Everyone’s situation, personality, routines, family life and work habits are different. So offering specific advice when it comes to the knowledge economy is tricky.
But everyone has the same exact constraint when it comes to one variable — time.
Time is the one asset where everyone is on equal footing. This makes time management one of the most important aspects of creating a life with as little stress as possible.
Yet time management is like personal finance — it can have an enormous impact on your well-being but nobody teaches you how to do it.
While I don’t have a step-by-step guide or lifehack to help people manage their time more efficiently, I can share my own experience to show how I more or less wrote a book in my spare time last year.
I began talks with my publisher last fall and after some back and forth decided on a topic, title, and delivery date of a draft. A contract was signed last January which gave me roughly 6 months to finish up my research, write the book, and have others read it to provide feedback.
After handing over my draft in July there were another 5-6 months of editing, waiting and such but the bulk of the heavy lifting was done from January through June.
I didn’t take time off from my day job or this blog and even picked up a gig writing for Fortune while writing the book (and even if I did take time off I don’t know that it would have made a difference in the finished product).
The boring parts about writing a book consist of research, idea-generation, writing, editing, beating your head against a wall, and putting together a coherent narrative.
Here are some the other things that allowed me to finish a book in my spare time:
Making use of downtime. One of the reasons my wife and I survived sleep training our kids when they were infants is because she’s a morning person while I’m a night owl. This allowed for a nice trade-off on taking shifts (especially when we had twins).
This also works well for me in terms of getting things done.
Our kids go to bed around 7pm while my wife goes to sleep closer to 9pm. That leaves roughly 2-3 hours a night for me to do what I please. This gave me an extra 15-20 hours a week to work on the book outside of normal office hours.
I typically get most of my reading and writing done during this time anyways so transitioning those hours to working on a book wasn’t a huge change of pace.
Minimizing social distractions. I’ve never played fantasy football. I’m not in any golf or bowling leagues. I don’t go out for drinks 3-4 times a week (as I did in my younger days). Some may call this boring but this is what happens when you have young kids.
There’s nothing wrong with these activities, it’s just I never prioritized them or no longer do.
As I’ve gotten older I’ve noticed FOMO (the fear of missing out) has slowly morphed into JOMO (the joy of missing out) in many activities.
Time management is often more about the things you avoid as opposed to the things you do.
Working remotely. This can be a lonely existence at times but if you have the right personality type, working remotely can be highly efficient.
I work in an office by myself. No one stops by to bother me. I have plenty of calls scheduled throughout the week but very few sit-down meetings.
The ability to work from anywhere is a huge advantage when it comes to managing your work and personal lives in a time-efficient manner.
Paying for time. We pay for someone to clean our house, mow our lawn, and plow our driveway. I used to do all these tasks myself and could still do them now but with kids and other responsibilities I’m more than willing to pay for time if it frees me up for something more important.
Finding the right setting. People have all sorts of different habits when it comes to finding the right environment for writing. Some listen to music. I know people who listen to the same song on repeat because it puts them in the right frame of mind to write.
Music never worked for me but I’ve found having old movies or TV shows on in the background helps me write.
I plowed through all 6 seasons of The Sopranos while writing this book. My current writing partner is the first season of Mad Men (I loved this show the first time through but it may be even better on the re-watch).
For some reason this form of multi-tasking works for me.
Others need to go to a cabin in the woods or a room with zero distractions. Whatever works for you.
Temptation bundling. Katherine Milkman, a behavioral researcher from the University of Pennsylvania, came up with a great idea to force yourself to do something when willpower is waning.
It’s called temptation bundling which combines something unpleasant with an indulgence to make it easier to get the hard stuff done.
In Milkman’s study, they gave people an audiobook uploaded onto an iPod and told them to listen to it at the gym while working out. Some subjects could only listen to the book while at the gym while others were free to listen at their leisure.
Those who had the constraint of only listening while at the gym ended up going to the gym and working out more.
This is similar to something my colleague Nick Maggiulli does. If Nick buys an expensive pair of shoes he forces himself to put an equal amount into his investment account.
While writing this book I did something similar. On the weekends I like to have a few drinks or some sweets (chocolate chip cookies with cake frosting is my ultimate cheat). But to reward myself with a drink or treat, I first had to finish the section or chapter I was working on.
Having that reward waiting forced me to focus on the task at hand so I could get to the indulging.
Giving myself a deadline. When I signed the contract to write this book my publisher gave me a few chances to extend my deadline. I refused. Having a time constraint forced me to research, read, and write on a fairly set schedule.
Had I pushed back the deadline I probably would have simply procrastinated and ruined the momentum that had built up in the process.
This process wasn’t easy but figuring out how to manage my time efficiently helped keep the stress to a minimum on this project.
If you haven’t checked it out yet here’s the finished product: