In 7th grade I had a social studies teacher named Mr. Wilson. I think his first name was Roger. Although Brian, Russell and Annandnancy all sound right as prefixes to Wilson. So it may have been one of those.
I remember Mr. Wilson as a portly, middle aged white man. But it wouldn’t surprise me if I discovered that he was the same age I am now. Because when you are 12 years old you think all adults are old.
Like most teachers, Mr. Wilson had go-to phrases that enabled us to do some hilarious impressions of him when he wasn’t around. We did hilarious impressions of all of our teachers. It’s probably why I never wanted to be a teacher.
The Sound Bite
Several times in every class, while we were supposed to be working on our assignments Mr. Wilson would bellow out, ‘T-O-T.!’ He was not announcing his craving for tater tots (at least I don’t think so). It was an acronym for Time On Task. When my friend Marcus Chioffi (rhymes with coffee) and I would hear T.O.T. we would snicker at how much Mr. Wilson sounded like our impression of Mr. Wilson.
Fast Forward 3 Decades.
Today I own my own advertising and idea agency called The Weaponry. And I find myself thinking about T.O.T. a lot. As I reflect on what has worked for me throughout my career and my entrepreneurial journey, I keep coming back to T.O.T.
Time To Make It Real
We all have dreams, goals and wishes. But we tend to spend far too little time working on them to force them into reality. The amount of time you actually spend working on a task is the key determinant of success in that area. There simply is no substitute for the focused work. It is why Time On Task is the key to progress.
If you want to be an entrepreneur, or achieve any lofty goal, you have to spend Time On Task. Focus your time. Block your time. Invest your time. Block out distractions. And do the work. It’s the only way to make great things happen. Just like Mr. Wilson said.
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When I was a student-athlete at the University of Wisconsin my schedule was booked solid. I was at class every day by 8:55am. Classes lasted until 2pm. At 2:30pm I was at track practice. I left practice at 6pm and went to dinner. I ate at the Sports Buffet until they kicked me out at 7pm. By 7:20pm I was at Helen C. White Library studying in the quiet section (seriously). By 10:30pm I was taking the Drunk Bus home.
During this time I had something magical working for me: large chunks of time with completely focused effort. First I was totally focused on my classes. Then track practice. Then on eating (which felt like a job because I was the smallest discus thrower in the Big Ten Conference). And finally, on studying.
All 4 of these time blocks helped me focus my undivided attention on my largest life goals. Plus, there were no smart phones back then to distract me with an Instagram feed full of hilarious Pro Wrestling fails. (@Wrestlebotch)
Scheduling Focused Time
Today, I am revisiting the focused scheduling I employed as a student-athlete. As as result, I hope to achieve the same level of productivity, growth and progress I enjoyed two decades ago. That’s why I have time-blocked my calendar to help create deep focus on my most important tasks. The tasks that will help me achieve my long-term goals.
The Time Blocks On My Calendar Now Include:
An hour of blocked writing time every morning starting at 6am.
2 hours of totally focused work on my most important tasks from 10am to Noon.
1 hour of total focus on my most important issues in the afternoon from 2pm-3pm.
Dedicated open time for meetings, calls and emails to start and end the day.
A 30-minute planning session every Sunday night when I can plan my most important tasks for the week. Tasks that will help me achieve my long term goals.
I loved how my calendar blocks helped me in college. But a book I am reading has influenced me to reintroduce this useful scheduling technique again. In fact, The One Thing by Gary Keller and Jay Papasan may be the most powerful book I have read in the past 3 years. It teaches you a system that always leads you to the one, most important thing that you should be doing at any given time, in order to help you achieve your loftiest goals. A critical part of the program is creating calendar blocks that are reserved exclusively for your total focus on your most important activities. Spoiler Alert: The one thing you should be doing at any given time never involves WrestleBotch. #PriortitiesVsDistraction
It is not enough to have goals. You need to put in the work required to achieve them. That’s why it is so important to block large chunks of time on your calendar that allow you to completely focus on your most important tasks, every day. Add a chunk of focused time for planning on Sunday evenings, and it will ensure that you make demonstrable progress each and every week. Remember, scheduling your time costs nothing. But the dividends it pays by helping you achieve your goals could be enjoyed for generations.
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Time is the world’s most precious resource. That’s why great success requires great time management. In fact, knowing how to properly budget and invest your time is even more important to your ultimate success than budgeting and investing your money.
When I began planning to launch The Weaponry, my advertising and ideas agency, there was a tremendous amount of work to be done. I knew that how I spent my time during that first year would determine the fate of my startup. As I neared the end of each work week I noticed something interesting about my progress. I repeatedly saw how the activities on one particular day were making all the difference.
The Most Important Day
There are at least 7 different opinions on which day is the most important. Elton John thinks it is Saturday. Mick Jagger is a Tuesday guy. The Mamas and Papas all say Monday, repeatedly. However, 3 years into my entrepreneurial journey I know Paul McCartney was right. That’s why I can state wth great confidence that the most important day for achieving great things is yesterday.
All of your success comes from what you did yesterday. The relationships you developed yesterday strengthen your support system today. The progress you made yesterday becomes momentum today. The exercise you performed yesterday creates today’s strength, endurance and health. The time you invested yesterday becomes the time you saved today.
The reading you did yesterday creates the knowledge you have today. The travel you did yesterday becomes today’s memories and experience. Your preparation yesterday makes you ready today.
Yesterday At Work
As a business owner I know that today’s workload comes from yesterday’s business development efforts. As a professional ideator I know that my creativity springs from what I absorbed yesterday. As a capable human, I know that my confidence grows based on both the successes and failures I experienced yesterday. And the eviction notice I didn’t get comes from the rent I paid yesterday.
One of the things I am most grateful for are those activities I had the foresight and energy to do yesterday. The workout I completed. The process I created. The book I read. The research I performed. The relationship I fostered. In the moment procrastination often feels like the easier route. Which is why it is so valuable to view the moment as if it were yesterday.
There is a great Chinese proverb I think about often.
The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago. The second best time is right now. -Chinese proverb
The truth is that in less than 24 hours today will be yesterday. And when the clock strikes midnight you will either be smarter, stronger and more prepared, or you will be in the exact same position you are in today.
Big success is a result of the accumulation of small actions. The To-Do list you complete today will become tomorrow’s momentum. That momentum will help you power past barriers that would have previously stopped you.
Today will soon be gone. Tomorrow is a mystery. But yesterday is your library, your museum, your toolbox and your bonding agent. Yesterday is where the wind in your sails comes from. And the winds of yesterday determine both the direction and the speed at which you travel today.
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Today, millions of people will be robbed by their co-workers. This thievery is the most under-reported crime in America. Your co-workers are not stealing your cash, or phones or heirloom quality Tupperware from the break room fridge. What they are stealing is far worse.
Time is your most precious commodity. And people take it from you on a daily basis. They stop by your desk to chat for too long. They cause meetings and phone calls to go longer than necessary. They are turning their lack of planning into your emergencies. The next thing you know, the whistle blows, Fred Flintstone is sliding down his dinosaur, and it’s time to go home. You spent eight hours of your life at work, but your most important work is still undone.
So McGruff The Time Dog is here to tell you that you have got to protect your time. If you want to make a valuable contribution to your organization, you need to use your precious time to execute. You can’t do that when someone stops by to complain that Lucy and Ethel are terrible at packing up the chocolates.
Time Makes The Difference
As a business owner, I look for spare time like spare change in my couch cushions. Because every time I find a few extra minutes, it enables me to spend time working on my business. I can use that valuable time to create new offerings, improve processes and find ways to deliver better work for our clients. But that all takes time.
It is easy to spend all of your time dealing with the needs of others. It may even feel like you are busy working. But you are not advancing your own projects. At the end of the year it is easy to look back and see that you did little to advance your department or your initiatives.
I Must Protect These Hours!
Protecting your time means finding and protecting hours of uninterrupted progress on your own work. That may mean working from home, or a coffee shop, or Chick-Fil-a (which is my secret work-away spot). It may mean blocking off large blocks of time on your calendar so that no one schedules you up. And it may mean putting a sign up in your office space that says you are working on something really important and can’t be interrupted. If that doesn’t work, tell people you have the Bird Flu. Actually, you may want to start with that.
Lock Down The Digital Entries
You will also want to turn off your email, Slack and phone. Because in the digital age, people try to get sneaky and steal your time digitally too. Once your time is fully protected, use it to crank away on your most important work, uninterrupted. Find time to do this every day and you’ll be amazed how much more you can accomplish each week when your are not be constantly chased by Smokey and The Time Bandits.
It’s great to be a team player. But you can’t let others take away your scoring opportunities. That’s exactly what happens when you sit in meetings too long, are regularly interrupted, or get sent on wild goose chases (no one ever chases the domesticated geese). Don’t be afraid to be selfish with your time. It’s the only way to advance the work that you are directly responsible for doing. It also keeps your work at work. And prevents you from having to steal time from your personal life to get your work finished.
My daughter Ava wants to work at The Weaponry. She is 12. While a 12-year-old may not seem like a valuable asset to an ad agency, she is a really great writer and a very creative thinker. She has a blog, she has adapted a novel she read into a screenplay, and is currently writing a murder-mystery chapter book. Oh, and she has created a series on the new Instagram TV. But she rarely makes her bed. So there’s that.
She recently asked me when she can come to work with me and help out. I told her that I would have to check my schedule to see what might work. She responded with a very simple, but surprisingly profound question:
How do you determine your schedule?
This made me think more deeply about my schedule in an attempt to explain it. I told her that I start with deadlines. I look at all of the things that The Weaponry has to create and the due dates for each. Then I schedule my time to focus on those projects, in order of priority, from hottest to coolest.
But this begs the question, ‘If it weren’t for deadlines or due dates, what would your schedule look like?’ For entrepreneurs, there is always something more to do. But this is really true of every job, right? So, how do you add tasks to your schedule that don’t have deadlines?
How I Do It.
I have found there are 3 things that I incorporate into my schedule, despite the fact that they don’t have due dates.
Connecting: I am a natural connector. I think people are the most interesting machines on the planet. I highly value my relationships. More importantly, I maintain my relationships. And when I think of someone, or have a little bell that dings in the back of my head that lets me know it has been too long since we’ve last spoken, I reach out. This is an important part of my regular schedule, and should be part of yours too.
Closing Gaps: At The Weaponry we spend time exploring the gaps between where our organization is today, and our idealized, fully formed organization of the future. As a result, we often think about our shortcomings. Although I don’t think of them as shortcomings. I simply see things that we are not doing, or don’t have yet, that we will in our ideal state. This is about improving our processes, procedures, systems and infrastructure. Entrepreneurs call this working on your business. But I think everyone can benefit from more gap closing. Except maybe The Gap.
Things that excite me: I always leave room for things that interest me. Since we are an idea generating machine, there are always exciting ideas bouncing around our office. I try to find as much time to explore those ideas as possible. This could involve a new way to look at our clients’ challenges. It could be a new product idea, an additional service, or an idea that could transform our business. I often get excited about new ideas for t-shirts, buttons, stickers or hats for The Weaponry. I love thinking about new messaging for our walls too. Most businesses could benefit from more time exploring good ideas. I do it everyday. You should pencil in some Idea Time this week.
Our lives are full of deadline-driven must do’s. They become the studs around which we build our daily schedules. But the key to making each day great is the elective activities you work into your calendar. Whether you use the same approach I do (time for connecting, closing gaps and ideas that excite) or your own formula, make sure your daily schedule isn’t simply driven by email requests and meetings. As Steven R. Covey notes in his book The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, engaging in important, non-urgent activities is a key determinant of success. Remember that as you schedule your week.
And Ava, this Friday looks like a good day for you to come to work with me. Make sure your pencils are sharp. (That’s just an old expression. I guess it means, make sure your laptop is fully charged.)
Happy 2016! I absolutely love the fresh start a new year brings. If you are like most people you’ve resolved to make this your best year yet. According to a research project I conducted in 2015 there are four basic ways to improve your life with a New Year’s resolution. You can start something good. You can quit something bad. You can make a habit of something positive. Or you can generally just stop being lame.
I have one goal that will help make 2016 the best year in my career and personal life. Simply stated, I want to make the most of my remnant time. What does that mean? Well, we all have a slew of things we have to do. Those include our standard work and home obligations. Make sure you take care of those or your 2016 is likely to spoil before February. But like that poor overlooked ‘r’ in February, we all have time in every day that we are overlooking. And today I’m envisioning all that I can make of it over the next 365 days.
Ralph Waldo Emerson put is this way, “Guard well your spare moments. They are like uncut diamonds. Discard them and their value will never be known. Improve them and they will become the brightest gems in a useful life.” Ralph Waldo was into the bling.
So today consider what you can do with the time hidden between your must-dos. Instead of killing that time with digital thumb twiddling, couch tuber-ing or catching Zs, spin that time-straw into gold. I challenge you to use that time to do the things the perfect version of you would do. Read something, write something, create something, solve something, learn something, experience something, accomplish something, improve something. Or maybe buy a thesaurus and find other words to use instead of something.
Like compound interest, even little moments add up over the course of a year. Two months ago I began picking up my daughter’s guitar each night and practicing for a few minutes while she completed her bedtime routine. And while I’m no Eddie Van Halen, I can now play most Christmas songs well enough to not get booed off stage at a nursing home.
In 2016 I plan to make magic in my career. I expect to strengthen my connections to family and friends. I’m set on stockpiling more experiences, having more fun, learning and accomplishing more than ever. I hope you are too. We have 1440 minutes every day to do it.