The key to managing your time


You have a lot of tasks on your list. You know what to do, how, and why, but do you know “when”?

“When” you will do a task is the key to effectively managing your time. 

If you know when, and schedule the day (and time), you’re more likely to do it. If you don’t know when, you may not do it at all. 

Our days are full. Once we complete our scheduled tasks (appointments, meetings, calls), we might not have enough time or energy to do other things. 

Which means we often won’t do them. 

I’m not advocating time-blocking our entire day or giving everything a due date. But maybe we should give everything a “do” date. 

When you schedule when to do something, you’ve decided it’s important. If you don’t know, everything becomes “someday/maybe” and that often means “never”. 

Decide “when” you will do the task and schedule it. Mark the day and time on your calendar or tag it on your list. If you’re not sure of the time, at least schedule the day. If you’re not sure of the day, at least schedule the week. 

You can always change the day or week. But to do that, you’ll need to reconsider the importance of the task, and then renew your commitment to doing it or remove it from your list. 

Look at it this way: if a task isn’t important enough to schedule, maybe it’s not important at all. 

What if you’re not sure when you will do it? Schedule a date and time to review the task and then decide. 

Because “when” is the key to managing your time. 


You only need 3 lists


We like our lists, our task apps, and our systems. We like planning and managing our days. But many of us overcomplicate things, often spending more time managing our lists than doing the tasks on those lists. And being stressed as we perpetually look for the perfect system. 

I was reminded of that recently when I saw a post on social crediting Marc Andreessen’s way of managing his very busy days. Andreessen puts his tasks into just 3 categories: 

  1. NOW
  2. NEXT
  3. LATER

And I think he puts them on a single page. 

We can quibble about the meaning of “now”. For some of us, that means “immediately,” as soon as we finish making the list. For others, it might mean “today”. Others might include tasks intended to be done over the next few days. 

For me, “now” means “today”. I like to look at the list, see what’s on tap for the day, and not have to think about anything else until it’s time to look at tomorrow. I also put those tasks in the order I intend to do them.

“Next” surely means tasks to do after you complete the tasks on your first list. That might mean later today, later in the week, or as soon as you can. It might include scheduled tasks, projects to review, single tasks, or routines that need to be done, well, routinely.

“Now” and “Next” are pretty clear. It’s “Later” that can cause problems, especially if it becomes a dumping ground for everything you want to do after you do the tasks on the first two lists.

An endless “Later” list isn’t helpful. The best solution is to impose a cutoff. “Later” might mean “next week” or “later this month” for example.  

What do you do with everything else? Things you want to do next month, next quarter, next year, or “someday”? 

Schedule them. 

Put these in your app or on your calendar to either “do” or “review” on a future day. That’s what I do, and it keeps me (reasonably) sane. 

The point of having just 3 lists is to keep things simple, because if it’s simple, you’ll do it.

Each day, look at your “now” list or today’s list and get to work. When you finish the tasks on that list, you can start on “next” (if you have the time and energy), or put those tasks on your list for tomorrow and go have some fun. 

What do you do to keep your task lists manageable?


You’re not going to want to do this (but you should)


Have you ever stopped to think about how much more you could accomplish if you just had the time? The projects you could finish (or start and then finish), the skills you could learn or improve? 

You want to take a course, learn a new language, build a second brain, or finish that book that’s gathering dust on your hard drive. You want to learn how to get more referrals, better clients, more leads, more subscribers, or more people registering for your seminars. You want to expand into a new practice area or open another office. 

But you’re busy with work and don’t have the time. 

That’s the problem. The solution is to do it anyway. Take some of the time (you don’t have), and dedicate it to doing things that allow you to “level up” your practice and, eventually, allow you to buy back that time. 

It’s an investment in your future. 

Specifically, block out one hour on your calendar every weekday. Call it your “power hour”. Or your financial freedom hour. Or don’t call it anything, just do it. 

I know, it’s too much time. You’re not sure how you’ll use it. You think I’m crazy for even suggesting this nonsense.

Block out the time even if you don’t know if you should or how you’ll use it. You will use it. And be glad you did.

You’ve heard me talk about calendaring 15 minutes a day for marketing. 15 minutes is a great place to start and create a daily habit, but imagine what you could accomplish if you used an entire hour for marketing. 

It’s your power hour. Use all or part of it for marketing if you want to. I did that when I was struggling in my early days and it changed my life.

If you’re still having trouble wrapping your head around using that much time for non-billable work, start with 30 minutes. Use your lunch hour. Or do this early morning before you start your regular day. 

But do it. Because it can change your life. 


Maybe you don’t need more time


You have goals but can’t seem to find time to do the things you need to do to accomplish them.

You’re busy. And there aren’t enough hours in the day.

You could hire more people. Which might be the best solution. But if you don’t want to do that, what then?

You don’t need a longer day, three hands, or a second brain. What you need is to reallocate some of the time you currently spend.

That means cutting back on some things, or eliminating them, to make room for others.

Think about it, if you had an “extra” hour each day, you could do more things that are aligned with your goals, couldn’t you?

Well, this is how you find that hour.

First, make a list of things you need to do to accomplish your goals but aren’t doing enough of or doing at all.

Second, take inventory of how you currently spend your time. Include everything—client work, admin, family time, alone time, commuting, exercising–write down how you spend your day or week.

Third, choose a number—the amount of time you would like to reallocate from your current schedule towards working on your unfulfilled goals. An hour a day, two hours a week, whatever. (It’s just a number and you can change it later, but you need a place to start.)

Fourth, go through your list of how you currently spend your time and ask yourself, “What am I willing to give up or cut down?” Or, “What am I willing to delegate?”

This is where the proverbial rubber hits the proverbial road.

You might decide to cut down on watching sports, playing games, or scrolling through social media. Or limit yourself to 15 minutes a day instead of an hour.

You might decide to withdraw from the class you’re taking (or teaching), outsource some of the things you now do in-house, or eliminate some of your practice areas that take up more time than they’re worth.

This may be difficult. There may be things you don’t want to give up. That’s your call. But before you make that call, think about your goal and ask yourself, “How bad to do I want it?”

If it is a priority, you find a way to do it. You put on your big boy pants and do what needs to be done.

By the way, if you need money to finance your goals, you should do the same exercise.

How much do you need? How much do you currently spend on other things that you could eliminate or curtail? (Don’t borrow if you can find the money by cutting down on some of your current expenses).

Whether it’s time or money, it all comes down to math.


Are you working too much, or too little?


No, it’s not just about how much time you put in, it’s about the results you get and how happy you are about them

You may be killing it with a four-day (or four-hour) work-week. Or you may be working like a dog and barely keeping up with inflation.

It’s not just about the amount of time you spend doing what you do. But clearly, time is a factor.

Which is why I suggest you track how you spend it. Not just your work-day or billable hours. All of your time.

For one week, write down everything you do and for how long you do it. How you spend your 24.

You might learn some very useful (and surprising) things about yourself, some of which could be invaluable.

You might learn that you spend a lot of time doing things that contribute little (or nothing) to your income and/or well-being.

I don’t goof off that much, you say? Yeah, that’s what I said.

You might find you spend 90 minutes to do something that shouldn’t take more than an hour. I did that, too.

Tracking your time will help you prioritize that time and focus on what’s important and aligned with your goals.

You might see how much time you spend looking over the shoulders of your employees or outside vendors, time you could use doing other things. Or you might see how much time you spend doing things yourself that could be delegated to someone else.

Track your time for a week. You might not like what you find, or believe some of it. But the numbers don’t lie.

And admitting the truth is the first step towards change.

Even if this exercise allows you to “only” reclaim ten minutes a day, that’s an extra hour per week you can spend as you see fit.

Which is why you should consider doing this exercise regularly, perhaps once or twice a year.


Time blocking for thee and me


I’ve struggled with time blocking, aka time boxing or calendar blocking, at least the way I’ve seen others do it. I don’t want to schedule my entire day down to the minute, as some studs do, but even when I mentally block out time for writing or other projects, I still resist putting this on my calendar.

I informally dedicate my mornings (after doing email, some admin stuff and waking up my brain) to “deep work” — writing and other things that require focus and concentration. But I don’t schedule it.

When I’m ready, I go to work. When I’m not, I don’t.

This works for me, but there’s something appealing about the idea of looking at the calendar and seeing my day organized and tidy.

So I will try again.

In my quest to learn how others do it, I’ve watched some videos and picked up some suggestions. I thought I’d pass along a few of the best.

  • Time block email and admin so you can stay on top of it, and not be distracted when you’re doing other things and remember you forgot to reply to your email.
  • For “deep work”—anything that requires concentration—be specific about what you will work on (the case, file, project), and for how long, so you know exactly what to do during your time block. Specifics create clarity, clarity creates focus, and focus is how you get things done.
  • If you’re trying to block your entire day, for each block, (a) give yourself enough time to do the work; (most of us grossly underestimate how long things will take), and, (b) build in buffer time between blocks for breaks, travel, interruptions, and things that need more time than you have allowed.

If you have other suggestions, or would like to share how time blocking works for you, please let me know.


When your task management system isn’t working for you


It’s not the app, it’s the system. If you have the right system, you can make it work in just about any app.

Or so we’re told.

I don’t think that’s literally true but there’s enough to it that if your system isn’t working, changing apps, as I did recently, might be the solution. At the very least, it gives you a chance to re-examine your system.

A few thoughts about apps and systems.

First, your system (and app) should serve you and make your life easier. It shouldn’t make you do a dance to keep up with it. It should sit by your side and tell you what to do next (because you decided that earlier) and give you the satisfaction of checking things off as you do them.

If it doesn’t, before you switch apps or radically change your system, consider looking for ways to simplify that system.

If possible, see if you can consolidate all of your task management functions into one tool.

You can have multiple lists or tags or labels but put all your work and personal stuff in one app.

In keeping with that, you should have one inbox. One place for all of your incoming tasks and ideas.

Because it’s simpler.

If one app/one inbox isn’t possible, because of partners or staff or whatever reasons, consider using two iterations of the same app, one for you and one for the team.
Less to learn and update.

Be realistic about the number of tasks and projects you can do each day, or at one time. Most of us take on too much, which leads to overwhelm and falling behind.

Keyword: a few at a time.

Then, make sure every task has a next action and a date when you’re going to do it, review it, or start it. Add a due date if there is one, but having a start date allows you to forget about the task until the start date, which allows you to give your full attention to what’s important today.

Then, update your lists “in the moment” rather than once a week or on some other schedule. When you complete something, tick it off. When you think of something, add it in. You can also do a weekly review, but that will be a lot easier to do if you’ve kept up with your lists in real time. 

Finally, if you switch to another app, don’t get bogged down learning and using a bunch of new features. Instead, consider turning off or not using most of the functions initially, and start with just an inbox and a place for today’s tasks.

This gives you time to think about what you’re doing and if there’s something you should change.

As you get more comfortable with the app and your new system, add back some of the other functions and see how it feels. If those work, you can add more.

That’s my take, and I’m sticking to it. Time to tick this off my list and see what’s next.


The two most important questions you will ever answer


It’s not clickbait. These two questions are the key to your future.

The questions are simple. The answers, not so much. The answers require some thinking and introspection, maybe some praying, and a willingnes to be completely honest with yourself.

The first question: What do you want?

Describe your ideal life five years from now. Where are you, what are you doing, who are you doing it with? What have you accomplished and what are you on the road to accomplishing?

In this vision, you can be, do, and have anything. No rules, no restrictions. This is your vision for an ideal (perfect) future.

Write it down. You will surely want to refer to it again.

Now that you know what you want, it’s time to answer the second question:

What are you willing to give up to get it?

Yes, give up. Because if you didn’t have to give up something, change something, you’d already have what you want.

You may believe you are on the path to your ideal life and the only thing needed is to give it more time. You know that if you keep doing exactly what you’re doing now, you’ll get there.

Even if that’s true, wouldn’t you like to speed things up?

Either way, you have to change something. What are you willing to change? What are you willing to give up?

Mostly, we’re talking about time and how you currently spend it.

Track your time for a week and you’ll likely find that you waste a lot of it. Three hours or more per day, according to some experts.

Are you willing to give up some of your indulgences, change your habits, and redirect some of your time and energy towards more productive things? Are you willing to give up an hour of TV or gaming or social media each day, and use that time to improve your knowledge and skills?

So, two questions. What do you want? What are you willing to give up to get it?

Plaintiff rests.


Does your life need to go on a diet?


It was just yesterday that you started practicing. Or so it may seem. The days whiz by, don’t they? Another day, another week, another month, another year, come and gone.

Where will you find the time to do everything?

The answer is to let go of things you don’t need to do or want to do but continue to do out of habit.

A good place to start is by reducing physical and digital clutter. Clean out closets and drawers, delete apps, and cut down on subscriptions.

To do your work, you need a calendar, a place for notes, a list of tasks and projects, a tool for writing, and a system for managing and storing documents.

You probably don’t need much more.

If you do, be judicious about what you add to the mix.

You want to reduce the noise around you and simplify your workflow. You want to focus on the “precious few” instead of the “trivial many”.

The goal is to be effective, with as little friction as possible.

To do that, you need to keep things as simple as possible.

The same goes for the information you consume. Be selective about what you read. Buy fewer books and courses, re-read and study the best ones.

You don’t need every idea; you need a few good ones.

Improve your note-taking skills and habits, so you can better use the information you consume.

How to Read a Book by Mortimer Adler and How to Take Smart Notes by Sönke Ahrens will show you what to do.

Read broadly but focus on your core skills: your practice area, marketing, writing, speaking, leadership, and productivity.

One thing you should add to your workflow if you’re not already doing it, or doing it consistently, is time for planning.

Spend ten minutes every afternoon planning the following day. Spend an hour each weekend planning the following week.

This habit will help you get the most value out of your limited time.

One more thing.

When you do your planning, make sure you schedule time to enjoy the life you’re building.

Because no matter what you do, the days and weeks will continue to whiz by and you don’t want to look back someday and wonder if it was all worth it.

The only course you need on email marketing


Time blocking part deux


I’m trying time blocking again. I hate it but hear so many people having excellent results with it I have to try again.

But I’m being gentle, lest my perfectionism kick in and kick me in the groin.

I’ve watched videos to see how others do it, and try not to grimace at how easy they make it look. I’ve picked up some good ideas and am trying them as we speak.

If you don’t know anything about time blocking, aka time boxing, calendar blocking, et al., it simply means scheduling time on your calendar dedicated to doing specific activities—working on a specific project, for example, or doing a group of related tasks such as making calls, answering emails, writing, or reviewing files.

Time blocking is especially recommended for doing work that requires a lot of focus and concentration, so-called “Deep Work” made popular by Cal Newport in his eponymous book.

When I tried time blocking before, I resisted the idea of scheduling weeks in advance, especially the way some folks (claim they) do it—in five or ten-minute increments.

“How I am supposed to know what I will want to work on for ten minutes three weeks from now?”

I still feel this way, but I’m willing to compromise. So, for now, I’m time blocking one day at a time.

Each evening, I make my schedule for the following day. I know what else I have on tap and this gives me the flexibility I need. I also schedule time for recurring daily tasks, and blocks of time for deep work. I’m writing a book currently, and I make sure I’ve put time to do that on the calendar.

Because I’m new to this, I’ve started with 45 minute blocks—not too long, not too short—and adjust depending on how much I have to do or want to do each day. If I have a lot of calls, I allow more time for that, for example.

I’m also trying to follow the 1.5 rule—allowing 50% more time than I think something will take—because humans are notoriously bad at predicting how long things take, and I’m the poster boy for this.

If I schedule time to “Finish Chapter 7,” for example, and I’m not even close to finishing (see paragraph above), it’s disheartening, so I usually prefer to schedule time to “work on Chapter 7”.

But that’s “creative” work and I allow myself to be a bit of mad scientist in that area. For other tasks like writing my daily email, returning calls, or clearing inboxes, I almost always get everything done in the time allotted.

As for the time of day for each block, well, this is a work in progress. I’d like to be able to get my deepest work done early in the day, but the idea of doing it first thing is a non-starter with me. I get other things done first.

But that may change, too, as I get further along into this dystopian world of blocking my days.

How’s it going? So far, so good, but I still have a long way to go.

My wife just told me she wants me to accompany her to Costco. It’s not on my calendar, I’ve got other things scheduled, but what can I tell you—happy wife, happy life, so we’re off to the store.

Do you time block? Let me know if you have any tips.