series of small space gains that add up like drops in a bucket.  That’s why small victories are so important.  Rather than thinking of them as ONLY drops in a bucket, think of them as steps in a journey.  To ensure that these drops accumulate, not evaporate, it is necessary to make a habit of rethinking WHY you are keeping items every day.  The same principles that apply to creating physical space also apply to creating schedule space.  Here are some times saving drops of advice that can turn into a bucket full of time.

1. Make friends with your trashcan.  Make a habit of tossing.  Toss often.  Tossing will set you free.  As I stated in my last two newsletters, every usable item you keep ultimately requires that you do one of two things:  ACT on it or FIND it.  The less you keep, the less time you spend worrying about acting or worrying about finding.  Don’t look forward to the daily mail for new and exciting opportunities.  Look at the daily mail only as an opportunity to set yourself free.  Sure, we are all bound by the bills for services that serve us, but the rest is all an opportunity for you to exercise your control.  Question EVERYTHING you keep by asking “is this REALLY going to make my life easier or better?”  Space obstacles create time obstacles.  Finally, if you have issues with contributing to landfills, then make efforts to stop the excess at the source.  I’ll be happy to tell you how, but no one benefits by holding on to more stuff than they need.

2. When paper beats digital.  I’m no Luddite.  I am connected to my Blackberry, desktop, and laptop almost every waking minute, but it is important to remember that those devices are just tools and, like all tools, they serve us best when we use them for the purposes they are best suited.   What a timesaver it is to type a new clients information in to my computer and sync it to my handheld.  And what a timesaver it is to enter an appointment on my handheld and sync it to my computer.  But when it comes to daily tasks, I draw the line.  In the course of a day, circumstances and priorities change so fast, that I just haven’t found a digital system flexible enough to keep up with those changes.  Don’t get me wrong, I’m not here to challenge anyone who HAS found a digital system that works for them, I’m simply saying if you haven’t, it’s OK.  I like using small Post-It notes on my daily print-out so I don’t have to rewrite what I don’t get to.   I just move the Post-Its to the afternoon or the next day.  Sometimes I don’t even write the reminder ONCE.  If there’s a small note from someone else or an ad I want to respond to, I just tape it to my To-Do list.  Bottom line, digital systems are great, but it’s good to be aware of how much time can be wasted with things like entry, reentry, printing, reprinting, or inaccessibility.

3. Sort tasks.  When putting your To-Do list together, sort tasks just as you would sort your clutter:  like with like.   Nothing new here.  It’s the same thinking that was behind Henry Ford’s innovation of the assembly line.  When you do the same kind of tasks repeatedly, you move much faster than if you are jumping from one type of task to another.  This can be as small as slitting open your daily mail all at once or as important as doing your sales calls all at once.   Of course you can’t always do this, but it is well worth trying to organize your tasks by like activities whenever possible.

4.  Frequency trumps importance.  In previous newsletters I have talked about how clear priorities are essential to effective time management and I stand by that here.  However, important goals do not necessarily manifest themselves in important possessions and important possessions should not get in the way of the mundane tasks that need to happen OFTEN and EASILY.  For example, let’s say you have a passion for cooking and you love your collection of cookbooks.  Let’s also say you HATE recycling because it’s nothing but wasting valuable time processing garbage.  You’ve got your cookbook collection filling your pantry and your empty bottles and cans are lined up on the counter, waiting to go to the garage.  As much as you love to cook, you access those cookbooks no more than once a week.  On the other hand your family produces recyclable material 20 times a day.  Perhaps those cookbooks can go on that empty shelf in the dining room and you can put two small recycling containers in your pantry, freeing up your counter space for cooking.   You can hate recycling, but unfortunately it’s here to stay and it’s the law, so you might as well have an easy system that gets you through it as quickly as possible.

5. R.A.M. for your schedule.  A computer cannot function with every megabyte filled up with data, yet somehow we believe it is possible for us to function well by stuffing planned activity into every hour of the day.  To make the most of your time, it is important to create some Random Access Memory in your day.  Perhaps the idea of sacrificing some time to create time sounds contradictory, but think of it this way.  If you allow some time to step back, get perspective, catch your breath, (maybe even rest!), you are, in effect, sharpening the saw, so that you can cut far more trees than you could with a dull saw.   Just as the computer requires open memory to process information, you require open time to process tasks.

You may earn $20 thousand or you may earn $20 million, but either way you only have 24 hours a day. You don’t have to make a million dollars to make sense of how you spend your time.  Whether we’re talking water drops, cents, or minutes, they all add up to significant gains, if you know how to keep them from slipping though your fingers!

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