What I Learned at Burning Man about Time

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Hammock I was at Burning Man for about three months. Okay, not really, but it felt that way. I'd talk with my camp mates about something that had happened a few days before and we'd joke that it was six weeks ago.

And it was a good thing! How did it happen? Because I was in the present. Pretty much the whole time.

I did get pretty overstimulated initially by the weather, the constant music, all the new people and not being able to sleep enough. At that point, I really wanted time to speed up, for it to be over.

But I adjusted, with the help of some fantastic camp mates. And then I got into the flow. Time went away. There was day and night still, but nothing had to happen at a particular time. Only a few things had to happen at all: eating, drinking water, putting on sunblock, sleeping (not optional for me ;)).

Everything else was extra, a wonderful bonus. Time never ran out. It didn't feel slow, it just was always plentiful. Conversations flowed. Great ideas for excursions bubbled up. Everywhere we went was just the right place, until we went somewhere else. It was a magical feeling.

Wouldn't it be great to feel that way now, at home (in the "default world")? Here are some ways you can:

  • Keep your to do list short and do-able. Yes, you have too much to do, but putting it all on today's list isn't going to get it done. It will just make you crazy.
  • Do things well enough. Forget about making hospital corners on your bed in the morning when just pulling up the duvet will suffice. Overdoing it is usually not about making it better anyway. It's about being afraid of doing it wrong. Well enough is not wrong.
  • Let things be. Most of the time, you don't have any control over how things play out. You've done your part well (see above). Now stop.

Welcome to the present. Pull up a chair and stay awhile.

Hammock swinging from Meagan's photostream.

Tips for To-Do Lists

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I’m giving a talk tonight in San Francisco about optimizing your to-do list. There’s still time to sign up here: Biznik meeting.

To do list tattoo I’ll summarize my talk here, in case you can’t make it. First, there are a bunch of reasons to make daily to-do lists if you don’t already. They help you focus in on the small number of things you need to get done and actually can get done. Everyone is busy and gets distracted by myriad things daily. Put 3-5 tasks on your list.

Writing down those tasks clarifies them. When they’re in your head, they’re a little vague. If you have to write them or tell them to someone, you fill in lots of important details that your mental version overlooks. It’s important to write down projects that only you are responsible for. If you’re not accountable to anyone for them, you’ll often relegate them to your free time, and we all know that “free time” doesn’t really exist.

Make sure your list items are really to do’s and not entire projects. You can’t “do” a project. Projects have multiple steps. If “redecorate the guest room” or “design the new brochure” are on your list, you’ll feel lazy and incompetent for not doing them. Instead, put “look at curtains for the guest room,” or “draft the Services section text for the new brochure” on your list.

If there are undone tasks hanging around on your list, make a “not to do” list. This is where you write down those tasks that you feel guilty that you haven’t done, but you honestly know that you’ll never do them. Things that others want you do to, or that you feel you “should” do. Even when these aren’t written down, they nag at you. Put them on this list and then burn the list! Let go of those tasks forever.

When are you going to do the things on your list? Make sure you know where your time is going, if you find yourself running out. Track your time by setting an alarm to go off every hour. Stop and make brief notes about what you did since the last alarm. Don’t judge yourself, but get curious; when do you get most distracted? By what? How long does it take to do routine tasks? We often underestimate that time because we do them automatically and the time seems short. Until you know where your time is going now, you can’t make effective decisions about changing what you do.

Keep losing your list? Have it tattooed on your arm. Courtesy of robstephaustralia.

Five Ways to Seriously Get Things Done

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Do you make notes and lists of all you have to do but still end up falling down rabbit holes of activity that weren’t on any lists? Have you got so much to do that you feel overwhelmed and defeated before you even start? In a world where things are moving and changing constantly, we all need help with this one. I’ve just created a an audio program called Five Ways to Seriously Get Things Done to do just that.

You may think you lack that focusing gene or that you’re just naturally distractible and you may be right. But most of the folks you see around you who don’t seem to have those problems have learned to be productive and they use tools to help them. You too can learn.

The five ways I talk about relate to using a to-do list. This can be a powerful tool, but you need to construct it correctly and use it right. It’s a focusing tool, not a dumping ground. It’s for making progress on your projects, not to list every little daily task. Here’s what I’ll talk about in this audio program:

  • Why you need a to-do list
  • Keep it short
  • Projects are not to-dos
  • The trick to prioritizing
  • Know where your time goes

You’ll also get worksheets to help you define and clarify your projects and correctly write your to-do lists. The worksheet for tracking your time will give you a clear picture of where your time now goes. The review checklists help you analyze and troubleshoot your to-do list and make sure you’re moving forward with your projects. There’s also a worksheet for you to create a “Not To Do” list.

If you keep unearthing old to-do lists that got lost and forgotten, there’s hope. You can start getting things done today and feel that sense of accomplishment. The worksheets will get you back on track until being productive becomes a habit. The program costs $7 and you can purchase it through with the link below. The program is sold through E-junkie and can be purchase with Paypal or credit card.

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