Getting ahead of the game

On March 18, I launched the Before Breakfast podcast. Produced in conjunction with iHeartMedia, this show features an every-weekday-morning productivity tip (to help you take your day from great to awesome!)

Five days a week is a reasonable amount of content, although the show is quite short. For the first two months or so, I was trying to figure out a good rhythm of writing scripts, editing them, recording them, and then sending the sound files to my producer. Now, a few months in, I’m being reminded of something I’ve learned about my work style: Particularly for stuff that just involves me, I really like to get ahead of the game.

I had been working somewhere between 10-15 episodes ahead of time. So this week I recorded episodes for June 17-21. But this isn’t exactly a breaking-news-driven show. I have a lot of time this summer when it would be nice not to need to fit in recordings around travel and the like. So this week I am making time to bank 10 more episodes. Next week I might be able to bank another 5 or so. I don’t need to use them in the exact order they’re recorded; I send the team my line-up on the Monday of the week before the episodes run. But having a lot of extra episodes in the hopper buys me flexibility.

And…it buys me time if stuff goes wrong. People sometimes say that parenthood teaches you better time management. I don’t know if that’s true universally, but for the people for whom it is true, I think the big lesson is that life happens. Childcare falls through. Kids get sick or school is closed for snow. You can have back-up plans, but it’s also good to build enough of a buffer into life that when stuff happens, as it inevitably happens, you can still make most of your commitments.

Sometimes life forces people to learn how to do that, but some people seem to understand it more intuitively. My friend Chris Bailey, author of The Productivity Project, recounts the saga in the last few chapters of his book of how he managed to meet his book deadline despite getting in a serious accident while overseas shortly before it was due. He’d gotten ahead of schedule in the writing and editing. So then when he was incapacitated, there was space to absorb that time. As he began being able to do just a little something, he’d focus on what one most important thing he could do per day. After a bit, he could do 2-3 things. It was enough. He had a perfectly good reason to ask for an extension, but he didn’t wind up needing it.

We’re human, and sometimes progress isn’t possible. But in general in life, if it is possible to get ahead of the game, it’s wise to do so.

Of course, the question is when — in an already busy schedule — you can do that.

I recently received an email from a man who described his system. He’d designate a certain time (generally Friday mornings) for tackling one project that would help make him more efficient and effective. Fridays tended to feature a lighter schedule in his organization, so it was possible to carve out this time. Then he’d do something like make a template for something he’d use frequently in the future. Given that he knew he was saving time as a result, he felt quite justified in taking future Fridays for other projects. Getting ahead of the game meant less time scrambling. That pays off in feeling less busy…and getting more done.

What do you do to get ahead of the game? When do you build in the time to do this?

Photo: More summer flowers…just because.

6 thoughts on “Getting ahead of the game

  1. One thing I’ve found is that friction costs me more than I realize. (I think. I’m pretty sure.) So when accomplishing X is unnecessarily painful—e.g. having to wade through three screens just to log time on an activity or downloading a csv file just to reformat and upload it somewhere else—the pain matters. It drags at me, and then I’m coming at my work with less gusto. Which tends to slow me down, and not in a thoughtful, “I’m taking the time to really be mindful about this task” way. And if I’ll just devote whatever time it takes to de-frictionize my workflow… I don’t know; it’s not that I’m getting ahead, strictly speaking, but I’m certainly smoothing the path.

    Thanks for the thought-provoking read!

    1. Ha, I’m reading this at work where I just spent time saving two csv files a colleague sent me in the correct folder and then uploading them into R. So very relevant and yes, I should think about how to streamline that stuff, though it’s the kind of thing I don’t particularly enjoy – I want to make progress, not organize stuff.

      1. Have you checked out any of the workflow automation apps? I personally use Zapier (I don’t work for them), but there are others—If This Then That is another one that I know of, but I’m confident there are more. Anyway, I use it to streamline my workflow so I have more time for all the many things that CAN’T be automated. I’ve got things like Slack and Google Sheets and Squarespace and Mailchimp connected, but you can connect just about anything with those automation apps. Does take some time to set up though. But the payoff when I get my spreadsheets updated with new data without having to lift a finger… ahhhhh. 😉

  2. This is a comment on your Before Breakfast podcast for today – Anything from my work calendar that is outside of normal work hours, gets forwarded to my personal electronic calendar so it appears on both. I do it the other way around as well. Also, Outlook as a feature where you can mark an appointment private and then only you can see the details.

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