Time management diets?

A diet for TV watching? For email lists? For meetings?

One of the most common "New Years Resolutions" is to go on a diet. If you aren't sure, pay attention to the TV commercials last night... most were for products related to losing weight, getting into shape and giving up smoking. (The rest are champagne commercials which, I guess, are optimistic that you will remember their brand 11.5 months from now when you are preparing for next year's party.)

From a time management perspective, there are three diets I recommend: A TV diet, and a mailing list diet, and a meeting diet.

The TV diet is easy. Pledge that from now on, any time you add a TV show to the list that your Tivo/PVR records, you will remove at least one other TV show. As the amount of television in your life gets reduced, use this newly freed time for those projects you wish you had time for, like spending time with your loved ones or reading that book on Linux internals, or whatever you'd rather be doing. I wish Tivo had a feature where if you deleted a 1-hour show from your "Season Pass" list, it would ask you what you are going to do with that time instead. You would type in, "Play outside with my nephew". After that, you'd get a 60-minute block of time each week when your TV displays nothing but "Play outside with your nephew!" That would be awesome.

The mailing list diet is a similar strategy. Every time you join a new email list, pledge to remove yourself from one or two lists that you've found to be less useful. While finding better/faster ways to manage the email you receive is a good thing, it's even better to just plain receive less email. Today is January 1st, and like the first of every month I got a notice from every Mailman-maintained list reminding me that I'm subscribed. I have email filters that process messages from most of these lists and help me read those messages more efficiently. However today I looked at some of the "monthly reminders" with a careful eye and realized that I could really do without a few of those lists. They all had filters that sent the messages to a "read someday if you have free time" folder. Yeah, like that's gonna ever happen. I've now unsubscribed from those lists.

One of those lists, by the way, was a particularly high-volume mailing list that I was staying on "just in case I ever need to speak up and ask a question." I hadn't actually read a message from that list in ages.
I unsubscribed and made a note of how to re-subscribe if I ever needed. My hard disk thanks me.

I seem to add myself to new email lists all the time, sometimes casually. Having a monthly ritual of removing myself from 1-2 is a big win. I'm glad that Mailman sends those reminders.

The meeting diet can help you have more time to work while at work. Pick the least useful meeting that you attend each week and figure out how to eliminate it. Maybe it is optional, and you start only attending when you are particularly needed, or if the agenda lists something you need to know. If it doesn't have a pre-announced agenda, politely inform the meeting owner that Tom Limoncelli says that you should refuse to attend meetings without pre-announced agendas; that if he respected the need for attendees to manage their time well he would invest a few minutes in preparing an agenda and emailing it out before the meeting. (find a polite way to say that... if you get fired I can't help ya). If many people from your group are attending someone else's meeting, pick a delegate to attend and take notes for the others (and get someone else to be the delegate! Take turns otherwise). If the least useful meeting that you want to eliminate is the one meeting you are required to attend (i.e. your weekly staff meeting) then make a new years resolution to sit down with that person and figure out how to make it more useful. My favorite technique? Start exactly on time (that often saves 10 minutes), end on time (that encourages people to be brief), pre-announce the agenda (so speakers know there are other people that still have to speak), cut the meeting time in half and tell people they have to really be brief, and finally... require all able-bodied attendees to stand for the entire length of the meeting. It's amazing how efficient the meetings will become when everyone is standing. Another benefit is that you can have those meetings in a hallway... no need to fight with other groups about who gets to use the conference room when. Another benefit? People are more focused because they can't use their laptops to IM while standing.

What other diets can you go on that will help your time management? I'd love to hear from you!

Posted by Tom Limoncelli in Time Management

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4 Comments | Leave a comment

TV diet: Easier if you have a TiVo with low capacity. You can then only fit so much TV into your life because the box just won't handle any more.

Mailing list diet: Tired of receiving spam, I've removed myself from all mailing lists and only subscribe through RSS for news. These days, if I need to ask a question, 99.9% of the time it is a Google away.

And for those still on the dead tree mailing lists, get rid of those, too. A lot of that material is already on web sites and also available through RSS.

TV diet: Easier if you have a TiVo with low capacity. You can then only fit so much TV into your life because the box just won't handle any more.

Mailing list diet: Tired of receiving spam, I've removed myself from all mailing lists and only subscribe through RSS for news. These days, if I need to ask a question, 99.9% of the time it is a Google away.

And for those still on the dead tree mailing lists, get rid of those, too. A lot of that material is already on web sites and also available through RSS.

Most people could also use a web/RSS reading diet. Especially reading feeds is tricky, as it usually is very easy to add new feeds to your reading list, but not everybody takes the time to purge their feeds once a while.

I've eliminated TV entirely from my life. My fiancee and I moved from Michigan to Maine and decided not to bring her TV. Not only do we save hours every day which we use for much more useful things (volunteering, reading, talking to eachother) we also $50/month from not having cable and $20/mo from TiVo. Also, no Pay-Per-View charges, and we've stopped renting movies too so that cost is gone. All told, I wouldn't be surprised if we're saving $150/month on TV related expenses (including impulse buys from commercials) while gaining a ton of free time.

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