How much would you pay for an extra hour each day?
An extra hour to do all the things you wish you could do, but don’t have time for because of work—go to the gym and get in shape, go out witth friends you haven’t seen in months, read a book from the pile on your nightstand, or even just sleep in so you’re not a walking zombie at work.
Would you pay… $1,000? $100,000? $1,000,000?
Well, let’s just do the math. If you value your time at a (very) conservative $50/hour, that extra hour is worth $18,250 to you this year. If you live another 60 years, that adds up to $1,095,000. And if you add a compounding growth rate of 8%, it becomes a ridiculous $24,700,834.06!
The value of time is clear when you put it on financial terms, but to be honest the math doesn’t really matter. Time is the most precious resource we have because it’s finite. Once we spend it, it’s gone forever. An extra hour a day is priceless.
I hate to disappoint but I’m not a genie and I can’t grant your wish for more time. But, I can offer you the next best thing.
In this post I’m going to outline the system I use for managing my day-to-day life so that you can get everything done each day (even if you only have 24-hours).
How I manage my day-to-day life
I am bad at time management. There’s a lot of stuff I want to do, but I always run out of time.
At school I struggled to balance my engineering courses with playing varsity rugby and hanging out with friends. Once I started management consulting, it got even worse. Each week I’d make a list of all the things I wanted to do outside of work, like workouts, cool hikes nearby, reading books, dinners with friends, or weekend trips out of town. And each week, the same thing would happen… work would creep in and I’d end up doing nothing from the list.
It got to the point where it felt like all I ever did was work, eat, and sleep.
But in the past few years, I’ve found a solution that solves the problem of ‘too much to do, too little time’. It’s so simple that it’s going to sound stupid: a checklist.
Today, I use checklists to run pretty much every activity in my life.
When I wake up each morning, I grab a 3″ x 5″ index card that lists the 5 steps in my morning routine. At the office I use a prioritized checklist and the Pomodoro Technique to power through work. I even use a checklist at the gym for warm-up and cool-down exercises.
Basically, my life has become one really long checklist.
It’s not just me who’s crazy about checklists. In the book The Checklist Manifesto, surgeon Atul Gawande talks about how we can use simple checklists to manage the growing complexity in our personal and professional lives. Industries like surgery, aviation, construction, and investing have all been transformed by using checklists to help mitigate errors and manage the complex and complicated nature of today’s problems.
If you think this all sounds incredibly neurotic or OCD or just plain boring, consider the benefits.
For one, I get a lot more done everyday. I am more disciplined and less distracted. I used to finish the day wondering where all the time went, and now I finish the day satisfied because I’ve checked off every item on my list.
Discipline is hard–harder than trustworthiness and skill and perhaps even than selflessness. We are by nature flawed and inconstant creatures. We can’t even keep from snacking between meals. We are not built for discipline. We are built for novelty and excitement, not for careful attention to detail. Discipline is something we have to work at.
– Atul Gawande, The Checklist Manifesto
Second, I am way more creative. Checklists clear my mind of all the little day-to-day concerns and give my brain the time and space required to solve the big ticket items that will have the most impact on my career and life.
The fear people have about the idea of adherence to protocol is rigidity. They imagine mindless automatons, heads down in a checklist, incapable of looking out their windshield and coping with the real world in front of them. But what you find, when a checklist is well made, is exactly the opposite. The checklist gets the dumb stuff out of the way, the routines your brain shouldn’t have to occupy itself with, and lets it rise above to focus on the hard stuff.
– Atul Gawande, The Checklist Manifesto
How to make a great checklist
I’ve been using some form of checklist to run my life for 10 years, and I think I’ve finally settled on a version I like.
For simplicity, I use a one-page template for my day-to-day checklists that I call ‘The Life Checklist’. I write down daily to-do’s in one of three categories—Work, Life, Fitness—and then check off items each day. At the end of 30-days, I reassess and write down new daily habits.
Screenshot of ‘The Life Checklist‘
I come up with my daily habits using an exercise from the book The ONE Thing called “Goal Setting in the Now” (which I wrote about before here). Basically, this exercise helps you transform your big “Someday Goals” into a very specific action you can take “Right Now” to achieve that goal. This activity is critical because it gives you a clear reason—a why—for staying motivated on a day-to-day basis.
Here are some best practice to keep in mind from The Checklist Manifesto. These are used to stop planes from falling out of the sky, so they should be good enough to make sure you eat your vegetables and go to bed on time.
The checklist cannot be lengthy. A rule of thumb some use is to keep it between five and nine items, which is the limit of working memory.
[…] you want to keep the list short by focusing on what he called “the killer items”—the steps that are most dangerous to skip and sometimes overlooked.
The wording should be simple and exact […]and use familiar language.
Ideally, it should fit on one page.
It should be free of clutter and unnecessary colors.
It should use both uppercase and lowercase text for easy reading.
I’ll add one more of my own: don’t overcomplicate your checklist.
I learned this lesson the hard way after trying to use all kinds of tech to manage my checklists—habit tracking apps, time-management software, complicated Excel sheets, etc.
In the end, the tech always failed. The “means” distracted from the “end” and I spent more time managing and troubleshooting the process then focusing on the outcome I was trying to achieve.
Today, I just rely on a simple piece of 8 1/2″ x 11″ paper with a few daily habits and a box for each day.
Reviewing my checklist has become a daily ritual, and one of my favourite parts of the day is shutting my computer and putting a big red ‘X’ next to every item.
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It’s not a magical ‘silver bullet’ solution, but this is the closest thing to getting an extra hour a day that I’ve found.
Leave a comment below if you have any questions about the system I use, or if you have suggestions for how I could make it better.