The high cost of letting ourselves get too busy

7 reasons why letting myself get too busy hurts me:

  1. I feel unable to explore my more creative, clever side.
    I am an intelligent,creative individual. I am capable of very clever ideas.  But I never have a proper moment to think of these ideas lying deep inside me. I am always too busy doing stuff.
    COST:  Those clever, creative  ideas never get  born.
  2. All my time is already allocated. That means I can’t act on special opportunities ( or maybe even notice them) when they come up. (Read the Prologue: Starting with a Handshake (p xi) in Creating a World Without Poverty where Muhummad Yunus, creator of the Grameen Bank (micro-finance), describes the magnificent thing that happens because he wasn’t too busy to act on a special opportunity that presented itself  to him.)
    COST:  High-impact  opportunities  fail to get turned into realities.
  3. I am  so booked-up to do daily, routine tasks I have no chance to explore higher order strategic issues where I could make  big impact.
    COST: I am failing to  fully exploit my opportunity to display leadership.

  4. I feel bad a lot of the time. I do clever and wonderful things all day long — things I should proud of. But I never seem to have a moment just to sit back and and  feel proud of what I’ve just done. That’s because as soon as I finish one thing, I must start another.
    COST: I don’t re-charge my “feeling-good-about-myself” batteries often enough.

  5. I constantly work to a point of exhaustion and don’t get enough sleep. As a result, I don’t feel good:

    (a) My mood feels flat and I feel less responsive to other people’s needs. My focus turns inwards, I feel numb towards other people and my “world shrinks”. Other people feel hurt by my seeming indifference and our relationship suffers. I feel guilty about this sense of  numbness, which makes me feel  even worse about myself.

    (b)  My life feels very unbalanced – I haven’t got  time or energy to devote to other things like  my health or making time for others or having fun. I tell myself “I’ll just get over this hump, and then I can attend to those other important things.”  But then something else comes up.

    (c) I am not enjoying my work so much  anymore. It used to be so satisfying, but now everything  feels like a big chore. There’s no joy anymore.

    (d) I have really low energy and it’s such an effort dragging my body around.

    (e) I have a sense of  total lack of control over my time –  every spare minute seems to be allocated.  I no longer feel I have any free choice over how I spend my time.
    COST: I suffer burn-out, depression, stress and inflammation in various parts of my body, leading to reduced immunity, symptoms and ultimately killer diseases — of course a rotten quality of life.

  6. I am not functioning at my peak. My attention is so focused on all these consuming tasks that I fail to notice small, minor problems arising. Or if I do notice them, I don’t have the energy to deal with them. As a result,  some of these small problems grow into big, serious problems.
    COST: Problems  that I would normally deal with end up costing me dearly.
  7. I am working under so much pressure and so tired that I am starting to make errors. These are errors of ineptitude such as forgetting to do things I wouldn’t normally forget to do or cutting corners in my thinking. I hate making these errors because I know they are so avoidable.  I beat myself up badly for making them. I end up losing confidence in myself.
    COST: I lose confidence in myself and my self-respect.

Conclusion: It’s smart to give ourselves the luxury of opting out for short spells during the day–to reflect, to gain perspective, pat ourselves on the back for jobs done well, to catch our breath, and so on. Just 5 or 10 minutes here and there could make all the difference.

Good time management anecdotes and analogies

Look for things to kill.

“Robert Townsend suggests that every company should have a vice president in charge of killing things. He says, ‘General Foods, the AFL-CIO, the Bureau of the Budget, and the Ford Foundation should make it a practice to wipe out their worst product, service, or activity every so often. And I don’t mean cutting it back or remodeling it–I mean right between the eyes.‘ ”

from Edwin Bliss’s book Getting Things Done, p 90

Read selectively.

“Perhaps the most succinct comment on selectivity in reading is by James McCay, who asks, ‘Would you like to be able to read 50,000 words a minute? There are many time when it is easy to do this if you know how. All you have to be able to do is to recognize within one minute that a 50,000-word book does not suit your purposes, and decide not to read it.‘ ”

from Edwin Bliss’s book Getting Things Done, p 97

Getting things done means finishing what you start.

“In baseball, victory is determined not by hits but by runs. The player who gets to third base and no farther doesn’t get credit for three-quarters of a run.

It’s that way with a task. Getting started is fine, and carrying it forward is fine, but until the task is completed you haven’t done what you set out to do.  Yet many people form the habit of “working for a while” on a project, then  setting it aside, kidding themselves into thinking that they have accomplished something. All  they are doing is leaving men  stranded on base!”

from Edwin Bliss’s book Getting Things Done, p 114

Watch out for upward delegation.

“In a Harvard Business Review article, William Oncken, Jr., and Donald Wass give a perceptive analysis of what they call “subordinate-imposed time”:

“Let us imagine that a manager is walking down the hall and he notices one of his subordinates, Mr. A, coming up the hallway. When they are abreast of one another, Mr. A greets the manager with, “Good morning. By the way, we’ve got a problem. You see. . . .” As Mr. A continues, the manager recognizes in this problem the same two characteristics common to all the problems his subordinates gratuitously bring to his attention. Namely, the manager know (a) enough to get involved, but (b)  not enough to make a on-the-spot decision expected of him. Eventually, the manager says, “So glad you brought this up. I’m in a rush right now. Meanwhile, let me think about it and I’ll let you know.” Then he and Mr. A part company.

Let us analyze what has just happened. Before the two of them met, on whose back was the”monkey”? The subordinate’s. After they parted, on whose back was it? The manager’s. Subordinate-imposed time begins the moment a monkey successfully executes a leap from the back of a subordinate to the back of his superior and does not end until the monkey is returned to its proper owner for care and feeding.

. . .The only way to end upward delegation is to toss the ball right back to your subordinates. When they habitually come to you with problems and ask you to make a decision, simply ask, “Which course do you think would be better?” Force them to  make decisions (or at least firm recommendations) themselves, and unless some very serious mistake is likely, don’t second-guess them.”

from Edwin Bliss’s book Getting Things Done, p 116-7

Memorize these words: Next time. . .

“A famous New York psychiatrist, nearing the end of a long and illustrious career several years ago, said that the most useful concept he had discovered for helping people turn their lives around was what he called his “four little words.” The first two were if only.

“Many of my patients have spent their lives living in the past,” he said, “anguishing about what they should have done in various situations. ‘If only I had prepared better for that interview . . .’ ‘If only I had expressed my true feeling to the boss . . .’  ‘If only I had taken that accounting course . . .’ ”

Wallowing in this sea of regret is a serious emotional drain. The antidote is simple: eliminate those two words from your vocabulary. Substitute the words next time, and tell yourself, ‘Next time I’m going to be prepared . . .Next time I’m going to speak out . . .Next time I have a chance I’m going to take that class . . .’ ”

from Edwin Bliss’s book Getting Things Done, p 44-5

Conquer procrastination with the “Salami Technique”.

“A salami in its original state, before it has been cut, is unwieldy and looks unappetizing. But cut it into thin slices and it takes on quite a different aspect. Now you have something manageable, something you can “get your teeth into.”

When you realize you are procrastinating on a major task, slice it up into as many small, manageable “instant tasks” as possible. Promise yourself that you won’t force yourself to get involved with the main job, provided you do at least one of the small steps on your list.

. . .Remember the first slice–the first instant task–is always to list in writing the small steps involved in getting the job done.

“Divide and conquer” applies to tasks just as it does to armies or enemies.”

from Edwin Bliss’s book Getting Things Done, p 84-5

Good time-management sayings


  1. Time is money.
  2. If in doubt, throw it out.
  3. Plan tomorrow today.
  4. An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.
  5. Do the worst first. (Brian Tracy)
  6. Finish what you start.
  7. Getting it done is my reward. (Ben Franklin)
  8. A place for everything, and everything in its place.
  9. Quit talking and start doing. (after Walt Disney)
  10. Pull the trigger!
  11. An ounce of action is worth a ton of theory.
  12. The shortest pencil is longer than the longest memory.
  13. Don’t leave for tomorrow what you can do today. (after Ben Franklin)
  14. It’s better to do the right thing slowly than the wrong thing quickly. (Peter Turla)
  15. Work smarter, not harder.
  16. Well begun is half done.
  17. A stitch in time saves nine.
  18. The early bird catches the worm.

What’s some good time-management self-talk?

Positive slogans

I finish what I start.

I am what I do.

I do chucky chores, even though I don’t want to.

I’m a doer–I get things done!

I can do this!

I don’t like doing this, but I’ll do it anyway.

This is hard! I like a challenge.

Nothing’s so bad that I can’t do it for five minutes.


Just do it!

Have a go!

Keep going!

Just do it for 5 minutes and see how it goes.

I’ll do 5 more minutes.

Stop fussing and just start!



Do the right thing!

Say yes!

Don’t make big promises that will just weigh me down!

Under-promise and over-deliver.

Shhhh!!! (to distracting or negative thoughts).

Stop! Think it through first!

Try again.

Stop wasting time! You’re just procrastinating.

It doesn’t matter how long it takes–just keep going.

This is hard, but keep going.

Well done! You did it! (Pat myself on back!)

Good job! You did well!

How can I manage my time better?

Answer: Keep these lists:

  1. Promises you’ve made;
  2. “Doing the right thing” things e.g. reply to A’s email, apologize to B for…, congratulate C for…, ask D about her… etc;
  3. Mini-projects you’ve got on the go, along with the next action step for each;
  4. Your key time-wasting activities;
  5. Your “cognitive-net” checklists to remind you what to do in various situations e.g. out-and-about errand list, final-edit check, what-to-take-when-travelling list;
  6. Your various routines e.g. anticrastination routine, concentration routine, start of day routine, end-of-day routine, end-of-week round-up;
  7. Key time-management questions to ask yourself during the day;
  8. Key time-management affirmations;
  9. Motivating time-management quotes;
  10. Completed mini-projects;
  11. Small wins;
  12. Current implementation intentions (“if-then” statements for habit-building);
  13. Current habits under development;
  14. Skills you’d like to learn;
  15. Obstacles–real and mental–blocking your progress.
  16. Goals for today, this week, this month, this year, in 5 years’ time, etc.
  17. Lessons learned.
  18. Magic phrases to use on others to control time.
  19. Acts of prevention.
  20. Things pending.

How can I manage my time better?

Answer: Do these things:

  1. Practice doing the (morally) right thing.
  2. Finish off incomplete tasks.
  3. Do the chucky, difficult things you’ve been putting off that need to be done.
  4. Do things that are likely to give you a high return on your effort.
  5. Do things you’ve promised to do.
  6. Do things that will advance your important goals.
  7. Do things that will push you through your mental bottlenecks.
  8. Work at creating good habits.
  9. Spend time thinking  i.e. clarifying desired outcomes, planning, mentally rehearsing doing the right actions, checking on progress, and reviewing outcomes.
  10. Learn important skills.
  11. Say Yes! to important things and No! to time-wasting things.
  12. Should I be struck by an urge to do something I’ve been putting off, stop everything and do it!
  13. Do something on my list of things to do that I suddenly feel very interested in.
  14. Do things that make me feel proud of myself.
  15. Do deliberate practice to improve my skills.
  16. Create checklists ( cognitive nets), memorize them and use them to help me remember–especially when I’m cognitively overloaded.
  17. Spend time telling my brain what I want–hopefully it will do the rest!
  18. Spend time saying “thank you”, “well done”, “I’m sorry”, “I admire the way you…”.
  19. Spend time really listening to others.
  20. Spend time focusing really hard on whatever you’re doing.
  21. Spend time planning and reflecting and being present in the moment.
  22. Spend time counting your blessings.
  23. Spend time turning my big talk into action.

20 time management rules

These are 20 rules of time management I picked up from Edwin Bliss’s excellent 1970’s Time Management classic called Getting Things Done.

  1. When filing,  remember that a few fat files work better than a lot of thin ones.
  2. When you stuff up, don’t say “If only“;  say  “Next time.
  3. Finish what you start. Don’t accumulate a long list of unfinished projects.
  4. Read selectively. You can waste a lot of time reading.
  5. Protect prime time. There are times when you think better than other times — use that time well.
  6. Start the day off with your most unpleasant task on your to-do list. That way, you’ll feel wonderful for the rest of the day, knowing you’ve got your most dreaded chore out of the way.
  7. Schedule large chunks of time for the important things and control interruptions.
  8. Reduce your commute time –or your wasted commute time.
  9. Create positive tension e.g.  set yourself deadlines, go public with your goals, invite others to evaluate your work, enter friendly competitions with others, etc.
  10. Break all tasks down to bite-sized pieces ( Bliss call this the salami technique).
  11. Plan before starting anything. Think:  “Is there a better way to do this?”
  12. Conduct post-mortems after projects. Ask yourself “How would I done this better. What will I do next time?”
  13. Identify mental blocks and use the salami technique to break the obstacle down into tiny pieces.
  14. Remember to pat yourself on the back whenever you do something well.
  15. Give very specific instructions. People can’t give you what you want if you don’t tell them precisely what you want.
  16. Learn to touch-type and use voice-recognition software.
  17. Replace neurotic perfectionism with the more practical concept of “good enough”.
  18. Learn to “focus like a laser”.
  19. Say “no” more often; make fewer promises.
  20. Use the Pareto principle (80/20 rule) to identify your most likely high-yield activities and allocate lots of time to those activities.

    Time management jokes

    Funny jokes:

    The first-grader asked his mother why Daddy brought home a briefcase full of papers every evening.

    She explained, “It’s because Daddy has so much to do he can’t finish at the office and has to work nights.

    Well, then,” said the child, “why don’t they just put him in a slower group?

    From Edwin Bliss’s wonderful time-management book Getting Things Done

    Funny one-liners:

    It is astonishing  how long it takes to finish something you’re not working on.

    By working faithfully eight hours a day, you may eventually get to be boss and work twelve hours a day.
    ~Robert Frost

    However beautiful the strategy, you should occasionally look at the results.
    ~Winston Churchill

    If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again. Then quit. There’s no point in being a damn fool about it.
    ~W. C. Fields

    If you had to identify, in one word, the reason why the human race has not achieved, and never will achieve, its full potential, that word would be: “meetings.”
    ~Dave Barry

    Procrastination is my sin. It brings me naught but sorrow.
    I know that I should stop it. In fact, I will–tomorrow!

    ~Gloria Pitzer

    Time Management Tips

    1. If you have special instructions for a job, don’t write them down. In fact, save them until the job is almost done.
    2. If a job I do pleases you, keep it a secret.
    3. If you give me more than one job to do, don’t tell me which is priority. I am psychic.
    4. Do your best to keep me late. I adore this office.
    5. Never give me work in the morning. Always wait until 4:00 and then bring it to me. The challenge of a deadline is refreshing.
    6. If it’s really a rush job, run in and interrupt me every 10 minutes to inquire how it’s going. That helps.
    7. Wait until my yearly review and then tell me what my goals should have been.

    What are some good time-management questions to ask myself?


    When dealing with a crisis:

    “How can I prevent this crisis from happening again?”

    After finishing something:

    “What did I do right? What would I do differently next time?” (Brian Tracy)

    At the start of the day:

    “What are the three most important things for me to do today?”

    “What things can I do today that could make a big difference?”

    Many times throughout the day:

    “Is this the best way to spend my time right now?”

    “What is the best way to spend the next 10 minutes?”

    “If I had to do this task in half the time, what short-cuts could I take?”

    “Why am I doing this?”

    Clarifying objectives and priorities:

    “Why am I doing this? What am I trying to accomplish? Is there a better way?”

    When reading something:

    “Is this the best way I could be spending my time right now?”

    “How can I use this information?”

    When a subordinate raises a problem and asks you what to do:

    “What do you think we should do?”

    When someone phones or drops by and you want them to get to the point:

    “What can I do for you?” (Getting straight to the point.)

    “I’m working to a deadline right now. Can I call you later?”

    When you’re not doing something because of fear:

    “What’s the worst that can happen? Can I handle that?”

    When you’re not doing something because it’s difficult or chucky:

    “What’s the next tiny step that can get me closer to my goal?”

    “How can I break this down into bite-sized pieces?”

    “What else can I try?”

    “Who can help me?”

    While working on a project:

    “Is this working out? Is there a better way?”

    When you’ve completed one bit of a project:

    “What’s the next action?”

    When you’re requesting someone to do something:

    “Have I spelled out exactly what I want this person to do?”

    At poorly run meetings that are not action-focused:

    “Before we move on, what have we decided to do  about this [agenda item]?”