In the modern age we’ve managed to find hundreds of thousands of ways to use as much time as possible.
We’ve come to a point where people cannot slow down. When they do, it is uncomfortable for them to sit still.
It’s impossible for some people to dwell in the present moment, without fiddling with a distraction.
We think we need to be constantly connected. We think we need to answer every email as soon as it arrives or society will leave us behind.
We think we need to madly dash from the subway, to the coffee shop (red-eye please), to the office every single day, or someone will think we’re not valuable enough.
None of this is true. In fact, it’s becoming readily apparently that the people who decide to opt out of this system of constant stimulation are far more effective people than the ones who are constantly plugged into the matrix.
Right now, in this moment, we need to reclaim our time.
Some of the most effective people I know, such as Leo Babauta and Tim Ferriss, have realized that being constantly connected is counter productive. They’ve both written in great length in their books The Power of Less, and The 4 Hour Workweek [aff links], about how blockading your time can generate far more intrinsic worth than by not.
The reason for this is simple: if you’re constantly connected, you’re also constantly reacting. Every single request that comes in needs to be answered immediately. This means you’re dividing your time between the important projects you’re working on, and little stupid things that come in.
For instance, I may get two @evbogue requests on Twitter in the time I take to write this. They will be simple questions, or requests to promote things. If I answered all of these requests immediately, wouldn’t have written these last couple of paragraphs.
Alternatively, if I wait until an hour from now, my work on this story will be done. I’ll be able to answer 5 @evbogue tweets and any emails all at once.
Constantly flailing from one activity to the next is only making our lives less valuable.
Time is probably the most valuable asset that we have left in this world, and it is rightfully yours.
This is the moment to take a stand, regain our valuable time for yourself.
How to firewall your time: 14 ways to save your valuable time, so you can use it appropriately.
1, Set dedicated work hours. Many people let there work hours extend into every odd hour of the day. Freelance web workers, like myself can fall into this trap even easier than someone who works at an office. There’s always something else to do, and never enough time to do it all. Set specific times when you will work on work, and stick with them. For instance: today I’m working from 1pm-5pm. After that time, I’m going to go enjoy the lovely weather and read Seth Godin’s new book, Linchpin.
2, Pretend you’re not here. Lock the door, don’t let anyone in. Hide under the desk. This is easier if you work from anywhere, or have your own office, but there are many ways to pretend you’re not here. Be creative!
3, Answer emails decisively. I write about this often. Don’t sit at your computer hitting the send/receive button over and over and over again. Work is not about how many emails you can reply to, it never has been. Work is about thinking about unique solutions to problems, unless you’re a widget maker, which many of us aren’t anymore because all of those jobs are in China now. You need dedicated time to work on solutions, you can’t do this if you’re constantly waiting for a new email to come in your box.
4, Make dedicated Twitter time. Just like email, stop hitting the update button on Twitter. Trust me, it does no one any good if you stay constantly up to date on the 50 140 character messages that flew into your box in the last 30 seconds. Actually, while I’m on this topic, don’t follow 50,345 people on Twitter. I can’t take people who do this seriously. There is no possible way they will ever see my Twitter messages if they’re following that many people. Follow 150 people max.Dunbar’s law applies to Twitter too. Follow people who interest you, unfollow people who don’t interest you. It’s that simple.
(If you want someone to follow you on Twitter, try retweeting a few of their stories. That’s usually the best way to get them interested in your own personal work. There are many ‘bots’ on Twitter, and it’s hard to tell who to follow sometimes.)
5, Refuse to put out fires. I wrote about this last week two. There will always be non-urgent work emergencies, but you aren’t the fire department. These fires usually drop onto your desk at 4:49pm, and can take hours to deal with. Most of the time these emergencies could have been dealt with before they became emergencies if someone had just got in touch before they spiraled out of control. Make it clear you don’t deal with these. When ‘emergencies’ come, unless they’re actual life or death situations (these don’t happen often, but recognize when they do.) Handle them just like an other work request. Don’t panic, just do the work. If it’s 5pm and you’re going home, it can wait until tomorrow.
6, Make yourself unavailable. Some people make themselves always available at the office, or online. This is a trap, because people expect that you will be available at all times if you usually are. A better approach is to avoid broadcasting when you’re online and when you’re not. This might mean keeping your office door shut, or always keep headphones on if you work in an open office. It might mean finding more time to work from home, so you can get important projects done.
7, Always take a day to respond to everything. Make people assume it will take a day or two for you to get back with a request. You can always give a better response to a question or a problem if you have time to consider it. Make a commitment to not respond to requests for at least a day. Make your response incredibly valuable to your client, colleague, etc. This doesn’t mean that you should procrastinate, it’s just a way to consciously slow down the work cycle, so that everyone does better work.
8, Select two primary modes of communication. Make a choice as to which applications you’ll use to communicate with online. There are so many communications platforms available, and it’s incredibly important to select only two that you actually use. I use gmail and twitter. I do use Facebook, but it forwards everything I receive there to my gmail. I don’t check my Facebook, constantly, I don’t check my Wave constantly. Think about which communications platforms you use, and consider how to opt out of some. If you have three email addresses, (your Yahoo, your Gmail, your AOL) consider consolidating them into one email. Most of these services will forward, but if they don’t set up an auto-reply that informs people who email you that you no longer check this email and they should email you a the correct address.
9, Don’t use instant message. Always-on instant messaging is the ultimate enemy of firewalling your time. People expect an instant response to an instant message, and will usually become frustrated if you leave your instant messaging on but do not reply. Just don’t use AIM, Facebook chat, Gchat, etc. If you need to communicate with someone in real time, consider using one of these services on Invisible mode, and contact the person you’re working with.
10, Let the phone go to voicemail. When the phone rings, 9 out of 10 times you have no idea what the person on the other end wants from you. It’s good policy to let the message go to voicemail, and listen to the message. Let it compost in your brain for a bit and then give them a call back. This will give you time to consider a proper response to the problem, and not act in a reactionary manner. Respond once you’ve finished whatever you’re working on. Again, I’m not advocating procrastination, just having the ability to respond decisively.
11, Hire an assistant (or an Intern). In this economy, it’s pretty easy to find someone who can be your first line of defense. Timothy Ferris has an entire chapter in his book about outsourcing all of your boring tasks to India, maybe this can work for you. I don’t personally have anyone working for me, but I also have a very manageable workload. If you find yourself either doing a lot of remedial tasks that don’t challenge you, it can a good idea to hire someone to do them for you. Obviously, this only works if these tasks produce more value for your business than the assistant costs. If they don’t, consider whether it is necessary for you to complete them at all.
12, Take a timeout. Go for a walk in the park. Take an hour lunch break. There are a million ways you can disconnect, and I feel strongly that you should do this more than you are now. Leave your cellphone at home. Take a moment and think about your favorite way to take a break, and then find a way to implement it.
13, Take your work out of the office. If you can’t get any work done in the office, consider doing it at a coffeeshop or at home. This obviously depends a lot on the type of work that you do, and the freedom that you have to do it. I often find that a change of location can increase my productivity.
14, Only read information that contributes value. Unsubscribe from everything that is boring or you don’t have time to read. Many people subscribe to entirely too many blogs and other methods of incoming communication. Information is so accessible in this day in age, I promise you that you won’t run out. Consider each and every blog feed that you’re subscribed to, does it contribute value to your life? If you’re just reading it because you always have, maybe consider unsubscribing to these blogs. I used to check the front page of the New York Times constantly, just out of habit. I eventually realized that this wasn’t helping me. The news would still be there tomorrow, you don’t have to constantly stay up to date. Which blogs are you subscribed out of obligation instead of usefulness?
I hope you found these methods to firewall your time helpful. How do you firewall your time?
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