We are the time fanatics
We're not rocket-building billionaires like Elon Musk, good-looking Renaissance men like Tim Ferriss, or brilliant top managers like Sheryl Sandberg. Most time management advice is written by downright superhuman supermen and superwomen. You won't find anything superhuman on these pages. We are normal, fallible people who, like everyone else, get stressed and are victims of various distractions. What makes our perspective so extraordinary is the fact that we are product designers who have spent many years in the tech industry helping create services like Gmail, YouTube, and Google Hangouts. As designers, our task was to transform abstract concepts (for example, "Wouldn't it be cool if the emails were sorted automatically?") Into real solutions (for example Gmail's Priority Inbox). To do this, we had to understand how technology integrates and changes our everyday life. This experience gives us insights into the seductiveness of infinity pools and insights into the things we can do to keep them from dominating us. A few years ago we realized that we can apply design to something invisible: the way we spend our time. We started working on teams at Google and others Company help rearrange their days so they could focus on their top priorities. And we used the design process in developing this book as well. But instead of using technology or business opportunities as a starting point, we started with the most important projects and the most important people in our lives. We tried to gain some time each day for our own top priorities. We questioned the standard behavior patterns that characterize the busy bandwagon and realigned our to-do lists and diaries.
We questioned the standard behavioral patterns for infinity pools and redefined how we use technology. Our willpower has limits, so any redesign must be easy to manage. We couldn't get rid of any duty, so we worked with limitations. We experimented, achieved success, and suffered setbacks, and over time we learned. In this book, we introduce you to the principles and tactics we have discovered and present numerous stories of our human errors and clumsy solutions. We thought the following episode was a good place to start:
We react more than act
It was in 2012; my two sons played with a wooden train in our living room. Luke (8 years old) was busy putting the track sections together while Flynn (toddler) drooled on a locomotive. Suddenly Luke lifted his head and asked: Dad, why are you looking at your phone. His question wasn't intended to make me feel guilty; he was just curious. But I didn't have a good answer. I mean, I must have had some excuse for checking my email right now, but not a good one. I wanted to be present and enjoy this precious quality time with my family, and yet I sat and stared at my iPhone. I had been looking forward to spending time with my kids all day, and now that that moment had finally come, my mind was actually elsewhere. It was then that I realized something. It wasn't that I was briefly distracted; I had a bigger problem.
I realized that I was reacting every day: to my schedule, my inbox, and the endless stream of new information on the Internet. I just forgave countless moments like this - but for what? So that I could reply to another message or check off another item on my to-do list? Realizing this was frustrating because I was already trying to find a better balance. When Luke was born in 2003, I was determined to be more productive so I could spend more quality time at home. In 2012, I considered myself a master of productivity and efficiency. I managed to keep my work hours to an acceptable level and went home for dinner every day. This is what work-life balance looked like - at least I thought so. If so, why did my eight-year-old son alert me that I was distracted? If I always had everything under control at work, why did I always feel so stressed and torn? If I started with 200 emails from my team in the morning and got them all through by the end of the day, was that really a successful day? And suddenly it dawned on me: being more productive didn't mean doing the most important work; it just meant responding more quickly to other people's priorities. As a result of the constant online presence, I wasn't present enough for my children. And I kept postponing my big “one day” goal of writing a book. In fact, I put it off for years without writing a single page. I was way too busy treading water in the sea of emails, status updates, and selfies from other people having lunch.
Does a distraction-free cell phone help?
Not only was I disappointed in myself, I was downright pissed off. In a fit of anger, I grabbed my cellphone and uninstalled Twitter, Facebook and Instagram. As each of these icons gradually disappeared from my screen, I felt a great load slip away from me. Then I stared at the Gmail app and bared my teeth. Don't forget that at the time I was working at Google and had worked with the Gmail team for years. Still, I knew what to do. I still remember the message that lit up on my screen asking almost in disbelief if I was sure I really wanted to delete the app. I swallowed hard and tapped "Erase".
I expected to feel nervous, tense, and isolated without my apps. In the days that followed, I actually noticed a change. Amazingly, I didn't feel stressed, but relieved. I felt liberated. I stopped reflexively reaching for my iPhone at the slightest sign of boredom. Spending time with my children slowed down in a positive way. "Ouch," I thought. "If the iPhone doesn't make me happier, what about all the other things?" I loved my iPhone and all the futuristic power it gave me. But I had accepted all the standard behavior patterns that come with a smartphone and that always drew me to the shiny little device in my pocket. I wondered how many more areas of my life needed to be reviewed, refocused and redesigned. Which other standard behavior patterns did I blindly adopt and how could I change them on my own responsibility? I started a new job shortly after my iPhone experiment. I continued to work under the umbrella of the Google group, but now at Google Ventures, a venture capitalist that invested in external startups. And that's where I met a guy named John Zeratsky on my first day.
The Obi-Wan-Kenobi of time management
At first I made up my mind not to like him. John is younger and - let's be honest - more attractive than me. And what was even more obnoxious about him was the fact that he simply possessed an imperturbable calm. John was never stressed. He always did important work before the deadline and also found time for other projects. He got up early in the morning, finished his work early, and went home early in the evening. And he always smiled. How the hell did he do this? Well, in the end, I got along great with John, or JZ, as I call him. I soon discovered that he was a soul mate - my brother in spirit, if you will. Just like me, JZ was disillusioned with the busy bandwagon. We're both tech-savvy and we've spent years developing addictive tech services (when I was at Gmail, he was at YouTube). But it also dawned on both of us that these infinity pools were functioning at a considerable expense of our attention and time.
And I was determined to do something about it. He was sort of Obi-Wan Kenobi on the subject, except that he wore jeans and plaid shirts instead of a robe. And instead of POWER, he believed in what he called "the system." There was almost something mystical about it. He wasn't sure what it was, but he believed in its existence: a simple system for avoiding distractions and wasting energy, and for gaining time. I know that sounds kind of strange to my ears too. But the more we talked about what such a system might look like, the more often I found myself nodding. JZ studied the earliest epochs of human history and evolutionary psychology, realizing that part of the problem was rooted in the great gap between our archaic roots as hunter-gatherers and our crazy modern world. Looking at the problem through the product designer's eyes, he concluded that this "system" would only work if it broke our standard behavioral patterns and made distractions difficult to access, rather than relying on us to combat them with sheer willpower . "Damn it," I thought. If we could develop such a system it would be exactly what I was looking for. So I teamed up with JZ and that was the beginning of our collaboration.
How do you really save time?
My distraction-free iPhone seemed a bit extreme to many, and I'll admit I was a little tough at first. But when I finally got through to it, I thought it was great. And so we began to look together for other ways of redesigning - for ways to change our standard behavior pattern from "distracted and distracted" to "focused". I started by reading the news only once a week and I changed my sleeping habits to become a morning person. I experimented with six small meals and then tried two main meals. I tried different sports activities, from long-distance running to yoga to daily push-ups. I even persuaded my programming friends to create bespoke to-do list apps for me. Meanwhile, Jake spent a year recording his daily energy level in Excel spreadsheets, trying to figure out whether it was better to drink coffee or green tea, or exercise in the morning or evening, and even if he liked having other people around (the answer : Yes, mostly). We learned a great deal from this obsessive behavior, but we were interested in more than just seeing what worked for us; we still believed in the idea of a system that everyone could individually adapt to their own life. And to find that, we needed neutral test subjects. Luck wanted us to have the perfect laboratory.
While Jake was working at Google, he developed a so-called "Design Sprint". This is essentially a working week that is being completely realigned. A team sits down for five days, cancels all other appointments and concentrates solely on solving a single problem following a specific checklist of activities. That was our first tangible attempt to redesign not a product, but time. And it worked. The design sprint was quickly adopted throughout the Google group. In 2012 we started to run design sprints together at start-ups from the Google Ventures portfolio. In the following years there were more than 150 such sprints, in which almost a thousand people took part: programmers, nutritionists, CEOs, baristas, farmers etc. For two time fanatics like us, the whole thing was an impressive opportunity. We had the opportunity to redesign a work week and learn from hundreds of high-performing teams at startups like Slack, Uber, and 23andMe. Many of the principles presented in this book were inspired by the discoveries we made during these sprints.
What daily change teaches us
Our first lesson was that something magical happens when you start your day with a single primary goal. On every sprint day we concentrated on a single important focus point: on Monday the team prepared a problem analysis, on Tuesday each participant sketched a single solution, on Wednesday the team decided on the best possible solution, on Thursday it developed a prototype and on Friday he was tested. An ambitious goal was achieved each day, and only one at a time. This focus point provides clarity and motivation. If you are aiming for an ambitious but achievable goal, then by the end of the day you will have achieved something. You can check it off, sit back, and go home satisfied. Another lesson from our Design Sprints was that we would be more productive when we removed all communication devices from the room. By making our own rules, we could ban laptops and smartphones, and the difference was phenomenal. Without the constant distraction of e-mails and other infinity pools, all those present concentrated on the task to be solved.
The standard behavior pattern has been changed to focus. We also learned how important energy is for clear thinking and focused work. During our first design sprints, the teams worked until late in the evening and energy slumps were fought with sugared energy bars. However, as the week progressed, the general energy level inevitably plummeted. As a result, we made adjustments and found that things like a healthy lunch, a short walk in the fresh air, frequent short breaks, and a slightly shorter work day all helped maintain high energy levels throughout the week, resulting in more effective work and led to better results. And finally, these experiments taught us the power of practical experience. Experiments have helped us improve the process, and the experience of seeing the results of the changes firsthand gave us a deep confidence that we would never have developed if we had limited ourselves to reading about the experiments and success results of others . As part of our sprints, an entire team works together for a week, but we immediately realized that there was no reason why an individual should not be able to redesign their own day based on these principles. These lessons formed the basis of this book. Of course, there was no silver bullet for perfection. Occasionally we were still dragged along by the busy bandwagon and got sucked into the infinity pools. Some of our tactics became successful habits, while others stuck and failed. As we examined our daily results more closely, we realized why we were stuck somewhere. The experimental method also enabled us to be more lenient with our own mistakes. After all, every mistake was just a data point and we could always try again the following day.
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