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Creating Your Own Personal Productivity Map

Updated: Sep 19, 2022

< 168 >

< 10,080 >

These two numbers should always be at the forefront of our mind. If you don’t know what they represent, then you definitely need to keep reading.

How many times do we hear or say life is precious or appreciate the time you have or make the most of it?

I invest time thinking about time, how we humans spend it, and how to get value out of time spent. I teach time management in workshops at George Washington University and during what we call "Farm School" in our restaurant company. These classes always start with a series of exercises to illustrate common misconceptions about time and planning. I have my own tricks and I borrow some from experts, including Stephen Covey and Laura Vanderkam. I ask everyone to close their eyes and open them when they think a minute has passed. The vast majority cannot effectively time a minute even when it’s the only thing they are trying to do.

How can anyone expect to manage the schedules of their days, their weeks, their lives if they cannot accurately manage the length of a single minute when asked to do nothing else?

And look, if you think you manage your time well yet don’t know that there are 168 hours (aka 10,080 minutes) in a week, then how can you possibly be effective at allocating this limited resource?

My students expand their awareness of how they spend their time using Vanderkam’s 168-hour spreadsheet. Everyone maps their time, down to 15-minute slots. For most, there are big aha moments. OMG I can’t believe I spent 95 minutes laying in bed watching cat videos. Do I really spend four hours a week chatting after meetings and outside the gym? Wow, my kid-carpooling takes four hours a week? I would’ve guessed it took nine.

We also discuss and work to change how humans use technology. Everyone turns off all of their notifications on their smartphones and laptops, for our meetings and hopefully beyond, with guidance to only turn on notifications that we realize we need. We raise awareness about how the default software settings that blast us with constant notification banners and buzzing benefit tech companies, not human users. We immerse into modern day ways of what I call, Shields Up. This obvious nod to the USS Enterprise means we find the equivalent of a protected space, like a library, whenever concentration is required. We discuss the importance of creating this space in everyone’s lives, of making decisions when to check emails, news sources, and social media instead of being manipulated by the constant barrage of prompts from “smartphones.”

My work is to give humans – whether students, colleagues, friends, and even my own kids – tangible, useful skills and tools to apply to their own lives, personally and professionally, moving forward into this new age.

Creating Your Own Personal Productivity Map

One of my big goals in teaching, and one that can be cumbersome to articulate, is helping students define “productivity.” It’s not just about output, doing more or fitting more in. It’s about creating your very own Personal Productivity Map and ensuring it includes value. So it’s not just time. It’s quality of time and related outcomes, with the goal of leading a full, rich life. As defined by you.

We consider questions such as: Are you productive because you checked 20 things off your to-do list? Or are you more productive for doing that one thing you have been trying to get to, that you are really excited about, that really matters to you? Which scenario creates a more satisfied, richer, fuller, less-overwhelmed, less-behind feeling?

I often liken it to standing in front of the "all-you-can-eat” buffet. You have a choice to stuff your face with everything there is, all of it, thinking perhaps you are getting the most for your money. Or you can pick and choose the food that you really like, that you want to eat and that you know makes you happy and satiated, and just eat those. In the end, which holds more value for you personally?

Here’s the thing, you really can have it all. The key is to define your “all” and then ensure you allocate your 168 hours a week and every one of your 10,080 minutes a week, with a priority that ranks your “all” items at the top. When there are things you don’t get to during the week, it doesn’t matter, because you’ll get to your top priorities. This strategy comes in part from Covey’s famous big rocks and little rocks video, which is worth watching if you haven’t. Consider your big rocks first, as your priority, then your medium rocks, then smaller rocks, and then I like to add or filter out the sand, that represents all of the noise that gets no priority and thus very little or no time.

For many, the answer is obvious. We know very well what our big rocks are. Still, many of us don’t have our lives set according to productivity maps. We focus on getting our stuff done, thinking if we can just get through it, maybe we can then get to the good stuff, rather than putting that thing we really want to do first, that thing that will likely lead to more happiness.

We all have lists with too many things. If you use a Personal Productivity Map in picking through the list, you can edit out the stuff of less value. Of course, there are many things, like taking your kids to basketball practice and paying your bills, that can’t be eliminated, but most of us have a lot of other stuff on our lists that can be removed or at least dropped to the bottom. Then there are the things not on our lists that actually take more time than we acknowledge. They are often electronic. The television was the old one, but now it is more likely your Instagram feed, random Pinterest meanderings, or gamers who just want five more minutes. But there are also simple things like the mindless conversations at the end of a meeting that add little to no value to anyone’s life, or when you run into someone at the gas station and end up talking about a whole lot of nothing. This is not to say, don’t be social or amicable, but unless that chit-chat connects to your “all,” why invest any of your 10,080 minutes in it?

With a Personal Productivity Map, we can all approach our time and how we spend it by giving more of our attention to the things that make us feel satisfied, fulfilled, special, even magical.

Prioritize your 168 hours. Define the activities, people, and goals that have value to you. Have the courage and clarity to edit out the noise from your life and allocate your 10,080 minutes to your curated list of "all" you care to do. And you’ll be the one leaving the “all-you-care-to-eat” buffet thrilled about your experience and the tasty treats, rather than the one rolling out feeling awful, and stuffed with a bunch of junk you don’t even really like.

See related blog: Personal Productivity Map.


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