So Much to Do, Not Enough Time!


Not sure why it’s happening but over the past little while, I’ve run into a common theme during conversations and meetings, on Twitter and e-mail: many people feel they don’t have enough time to do all the things they want/need to do.

Keep in mind these are “knowledge workers” who spend their working days in front of computers with access to all the goodies on the Web. These are well-educated, smart people who have most likely worked hard, and enjoy various degrees of professional success. Yet despite their intelligence and success, they’re running into a time scarcity.

Why is that? Is it a question of priorities and simply the need to do everything – blog, Twitter, listen to music, exercise read, work, attend conferences, socialize, spend time with family and sneak in a few hours of sleep. Perhaps we’ve become consumed the idea of multi-tasking, and the notion that we should be multi-tasking at all times.

Think about it; how often do you really focus on just one thing? How often are you driving, checking your e-mail and talking to your children? Or writing a document, checking Twitter and bouncing over to see if you’re still winning the auction on eBay. More often that you think.

On far too many occasions, I joke that it would be good to have multiple versions of Mark Evans – sort of like Michael Keaton in Multiplicity. One would be completely focused on work; one would be the ultimate family guy; one would learn Spanish and HTML; one would play hockey several times a week; and one would just read, watch movies and have long, casual lunches with friends and family.

In the absence of cloning, the one Mark Evans does what he can, which means getting up early in the morning to do blog posts, read the paper, enjoy the first cup of coffee, play hockey, check e-mail and surf the Web. Of course, there’s a limit to how early you can wake up.

At the same time, I’ve also started to realize you can’t do it all so it’s okay to have a day or two go by without checking Twitter or Facebook; it’s okay to rarely watch television or try to read the weekend papers from cover to cover; and it’s okay to focus on only one thing be it a key work assignment, the crossword, a blog post or playing with your children.

For people who feel strapped for time, check out a talk that Merlin Mann did recently entitled “Attention Sinks and Time Burglars” in which he correctly asserts that “Time and attention are finite resources – two of the most precious resources we have as human beings”, and how people “have a lot of trouble keeping time and attention trained on things that are really valuable”.

For any who feels the day isn’t long enough or there’s too much to do, give it a listen – that is, if you have the 60 minutes to do it. For anyone looking for help, Merlin suggests two books: The Now Habit and Getting Things Done.

Update: Dosh Dosh has a good post on prioritization to improve your work and learning efficiency. Google Blogoscoped has a post on how to deal with information overload, which features tips from a variety of the digerati.

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  • Greg

    I don’t even walk to work without the iPod on. While at the office, I’m working, using Flock so I can see what updates my friends on Twitter are making and monitoring people on Me.dium. It’s out of hand… I’d say that 40% of my day is devoted to things that aren’t essential to getting my projects done but I would consider them mission critical as far as work and “staying in the know” goes.

    … I think I’m going to quit and become a farmer. Then I’d only have the weather and animals to worry about.

  • Mark Evans

    I was at a conference last week where someone suggested we really only work 90 minutes a day. He was talking about down to business, totally focused, productive work – as opposed to multi-tasking, sorta focused work.


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  • Greg

    I think 90 minutes is fair. Additionally all the multi-tasking at work has made me almost unable to read at home without headphones on. I’ve become too used to being hit with 50 things at once. It’s sort of worrisome. Like senility has set in early and focus has gone out the window.

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  • Nancy

    Sometime long ago I heard the phrase “the tyranny of the urgent over the important” and every day I see it in action. Instant comm tech makes everything urgent and we lose track of what’s important.

  • Mark Evans

    Nancy: You’re right. Much of the many peoples’ time challenge comes down to setting priorities and being focused at the task at hand.

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  • Sarah Perez

    Wow, this is a great post too! And thanks for pointing me to the Merlin Mann link.

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  • Martin B.

    Spot on I must say! The key word everyone is looking for is prioritize. This is one of the most useful and most underused features nowadays I feel. We have it since early email programs, but I don’t remember anyone really using it.. and now we really really need to prioritize between a) things we MUST read for work.. b) things we really love reading about.. c) things that might be interesting.. d) spam :p

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