This article first appeared in Alpha Efficiency Magazine: Issue 11: Balance
Hi Craig! For those Alpha Efficiency readers who haven’t yet got to know you,
can you introduce yourself?
I am the author of the website Time Management Ninja and have been blogging for over 5 years about time management, goal-setting, and organization. I help individuals and businesses reclaim their
time and be more productive.
We are passionate readers of “Time Management Ninja”. What prompted you to start it and what motivates you to keep publishing consistently on it?
Time Management has _always_ been my
passion…all the way back to when I was a kid. I think I attended my first Franklin
Day-planner class when I was in middle school. (BTW, they were Franklin Quest
in those days…long before Franklin-Covey.)
TMN actually started as a book effort back in 2009. I was participating in NaNoWriMo novel writing contest. It ended up becoming a blog, mainly because I had an endless number of topics that I wanted to write about.
I recall from one of your podcasts that you used to be in the military. How has this experience influenced your approach to life and productivity?
Yes, I was a Naval Officer for 6 years. My military time taught me many things
– Sleep: There is an old joke that the military is “one big government experiment in sleep deprivation.”You learn to get by on less sleep. It is probably the main reason I still get up at 4 AM. However, the other side of this is that you also learn that you cannot perform at your best if you are not rested.
– Discipline: The military is all about discipline. Doing things you are supposed to do and not slacking off. The military is not big on procrastination. Many of these lessons influenced my thoughts on deadlines, goal-setting, and reaching your potential.
– Checklists: Following the proper procedures is very important in a military environment. The “power of lists” was definitely something that was impressed upon me in that time. Whether you are doing routine maintenance or starting up a nuclear power plant, checklists ensure you doing things right the first time.
This issue of Alpha Efficiency we’re looking at the concept of ‘balance.’What does balance mean to you, and how do you go about achieving it?
Balance is all about knowing your priorities. It
means not putting such an emphasis on one area of your life that others suffer. _Everything with the correct priority and
effort._ When you place too much focus on one area, whether it is your job or your personal life, you end up causing unbalance in the rest of your life. This is not sustainable, and even the most
successful individuals will burn out if they are placing too much focus on only
one area of their life.
What tips can you give our readers for maintaining balance once they’ve achieved it?
Balance is not something that is ever permanently achieved. You have to be constantly practicing your habits and adapting to your environment. I think that one pitfall that many fall into is ignoring the changes that are happening in their life and around them. Change in life is constant, so you must change as well to maintain your balance.
Can you think of any examples where you’ve made a difficult choice in order to stay balanced?
I think the biggest change many people make to stay in balance is to shift their daily schedule. A long time ago, I made the switch from a “night owl” to an “early bird.” Instead of staying up late at night, I got up early to get my most important work done. This changed the way I interacted with my priorities, as well as my job. Some may think that this type of shift causes you to get less sleep, but I found myself being _more_ responsible with my rest.
Interestingly, I hear about this type of shift from new parents. Getting up before the kids can be one of the best ways to get things done.
There’s a big backlash these days against “Time Management.”Do you think the term still resonates with people?
I think the real backlash is against the constant-on constant-interruption society we have built. Yet, in truth, this issue has actually made time
management even more important. Some people will mince words over the name, but
it doesn’t matter what you call it. Time Management, life management, productivity…it’s all the same thing. People want to better manage their lives, have
more time for what’s important to them, and be more successful in reaching their goals. That is the essence of time management.
And yes…I think the term time management…is, well, _timeless._ 🙂
What do you think is the biggest mistake people make when trying to make their lives more productive?
The biggest mistake many people make is _trying to do more, faster._ You can’t do everything. Being more productive isn’t about getting the most things done, but rather getting the most important ones done. This is a concept that scares many people. They think if they do less, that they will be less successful in life. Yet, cutting back on the amount of work you do can actually propel you further in your
endeavors. Focus on your most important work and eliminate all of the other minor work that is taking up your time.
Being more productive isn’t about getting the most things done, but rather getting the most important ones done.
We are big fans of Apple technology, and we know you are also an Apple enthusiast; How have your technology choices influenced your productivity? What is the difference compared to PC?
Apple all the way. I made the switch to Apple about 10 years ago and haven’t
looked back. In fact, my Windows skills these days have atrophied quite a bit.
(Don’t ask me how to install a printer driver on your Windows laptop!) To answer your question, I don’t think the technology influenced my productivity, but the other way around. I choose my technology to increase my efficiency and drive my productivity. For me, Apple products are simple, productive, and just work.
Speaking of technology, please talk us through your iPhone’s or iPad’s Homescreen.
The apps in the home row of my iPhone are:
– Trello This is where I do all of my project and task tracking. I manage home, work, and TMN projects in Trello. As well, I have recently even started using it as my main to-do list. The visual card-based UI of Trello shines on mobile devices. In fact, the iPad version is perhaps the best tablet-based UI that I have seen.
– Tweetbot Twitter is my social network of choice and Tweetbot provides an awesome UI. There is a slight learning curve, but once you use it, you won’t go back to the standard Twitter app.
– Messages As many chat apps as I have tried, nothing beats iMessage for keeping in touch with friends, family, and others. It is still my main personal message app…it’s simple, quick, and just works.
– Drafts is a simple app that each time you launch it, it presents a “blank page.”It is the quickest and easiest way to collect new ideas. I use it for quick notes, blog post ideas, and more. The real power comes from the fact that you can then send those notes to others apps.
Some of my other top apps:
– Slack has gotten a lot of attention recently and for good reason. It has turned team communications upside down. Since moving to Slack, my team barely uses email. Again, another app with a great UI. It is a joy to communicate with Slack versus email.
– Mailbox (now owned by Dropbox) makes it easier for me to go through my email. I love the single swipe interface. While the iOS mail app has adopted some similar behavior, I still find Mailbox quicker and easier for processing my email.
– Evernote is my app of choice for collecting notes, important information, checklists, and reference material. I use it across all of my devices. However, I have a love/hate relationship with it. Love the ubiquity of access no matter which platform I am on, but the interface has an opportunity for improvement.
We are aware that you do a lot of personal productivity coaching. What is the first big thing you teach to the people you coach?
The first thing I teach is that you must “have a system.” Time management doesn’t just happen. It requires the right tools and discipline. Most people are missing at least one essential tool from their productivity toolset.
The 4 tools that any time management system must
1. Todo List
3. Address Book
4. A place for taking notes
I teach that you must “define your system” which means listing which tools are “in” your system and which are “out.”(“Out” meaning you won’t use that extra desk
calendar or pad of sticky notes.)
What’s the best advice you can give to someone who wants to live a more purposeful life?
I am a big believer that you have to follow your passion. We all have a passion that drives us…that motivates us…something that we enjoy doing even when it’s work. When your actions are in line with _your_ passion, is when you have the most joy and sense of accomplishment.
Thanks for talking to Alpha Efficiency Magazine!