Get there early

Today morning, I left home a bit early, and made one of my rare trips to the bank and to the post office, rare because these days almost everything happens online and also because I prefer avoiding long lines at these places. To my surprise, I was the first customer at both places today, and got done with all my work in 5 minutes.

Lesson learnt: To save time, visit places of service such as bank, post office, grocery store, pharmacy, DMV, etc. as early as you can during the day. Or go as late as you can, if it is open after 10 pm (grocery stores, for example).

If you have to make an appointment (doctor, dentist, accountant, car servicing, realtor), make it at the earliest hour possible for all parties involved. There is less possibility of getting delayed if the person you are meeting is running late because of his/her prior appointments. Moreover, everyone involved is fresh and work usually gets done at the highest efficiency.

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Give up TV

I had been thinking about giving up television since a long time. Many people have spoken about the ill-effects at places such as here, here and comments here. But I really decided to go for it when I realized that when I am gone from this world, people who know me will remember me for my actions and for my knowledge, and not for how many reality shows I watched. Moreover, with time, my life will continue to grow complex. So it is better that I develop good time-saving habits early on.

Similar to what Steve mentions, I asked myself: if I do not watch TV, what else would I do during that time, for my health, relationships, family, work, education, etc? I also wondered why do I watch TV in the first place? Is it simply a habit? Why does watching my favorite shows (some reruns) extend into switching channels or continue watching even after the shows are over?

I realized I watched TV in the first place because I had not scheduled that time for anything else. So I reserved time for activities (social, physical, educational) to take care of that. It was definitely much more productive use of my time than watching reality shows or the reruns of Seinfeld.

Sure, TV does have good programs on Discovery channel, PBS etc. But then, once the “switching of channels” kicked in, it was difficult for me to stop. It was too much reliance on self-discipline to watch only a given show and then switch off. As for watching sports, I thought it was better for me to visit a friend for a selected few games rather than watching every game that the channels dished out.

Before giving up TV, I also feared about withdrawal symptoms. So instead of throwing away the “idiot box”, I reduced slowly, taking it down one notch at a time. But eventually, I gave it up almost completely (DVD rentals are still fine, though). And surprisingly, I do not miss it much.

I realized the following changes by watching less (or almost no) television:

— Reducing TV made me want to enjoy other forms of entertainment. I planned more outings. I started going more frequently for running or evening walks.

— I started becoming more social. I called up friends more often, attended more of social events and professional club gatherings. My wife and I started spending more time together.

— Having dinner without TV turned on in the background (or in front of us) made me focus on what I was eating, how much I was eating and on having valuable discussions with my wife.

— When I watched TV while visiting friends, I realized that those broadcast shows are not as funny as they seemed to me earlier. They are just “okay” entertainment.

— After about 10-days of this experiment, whenever I turned on TV at my home, I sensed a certain level of guilt in me. I felt I was wasting my time. Also my wife did not like the “noise” it created.

— I found myself thinking more about the world around me: my career, family life, social circle. I became more involved with my own reality show.

Overall, I am happy to give up TV completely. I believe that in the long run, this newly acquired habit (or rather getting rid of a habit) will provide higher productivity, better relationships and greater energy levels.

First things first

It has been more than a week since I moved my running/walking to evenings. And it has not worked out well. I used to be a lot more regular in the mornings. On thinking about it, here is why.

By deciding to go for running on any evening, I become heavily dependent on how my day goes. If I get done with work on time, and if I am energetic and in good mood by the end of the day, and if I don’t have any errands to run, and if I am not hungry by the time I get home, I can go for a walk or run around the block. You see the problem? If any of these conditions are not favorable, I skip my workout for the day.

On the other hand, in the mornings, the only condition for a jog is that I get up early, and that’s it. Even if the day turns out to be as hectic as it can be, I already get my daily dose of exercise before it gets busy.

Actually, this attitude holds true for any important task or project. If you have multiple things on your to-do list, pick up the most important ones and complete them first. For example, at work, try to complete the most important task at hand before even checking your email. You never know if you will get another chance of taking a look at it again that day.

Make appointments with yourself

I wrote on how to create and maintain a successful to-do list and planning your day here. But regardless of careful planning and well-intentioned focus, interruptions do happen and we get distracted by various events during the day. Here is something that worked for me to make it easier to avoid getting sucked away from important projects by these distractions.

“Treat your busy times like an important appointment with boss or a client. And keep the appointment. It will keep bothersome interruptions from getting in the way of your work.” — The Book of Good Habits by Dirk Mathison

Creating a successful Todo list

There are a multitude of websites, books and systems dedicated to getting things done via lists. After trying out various tricks and strategies, I believe that the following will make a todo list work for anyone:

1. Have a hierarchy of tasks – life goals -> projects towards them -> tasks.
2. Have one master list to put every task on it.
3. Thoroughly review the list at least once a week and update everything created under #1 in this weekly review.
4. Aggressively remove items from your list, or make them top priority, if they stay too long in the list.
5. Have a system to schedule future tasks, a calander or tickler file, so you cannot forget them.
6. Copy completed work into an accomplished list. Review this list weekly to know your style and preference of working on projects. You will also feel good to see progress or get cautioned about lack of it.

And here is the most important tip.

Plan your day. Sit down every morning and take ten minutes to write a list of things (from your overall task list) you would like to accomplish. These few minutes can save a couple of hours (or more) of needless effort during the day. Keeping this list in front of you will also keep you focussed throughout the day on what is important and will help you prioritize when you get bogged down by interruptions and distractions.