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Why time management is ruining our lives (theguardian.com)
552 points by eoin_murphy on Dec 24, 2016 | hide | past | web | favorite | 203 comments

Some thoughts on time management:

- Understanding that you will probably not accomplish everything on your to-do list was an important insight that I discovered a few years into my career. Some things will fall off the list, and that's OK. It's best to make explicit decisions in this regard: I will NOT work on that task / project because it just doesn't have the priority. You may be asked for this sort of reasoning later.

- The company always wins. If you're a salaried employee, the company will almost always demand more time than you want to provide. If you're lucky, they will be flexible, but don't expect them to value your time in any meaningful sense. Protect it for yourself in the most graceful and diplomatic way possible.

- If you are an individual contributor on a tech / engineering team: Keep in mind that you are only partially credited for being responsive to email and other requests. Your technical and intellectual contributions are often far more important than keeping your inbox at "zero".

- The best manager I knew had a very light touch with time management. He didn't keep his inbox at zero, he often said no to requests, and he didn't employ any real time management framework at all. He always kept in the forefront of his mind whatever the most important task were for the business. If his team were barraged with corporate bureaucratic junk (useless training classes, etc), he would stand in front of management and say "no, fuck that, that's useless". He was quite successful and could "get away" with this behavior, though I suspect it was this very behavior which had something to do with his success.

"he would stand in front of management and say "no, fuck that, that's useless". He was quite successful and could "get away" with this behaviour, though I suspect it was this very behaviour which had something to do with his success."

Your manager gets what Merlin Mann could not, the most important tasks are the ones you need to do ^right now^, to completion.

It's interesting that Bethlehem Steel is mentioned. Charles R. Schwab, the Bethlehem Steel boss, someone who Thomas Edison described as a ^hustler^, engaged Ivy Ledbetter Lee to improve productivity at Bethlehem for managers. [1] What is not mentioned is the fact Lee was a business owner of an early PR company and approached Bethlehem for business. His hack to Bethlehem management, set aside 15 minutes at the end of a day and specify six tasks you need done tomorrow;

* Prioritise them, one to six;

* Do each task, in order, till finished;

* Work your arse off;

* Left-over tasks are added to tomorrows list;

* Repeat;

I coin this, JIT task task management [3] and that simple behaviour your manager shows reflects this simple idea. I Merlin Mann totally misses this fact. [4] I was so impressed with Lees idea I wrote an article and some software to explore this idea.


[1] James Clear, "The Ivy Lee Method" ~ http://jamesclear.com/ivy-lee

[2] "Zero Tasks: Maximum Six. Add new tasks to leftovers. Prioritise. Kill one task at a time. Repeat.", http://seldomlogical.com/2016/NOV/19/zero-tasks/

[3] A month ago: " To-Do Lists Are Not the Answer to Getting Things Done" ~ https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=12999565#13002833

[4] Merlin Mann, "Inbox Zero" (July 23, 2007) ~ http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=z9UjeTMb3Yk

The best boss I ever had back when I worked retail used to walk the store every morning, write down all tasks for that day and then prioritise them, he then gave that to me and I just worked the list until finishing time, I asked him once if he minded I didn't get them all finished every day and he replied "Nope, I don't expect you to", it was incredibly unstressful, I always knew what I should be doing, communication overhead was low and the list was a measurable measure of progress over a day.

Last I heard he was senior management in the whole company so well deserved I'd say as a former sub-ordinate.

" I always knew what I should be doing, communication overhead was low and the list was a measurable measure of progress over a day."

It's no accident, and I'm really getting to see why this technique works. It's simple. Given you have a days work, working from a short list is do-able. If the tasks are prioritised things get done.

The bit I've found hard: when things interrupt, the old list is useless and a new one can be made to reflect this. It really is a great hack and hearing stories from people who have worked with this is a real confirmation that it can work.

we manage entire projects with a simple milestone list and a constantly updated list of current tasks and who is going to do them (action items, in mba blogspeak).

'make a list and then do it' is way too simple for a lot of people to understand. most people are looking for either shortcuts, or magic solutions like special software.

> If you're a salaried employee, the company will almost always demand more time than you want to provide.... Don't expect them to value your time in any meaningful sense. Protect it for yourself in the most graceful and diplomatic way possible.

This is so extremely important, right from the get go. If, in your first months of employment you work 60 hour weeks, you have set the expectation that will continue.

If, on the other hand, you push back to what is reasonable, that's the expectation that has been set, and will continue into the future.

I once pushed so that I could have a reasonable schedule, and I got fired pretty quickly. They literally told me that I was good at my tasks, but I wasn't putting enough time. As far as I know, their schedules were basically illegal in my country (not the USoA), although theoretically my firing was legal (they just ended my probation period).

It was not a good place to work. The money was fine, but time trumps money unless in case of extreme need. I eventually found a workplace with sane schedules where I am both happy and productive.

A good book about time management is Momo, by Michael Ende. It's a children's novel about a time-saving bank that comes to town and provide a service whereby any time their customers save can be deposited in an account to be paid back later with interest.

The townspeople become more hurried and efficient and remove the things from their lives that give them meaning, and pretty soon everyone is rushing around and miserable, because they don't have any time for anything. The bank of course is a ponzi scheme.

(reposted from my reddit comment a few days ago on the same article)


A German friend gave me this book almost 20 years ago; it's a children's book, but it's quite profound in spots. It's a bit dark, too. Same author as The Neverending Story. Who knew that Children's Dystopia Fiction could be a thing and that it could be good.

This was made into a German film released in 1986 — you can watch it on YouTube with English subtitles: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8Q_JYYcBP2Q

Oh good, they included Beppo the roadsweeper's monologue: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8Q_JYYcBP2Q#t=15m05s

This was something that's stuck with me ever since I read that book. Very good advice on how to get stuff done without burning yourself out.

Cool, I knew there was a movie but I didn't know there was an English version available. (Note: the link you give is dubbed. Is there a subtitled version on YouTube as well?)

What a blast from the past. It did stuck with me as well. Time was a flower, a bank agents were drying it and were making cigars out of them, cigars they needed to stay alive. Once you read it, you can't forget it. It still gives me chills.

I read it as a teenager and keeps coming back to me in many ways. Suggested read for adults.

I have this book in the back of my mind ALL the time (no pun intended).

came here to downvote this. by the last para I stuck around to upvote!

> “This topic of productivity induces the worst kind of procrastination, because it feels like you’re doing work, but I was producing stuff that had the express purpose of saying to people, ‘Look, come and see how to do your work, rather than doing your work!’”

Outside of email, I often get carried away with setting up a system for doing work instead of actually doing work. If I know I have a lot to do, I'll spend time thinking about how I might organize it in a list and track my progress. Sometimes I even open the App Store and look through more to-do apps!

Something I've settled on now is making a list (usually in an app called Clear), then going through it once a day and putting it on my calendar.

Putting things on my calendar has helped a lot. I think, "this is the time I've set aside to get this thing done. I'm not going to focus on anything else but this for the next 30min/1hr". It also makes me feel less guilty about relaxing when I've got nothing scheduled.

> I'm not going to focus on anything else but this for the next 30min/1hr

Time boxing is also very helpful to me. Very useful tool. It helps me to focus and not to get overwhelmed with the complexity of the task or disturbed by other items on my to-do list. To work on something for 15 or 30 minutes is achievable even for tasks I feel resistance to. And often, after this 15-30 minutes, it is much easier to continue working on it.

That sounds a lot like the Pomodoro Technique: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pomodoro_Technique

I think the Pomodoro Technique is one of those things the article posted warns you against. Having a timer counting down might make you more stressed about time passing. When I was using the Pomodoro Technique many people who I met mentioned that effect to me as a reason why they did not use Pomodoro's.

I've had great success with the Pomodoro technique. It really increased my focus and decreased stress. I plan my day out in time blocks, then I focus one item at a time.

The timer isn't a deadline. It just notifies you of when the 20 minutes is up. I don't even look at the timer when I'm working.

I believe there exists an optimum methodology to optimize whatever the desired output KPIs are for a person at any given time and that what doesn't work for one is literally optimal for another person. Some people have achieved success with a methodology, some will fail miserably. Some people will do far better with a suboptimal method than many that find their optimum method as well. The question is about finding the solution as fast as possible for an individual and with the best accuracy.

Personally, I think I need some sense of urgency to perform deliberate, spaced practice reliably due to a strong history of what may be something like ego depletion (not really well supported). Pomodoro has worked better for me than most methods as long as I have sufficiently well crafted goals because it forces breaks as well as time boxing for results when I have a tendency to overengineer (along the same lines as SMART requirements). Like exercise, if you feel really comfortable, there's a strong possibility that you are not making the desired progress. In such cases, those that are motivated positively by the stressors are predisposed to improve over those that do not get motivated in such a manner even if that would be the most optimal technique globally.

YMMV, having the timer ticking away helps to keep me on task: by picking up my cute little ladybug-shaped timer and twisting it, I have made a promise to myself that I will work on This Thing for the next 25 minutes.

If it stresses you out instead, then yeah, find another method. But I found it to be really effective.

Learning Hot to Learn course on Coursera (highly recommended) talks about procrastination a bit and they do recommend a Pomodoro technique to fight it.

I take the top 3 most important things and do those.

I always start with the one I dread the most.

Today we are faced with a three way choice:

1) Just do the task yourself every time

2) Build a system to do the task every time

3) Get an open source system and learn how to configure it and hope it does everything

In the end, #3 wins if you can afford to hire people who know the system.

4) buy proprietary software and hire people that know it

Not saying it's preferable to #3, but it's better than nothing. SAP and Oracle still pull in a combined $57 billion annually, for things like accounting systems...

My favorite quote from the article:

> One of the sneakier pitfalls of an efficiency-based attitude to time is that we start to feel pressured to use our leisure time “productively”, too – an attitude which implies that enjoying leisure for its own sake, which you might have assumed was the whole point of leisure, is somehow not quite enough.

I see this attitude fairly pervasively in hacker news when it comes to consuming media.

When famous tech people like Bill Gates post lists of books, there is almost never any fiction on there.

It's like reading is frowned upon as a waste of time unless it's non-fiction. You can get away with literary fiction but only if it's high-brow enough that it still feels like learning.

Can I not just read a fantasy book because I find it entertaining?

"obligatory quote"

> To be concerned about being grown up, to admire the grown up because it is grown up, to blush at the suspicion of being childish; these things are the marks of childhood and adolescence. And in childhood and adolescence they are, in moderation, healthy symptoms. Young things ought to want to grow. But to carry on into middle life or even into early manhood this concern about being adult is a mark of really arrested development. When I was ten, I read fairy tales in secret and would have been ashamed if I had been found doing so. Now that I am fifty I read them openly. When I became a man I put away childish things, including the fear of childishness and the desire to be very grown up.

-- C.S. Lewis

American adults read so little that this attitude only comes from a minority of the minority. For the most part, people see it as a waste of time because they may only read 1-4 books a year, so they might feel those books should have some meaningful purpose in their lives (or they only read a book because it is supposed to be great or have some use they can apply to their lives).

Read more, worry less about what others think. I read an average of a book a week (and I'm a slow reader), and most people find that to be argument enough to read whatever I want.

I don't read as much as I used to, and when I really think about it I get regretful. I definitely read more than 1-4 books/year, but I just don't have the time to devote to it anymore.

I strongly prefer actual books, but I've been doing a lot of reading on my iphone over the past few years due to being able to read when I have spots of downtime (waiting on oil change, for example).

I read somewhere that Bill Gates' wife forced him to read at least one general magazine every month because he was completely disconnected from reality. He only consumed financial books and magazines and never watched the news. He used to find famous people in parties and events and never recognise them or know why they were famous.

> He used to find famous people in parties and events and never recognise them or know why they were famous.

That sounds like a feature, not a bug to me.

Not when you are the head of a huge philanthropic organization.

It may also be that famous tech people don't want to admit they read the entire Harry Potter series the year the company was struggling. You don't get into the C-suite by not worrying about what people think.

Of course you can. It is your time to spend, not Bill Gates or any one elses. I don't read fiction although I enjoy reading history books even though some of them could be considered fiction by critics.

Or it's that they're posting a specific type of list.

I've come to realise that I suffer from this phenomenon in an odd (and possibly funny) way.

While I unapologetically consume plenty of fiction and television just for entertainment purposes, I seem to be on some mission to find only the highest quality stuff. So, what I consume ends up being dense, cerebral, and often dark. And while it's enriching and engaging, it also isn't exactly relaxing, and doesn't help me to relax and turn off when I perhaps should.

I was surprised to find that I felt guilty about consuming just-fine mindless entertainment, and also surprised about how good it felt when I actually did.

I found that myself while reviewing some Album of The Year lists. I could only listen to half of each album at a time because they generally are so complex and dense before I end up going back to more simpler and easier to listen to music.

I am "guilty" of that sometimes. And I am proud for that. For me, there are two kinds of fun: just fun and fun with some added value. Being active on the facebook, playing computer games, watching TV series is just fun. Working on my hobbies (playing an instrument, learning new stuff, working on projects I like...) is fun with added value. If I don't organize my leisure time to much time is spent on the just fun category. Yes, it is fun, but at the end of the day, I don't feel as happy and fulfilled as when I am working on fun + value category.

"an attitude which implies that enjoying leisure for its own sake, "

As in - oh, 'you want to interview here'?

- 'where are your side projects'? - 'why don't you have 20 github pushes a day'? - 'what open source have you contributed to'? - 'why don't you know all the JS frameworks'?

- 'eat, sleep, code, repeat' ...


Tolstoy, 1885:

- Most important time is now;

- Most important people are the ones you're with;

- Most important task is helping them. __

Lots of people focus way, way too much on a past the may have never been, or at the least, will never change - and a future that may never be, or will feel different when it finally arrives as reality.

    > - Most important time is now;
I've been thinking about this occasionally -- it never quite sat right with me.

Then, recently on a podcast (I think it was Marc Maron, can't remember the guest) they were talking about this, but suggested instead of living in the now, one should ONLY live in both the past and the future -- "those who suffer from dementia and similar diseases live in-the-now and its terrible".

In a certain sense the past and future are all we have to interact about as now can be pretty illusive. So, with that in mind, the question becomes how to make it constructive and interesting.

The recommendation 'Only live in the now' requires a differentiation between two types of thinking about the past and/or future. One can be involved in thinking about the future in one way, e.g. making concrete plans for achieving goals, remembering important dates - Eckhart Tolle calls this 'clock time'. One can also be occupied in thinking about the future from another perspective - re-enacting stories of guilt and anger from the past; fantasies about success or worries about future failures. Tolle calls this 'psychological time'.

In his book The Power of Now, he writes that we require clock time thinking to actually exist and achieve our goals in life. With clock time, we remain mostly in the present, with our goals and plans presently in our minds while we make logical choices about how to fit all that into the time available to us.

However, psychological time draws our mind away from the only period in time that actually exists: right now. We immerse ourselves into narratives about past guilts or wrongs, and get carried away with the feelings that arise. Or we fantasize about personal narratives of victory, power and wealth. Or wallow in anxious worry about all the horrors that could befall us in the future.

'Only live in the now' means primarily to give up meandering about in psychological time.

Regarding your other points - the past and future technically do not exist. Only the now exists - living only in the past or future would require one to be completely content in living in their own fantasy world.

That is a good way to look at things.

Some people swear that imagining your future as a narrative, immersing yourself in it, can help you achieve your goals or illuminate flaws with your current plan.

And yet others swear this kind of thinking -- allowing ourselves to mentally reap the benefits of out labor before we actually complete it -- is harmful and satiates us to the point where we don't bother to achieve our goals because the rewards we seek are just an imaginative narrative away.

I find that each mentality suits different career paths and different people; there is no one correct answer.

But as for immersing yourself in past guilt...I find that this happens to me, and my rationality is that I deserve the guilt from my failures and misdeeds. That if I "live in the now" I am doing a disservice to those I may have wronged (even though they may have completely forgotten whatever it was by now and moved on).

I have trouble escaping this negative, self-hating mentality despite knowing it is folly.

It's easy for me to forgive myself for dropping the ball here and there, for missing opportunity, because I understand the power of negative vs positive thought loops. But it feels so selfish when I apply this mentality to my transgressions upon others. What do.

Yes, I've struggled with very similar feelings about guilt over past misdeeds. I agree that feelings of guilt serve a critical function in modifying our future behavior such that we never do the actions that lead to us feeling guilty in the present moment.

However, those feelings of guilt become dysfunctional after we've learned our lesson. After we experience guilt, and resolve never to do again what caused the feelings of guilt, then we can let those feelings go - they've done their job. If they keep coming back, there exist practices which can take us deeper to reveal the obfuscated reasons for their recurrence. No reason to keep torturing one's self after the lesson has been learned.

> But as for immersing yourself in past guilt...I find that this happens to me, and my rationality is that I deserve the guilt from my failures and misdeeds. That if I "live in the now" I am doing a disservice to those I may have wronged (even though they may have completely forgotten whatever it was by now and moved on).

> ...

> But it feels so selfish when I apply this mentality to my transgressions upon others.

I can relate.

I think that a certain amount of guilt is good, but it's not at all obvious how much is optimal. The guilt in itself doesn't help the ones hurt. I suspect strongly it's a lot less than people frequently immersing them-self in guilt employs though. Just accepting that it's a very hard optimization problem in a very uncertain domain is probably a good idea.

The appropriate amount of guilt is just enough to change future behavior. That is assuming the remorsed misdeed actually was our fault and not due due to circumstances out of our control.

The less clear the situation around the misdeed is, the less guilt is helpful. If it's hard to pinpoint what we actually could've done differently it's hard to induce change.

The best apology is changed behavior, etc.

Repeated micro-guilt is probably better than longer sessions of self-loating. (assoc.: spaced repetition) (Again - assuming high certainty about the nature of the misdeed - meaning also an initial analysis of the situation have been done)

Sometimes it's best to simply talk to the one we suspect we hurt :) Not always easy though.

In general it's frustrating how ineffective rationalizing such things is - personally I haven't found a better approach though.

A final assoc: one-line quotes like "Live in the now" is highly (lossy) compressed advises.

David Mitchel has some interesting (and humorous) thoughts on this issue.


Loved that.

Sounds like something someone would say that has no idea what dementia is; feels comparable to saying a savant is a genius.

Being in the present is a skill that is learned, not a disorder.

Since children have it, I don't think it's a learned skill. But I think the bad habits of drifting off to another illusory time are learned, and then have to be unlearned.

Children have "it" - what is it?

Being in the present and focused on it are not the same. It is like saying, "Sure, I able to walk alone at night through a bad area" - and actually being aware of your surrounding and adapting to the situation.

when the child is doing fine, they get to live in the moment, and are often left alone to do what they are doing. When we don't like what they're up to we often talk to them about 'not yet' or 'not anymore' and time becomes something they have to contend with.

And then we start doing fucked up things like asking five year olds what they want to be when they grow up. How much pressure is that? they don't even know what grown up is yet, except that people stop telling you what to do all day (oh, if only they knew, they would never grow up)

You miss the point in the last question.

It isn't stress: Most children will do things that mimic adulthood, including pretend careers. I mean, look at popular toys: Tools and babies, kitchen appliances, fire trucks, police, and army men. Heck, there are "lawn mowers" that blow bubbles and pretend vacuums. Asking that sort of thing is natural: I personally think it should be humored even if they want to be the family cat when they grow up.

The questions also are a good way to get clues on what the kid might be interested in, so you can encourage hobbies or introduce other fun things.

>How much pressure is that?

From my experience of having been a kid, none. It was always exciting to think about being an adult, and it's not like your answer meant anything - I'm not on track to be becoming an astronaut after all

I don't really have a good idea what dementia is. But I did experienced a family member with Alzheimers and witnessed the terrors they lived through.

> one should ONLY live in both the past and the future

Time is expression of sorrow. Past time is full of regrets, future time is full of apprehension.

hmmm - I think there is both sorrow and joy in both ..no?

there is lot's of joy in the past, but it's sad because it is distant and gone.

No way. Fodder for good futures, inspiration in the present.

Tolstoy was hardly the first to say something like that. The Buddha said roughly the same thing ~24 centuries earlier.

Sage advice no matter who it's from.

"Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own." - Matthew 6:34

Curious, what specific source are you referencing?

I've restated Tolstoy's words from his short story, "The Three Questions."

Right mindfulness is part of the noble eightfold path in Buddhism. A somewhat oversimplified view of that teaching is an extreme focus on the current moment or task.

I've never actually achieved Zero Inbox, but I'm pretty close. One thing that helps is to create meaningful, actionable folders for your E-mails. I have these:

    Urgent: Follow-up today in person
    Follow-up today by E-mail
    Follow-up this week
    Waiting for non-urgent response
    Hound (for people who take constant babysitting, I'll send request daily until it's responded to)
    Watch (if thread is replied to, I'll need to be on it)
    Archive (all resolved items)
    Ignored (no interest to me and no response needed)
I've got a few others but these are the ones I use the most. My workflow is to skim my new messages. Reply to the ones that can be quickly addressed, and file the rest into these folders to be reviewed at an appropriate time (generally by EOD).

I try to address all questions to me by EOD before I let myself go home. Because I don't like That Guy Who Doesn't Respond To E-mails, I try to set a good example and not be that guy.

What I do is, use a filter for any email that contains the word "Unsubscribe" from it. Have it skip the inbox and live under a label.

This pretty much filters all non-important emails. It's amazing.

This is brilliant

"Inbox Zero for Life" is the best actionable guide I've found for processing email:


Your one and only goal for processing your inbox is to make it empty. Not to actually do anything productive, because processing email is inherently anti-productive. Don’t fool yourself into thinking you’re doing work here. Just get it over with as quickly as possible.

I like your system for emails. You inspired me to do add to my Trello list: "Try ryandrake system for my inbox."

You've just added an item to your to-do list to organize your to-do list. Isn't this the exact thing the article was criticising?

> "This topic of productivity induces the worst kind of procrastination, because it feels like you’re doing work, but I was producing stuff that had the express purpose of saying to people, ‘Look, come and see how to do your work, rather than doing your work!’"

The article has a right to its opinion. I don't agree with all in the article. In the real life, most of the time, the truth isn't black or white. Is improving my organization/time-management system really kind of procrastination? Sometimes it is, sometimes it isn't. Again, it depends.

I have a croon job, which adds "reorganise Trello to do list" to my Trello to do list.

The point being, I'm only to do this once a month. I have a few other similar ones, where I was procrastinating with tasks, but now only do them once per period.

I do something similar, but at an even lower granularity: "Needs Action", "Waiting", and just a couple other labels.

I haven't actually watched Mann's talks and only have a second-hand understanding of Inbox Zero as a concept, so maybe this is just rehashing his ideas, but the reason I like this approach is that I avoid spending the time and mental effort classifying incoming messages more than once.

My solutions: be unpopular, avoid adding appointments, avoid starting new projects, don't create to-do lists. Instead of long to-do lists I just focus on prioritizing realistically and try to take care of the next few really important things in a thorough way. And I try to make sure feedback loops are relatively tight so I can keep reprioritizing correctly.

The lack of popularity is partly on purpose and partly just works out that way for some reason.

Another thing I do is I avoid scheduling appointments or starting new projects.

So the vast majority of my emails are spam that I can ignore.

Obviously many people's lives will make these strategies difficult to implement.

I love your strategy. I employ similar one whenever I can. "Remove myself from the equation" is a good mantra to go by.

I'd add that priorities are key to being productive but not overwhelmed.

One of my bosses had a good way of dealing with emails. He would only write one single short replies.

No "Dear/Hello Blah", no sign off, just one single terse sentence that was straight to the point.

He detested my wordy, time laboured and well formatted emails that looked like letters. He had a point.

He treated email like a messenger application, whereas many of us still see it as an electronic replacement for the physical letter. Once you see the difference the time savings are huge.

Each minute writing deserves at least two minutes deleting.

One tactic I use for opening emails is to write the question or point in the subject line (e.g. not "Meeting" but "Today's meeting is at 10:00 in 94a").

For the majority of situations this means easier comprehension/scanning and zero redundancy. It also provides good practice for anything that needs more than a single line.

For longer emails I also like to put a summary at the top, then an expanded details below as necessary, and make sure each paragraph starts a new point or item.

This style breaks down when you ask three distinct questions, and the boss (who's so busy he can't even form sentences) simply responds "YES". Now you're guessing. Yes to everything? Yes to only the last question? Now more E-mails are needed and nobody wants that.

I think you're confusing being terse with being bad at communicating.

Original comment isn't talking about giving useless answers, they are talking about removing flowery language from emails and keeping them as short as possible while still giving enough info.

I also learned to be succinct early in my career, when I emailed a VP a wordy mess and he gave me this important advice.

Every word you type costs the company money, compounded by how many people see the email. Make your words count.

In the situation with 3 questions he can answer: 1) Yes. 2) Yes. 3) No.

Or he can answer: "Let's do XYZ." and ignore two other points. That would hint that one email should cover one topic to keep things simple.

I suspect that the notion of managing one's inbox creates a sort of kruger-dunning effect with the inbox owner in terms of perceived productivity.

I've given up active or structured management of my inbox : I read a few times during the work day, try to keep up, but don't get worried about missing 40% of things that come through.

I'm at-ease with the notion that important communications have a way of finding me (email, slack, skype, sms, phone, twitter ...)

On the flip side of the coin I have a fairly unstructured way of finding the weird and surprising and personal by management-by-walking-around, going to the occasional meetup, the dog park, hosting parties at my house, scanning HN comments and reddit.

Ah, so you're one of those folks who doesn't answer my emails! Makes me pester you multiple times, by email, SMS, Skype, and if I'm truly desperate, the dog park. You're just outsourcing the work of communication onto me. When you ask for a favor I will pretend I didn't hear it! Winky emoticon.

Thank you for pointing that out. Not answering one's E-mail is on my list of "rude things that somehow have become acceptable". It's part of individual companies' cultures. I've worked places where people can generally be relied upon to get back to you, and places where you might as well print out the message and shred it--it's not going to be responded to. The former means your working relationship with me is going to be smooth and collaborative. The latter means I'm going to treat you like a deadbeat and come around and nag you in person.

I actually really hate being that "Hey, didja read that E-mail I sent?" guy, but if you're not responsive, I am going to have to pay you a visit. And I have no idea when you're in the zone and when you're just chilling. If you would just answer your E-mail, then you get to do it at the best time for you.

One thing I've found helpful over the years is: When you are depending on getting a response, say so. "NEED RESPONSE BY EOD TUESDAY" Make it the very first thing in the body of the E-mail, or even make it the subject of the E-mail, since some people only skim the subjects.

Another tip is to state clearly what assumption you will make about their thoughts if you do not hear back in time: "If I don't hear back by EOD, we will go forward with the proposal."

EDIT: Another good tip I forgot to mention: If your E-mail is going to multiple people, and you need one or more of them to respond or take action, type their Full Name in bold and red then ":" then the specific action the need to take and by when. This helps people who only scan their E-mails, as their name stands out.

Most of these tips are actually pretty obvious, it seems silly to even write them down.

I like your tactical suggestion at the bottom, but I wanted to say that I rankle at the top.

Philosophically, I don't think a request for my attention creates an obligation to give it.

Practically, if I responded to every email I received, I'd spend all my time doing nothing but responding to email, then I'd still fail by running out of time.

It's actually pretty stressful. I've outsourced a lot of my email to a couple people who work for me, but there are still some that just go unanswered because the system isn't airtight. But it feels unfair to impugn me as rude for not being able to do a thing that becomes impractical to do at a certain point.

If your company pays you to give your attention when requested then it kind of does create such an obligation.

I'll grant you that if they have to choose, they probably choose total productivity over all emails answered. However, clearly not every incoming email requires an answer from every recipient. You are not being asked to reply to 100% of incoming emails instantly.

Ignoring direct requests for attention is both rude and in my opinion ultimately toxic. Imagine what would happen if everyone acted that way. It blocks information flow, holds people up, and ultimately doesn't solve the problem - you are just forcing someone to follow up some other way. It actually hides problems. Those can be that you are doing something wrong: poor at organising your email or your time compared to others; contiually optimising visible productivity at the expense of other people's time; poor communication skills. On the flip side, it can be that the company has poor email culture, suboptimal team structures/dynamics or just too much work for the number of employees. If your manager met you by the coffee machine when you were busy and asked you for something you wouldn't just walk away.

None of the best or most productive people I've worked with have been casual about dropping 40% of their emails.

It seems like you're imagining a different situation than I am. I'm talking about a large volume of outside email, the equivalent of fan mail, essentially. We have other methods of communication for internal stuff, like Slack.

I stand by my original assertion that your request for attention doesn't create an obligation to give any to you, though. I think the cultural norms around it (ie, give attention when asked) make sense at small scales, but break once you cross a certain threshold of people wanting attention.

Maybe, but the employment situation still changes the dynamics. You probably couldn't get away with this argument if you worked in customer support, for example.

I couldn't agree more that a request for my attention does not obligate me to give it; if it did, I could spend all my (work) day answering emails and all my leisure time watching adverts.

You're both right. Nothing, besides courtesy, obliges you to respond. But then, depending on the urgency of the request, we end up in the "follow you to the dog park" mode of communication GP talked about, which is less than ideal

I'd argue that getting more requests for attention than one can handle is a symptom, not a root problem. Tons of people needing your approval for something? Maybe authority can be distributed more evenly. Designate others who you trust to approve things on your behalf. Frequent pings for "status updates"? Maybe the project is not being run as transparently as it can be. Time to publish a wiki or something so these people can serve themselves.

I prefer it when people come to ask me in person. So much more efficient. A 5 minute conversation can sometimes replace days of back and forth emails.

your suggestions about calling out urgency and indicating the non-response action are great. I really appreciate when people do this.

The problem is when people conflate urgency with what's important to them.

Lots of "omg I need now, but worst case by EOD" that really should be "anytime this week would be great."

When someone has hundreds of other requests coming from all directions, plus his or her own work, you're going to have to take the effort to contact them directly if you want help.

If that isn't a compelling argument, keep in mind that many engineers have varying degrees of ADHD, and email is a huge distraction from getting what they normally do done. Every context switch is painful, so they often put it on mute.

Are you sure all of your communications are so critical?

There are also people who will chase others to the dog park to tell them that a CI build passed...

That last example sounds like someone incompetent at email and choosing teammates, chose one who's incompetent at deciding what's critical. Oops-a-daisy. For competent adults, having the recipient unilaterally decide what's critical (critical to whom? being a key question) is insulting.

Damned autonomy, damned free-will!

Yet still less insulting than those who conflate importance with urgency. Guess it comes down to the "competent adults" part; I've often found them to be few and far between at large companies.

i don't follow how you got to the snarky "critical" if andyidsinga is ignoring 40% of emails?

Well, because it would be reasonable to assume that 40% of a typical business user received emails are something that should be ignored.

e.g. 10% of all emails are critical, important or urgent, 30% of emails aren't critical but need a response, additional 20% don't need a response but must be understood, and 40% are just "organizational noise".

As long as they ignore the right 40%.

If it's not important enough to message me twice, it doesn't need a sub-week-later reply. (Obviously, some caveats about important people, routine work messages, etc.)

I generally get back to people or read messages, but only when I spend an hour going through things when I have free time. I don't feel obligated to respond to random messages on their timeline.

Totally this. I also apply a similar rule to phone calls - barring few exceptions (family, expected important communication), I pick up only when I feel like it (and most of the time, I don't). If something is important, one can text me instead (thus letting me decide whether or not I consider it important too).

I get tons of emails from recruiters, marketers, etc. I reply to none of them, and I think it's unfair that by sending me mail that I don't want they are implicitly entitled to labor (writing a response) from me.

I don't think anyone was suggesting that you should reply to them. The complaints are about people who are unresponsive to direct questions from their co-workers that require timely responses (at least that's how I interpreted it).

this is true. People pester me multiple times : and my response is to try, over time to enable them to make decisions and not ask me for permission - then if the shit hits the fan its my fault (I also get a ton of credit if stuff works)

Also - the management-by-walking-around part ensures I get face/voice time with many people in my immediate circles.

If you're not in my immediate circle, and you're a stranger, its very true that the dog-park might be your best bet :)

I don't mean to down-play what you're saying though -- there is a level of frustration that can occur. I've just found that keeping human contact with people is the salve to not responding to emails.

You're not entitled to other peoples' time. Email lets your interrupt people 24/7, if you don't take that responsibility seriously expect to be ignored sometimes. Your priorities are not their priorities.

If email is interrupting you 24/7 then you're treating it as a synchronous medium instead of an asynchronous one. I get a LOT of requests that I respond to with "can you email that to me?" because I'm often away from my desk and working on something else. Sometimes I'll look at subject lines in the notification area on my phone, but the only messages that get looked at immediately even during the work day are ones from a small number of people and notifications of antivirus events from our monitoring system.

>the only messages that get looked at immediately even during the work day are ones from a small number of people and notifications of antivirus events from our monitoring system.

Exactly my point, most get ignored. Complaining about people blowing off your emails is pricky. That people get push notifications for work emails on their phones speaks to my point. It's intrusive and nagging people over email/slack/etc is rude and a surefire way to make your colleagues hate you.

No.. Email is async communication, unlike Slack and chat software.

I send an email when I expect it to be read in the next 24 hours, but I can give enough respect for the other person's time to let them choose when to read it.

I don't know your nationality but around here we used to say that Americans were crazy with email, using it more or less as sms, bugging you if you didn't reply back in 5 minutes or so it felt.

I'm American. I check email once a day, max. Sometimes I'll just skip it all together. If stuff starts going sideways, I'll hear about it anyway. Most in my org sit in meetings half-listening while replying to emails or looking at their laptop/phone. I stopped carrying my laptop to meetings and only use pen/paper. Really helps with both my clarity of situation being discussed, and being more sensitive to noticing when I'm not adding value.

I encourage my team to limit email to once a day, as well as to decline meeting invites without a clear agenda or that don't state why they're needed.

This, parent comment is literally about nagging people.

In many jobs that's totally worth it—chances are very low a stranger will need something high priority from you, and people who work with you will know how to communicate.

Email is good for a lot of things, but not for expecting processing quickly.

In my experience, it would be fine to let email slide, since about 90% of the time, the person sending it asks, face-to-face, "Did you get that email I sent you?" the next time you see them. It makes almost all of the "actionable" email I get completely redundant.

Hm, I just realized I work with some people like you, who seem to miss about half of my mails. Hah, from this point on, I will always call "you" if I need to inform "you" of something.

Good. You're learning.

Management is not in your future.

hehe, its already here. But for the record, I don't get a job due to my organizational skills and email responses - much more about energy, tech skills and having fun ...and at least plausibly driving towards results for the project.

Why not just set up phone notifications and deal with emails as they come in when you happen to use your phone? You never miss anything that way. Works great in my experience.

Is your time and your mental flow your own, or does it belong to miscellaneous third parties to interrupt on their terms?

Would you prefer to operate by your own priorities or theirs?

I can just ignore the notifications if I want. It's just helpful to see what unread emails have come in when I pick up my phone.

I have a friend who believes this way. If he doesn't stop telegraphing that literally every other distraction in the world is more important than me, we're not going to be friends much longer.

My boss at one company would call meetings with an agenda that he set and then step out of the meeting to answer phone calls from his boss. Then six or eight of us sat around trying to figure out what to talk about without him not there. Tremendous waste of time. Several man hours per incident. And if not for that personality flaw I would have called him a good boss.

That sounds orthogonal. Without email notifications I'd be using my phone the same amount.

That sounds like a bad way to live - I don't want anyone (and especially marketing nonsense, which is so much of the email that I get, despite me flagging all of it as spam) to be able to interrupt me at any time (still wish I could send all non-contact phone calls directly to voicemail).

Brilliant way to turn your brain into jelly/scrambled eggs! Never finding flow, never having a deeper thought, always be interrupted... I can't understand how someone could want to function like that :O

Time management and efficiency is a trap for the striver. Work smarter, not harder has always been a fundamental truism.

I've seen time and again people working like donkeys, and pitching whatever they do to exec management. Half the time they eyeroll when the pitch is over because some buzzword wasn't incanted or the speaker said something that sounded like a thing that went bad in the previous meeting.

Personally, inbox zero is an impossibly. (I think I'm at 15k unready right now) I have a gatekeeper for strangers, read emails from about 20 people and read priorities. The rest either doesn't need my attention, or folks will figure it out, or it will get bumped in the priority list.

As a result I'm sane and work 40-45 hours a week. One of my colleagues feels compelled to answer everything. He doesn't realize that he's just enabling dependency from others and is working 60 hours a week, every week.

You can have both. I have 0 unread emails cause the garbage goes to spam, the unimportant is marked as read and everything else is read every X hours.

The difference is probably ignore vs mass mark as read.

I find it useful cause I have a small diff for each check.

Think of it as Continuous Integration for email :)

I used to do something like that until I had to testify in a deposition about such things for a day or two. Never again.

Now I ignore, delete after a set period of time and have a written procedure in my home directory.

At work it is routine for people to create long phone meetings, invite 50 people who all are expected to be online, talk for hour with no decision, plan another meeting for later to talk about it again. People only show up because if they don't they will be blamed for anything that goes wrong which will spawn more unpleasant meetings. The actual decision needed could be done in a couple of Slack messages between two programmers, but the end result is massive wastage of time where no one can get any work done. Because no work is accomplished, more meetings must be held to decide what to do to fix it. Of course as a programmer I am expected to get everything done within a small window of time which of course doesn't include all the meetings, so I have to be masterful of what time I have to avoid being called into meetings about why I didn't get things done on time.

> The actual decision needed could be done in a couple of Slack messages between two programmers

In my experience, those two programmers rarely have a good enough understanding of existing codebase and momentum to make good decisions. Without meetings, there is little way to avoid these problems.

Programmers are good at implementation, not (necessarily) decision making.

Also, meetings only make sense if everyone is focused on decision making; this is a company culture issue more than anything.

Consider the alternative - two programmers make a quick decision over slack, then they both just get to work heads down building for 2 weeks. Say they run into a big issue and realize they have to throw that work away and start again. They just wasted ~160 developer hours of time. Alternatively if they had just scheduled that 1-hour meeting up-front with 3 other people who have complementary experience they might have caught this at the beginning and the meeting would only waste 5 hours (to be conservative, lets say 10 hours since the meeting might take each person out of their flow for an extra hour. Though in my experience if the meeting is mostly a brainstorm about the thing I'm working on, it's just as likely to do the opposite where I go from a vague dread of how much there is to do to being excited and having concrete first steps to jump into).

If they had done this for 15 separate projects, 14 times that meeting could actually have been a waste of time, but on the 15th project they saved all this time and they'd still come out net ahead due to the meetings.

What makes this even more pernicious is that there's such a huge discrepancy in possible time wasted, but depending on personal preference it might feel very different to the people involved. For "hacker" or builder types, any meeting at all might feel like a brutal waste of time even if it saves time in the long run, they'd personally rather waste a few days building the wrong thing than sit in a bunch of meetings. But manager types can take this to the other extreme, they feel productive in meetings and end up scheduling too many of them. As always finding a good middle ground is important.

Those who can, do. Those who can't, talk.

Nice idea, but doesn't work in practice. Without talking regularly with key stakeholders, you have no idea whether you're building the right thing - and frequently you won't.

If you define productivity merely as writing lines of code, then sure, meetings are a waste of time. But if you define productivity as delivering something genuinely valuable, then talking often makes you much more productive.

I'm not sure you're going to the same kind of meetings as the ancestors. Of course you need context and feedback. The kind of meetings that often happen in a certain type of business involve way more people than necessary, most of whom also lack the context to make informed choices, and prefer to continually change the subject to draw or divert attention to/from themselves. Product meetings with savvy stakeholders pulling in a mostly unified direction are awesome. Even when people disagree, as long as they agree on the rules of the game and try to work for a win-win things tend to work out pretty well. Talking in circles offf-topic for 2 hours whilst people play with their social media isn't productive in anyone's definition.

Those who can't, send an email about it.

I manage my time by stopping reading after a few sections when I realize that the article does not contain information that will matter to me for real.

It's actually quite simple. Only do things you really want to do and try to do it well. Be nice to others and be nice to yourself.

Don't waste time reading stuff which is boring but... "stay hungry... stay foolish"

Why should one stay hungry? What about conquering one's insatiability, and becoming content?

Well, being content and happy with your current state is pretty much not compatible with high ambition and continually striving to achieve more, it's a tradeoff.

As in the old quote - "The reasonable man adapts himself to the world: the unreasonable one persists in trying to adapt the world to himself. Therefore all progress depends on the unreasonable man."

False dichotomy.

Contentedness and happiness are very different things. The former comes from the inside. It is a sense of satisfaction and peace. The latter comes from the outside. It's a sense of elation and joy.

The reason your post presents a false dichotomy is that it is possible to be both content and happy. In fact, people should strive for a balance of both. Being content should not get in the way of attaining happiness, or vice versa.

Then you lose your drive to move forward. Then zen feeling of being content is not mush different from being dead.

A pronounced theme in the article was disregarding this superficial drive to nowhere and instead focusing on philosophising on your own existence.

I doubt many of us know what it's like to be dead but to think its Zen is actually a nice thought.

Happiness is wanting what you have, not having what you want.

Delusion is asserting that you've found some objective measure of happiness that can be generalized to everyone.

Yeah I also felt that way after a couple paragraphs. I still skimmed/speed read to the end, but I get what you're saying. The article is good though and worth a full skim or speed read in my opinion

>Only do things you really want to do

We all have ethical responsibilities that require doing things that we don't want to do.

I would argue that these are things we want to do but just are not excited about the effort or potential results.

Well, speak for yourself!

Haha, I notice that too. 5000+ word article on managing one's time.

ironically reading such a long article seemed like a poor use of my own time , so I skimmed it

> Be nice to others and be nice to yourself.

> Don't waste time reading stuff which is boring but... "stay hungry... stay foolish"


As I read this well written piece I can't help but to stop and think about the irony of reading a 22-minute article about priorities and time management instead of getting back to spending time with family and friends over the Christmas break.

I will stop and react to one piece:

> In an era of insecure employment, we must constantly demonstrate our usefulness through frenetic doing

This is why I started my own company this year. I still do the same type of work providing dev services vs being a dev employee, but it's freed me from busy work that involves being present in a chair 9–5 which gets mistaken for productivity in a traditional office environment.

May I ask you how you did the jump to self-employment? Did you build up your network while working for a salary and then switch to your own company? I know I'd love to be my own boss, but it seems tough to find enough clients in order to pay yourself a salary.

Pretty much what you said. For client sourcing I just asked a few founder friends if they would be interested in contracting a part time dev and they were. That was unituitively one of the easiest parts.

Also, the market rate as a contractor is quite a bit higher than as an employee which helps cover some of the time that isn't billable.

> I just asked a few founder friends

Ah. It all seems so simple when phrased like that. To be an insider...

I wouldn't necessarily say that. I live in a third- / fourth-tier startup ecosystem and started here from scratch about 3 years ago. Taking a job for a company still working in the space provided by the accelerator (which happens to host lots of meetups) was one of the best things to happen to me though, even if that company ultimately failed.

(I got that first job blindly off AngelList with no connections.)

I have heard vintners say "water the vine, ruin the wine."

The theory as explained to me was that if the plants have enough water they make uniform grapes and that makes for a very dull wine. But let them struggle and the complexity multiplies making for a very good wine.

Scott McNealy at Sun felt that way about engineering. Engineering was always asked to do more than it could with insufficient time or budget. The effect of that was a natural prioritizing of what did get budget or time and a lot of creativity in how the goals might be met. I realized in my own life that if I don't put a deadline on something, even an artificial one, things can get stuck. And sit there stuck forever. The deadline forces me to go back and try a different solution to get it across the finish line.

Yes it is a "lame mental trick" but one that for me is effective.

This is a much more intelligent essay than you might expect based on the title. The stuff about Inbox Zero and it's author is very interesting.

Yeah for sure. And yes Merlin Mann (Inbox Zero guy) is an awesome person. Very authentic and real. Didn't keep peddling productivity BS. I've followed him ever since.

Lifestyle design and time management tend to make people less happy because they then tend to focus on the past and future, priming the desire/fear based systems which make you feel like the present moment is not good enough. The key to improving happiness is learning to guide the attentional system to the present moment as much as possible. The present moment is full of rich sensory data, usually inherently pleasant.

Time management is another way how the managing class dominates life more and more. For somebody who mainly spends his time in meetings it's fine to manage his time closely. For a lot of engineers it would be better if they solved only a few very difficult problems instead of many trivial ones as it seems to be the trend right now.

On a similar note, efficiency is good but if you run a perfectly efficient operation then you're extremely vulnerable to disruptions. If all you care about is beating other competitors so as to be #1, then of course you want to be as efficient as possible, just as a professional athlete orients everything around the exercise and practice required to excel in competition. That's great, but it also has pitfalls - specialization can result in inflexibility in changing circumstances, and if you operate close to the envelope of capability all the time then a small mistake can have drastic consequences.

"A Short Cartoon about Time" by david firth: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=idCFV0KF4uo

I am happily surprised that this kind of anti-capitalistic bit got to the top of HN. Usually, any sort of critic of the current financial system gets hacked down. Hope still for a better future then.

The book "Algorithms to live by" by Brian Christian pointed out that as a society, we've switched in interpersonal communication from 'circuit switching' to 'packet switching'. I.e nowadays anyone can send anything, and it's the recipients responsibility to deal with all the messages coming in. Earlier, e.g. with phone, fax and paper mail, the communication bandwidth for incoming noise - err, I mean messages - was lower, and the individual did not need to deal with so much traffic.

I find that current time management tools worry about the wrong thing. HN talks a lot about UX and the psychology of the things we use. For example, how sticky Facebook or YouTube can be.

I think that time management has in someways had very good ideas, but the tools needed have never existed. Waiting for the tools has been futile. (i.e A todo list with swipe-actions doesn't help you get more stuff done. Switching to all paper can be impractical. Using OrgMode doesn't work well on mobile cause the app isn't super maintained anymore. etc.)

I have always liked the system of keeping a calendar, a list of things todo, and making a habit of deciding which of those things to do today. If I have free time when I should be working I look at the list otherwise: whatever. In more detail it's a mix of Cal Newport's ideas with some of Zen To Done.

I am working on something that I think will help with this software problem. Eventually I'll show it on HN. I think many people on here are going to enjoy it a lot even in the early form I will first release it in.*

* And even if they didn't. It's what I wanted anyways so I still win!

GTD and Inbox Zero never felt like "time management" strategies to me, they're more like methodologies for very specific use cases like your email and to-do list. While they do help you manage the email flow coming in and what you have to do in your life that might slip by, they don't really teach you how to manage the rest of the time that it takes to actually do stuff in your life.

My time management is basically a combination of Inbox Zero, GTD, and "extreme calendaring". Every (working) morning, I spend about a half hour processing my email and either replying to/reading messages or delegating replies/reads for the future. I delegate reading email by moving the messages into a folder called "Deferred", which I will go through at the end of the day to read anything that I might not have wanted to get into in the morning due to lack of time. To delegate writing replies, I will typically archive the message and start a reply to it in Drafts. I might also remind myself to reply to the email at a specific time or when I get home.

My "inbox" for GTD is the Reminders list on my iPhone. Using Siri, I typically tell my phone to remind me to do things at various times or when I arrive at home/work/the grocery store/etc. Every Sunday, I block out about two hours to go through this list and do any tasks that aren't scheduled for a certain time. Reminders that have a schedule are expected to be done at that time, and reminders set for me to do when I arrive somewhere should be done pretty much immediately upon arrival.

But the real trick to time management is using the Calendar. I block off time during the day to do certain things, and by default, I get notified when I have to do them. I've conditioned myself to just start working on whatever my calendar tells me to do when I get an event notification, and I attempt to put in things like travel times and longer/multiple alerts to remind me to get ready for longer events or for traveling to events. I'm a programmer in my day job and a musician at night, so I'm already used to being responsive to my calendar, but the music business doesn't really work like that. I have to put in all my appointments, like mixdowns, rehearsals, gigs, meetings, etc., in my own calendar if I want to make it to everything on time and not look like a space cadet.

So while GTD and Inbox Zero help my calendaring be more efficient, the real secret sauce to me keeping my life together is my calendar.

Weird tangent:

A couple years ago I had a wicked bout of insomnia, and one of the things I did to combat it was to scrub all my screens of clocks, so that I couldn't easily succumb to an anxious urge to check the time when I was having trouble falling asleep.

I've found that not having a clock in the upper-right corner of my screen slightly but noticeably chills me out. Like the little red badge on the email client telling you to stop what you're doing and check your mail, the clock is a source of tiny little distractions throughout the day.

I still use calendars, of course, and I'm never more than a couple keystrokes from the time.

Is there an easy way to remove a clock from Android? How about OSX?

In OS X, you can go to Apple menu->System Preferences->Date & Time->Clock and uncheck "Show date and time in menu bar". To bring it back, just check that option.

[System Preferences has a lot to offer for many things, including custom keyboard shortcuts and such]

On macOS, you can hold the command key and drag the clock off the menu bar.

Funny thing about this. I spent what probably amounted of hours of time looking for the perfect email client for my Surface, namely, one that would let me snooze my email without requiring Inbox. I also embarked on the same journey for my iPhone.

I eventually got tired of switching from client to client and went with mobile Gmail on Safari. It's much less distracting. You eventually realize that if people REALLY need you, they'll call you!

I got into some habits a few years ago that I'll share here:

- First, I "write" everything down. Every task goes on my Trello board. (one personal, one for work)

- The first columns of my boards are always: In Progress, Next, and Done. Those are the most important ones. I have other ones for Considering, Learn More About, and usually project specific.

- There is never more than one thing on my In Progress board. Sometimes I have to move another task into it but then the other thing has to move out, usually to Next.

- When I finish something, it goes into the Done column and another task (usually from Next) moves into In Progress.

- Each Monday morning, I review my Done board from the last week. If it's really done, I archive all the cards and start fresh. Sometimes tasks move back into In Progress or Next.

- I don't set due dates just to have a deadline. Either there's a deadline or there's not.. less self-imposed stressed.

- Recurring meetings and tasks never continue past December 31st. After that, I re-evaluate and recreate the necessary ones.

- Around Dec 31st, I go through my notes on projects and ideas. If it's still valuable, I keep it. If not or if I'm not going to work on it, I archive them. Less self-imposed stress.

Let's call it #productivityhoax! Great article. I always felt those productivity systems are missing the point.

The key thing to understand is that there's literally INFINITE number of things we could be doing. They all compete for our very limited time. There's only one way to stay sane and productive and it's having explicit PRIORITIES. That's your shield from the demands of the world. That's where you decide where you want to go. (I've written a post about it http://frustrat.com/on-priorities-and-focus/)

Second - no list is a time-management tool. They're just lists. If you want to get a hold of the time you need to use a CALENDAR. That's where you "budget" or allocate the time to do things. The beauty of this is that it shows you when you bankrupt on time. Ie. when there's too much on your todo list and you need to remove some of it. The list will not help you do that. Other benefits of this approach: low stress, low context-switching, feeling of control, effectiveness (as opposed to efficiency).

It's like DHH says in the tweet: "Secret to productivity is not finding more time to do more stuff, but finding the strength to do less of the stuff that doesn't need doing."

Also Rory Vaden is onto something in his "multiply your time" approach: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=y2X7c9TUQJ8

Another proof of the #productivityhoax is that we all have the same 24h, yet our outcomes are so different. Time is the biggest equaliser. Think about it :)

I would like to share this method that I'm experimenting with and have found good success with.

Last week of each quarter quantify your last quarter and write-up your OKRs for next quarter. Delete everything in your to-do list and clear out your inbox. Start from zero. It helps to think about it like you are quitting your job and starting a new one. I call it Q-boot.

You're quite low down in the comments list, but I actually like this and do something similar. I actually put all my files somewhere else - just in case I need them I can find them in a search. I then focus

i actively develop time management techniques

the best experience i've ever had was with meeting a reading deadline

i needed to read through a final draft of a book i was writing with friends before the publication date

i had read the book a thousand times but in pieces

so it was important for me to read it through cover to cover before it was published

i knew when the deadline was and was putting it off until three days before the day and i still had 130 pages to read and edit

i decided to dedicate a day to finishing it

130 pages, 1 day.. i could easily pull off 10 pages per hour and effectively work from 9am, to 10pm

10 pages per hour seems silly but it really is a mechanism to subvert what i call my reward response

put in the time to read 10 pages at the start of any hour and the rest of the hour is mine to do whatever i want to

stretch, workout, run, eat, context switch, information dope

sometimes those 10 pages would take 5 minutes, woot! 55 minutes to work on some other project

sometimes i would be so distracted that those 10 pages could take 40 minutes, so i'd make myself some tea and stare out a window for 10 minutes before the next hour

reading simplifies this model because you can quickly gauge how many hours you want to work, how much reading you have to do, and roughly how fast you can read

it's a bit different for other endeavors

for instance, 10 lines of code can take 2 seconds or 2 years

so instead of hard hour breaks i'll work until i finish a definitive partition of a larger project and wherever i lie in the current hour chunk determines the length of the reward, to be limited by the start of the next hour

same game different rules

Why do you neglect the SHIFT and punctuation keys yet give the ENTER key so much attention?

time management ;P

OK, I'll give a explicit answer: because I prefer to read this way. I wish you wrote this way. I think ideas are easier to absorb when separated and simplified in this manner. Why do I think it is easier to absorb this way? Perhaps it is because I am a mathematician. Or perhaps it is because I am a poet. Or perhaps it is because I am a programmer. Or perhaps it is because I am an engineer. Or perhaps it is because I am a visual artist. Or perhaps it is because I am a chemist. Or perhaps it is because I am a physicist. Or perhaps its because I like to express myself through everything I do.

i do wish i could clump single lines into groups, but hn formatting obstructs my writing style

   because i prefer to read this way

   i wish you wrote this way,
   i think ideas are easier to absorb when separated and simplified in this manner

   why do i think it is easier to absorb this way?
   perhaps it is because i am a mathematician, perhaps it is because i am a poet, or perhaps it is because i am a programmer, or perhaps it is because i'm an engineer, or perhaps it is because i am a visual artist, or perhaps it is because i am a chemist, or perhaps it is because i am a physicist,
   or perhaps its because i like to express myself through everything i do
code blocks allow me to group ideas but adds that annoying scroll for long lines

ok, i'll give a explicit answer

because i prefer to read this way

i wish you wrote this way

i think ideas are easier to absorb when separated and simplified in this manner

why do i think it is easier to absorb this way?

perhaps it is because i am a mathematician, perhaps it is because i am a poet, or perhaps it is because i am a programmer, or perhaps it is because i'm an engineer, or perhaps it is because i am a visual artist, or perhaps it is because i am a chemist, or perhaps it is because i am a physicist,

or perhaps its because i like to express myself through everything i do

Being efficient is not the same as being effective. Focusing on scheduling for the sake of filling time is a fool's errand.

Furthermore more, in a given day or series of days, the brain has limits. It can and does run out of gas. Those times you think "I can't think anymore" are legit and true.

In terms of true productivity "Your Brain at Work" by David Rock is by far the best thing I've read. Highly recommended if you want to think better.

To-do lists don't work because they're themselves bureaucratic work that gets in the way to real work. After I cut to-do lists from my life I have a much better time doing real work. Of course I keep notes, but they are not things "to do", they're just information that I may, eventually, need for the really important things I do.

I don't want to be a slave to my to-do list (my way of dealing with time-management). OTOH, if I don't have a to-do list, in the long run, I am also not happy, and that negatively influence the quality of my life. I try to find a balance between the two. Sometimes I am successful in that, and sometimes I am not. And BTW, I am great Trello fan.

Slack (the concept, not the app) is interesting because it can also be applied personally. Lots of businesses these days talk about wanting to have both "high autonomy and high alignment" for their teams.

So it's useful to think about having high autonomy, high alignment, and slack - for one's own individual life.

Can someone summarize the point of the article who have read it?

I highly recommend reading the entire article because it's a good read and can't be adequately summarized in this way but here it is anyway:

So-called productivity techniques usually end up having the opposite effect, in either the short-term, long-term or both.

An obvious example is making workers work more leads to tired and frustrated workers over the long term. Or giving tight

deadlines to increase throughput: just results in anxiety and slower net progress. That's manual labor -- for anything

else, the perils are even greater: "Because you don't get creativity for free".

However, the problem is even more fundamental. This trendy and increased desire for "efficiency", backed by capitalism and

basic human greed, has a lasting effect on the psyche of society and it's individuals. In 1930, Keynes predicted that

within a century, we would be working 15 hour work weeks, due to increased efficiency. That's hardly the case today. I

enjoyed the carpet example: we created a vacuum to be more productive with cleaning the carpets, which would theoretically

result in less time spent cleaning. However, now that we have vacuums, carpets are expected to be spotless, so we spend

more time cleaning them anyway, and finding new ways to clean them even further. "Work expands so as to fill the time available

for it's completion" -- Parkinson's Law.

Finally the overall message is that we should slow down and live for the sake of living. Don't walk to exercise and get

healthy -- walk to walk. Don't "party for contracts, lunch for contacts". Do things for their own intrinsic value. "Growth

for the sake of growth is the ideology of the cancer cell". These ideologies need to be implemented at the societal level

as well as the personal level.

Great thanks!!

Time management is difficult because work generally expands to fill the available time (Parkinson's Law), and it depends on the inherent, insoluble complexity of working with other people.

The author suggests that time-management schemes are a means of distracting ourselves from the briefness of our lives and the inevitability of death -- the central theme of Ernest Becker's 1973 book, "Denial of Death":


Thank you.

Induced demand from organizations.

Organizations are not people.

That's why we work harder despite being more efficient.

My first time hearing about Inbox Zero (a.k.a. how I've done email for 25 years) and I'm pissed I wasn't the one to make a bunch of money selling it to noobs suffering from email misuse!

Any tldr offering?

For some people like those that suffer from ADHD, good time management is the only way to lead a productive life

In that context, it would be more about the number of tasks in your time table instead of how well managed the time is for each one of them (or overall). A schedule with a lot of tasks (context switching), will not serve ADHD person well.

What's considered a productive life could be subjective. And why should that be the ultimate goal anyway?

It shouldn't. But choosing to subscribe to established concepts (money will make me happy, marrying rich will make me happy, etc), is the easiest way to deal with the question: "what makes me tick, and what makes me happy, and what should I do in this life"

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