If you manage your time terribly, you’ll get more done

Red Alarm in the black bin. 3D rendering
Red Alarm in the black bin. 3D rendering

by Brooke Allen

I’m terrible at doing what people tell me I should do, but I still get things done. I’m not sure why this is, but here is my best guess:

I manage my desires more than my time.

In high school, I never seemed to find time to do homework I didn’t want to do. It got so bad that in 1969 my high school calculus teacher, Mr. Foster, told me that if I did one single homework assignment, he’d base my grade on my tests—meaning I’d get an A. But if I continued to do absolutely no homework, he’d base my grade on the homework and give me a zero.

So I decided that if I was going to do only one homework, I would make it suitable for hanging in a gallery. I spent a big chunk of my savings to buy a mathematical font attachment for my parents’ IBM Selectric and I typeset my answers. In my dad’s sculpture studio I was able to use fixative to emboss my answer sheet and mount it on a wooden backing that I carved by hand. Mr. Foster was so thrilled that he wore my homework around his neck the entire day. Other teachers saw it and they all demanded one homework from me, too. Damn!

To this day, before doing something I don’t want to do, I try to transform it into something I’m eager to do. For more on this I refer you to that great 20th century philosopher, Mary Poppins, who said, “In every job that must be done, there is an element of fun. You find the fun, and—SNAP—the job’s a game!”

Don’t do hard boring useless things

My friend, Ken Caldeira, runs a very productive lab at Stanford. He once told me that many academics get bogged down with really hard esoteric problems nobody cares about, even the researchers themselves. He told me he only wants projects that are fun, impactful, and easy.

If someone is paying you to do hard boring useless things then you need to have a conversation with your boss. If you are a student going into debt to have people give you hard boring useless assignments then perhaps you’d be better off dropping out.

You don’t need to finish what you start

Recently, a successful businessman told me that a few years ago he was diagnosed mid-life with ADHD. This helped explain why his personal and business life was such a mess; he was always starting things but he never finished them, and that would drive everyone around him nuts. Continue reading “If you manage your time terribly, you’ll get more done”