For 6 months I had been a full time engineering student, managing an early stage company while trying to get another startup off the ground.
I felt like I was drowning. I could never beat my to-do list. It was like the Hydra from Hercules, for every thing I crossed off two more would pop up.
My mind was spinning every night before I got to sleep. When I met my girlfriend all I though about was email. I got annoyed when she told me about her day. I felt guilty for not replying to friends. I got frustrated when people I LOVED called me just to chat. I was so busy. I had become a selfish douche bag.
Something – many things – had to change.
And they did.
The solution – What did I change?
I started managing my time. I set up a system to manage my time in an easy and effective way. The system consists of three simple steps.
I ) List your tasks
Monday morning: Make a list of your tasks for the week. Don’t prioritize yet. Just list all of them. Everything that gives you stress. In my case I would divide the tasks for our different categories: Company 1, Company 2 and School.
Tasks company 1
Answer customer support emails
Random coffee meeting
Tasks company 2
Meeting with potential partner
II) Urgency and Importance schema
Writing down the anxiety drivers can be helpful in itself. Now, draw what management consultants call a 2-by-2 matrix on a paper or white board. Two intersecting lines that is. One axis symbolizes urgency. As in When is the deadline for the task? The other is importance. As in How bad would it be to miss this?
Top Right – Urgent and important
This is the golden square. These are the only tasks to do this week. You do these and you’re all good.
Bottom Right – Urgent but not important
It’s easy to confuse urgency for importance. Don’t be scared to cancel stuff. Just because something is urgent does not mean it’s important. Don’t do the random coffee.
Top Left – Important but not urgent
There are things that have to be done. But not this week and not this day. Forget about them for now.
Bottom Left – Neither important nor urgent
These items probably shouldn’t make their way into you to-do list. But it can be tough to say no. I used to have a bunch of items in my calendar that really had no business being there.
In the next step I will show you how to CLEAR your to-do list in record time.
III) Pomodoro technique
Time to start executing on the new list. Don’t freak out if the previous steps took some time. You will get it back 10X, at the very least.
Set a timer for 25 minutes and start working. For the 25 minutes turn of everything you don’t need for the task. No email, no facebook, no texts and no phone calls. After 25 minutes, take a five minute break. Stand up, stretch, go to the toilet. Whatever you want. For five minutes. Then back to the task.
Try keeping track of how many sprints you can do in a day. It will change your perception of time and productivity.
Closing thoughts and next steps
These are the exact tactics and tools I used to get out of time debt and overwhelm. It helped me sleep better and laugh more. I stopped checking email on nights and weekends. And I got more done than I ever thought was possible.
Now it’s your turn. Try these three steps and report your results in the comments.