My approach to time management – Not To Do list

My approach to time management is simple – eliminate tasks which don’t absolutely require my involvement and focus on a few important tasks where only I can add value.

I learned time management while preparing for the dreaded college entrance exams – SAT. I quickly realized the power of elimination while trying to guess answers to those esoteric vocabulary questions on SAT. It worked, so I started applying them to life in general.

Life is too short to waste on doing things which you don’t love to do, tasks where you don’t have an expertise, and things which won’t help you grow and move forward on the critical path to success towards achieving your goals. Entities around us have a tendency to inundate us with things which fall in each of those categories.

I’ve also realized that at any given time, my mind cannot really focus on more than a few tasks (and those tasks are obvious.) Regardless of their interestingness, some tasks need to get done. The highest order bit is to identify the tasks which absolutely require my involvement (coincidentally these are also the tasks, which I enjoy). Then delegate those remaining tasks to someone who is competent, who would enjoy and who would be willing to do the tasks, which don’t require my involvement.

The easiest way to do so is to hire a personal assistant (or even a virtual assistant.) Ideally the best folks suited for such tasks tend to be college students (they’re smart, educated, affordable and fun to work with).

When I refer to the tasks, which absolutely don’t require my involvement, I don’t mean mundane redundant tasks which can be automated. For instance, buying groceries, making bill payments, etc. Most such tasks can be and should be automated. There is a class of tasks which may be boring for me, but really interesting and challenging for some folks. For instance, doing preliminary market research, organizing events, prioritizing reading lists, filling in expense reports, etc.

Here’s how I manage my time.

  • Make a list of all tasks which I need to do.
  • Divide the list into two: To Do and Not To Do
  • Delegate the tasks from the Not To Do list to folks best suited for those tasks. Follow up diligently until the task is done.
  • Focus all my mindshare on the To Do list, which doesn’t contain more than five tasks at any given time. In fact I don’t even need to look at the list to remember which those five items, as they’re often obvious.

I try to make sure that the tasks are delegated to a person who would enjoy doing the delegated task and I’m genuinely express my gratitude as well as appreciation to that person for agreeing to finish those tasks.

My Not To Do list contains:

  • Get the car repaired.
  • Organize an event for a non-profit organization.
  • Research about three industry trends.
  • Submit four expense reports
  • ..and a few other..

What’s on your Not To Do list?

Kintan

Photo used under Creative Commons from flickr.com. Photo taken by Patrick Hocker.

why I read magazines..and why you should too

How many magazines do you subscribe to?

Most interesting people I know subscribe to at least five to ten magazines (often in areas outside their primary occupation.) Most magazines have beautifully designed websites (often available for free), but I prefer to subscribe to the paper copies of at least a few interesting magazines. I’ve been subscribing to magazines for over a decade and I’ve learned immensely through them.

Blogs and magazines serve different purposes and are not mutually exclusive. I read magazines for three main reasons:

1. Keep up with the trends:

I often find myself reading three-four back issues of magazines at a time. For instance, it is not uncommon to sit on a Sunday morning and read last three issues of Fortune and the last two issues of GQ and compare the trends in content, editorial tone, advertisements, magazine cover designs, fonts, photos and color palettes used in various articles and many more attributes. Magazines couldn’t be seen as distribution channels for news. Blogs, tweets and news websites are much more efficient at that. However magazines often reflect the zeitgeist in a particular industry. In fact certain magazines serve as tastemakers for some industries (especially in fashion).

One of the key traits of entrepreneurs is “vision” – ability to visualize how their product/service will solve a problem in a durable, visible and obvious way over years. Vision can be curated through observing and anticipating trends across various industries and geographies. Magazines facilitate just that.

2. Keep up with the ads:

Some print ads are just beautiful. More importantly they indicate what the big brands are focusing on currently. For instance, while reading the issues of Fortune and Forbes from September 2009 to February 2010, the ads indicated a trend that Android was picking up at a much faster rate. More and more ads for the Motorola Droid started to show up in November and December. That’s an obvious trend, which I would have known even without looking at those ads, but you get the point.

3. Experience the “magazine”:

Reading my favorite magazine – Wallpaper – just on its website and not on the printed version would be unfair for the reader. Some of these magazines are carefully crafted to provide the readers with an authentic experience of the content. The layout on the page, typography, quality of the paper, etc. convey a deeper story, which must not be missed for some magazines.

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Which magazines to subscribe to?

In addition to subscribing to the usual suspects – magazines related to technology, design and entrepreneurship, I force myself to subscribe to a new magazine (which I normally wouldn’t subscribe to), just to get an introduction to a new industry.

Here’s the list of magazines that I’ve enjoyed reading:

Technology:

  • MIT Technology Review
  • Popular Science
  • Wired

Entrepreneurship:

  • Harvard Business Review
  • Fast Company
  • Fortune
  • Forbes
  • Inc
  • Strategy+Business by Booz Allen Hamilton

Design:

  • Wallpaper
  • ID
  • How
  • Architectural Digest

Lifestyle:

  • GQ
  • Esquire
  • Entertainment Weekly
  • Dwell
  • New Yorker
  • The Economist

Experiments to learn about trends in new territories/industries (at least for me):

  • Make – hobbyists
  • Real Simple – house wives
  • Digital Photography
  • Boating Magazine
  • Golf Magazine
  • Parenting

Magazine subscriptions don’t cost too much. One year subscription to FastCompany costs less than $10!

Start reading a magazine today.

Kintan

ps: Photo is used from flickr.com under Creative Commons