We all have an equal amount of time per day, the same number of days per week and month, and the same number of months in a year. Yet, some people manage to accomplish seemingly impossible feats with the limited time they have while others let their time go down the drain and waste it doing nothing.
Often, we think we’re not smart enough or not hardworking enough. We try every time management tip we could get, test every productivity hack, put in ten times more work, and only find ourselves getting nowhere—worse, feeling overwhelmed and burnt out.
The question is not how to get more done in less time. Instead, ask yourself this: “Who am I at this moment in time?”
It’s easy to lose yourself in the busy schedule and never-ending tasks. To align yourself, your time, and your goals, you should see yourself in two different roles and spend your time on each of them accordingly.
Understanding Your Roles: Work and Design
The first step to manage your time both effectively and efficiently is to understand the roles you’re playing in pursuit of your goals. See where you are now as Point A and your goals as Point B. To get from Point A to Point B, you need a machine.
The machine is what will take you from where you are now to where you want to be just like a car taking you from your home to your office. Most machines consist of two parts: the work and the design.
- The work = Tasks that need to be done.
- The design = Everything around that makes completing the work easier—or possible.
Without the work, you’re not getting anywhere. On the other hand, you’re likely to take a long time to produce suboptimal results—or no results at all—without a good design. By looking into these two parts of the machine, we get a clearer picture of the roles we will have in working toward our goals:
- First, the maker is the person who works to get things done so the machine can run.
- Then, the manager is the person who designs, improves, and optimizes the machine.
While most people focus on extracting every minute that is available to push a project forward, it’s far from a good solution if they are not getting these two roles right. Some spend too much on doing the work, and others focus too heavily on designing and improving the machine without getting anything done.
To be truly productive, you should find the balance between both roles. The truth is, both of these roles require different ways of thinking and doing things, and that means different ways of spending your time.
First, Be a Maker
For artists (designers, writers, developers, entrepreneurs), doing the work comes first. No one can help you to write the book, code the app, or sell your products. You’re the one who has to put in the work. In other words, be a maker-you first.
Makers enjoy the process of creating. While the process of creating is full of struggles, makers find joy in the struggle. Here are a few strategies to becoming a better maker:
GET STARTED AND KEEP PRACTICING
As a writer myself, I get to experience the biggest challenges faced by every maker out there: procrastination due to self-doubt.
We find it hard to get started and focus on creating because we don’t think we’re good enough. By the time we complete the grind in shaping our work, we’re afraid to share it with our audience. The simple answer to overcoming self-doubt caused procrastination is just to get started.
Break down what you want to complete, so it becomes as clear as possible and as simple as possible, then, start with the first thing. Keep repeating the process and never stop practicing. Instead of focusing on how well people perceive your work, which you can’t control—focus on how much you have learned and grown.
The secret of getting ahead is getting started. The secret of getting started is breaking your complex, overwhelming tasks into small, manageable tasks, and then starting on the first one. —Mark Twain
CONSUME MORE AND CONSUME LESS
To become great at what you do, spend your time consuming great work and cut down on everything that is irrelevant.
- If you’re a filmmaker, watch great meaningful films, try to dissect what made them good (watch Nerdwriter), and start implementing them into your work.
- If you’re a writer, read books by successful authors, follow writing blogs and take relevant courses.
- If you’re a comedian, attend your favorite comedian shows and study successful comedians.
There is a lot of work to creating your own art and studying great work which is going to take away a significant portion of your time. So besides consuming more great work, you should also eliminate unproductive media consumptions that are wasting your time and your energy.
DON’T WORK FOR EXPOSURE—EXPOSE YOUR WORK
Gaining exposure, working for recognition, and showing off your work are as important as doing the working. However, many people work just for the sake of attention today. Yes, you can gain fame and validation by doing what’s trendy and constantly telling people how good you are. But that’s not long-term achievement and often, not sustainable.
The best way to thrive as a maker is to stay true to yourself. Do what you think is right. Before you think about how to reach more people, think about what your work means to you, how to improve it, and how it could influence others positively.
Expose your practice transparently, so people come to you instead of you going after them. It is a better way to build trust, nurture relationships, and finally, expand your reach to more people.
How Managers Spend Time
The biggest mistake a maker can make is that he or she stays as a maker without ever looking at the work from far away as a manager does. They immerse themselves deeply in their craft assuming and expecting other parts of their work and life (relationships and finances) will work out fine on their own.
Besides, some makers spend too much time working without ever thinking about their direction or process. At the end of the day, they might have spent more time and energy on mundane things, or worse, achieve their goals to only find out that is not what they want.
Your machine starts with you doing the work, but it’s far from a good machine. To make a better machine, you need to design it well, and constantly improve the design, so it produces better results. This is where the manager-you needs to come in.
There’s no other way around it; you need to be a manager of the machine to get you from Point A to Point B. You may not need to be perfect, but you need to be open-minded, logical, and objective. See both the manager-you and the maker-you objectively, self-reflect, assess yourself.
REVIEW AND REFINE DIRECTIONS
Things change quickly, so do your circumstances, needs, and wants. Your primary job of as a manager is to get in sync with the realities and make sure your machine stays aligned with them.
While the maker-you is working hard on executing the plan, schedule time to switch your role to the manager-you to watch for unforeseen obstacles to avoid. Also, seek opportunities so that you can grab them at the right time.
MEASURE PROGRESS AND EFFECTIVENESS OBJECTIVELY
It’s hard for us to see our work objectively when we’ve immersed ourselves in it. That’s when you need the manager-you. Think of the maker-you as an employee of the manager-you. The maker-you will need to report everything that he or she does to the manager, which is you.
Then, measure and review the progress of the maker-you objectively. By looking at it from this angle, you will ferret out the weaknesses of the maker-you and create a plan to compensate that. The plan may be to improve it or fire yourself and delegate the weaknesses to someone else.
Besides measuring and optimizing the people element in the machine, you can think about how to improve the design using better principles, systems, and workflows.
- The best principles are those that can work in almost every scenario.
- The best systems are those that help eliminate or simplify decision-making.
- The best workflows are those that generate higher output from lower input.
ASK GOOD, DIFFICULT QUESTIONS
It’s easy to fall into a subjective pattern of doing things even when we try our best to think objectively. This means we’re likely to make the same mistakes again and again or keep practicing an inefficient way of doing things for a long time.
To be a great manager, remind yourself regularly to ask tough questions that challenge your current machine. You may not find the answers right away, but it’s worth your time as you will stumble across them often.
One shortcut to finding good questions is to face your pain and fear head-on. We don’t like pain, and often, our first response to fear is to flee or freeze. But pain and fear are usually where the opportunities for growth and improvement lie.
If you don’t have time, the truth is, you don’t have priorities. Think harder; don’t work harder. —Tim Ferriss
Finding Your Balance
It might be challenging for you to view your roles from a different perspective, but with practice, you will be able to do it effortlessly. At a higher level, using this approach—and then managing your time accordingly—is more important than implementing every time management tip and productivity hack you can find.
Spending more time and allowing yourself to become more efficient on the wrong things doesn’t make you more productive and successful. In fact, many people are worse off by spending all of their time on the wrong things. They run around in circles without moving forward.
To get from where you are to where you want to be, you need to find balance in designing and managing the machine, at the same time, executing the plan and process you’ve designed for the machine.