Friday, December 11, 2009

Master of Time and Space

If I could have any super power, it would be that of Hiro Nakamura from Heroes - master of time and space. Aside from all of the obvious fun you could have from being able to stop time and travel through it, I think practically it's a pretty useful power to have.

It is always the thing I have the most trouble doing - knowing how to properly allot my time to the things that matter the most to me. A big problem I have is too much energy going in too many different directions. I'm interested in everything, so I tend to get easily distracted. Elder Packer calls it "getting caught in the thick of thin things."

This next week will be a good exercise for me on this very subject. I think I've been doing a better job recently of not wasting all of my time. I do a lot of good things - study scriptures, read, exercise, go to class, absorb as much as I can out of my education - but I'd just like to maximize on all of these things a little bit more.

I found this blog the other day and I just love all of the author's advice. He is a PhD student at MIT who is working on his doctoral dissertation, submitting a manuscript for his third book, and managing multiple side projects. So that's impressive, right? But what's really amazing is that he does it by strictly adhering to a 9am-5pm work schedule, M-F, and then Sunday mornings. His doctoral defense is the week before the due date for his next manuscript. And the guy never works outside of those hours. His blog is devoted to helping people achieve the same in their own lives, improve efficiency, etc. Go to this post here if you're interested in learning a bit, but here's an excerpt:
Fixed-Schedule Productivity

The system work as follows:

1. Choose a schedule of work hours that you think provides the ideal balance of effort and relaxation.
2. Do whatever it takes to avoid violating this schedule.

This sounds simple. But think about it for a moment. Satisfying rule 2 is not easy. If you took your current projects, obligations, and work habits, you’d probably fall well short of satisfying your ideal work schedule. Here’s a simple truth: to stick to your ideal schedule will require some drastic actions. For example, you may have to:

* Dramatically cut back on the number of projects you are working on.
* Ruthlessly cull inefficient habits from your daily schedule.
* Risk mildly annoying or upsetting some people in exchange for large gains in time freedom.
* Stop procrastinating.

In the abstract, these all seem like hard things to do. But when you have the focus of a specific goal — “I do not want to work past 5 on week days!” — you’d be surprised by how much easier it becomes deploy these strategies in your daily life.
From a related article by Jim Collins, author of Good to Great, he mentions:
One day, Rochelle pointed to my ferocious work pace and said, "I notice, Jim, that you are a rather undisciplined person."

I was stunned and confused. After all, I was the type of person who carefully laid out my BHAGs (big hairy audacious goals), top three objectives and priority activities at the start of each New Year. I prided myself on the ability to work relentlessly toward those objectives, applying the energy I'd inherited from my prairie- stock grandmother.

"Your genetic energy level enables your lack of discipline," Rochelle continued. "Instead of leading a disciplined life, you lead a busy life."

She then gave me what I came to call the 20-10 assignment. It goes like this: Suppose you woke up tomorrow and received two phone calls. The first phone call tells you that you have inherited $20 million, no strings attached. The second tells you that you have an incurable and terminal disease, and you have no more than 10 years to live. What would you do differently, and, in particular, what would you stop doing?

That assignment became a turning point in my life, and the "stop doing" list became an enduring cornerstone of my annual New Year resolutions — a mechanism for disciplined thought about how to allocate the most precious of all resources: time.

Rochelle's challenge forced me to see that I'd been plenty energetic, but on the wrong things. Indeed, I was on entirely the wrong path. After graduate school, I'd taken a job at Hewlett- Packard. I loved the company, but hated the job. Rochelle's assignment helped me to see I was cut out to be a professor, a researcher, a teacher — not a businessman — and I needed to make a right-angle turn. I had to stop doing my career, so that I could find my real work. I quit HP, migrated to the Stanford Business School faculty and eventually became — with some remarkable good luck along the way — a self-employed professor, happily toiling away on my research and writing.

Anyway, it's just gotten me thinking is all. I'd very much like to be a more efficient person. There are a ton of things I want to do next semester, and doing them all would require a lot more discipline and efficiency to get them taken care of. Sometimes I wonder if it's really possible. Like today, for instance, I was trying to convert the dating survey data from last week into a format that would work on the statistical program that we use, and what I thought would take about a half hour ended up being about three hours of my morning. And this was while working with two other students on the project. And I swear we're all pretty smart kids. I just wonder sometimes if I'm even smart enough to not have to take the roundabout three hour route to cull enough time to make my work fit the schedule I'd like to live by.

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