How To Manage Your Time Like a Genius

You could be the next genius in your field if you learn to manage your time like one!
I’m of the opinion that being a “genius” or “talented” are traits only partially gained at birth and that excellent time management skills play a big part in most very successful people. Let’s look at their secret.

Time Management From Amadeus to Zuckerberg

On my trip to Salzburg, Austria I had the opportunity to tour the birth place of one of classical music’s greatest talents- Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. On display are many letters that Mozart wrote back and forth to his sister, including one in which he described in detail what his typical work day entailed. Here is an excerpt of what he wrote:

“My hair is always done by 6 in the morning and by 7 I am fully dressed. I then compose until 9. Then I give lessons from 9-1…I can never work before 5 or 6. I am often prevented by a concert. If not, I compose until 9…..When I come home early I will often lose myself in writing until 1 o’clock and then wake up again.”

I was amazed at his work ethic. Having been told my whole life that Mozart was a musical genius, it’s easy to think that this brilliant music just poured out of his head with ease. I’m not suggesting that if I too spent the majority of every day composing that I could also produce music of Mozart’s quality. There is definitely something to be said for sheer talent. However, Mozart devoted hours upon hours to writing his music. He ate, breathed and slept music. It was his life. This wasn’t just dedication, it was obsession.

Fast forward about 250 years and you’ll find the same obsession in today’s great minds. The movie The Social Network depicts the tireless energy Mark Zuckerberg put into creating Facebook. We can sit around and debate the movie’s gross inaccuracies of the “real” story, but one thing seems to be clear- this man ate, breathed and slept Facebook. He too was obsessed and used this obsession to push his idea into existence.

Both of these men were obsessed with their craft and their time management plan seemed to be “work whenever possible.” My question is, is this the kind of dedication it takes to do great things? Is the quest for a healthy, balanced life unrealistic?

I don’t think so. In his book Outliers, Malcom Gladwell popularized the idea of the 10,000 Hour Rule; that you need to do something for 10,000 hours to be truly great. I don’t believe that those 10,000 hours need to necessarily be all in a row. The key is persistence. You’ll never reach those 10,000 hours if you consistently get off track, let Time Killers steal your focus and give in to procrastination. However, you’ll also never reach those 10,000 hours if you try to do them all at once and burn out too quickly. Seth Godin describes this as getting past The Dip.

The lesson to take from these great minds is not their obsessive use of their time, but their obsessive belief in their work. Their time management secret is actually a motivation management secret. Work with fierce determination toward your goal and you’re on track to greatness.

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Surviving My Facebook Break

For the past week, I decided to take a break from Facebook for the sake of my time management. I’m not against the social networking site at all. In fact, I think it is extremely important to have little distractions like this that allow us to zone out for a few minutes and give our brains a rest. However, my Facebook usage was getting out of hand and starting to affect my productivity. I decided that we needed a break in our relationship. Here is how my week went:

Day 1: Realized that no Facebook meant I would have to wait to post the pictures of the wedding I went to last weekend. Received upset email from my sister-in-law that I wasn’t posting pictures (she couldn’t be at the wedding.) This was going to be harder than I thought.

Day 2: Felt antsy and almost snuck a peak at my phone over breakfast. Instead, nosed around on the Internet and found some awesome SEO articles to peruse and then went to Starbucks for a work session. Productivity increase of at least 300%.

Day 3: Husband tells me that he saw on Facebook that my sister’s boyfriend got into a bicycle accident. Realized that Facebook is one of my major sources of news. Made a brief and supervised exception to my Facebook fast to look at the picture of him smiling in his hospital bed donning a bike helmet. Husband quickly shoos me off his account and tells me to stick to my rule as I vow to call my sister first thing in the morning and discuss with her proper ways of sharing breaking news with family members.

Day 4: Worked on the syllabus for the class I’m teaching in the fall. Felt the temptation to click over to my browser and scroll through Facebook land. Resisted the temptation and went for a walk around the block to get the mail instead. Felt re-energized and finished 45 more minutes of work. Win.

Day 5: Wanted very badly to tell everyone how well my productive week was going in a Facebook status update. Briefly contemplated the hypocrisy that would entail. Met new friends in person and realized that Facebook has replaced email as my go-to digital address book. Social networking sites do have useful purposes other than wasting time.

Day 6: Found myself going on Twitter a lot more in place of Facebook. Wondered if this was somehow cheating because Twitter is also a social networking site. Realized that it wasn’t cheating because everything I do on Twitter is to build my business. I don’t use a personal Twitter account.

Day 7: First day I could honestly say I didn’t miss Facebook. While working on a paper for grad school I didn’t once click over to my browser. Finished my work much more quickly and rewarded myself with a Happy Hour with friends. Annoying Facebook habit= broken.

So what did I learn through all of this? Facebook, as well other Time Killers, has a time and a place. Time Killers are like the cookies of your Time Diet. They are fine to have once in a while, but you shouldn’t eat them for breakfast. I am now confident that I can use Facebook as a way to keep in touch with people, share pictures and send messages without letting it interfere with my work and productivity.

Final Score: Emily: 1 Facebook: 0

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The Last 5 Percent

Why is it that we’ll spend all day working on something, and then stop right before it’s actually finished? We’ll finish 95% of the work involved, and then leave that last 5% until later. Oh “later”….that infamous black hole of time home to so many unwanted tasks!

The problem, of course, is that “later” gets here and we don’t feel any more like finishing up that work. In fact, we feel even less like doing it than we did before! We aren’t in the zone anymore. You create a lot of momentum when you’re working on that first 95% that carries you through to the finish. However, if you stop and try to come back to it later, you won’t have all of that built up momentum to carry you through. It’s like taking a roller coaster car off its track right before that last little hill, then putting it back later and wondering why it isn’t moving.

Time Management Solution

This isn’t to say you should never take breaks. No, you need breaks in your work to keep you going. I’m saying the worst time to take a break is when you are almost finished. Rather than spend the time and energy to get back into the project later, the temptation to say, “You know, this is probably good enough” is too great.

Last week, my husband and I finally admitted to ourselves that our TV was broken and bought a new one. We spent all day picking one out, buying a stand for it and setting it up. The last thing we needed to do was move the old TV into the garage (not an easy task considering it is one of those old TVs that weighs about 200 pounds.) However, I didn’t want to! I had a brand new TV sitting in front of me and I wanted to watch it! We could move the old one later. My fabulous husband talked some sense into me and said, “No, we should just move it now and be done with it.”

I was so glad we did! There was no way we’d feel like moving that thing later and now we didn’t have to worry about it. Don’t let yourself leave that last 5% until later. It’ll just loom over your schedule like a giant bulky television in the middle of your living room.

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