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(be productive) x (do the stuff you love)

David Gane
David Gane
3 min read

I have been hearing the rumblings from some students about their problems with time management, so I thought I would throw some thoughts out.

I am always struggling with time management and I found myself at a low-point several years back.

I stumbled across Merlin Mann who was singing the praises of David Allen's book Getting Things Done.

He promotes the use of to-do lists to organize your stuff into several areas of focus. It is also about identifying what needs to be done (actions) and what is not important (trash). It is then about organizing what needs to be done and figuring out what are "next actions".

It helps you get focused but I also find it to be a great deal of work.

My takeaway from it was how to define your actions. Similar to how I define character actions in story-building, GTD actions should be specific, goal-oriented, and action-oriented (a physical thing that can be done):

  • read the script
  • write 5 page essay
  • edit story

These objectives can be expressed in larger "projects" or broken down into even smaller objectives in order to get the job done.

The first step is to define what needs to be done.

The next steps began for me after I started writing again.

I was blocked for 15 years because of "writer's block" and I decided to commit myself to writing a feature length script according to the rules of NaNoWriMo (write a novel of 50,000 words). I committed to 120 pages in a month, and I wrote it in 17 days.

I discovered that the term "writer's block" is bullshit. Figure out what you want to do and do it. In 17 days, I learned that I had wasted 15 good years. For me, it won't happen again.

Once you know what you want to do, then do it. Don't waste time. Don't make excuses. Do it. There is no other choice.

In this respect, I am a big fan of The Cult of Done and its manifesto.

Jerry Seinfeld has similar advice, saying that he improved as a comic through persistence:

He told me to get a big wall calendar that has a whole year on one page and hang it on a prominent wall. The next step was to get a big red magic marker.
He said for each day that I do my task of writing, I get to put a big red X over that day. "After a few days you'll have a chain. Just keep at it and the chain will grow longer every day. You'll like seeing that chain, especially when you get a few weeks under your belt. Your only job next is to not break the chain."

This second task can be pursued using any calendar. Two good options that I liked were Don't Break the Chain/Joe's Goals.

Another important discovery for me was not to over-do the work. It's good to have balance. In The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, Steven Covey considers the physical, social/emotional, mental, spiritual,and familial commitments that we have. Finding balance between all these commitments is key.

Follow your passions and show up and do the work every day.

For me, it was the opposite: I knew what I wanted but I needed to commit. But once I quit making excuses about why I wasn't doing the work, I had the energy and time to do and spend the time with the other stuff I loved and cared about.

Your list of actions had better follow a common theme: Do what you love. Figure out what you want in this world and do it. Don't piddle away your time.

Also, there should be a balance between work, play, and rest. Sometimes we will dive into the resources of one for the pursuit of the other. These need to be in balance and you need to figure out what it is your are trying to do (passions, commitments, and actions) by the end of the day.

I think this is where most people mess up and they put their time into the wrong thing at the wrong time. Yet, since I am a romantic, I still believe this is okay, as long as you balance it out. Like many things, it is okay as long as it is in moderation.

On a day-to-day basis, the Pomodoro Technique is can be a go-to solution for me.

Essentially, you get yourself a kitchen timer, set it for 25 minutes and work until the bell rings. Take a 5 minute break, then begin again. On every fourth "Pomodoro" take a longer break. I personally do 45 minutes and break for 15, with no other breaks.

I also recommend checking out Leo Babauta of Zen Habits and Lifehacker for further ideas and solutions for time management

In the end, I believe time management can be over-complicated. You can waste a lot of time and money with what should be simple.

I personally believe in a good to-do list (preferably a notebook) and a calendar that you can check anywhere and every day. Since, I have a family, we sync our lives with iCloud (but we have also used Google Calendar).

I have learned not to make most commitments that I can't keep or accomplish. Unfortunately, I have to include my classes in this list and I still struggle with staying on top of everything.

In the end, I would define my formula for time management as: (be productive) x (do the stuff you love).


David Gane Twitter

Co-writer of the Shepherd and Wolfe young adult mysteries, the internationally award-winning series, and teacher of storytelling and screenwriting.


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