The Ultimate Time Management Hack that Took Me 5 Years to Create – Part 2

Here’s what happened last time on ExcelShir in case you missed it:
The Ultimate Time Management Hack that Took Me 5 Years to Create – Part 1

And now, the conclusion…

4. Medium Focus Time (4MFT)

What is 4MFT?

I realize the word “medium” can be very subjective, so for me it means time in which I’m not quite as focused as I am in the morning, but I’ve still got some pep left in my step. The trick to keeping productivity and focus up during this time is to shift gears and work on something different than I did in the morning. What can I say? I crave variety.

Where does 4MFT usually take place?

This almost always takes place at home. Occasionally I’ll be out and about and have the ability to stay somewhat focused in a cafe or bookstore. This is the exception though, not the rule.

When does 4MFT typically occur?

After lunch and meditation (here’s why I meditate every day by the way), which is usually between 3-5 pm, give or take an hour. 4MFT usually doesn’t last for longer than 2 hours.

Which activities are good examples for 4MFT?

  • Anything that I didn’t finish during my 1NET Time but the deadline is fast approaching… like blog editing for example. Ahem.
  • Prospect list research. Not the rote work of finding company names, contact names and email addresses. I’m talking about crafting a customized email pitch for each of them specifically. More on that in a future post.
  • Preparing for lessons with 1-on-1 Excel training clients.
  • A more enjoyable work project (something that I’m excited about, like dashboards).
  • If I have nothing pressing, than sometimes I’ll work on my own personal Excel projects during this time. Yes, I spend some of my free time with Excel. I’m hardcore like that.

5. High Focus Time (5HFT)

What is 5HFT?

Ah the moment you’ve all been waiting for. The Creme de la creme of productivity. To me, High Focus Time feels like the scene where Neo sees the matrix, or John Nash cracks the codes during “A Beautiful Mind.”

This may sound silly, but sometimes I actually feel superhuman. After all, I am experiencing “flow.” You know, the enchanted garden of productivity and full immersion where time seems to vanish. I learned about it through Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi’s work.

The sad thing is that most people only stumble upon this sweet nectar of productivity by accident. I on the other hand, engineer this “flow” 3-5 times per week. Usually for 90 minutes. I know this because I log my time using the OfficeTime App, and use the free online tool e.ggtimer (props to Tim Ferris for suggesting it). Anything worked past the initial 90 minutes is a pure bonus. If I’m on a roll, I’ll keep going. If not, I’ll stop there and won’t feel guilty. Sounds like a win-win scenario if there ever was one.

Where does 5HFT usually take place?

At home. Period. I have yet to experience this anywhere else. I’ve got my comfy chair, Pandora One, my bottle of water (gotta stay hydrated!), and natural light pouring into my room. There are no distractions, no need to chit chat with co-workers to be polite, and no emails to check. The only way to reach me is through a phone call or text. Even then I only check to see if it’s an emergency, and answer only if it is. In case you couldn’t tell, I am extremely vigilant about keeping this time undisturbed!

When does 5HFT typically occur?

After breakfast. Usually from about 12-2 pm. Some days I can go for longer than others. I have noticed that it is extremely rare for me to be able to focus as well at any other time of day.

Which activities are good examples for 5HFT?

All the super important, creative work gets done here. For example:

  • Paid client work like dashboards, or one of my current projects such as Beyond Tells
  • Client communications that involve sales concepts or strategic thinking on my part
  • Curriculum development, filming, or pretty much any kind of work on my online Excel classes
  • Important brainstorming of any kind

Basically I’ll go down my list of WIGs and work on those first during this time. This is another reason why it’s helpful to recite my WIGs out loud every day, right before starting High Focus Time.

Whew! You made it through all 5 time contexts. Congrats! 🙂

So what does classifying time into these 5 contexts actually DO for me?

Well, for starters I become very familiar with which type of work requires which type of time context. This enables me to make startlingly accurate predictions of how much I can accomplish per week. More importantly however, I’m able to optimize my productivity system and see where the weak points are. It helps me use the right tool for the right job, or in this case, work on tasks that are ideal for the time context that I am currently in.

How do I do that exactly?

It involves 2 completely separate processes:

  1. Assigning new tasks to the appropriate time context
  2. Choosing which task to work on, given a specific time context

The key to assigning new tasks is to always go for the lowest possible mentally challenging time. Here’s the algorithm I follow:

  • Can this task be done in 1NET Time? If yes, assign it to 1NET.
  • If not, can it be done in 2MCT? If yes, assign it to 2MCT.
  • If not, can it be done in 3LFT? If yes, assign it to 3MCT.
  • If not, can it be done in 4MFT? If yes, assign it to 4MFT.
  • If not, can it be done in 5HFT? If yes, assign it to 5HFT.
  • If not, re-evaluate your time classification system, and consider creating a new classification altogether.

In Excel, it would look like a Nested If formula:

IF("Task"="4MFT","4MFT",IF("Task"="5HFT","5HFT","Re-evaluate System")))))

In English, all I’m doing is striving for the minimum level of focus required for each task. Only the tasks that absolutely must have super creative focus should be attempted during 5HFT. Otherwise I am sub-optimizing my most valuable asset.

Think of it another way. When you are cooking a stew you don’t chop all the vegetables first and only then turn on the stove to boil the water.

Such a rookie mistake!

Instead, you heat up the water first, and THEN start chopping vegetables. That way, by the time you are done chopping, the water is already boiling.

Easy peasy, lemon squeezy.

As for deciding which task to work on, given a specific time context, here’s the algorithm that I use:

  • 5HFT – Begin 5HFT tasks first. Only if all 5HFT tasks are complete move on to 4MFT.*
  • 4MFT – Begin 4MFT tasks first. Only if all 4MFT tasks are complete move on to 3LFT.
  • 3LFT – Begin 3LFT tasks first. If all 3LFT tasks are complete consider attempting 2MCT or 1NET, but most likely just take a break or stop doing work because you probably won’t be able to focus anyway.
  • 2MCT – Begin 2MCT tasks first. Only if all 2MCT tasks are complete consider moving on to 4MFT or even 5HFT (depending on how focused you feel).
  • 1NET – Begin 1NET first. Only if all 1NET tasks are complete consider moving on to 3LFT or possibly 4MFT if at a cafe or somewhere quiet.

*Note: When the thought of a particular 5HFT task makes me cringe and I don’t think I can do a good job of it, I move on to the next task immediately. It would be a fool’s errand to try and force it. Instead, I choose the next highest priority item that I DO feel like working on.

Pro Tip: Go easy on yourself

A prime example of this is to notice if and when you are slipping from High Focus Time (5HFT) into Medium Focus Time (4MFT), or even to Low Focus Time (3LFT).

In fact, several times while writing this blog post I stopped in the middle because I realized I was losing focus.

In the past, I used to get really angry and disappointed in myself. But now, thanks to my personal daily affirmations, I smile and move on to another task, or take a break altogether. I can’t even begin to tell you how beneficial this has been to my productivity, sanity, and overall happiness.

Remember that it’s not just you. Everyone experiences these fluctuations in mood and productivity. In fact, according to Pauline Kehm the brain can only stay focused for 90 minutes at a time. I learned that during her fantastic mind mapping class. More on Mind Mapping in a future post though.

Have I tickled your curiosity?

Do you want to create your own time classification system? Here are some questions to get you started:

  • When are you most productive?
  • Where are you most productive?
  • How long can you stay focused on 1 task before getting distracted?
  • What tasks can you get done during NET Time (No Extra Time)?
  • Define your most productive time, medium productive time, and low productive time.
  • Create a list of common tasks that would be best suited for each of those time slots. Think about your physical location/environment too.

Final words of wisdom

No system is perfect. I don’t always stick to the schedule, and you know what?

That’s okay!

The point is to become more aware of your own habits and stop dilly dallying. Put another way: get more done, in less time, with less effort. Go with the flow of your own body and mind. Don’t swim upstream.

In other words…

“be like the tuna, not the salmon”

Thanks Jerry Seinfeld!

P.S. In the meantime, please enjoy a
Free 1-Page Cheat Sheet of All 5 Time Contexts

How I Stay Wildly Effective with Wildly Important Goals

I first came across Stephen Covey in an interview he had with marketing genius Jay Abraham. I immediately liked what I heard and decided to find other work by Stephen Covey. It didn’t take me long to discover his “7 Habits of Highly Effective People“. Perhaps you’ve heard of it? (<– amusingly rhetorical question)

In it, Stephen Covey talks about the concept of Wildly Important Goals, also known as WIGs. Essentially they refer to your goals that are so important that they rise above all the rest. The ones that must be achieved, or nothing else you achieve really matters.

To illustrate this point, allow me to reference Tim Ferris’s quote about the difference between being effective vs. efficient:

“Effectiveness is doing the things that get you closer to your goals. Efficiency is performing a given task (whether important or not) in the most economical manner possible. Being efficient without regard to effectiveness is the default mode of the universe.”

Turns out I’m a bit of an efficiency nut, and I used to fall into the trap of getting a lot of work done, only to realize at the end of the day that I didn’t even touch the big project that I needed to get to. Email was notorious for sucking me in to unimportant minutia. More on how I tamed the email beast in a later post.

Instead of being proactive, making a game plan for the day, and accomplishing our goals, the vast majority of us (my old self included) would assume a very reactive role. “Ah, an email just came in! I need to stop what I’m doing and answer it!” Do you though? Really?

So anyway, Stephen Covey hit the nail on the big ‘ol head with this. He talked about creating WIGs for the year, the quarter, the month, and then narrowing it down to that upcoming week. Part of the genius here is starting with the big picture.

Bassam Tarazi introduced it to me as the Big Hairy Audacious Goal. You know, the one that gives us butterflies, and we would uncork the champagne we’ve been saving for the past 3 years if we finally got it done.

Yeah, that one.

So start from the big picture, and then reverse engineer it to determine what actions I need to take this week in order to get there.

It’s funny, but I didn’t realize how long I had been doing this until I recently showed it to a friend.

Here is a look back to my first WIGs (10/19/11)

  • Goals for the YEAR
    • Earn $1 million in gross income by Jan 1st, 2013
    • Hire 2-5 employees for Shir Consulting
  • Goals for the QUARTER
    • Get first 3 paying clients for Shir Consulting
    • Earn $12,000 net per month by Jan 1st, 2012
  • Goals for the MONTH
    • Pitch Shir Consulting to at least 10 prospects
  • Goals for the WEEK
    • Create a preliminary portfolio of previous work
    • Create an ideal client profile
    • Brainstorm at least 5 completely different sources of new prospects
    • Create 2-3 versions of a sales pitch
    • Set up a system for Learning DAILY!
    • Surround yourself with mentors & like-minded

Sure, I didn’t quite reach my ambitious financial targets. And you know what, that’s OK.

Because this much I know for sure: I wouldn’t have made nearly as much progress had I not had these goals. After all, how can we ever reach our final destination if we have no idea where we are going?

How I stay on track with my WIGs

It should come as no surprise that I believe in the power of affirmations, and as a result I have recited my WIGs out loud daily since I began almost 2 years ago.

I usually say them at my desk right before I start working. It’s a nice way to set the tone for the rest of the day. I know where I’m going long term, and I know exactly how I’m going to get there by choosing to work on the most important things first.

I’ve had a lot of time to experiment with this, and I have found that when I accomplish my WIGs early in the day or early in the week, I am not only more productive, but I am also dramatically happier. I feel so far ahead of the game, that everything else I do after that is a pure bonus.

I also schedule a weekly time to change the WIGs, always leaving a historical record of what my WIGs were each week. Most times the long term goals stay the same from week to week, but occasionally I’ll come up with something new.

Tune in next week when I discuss the wildly enjoyable topic of WIG rewards, inspired by Tony Robbins.

Lastly, I leave you with my WIGs as of today

  • 10 YEAR – 12/31/22 (Age 36)
    • Net worth of $50 Million
    • Be in a committed relationship with someone who challenges & inspires me every single day, while keeping me on my toes
    • Enrich the quality of life for millions of people in the field of personal development
    • Travel the world to give talks and teach millions of people
    • Create a school to help people achieve excellence
  • 5 YEAR – 12/31/17 (Age 31)
    • Net worth of $20 Million
    • Own two condos in NYC (bar, dance floor, recording studio, breathtaking views)
    • Purchase homes for my mom, dad, and brother
    • Help millions of people become more productive with technology
    • Surround myself with a team of expert coaches in every area of life
  • 2 YEAR – 12/31/15 (Age 29)
    • Net worth of $500,000
    • Earn $45,000 net per month from Excel products
    • Reach 5,000 subscribers for ExcelShir blog
    • Reach 500 VIP Do-Gooders for Excel it Forward
  • YEAR – 12/31/14 (Age 28)
    • Net worth of $100,000
    • Earn $12,000 net per month from Excel products
    • Convert all former Skillshare classes into online classes
    • Reach 1,000 subscribers for ExcelShir Blog
    • Reach 100 VIP Do-Gooders for Excel it Forward
  • QUARTER – 12/31/13
    • Publish Excel Mastery Course parts 2 & 3
    • Set up Excel it Forward blog & measurement back end system
  • MONTH – 9/30/13
    • Edit and publish Excel Mastery Course Part 1 conclusion lectures
    • Submit [client name] Dashboard v01 no later than 9/25/13
  • WEEK – 9/14/13
    • Create flexible hand ranking system for Beyond Tells project
    • Create final notes & scripts for Excel Mastery Course Part 1 conclusion lectures
    • Spend 5 hours on [client name] dashboard project
    • Publish ExcelShir blog post

How about you? What are you going to achieve in 5 years? And how specifically are you going to get there?