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Don't waste time on time management
Ever since Fredrick Taylor published “The Principles of Scientific Management”, the topic of time management has been studied with keen interest. Several individuals have researched techniques to squeeze more out of 24 hours. With catchphrases like “Time once lost, is lost forever”, they have forced masses to pay more attention to this topic than it deserves.
It is true that time once lost cannot be regained. However, I find “Time” to be forgiving as it has the following two characteristics:
You can only waste it linearly. You can't waste more than a moment, each second.
Each morning (assuming you make it through the day) you get a full quota of 24 hours, irrespective of how careless you were the previous day.
On the other hand, attention and energy don't afford the same luxuries. Specifically,
Wrong activities can deplete attention and energy exponentially. Think about the last time you overate or had a heated argument or did both.
You are not guaranteed to get the same units of attention or energy replenished every day. Think about the last time you fell sick or slept poorly.
Furthermore, most industries are working really hard to monetize and deplete your attention and energy. For instance, social networks are upping the ante on capturing attention and monetizing it, food industry is churning out food like substances at astonishing rates that force you to be in perennial low quality glycolysis cycle and entertainment industry has declared sleep as their primary competition.
As an alternate approach, I suggest that people stop obsessing over time management and instead focus on attention and energy management, topics that are hardly researched.
My foray into finding techniques for better managing attention and energy have significantly increased my productivity and sense of fulfillment.
Three practices that made the biggest positive difference on my attention are:
Deleting all apps from my phone that are designed for user engagement as opposed to user utility. I use moment to track how much time I spend on my phone each day and also to track the number of times I pick it up. By ruthlessly curating the apps on my phone, I have come down to around 20 minutes of phone time each day with about 20 pickups (my target is 10).
Learning a hard thing each day. I find data science and statistics hard. However, I am fascinated by this topic and hence devote some time everyday to learning. This practice increases my attention as it forces me to tolerate boredom and fend off distractions while reading through dense material.
Not subscribing to any services that promote binge watching. There are decisive moments in my day where the choices I make make a significant difference to the quality of the day. One such moment is when I return from a hard day's work. I can either choose to eat mindlessly and binge watch or eat mindfully and learn something new. Making the latter choice makes me more fulfilled. (hat tip to James Clear for pointing this out in Atomic Habits)
Three practices that made the biggest positive difference on my energy are:
Undisturbed 8 hours of sleep. This science behind this is captured in the book Why we sleep. Religiously monitoring my sleep quality and changing behaviors to increase the depth and duration of my sleep, has been a game changer for my energy levels.
Rituals that give me a break from screen: I often think of screens as the dementors in Harry Potter, things that suck your life energy away. My day is already filled with large amounts of screen time as I am a technologist. I recharge by taking breaks from screen time through activities like walks, playing tennis and playing musical instruments. More recently, with the latest Apple Watch, I have a dumb phone on my hand and I don't need to carry my smart phone everywhere. I see this as a way to use technology to rise above technology.
Intermittent fasting and Ketosis: An old Egyptian proverb says that “Humans live on one third of what they eat and on rest live their doctors”. After years, of being fueled by the glycolysis energy cycle, I discovered Ketosis through intermittent fasting and this has meaningfully improved the quality and consistency of my energy levels throughout the day.
Energy and attention cycles have another critical difference over “time cycle”. When managed well, they can increase. Time on the other hand only decreases, however well you manage it.
The beauty about attention and energy management is that when you do these well, as a byproduct, time is automatically well managed.