Do you ever get to the end of your day and wonder where the time went?
That’s a normal experience for entrepreneurs, but then again, it’s also normal to go out of business within the first two years. You can do better than that.
Let’s fight back against the waves of distraction that try to wash away your progress every time you start making any headway. We’ll begin by using the power of foresight to build a barrier against the tides of distraction.
Start by thinking about your personal time as an asset you want to carefully invest. Some things you invest your time in will have a significant ROI. Others won’t. Your job is to get better at differentiating between the two. Here’s how.
Start with your business goals. Does your calendar reflect those goals?
For example, if you value the idea of hiring a business development manager to bring in new sales, where does that goal show up on your agenda for today or this week?
What’s that? You don’t use timeboxing to create an agenda for allocating your time? Then it’s time to start. Otherwise you’re letting your inbox, your emotions, and your employees decide where you invest your time.
It’s human nature. You’ll spend your time on whatever gets your attention, and we both know it’s not your long-term goals that ping you with notifications all day. Rather, the things that get your attention are the little distractions that arrive in the form of notifications from Slack, email, text messages, and phone calls.
Because they’ve grabbed your attention, these distractions automatically feel urgent. That’s true even if the ROI on that time investment is very low.
The truth is, if you don’t carve out time on your schedule and protect it like the valuable asset it is, you’ll squander your time despite your best intentions. That’s why you need timeboxing. It’s like a budget for your time. And just like a monetary budget, the way you invest your time should reflect your goals.
Is timeboxing easy? No. It’s kind of like learning to swim. If I throw you in the ocean and ask you to swim to the next island, you’ll drown. You’ve got to start by practicing the skill in the shallows.
If you don’t have practice with timeboxing, you’ll immediately feel stressed and overwhelmed when you start, just like someone who’s thrown into the deep end before they’ve gotten used to holding their breath under water. So here’s how I recommend you begin if you’re not already using timeboxing.
It’s a method I call “reverse containment.” Instead of trying to timebox every minute of your entire workday, start with something much easier.
Start by containing all the little distractions. You can accomplish this by setting aside buffer time in the morning and afternoon for responding to your inbox, answering questions from your team, and dealing with recurring tasks that keep your business afloat.
I’m asking you to create one or two buffers in your day representing 30 minutes to an hour each. During those buffer blocks, you’ll only respond to your inbox, your team, and distracting busy work tasks. The goal is to contain all those distractions into concentrated spots on your calendar so you can use batch processing to clear them more quickly.
Here are the two immediate benefits of implementing this method:
Your stress drops because you know you’ve set aside time to deal with your inbox, so you don’t have to keep checking it all day in fear of missing something important.
Your productivity goes up because you’ve created space to focus on progress tasks. You no longer jump back and forth between your one important goal and all the little things that need your attention.
Reverse containment will require a few weeks to master. That’s because you have to retrain your brain not to continuously check your various inboxes. You have to get used to trusting your new system before you’ll start to feel the full effect on your stress level and productivity.
Once you’ve mastered reverse containment, you’ll be ready to practice the next step, which is adding focus blocks to your calendar a week or more ahead of time. These are chunks of time set aside for specific high-ROI progress tasks you want to invest your time in.
A good focus block requires that you turn off notifications, alert your team that you are in focus mode, and focus exclusively on a single project. Why is it difficult? Because it’s scheduled a week or more in advance, and you’ll be tempted to say you’re too busy to work on it when the time comes.
Again, this is just human nature. “Temporal discounting” is a phenomenon of the human mind that causes us to diminish the importance of both consequences and rewards the further they are in the future. Your progress tasks will pay off big time, but not until the distant future. While putting out small fires all day gives an immediate sense of satisfaction.
In time, those who learn to use focus blocks begin to recognize their power. You begin to trust the wisdom of blocking off time on your calendar ahead of time so you invest your time in the goals you value most.
Are you ready to treat your personal time like an asset? Then start with reverse containment.
If you like the idea, but you struggle with implementing new habits, take a look at another article I wrote about the mother of all habits. This single habit makes it easy to ensure you don’t forget a good idea before you have a chance to build it into your daily routine.