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One of the most common struggles I hear from everyday creatives is that we just don’t have enough time. But we all have the same 24-hour block, so how do some people get so much done? They get intentional with their time and employ simple tactics to prioritize, batch the small stuff and schedule the big stuff in. Let’s talk about it.

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When I decided I wanted to do a weekly audio show I knew one of the constraints needed to be a short show, something not much more than 10 minutes long. I wanted to do everything I could to stop you from saying “I just didn’t have the time.” But I know that’s a tall order. When did any of us ever have enough time? And yet despite this common reality, the fact that we’ve all got the same number of hours in a day, how is it that some people just seem to get so much accomplished?

I’m David duChemin, and this is episode 003 of A Beautiful Anarchy. Let’s talk about it.

Music / intro

Without exceptions the most fruitful times in my creative life, and I include my business in this, because I am making my business just like I make photographs or write books, the most fruitful times are the ones in which I hustle and work hard. Sometimes it’s the work of generating ideas, or connecting to my audience, other times it’s getting the new website done, the new book written, or the new client project off the ground. If we all had nothing else to do and no other complications in our lives this would be hard enough. But add life into the mix - kids, spouses, running a household, and all the other distractions and you can be forgiven for thinking it's a miracle we get anything done at all. I want to help you find that miracle more often.

Time is a resource and not only can it can be managed better, but I think if we valued it more we’d be less flippant about the way we use it. Remember that old adage, “time is money”? It’s rubbish. Time isn’t money, it’s so, so much more valuable. Money you can borrow, save, and hide under the mattress. Time? Time just keeps slipping by. That makes it even more important we discuss this.

One of the things I hear almost weekly from creative people struggling to do their varied things and make art with their lives is the question: how do you find the time? Well you don’t find time anymore than you find money. Left-over time is about as common as left-over money, which is why financial people will tell you to pay yourself first and put X% into savings FIRST, before you start spending it because they know if you save what’s left over there won’t be any ever. It just doesn’t happen. We spend what we have, and if we get a raise, our appetites expand and we spend that too. Same with time. If you need time to do this or that, it has to be made.

First, you have got to accept that there are only so many hours in the day. If possible, count the ones available to you. I have no kids. I have no pets. I have no houseplants. So I have more hours available to me than you might. Doesn’t matter. We’re not comparing because you are not me. How many do you have? Whatever the number, the next question is: do you need more? If the answer is yes, then start trimming.

Right now we delegate the bi-weekly cleaning of our home, and pay someone to do a better job than we’d do, in less time, for about $100. Is it worth $100 to free up a couple hours of your week? Could you do something in those 2 hours that would make you more than $100 or something that would give you more than $100 worth of pleasure? I guarantee you could. It’s the same with our lawn. Every two weeks my gardener comes and does a better job than I could, leaving me with 2 more hours, instead of being back there killing plants.

You must free your time. Could your kids do the laundry? They need to learn eventually, right? What about the dishes? If you’re the cook in the family, what about asking your partner to cook dinner a couple nights a week so you can gain an extra hour or two? If that terrifies you because you know he’d accidentally poison you all, then be creative. Make twice as much as you need occasionally and freeze half of it, to be re-heated later by anyone in the family. You’ve got to be ruthless about re-claiming bigger pieces of your week.

On the same note, look at your day and see where you’re losing valuable blocks of time. You need blocks. Not small pieces that are broken up by this and that, and a few minutes on social media and a quick check of the email, followed by replying to the unexpected email that you really need to deal with. If you want more meaningful time, batch the small stuff. Email? Give it 30 minutes at the end of the day. Same with social media. Turn it off for the rest of the day. No notifications. No cheating. If it’s super, super important then check in on it while you’re eating lunch.

Most people get nothing done because their available time gets cut up into pieces too small to use meaningfully. This concept has changed the way I work and made me far more productive. I apply it on a daily basis and weekly or even monthly. If I need a day to do something I do ONLY that thing. If I need a week, or a month, I make sure that the largest, uninterrupted chunks of my day during that time are given to that one thing. If I’m working on a book and I need August to do it, I schedule no travel and minimal social calls in August and I get it done.

One of the best things you can do to get things done is understand which things are most important, put them on your calendar, and say no to everything else. We fill our days with so many little things and yes, some of them are good things, but they get in the way of that which is most important. You must learn to say no. Do this: sit down for one day with no distractions and make a list of the top 10 things you MUST do this year and put them in order. Then put them on the calendar, and for the next month (to start with) say NO to absolutely everything that is asked of you. If a year is too big, do it for this month, this week. I do it every morning.

And if you’re that chronic people-pleaser who feels a little piece of your soul die when you say no, you don’t have to say “No" and leave it at that. Say "Yes, but…” If the question is “Can you get together with me for coffee?” and you don’t have time, the answer is “Yes, but can we do in September because I’m completely booked in August. How’s September 01 at 3pm?” You’re not lying: you are booked. Now do your work with the time you’ve so jealously carved out and guarded.

Another way to look at this is through the “Big Rocks First” filter. This changed my life when I first heard it and put into practice. The idea is this. Imagine you’ve got a jar in front of you. Also in front of you is a bowl of sand, a bowl of gravel, and a bowl with larger rocks. Now imagine I ask you to get it all in the jar. You look at the jar and think, there’s no way it’s all getting in there. You might be right, but there’s no way to know until you try. Let me skip ahead to the end. The only way to do it is to start with the big rocks first. Get them in there, then put the gravel in, which settles in around the larger stones, then pour the sand which also finds room in the spaces left between the other rocks.

And yes, you might have some sand left over. But if you did it any other way you’d find you have much more left over, including many of the larger rocks. They just wouldn’t fit in if you poured the sand in first.

Now imagine the size of the rocks, gravel, and grains of sand represent the important stuff in your life, the larger the stone, the more important it is to you, and the jar represents the time available to you. The whole thing might represent a day, a month, a year, even your whole life. One thing is certain, you won’t get the important stuff in if you leave it for last. It never happens. Not with money, not with time.

Every day, week, month, or year, I’m thinking about what the big rocks are. I’m putting them in first. And no, they don’t always fit. Life is like that. But at least I know right away. The big rocks don’t all fit in this month, so I move one of them to next month and I put it in the jar now. I get it on the calendar. But too many people are living this metaphor backwards. They fill their days with the trivial, the social media, the emails, the stuff they are constantly reacting to and then they get to the end of the day and realize the big stuff never got started. The novel is no closer to being started. The clay is getting dried out. The camera has dust on it.

Figure out what your big rocks are, put them in first, so if you have to say no to anything it’s the small stuff. The email can wait. No one dies wishing they’d cleared their inbox. The same is not true of the novel they wished they had finished, or started, the trip they wished they had taken, the time they wished they’d spend with others.

Here’s another one: Make it Bite-Sized and Do the Shitty Stuff First

Many of us put off the things we must do for two more reasons. The first is that the task seems large and overwhelming. The second is that, well, ahem, we just don’t want to do it.

Look, I love having written a new book. But writing it? I’d rather stab myself in the face with a fork. So, here’s what I do. First, if it’s overwhelming to me it’s likely because I’ve not broken the task into pieces that are easy to wrap my brain around. For me it’s pieces i can accomplish in a day. Write a book? Are you kidding? No way. But draft a possible outline for the book? That I can do. And once I finalize that, I can write one chapter, or one section of a chapter, each day, and I put that on my calendar.

As for the fact that I just don’t wanna do the work sometimes, well, my day goes better if I do the most onerous tasks first. I sit down, grit my teeth and do it. Worst jobs first. If I have to return a call I don’t want to deal with and I let it hang over my head all day, my work suffers all day. I’m distracted and unproductive. Do the loathed thing, get it done, move on. It’s almost never as bad as we think. And when I’m writing, those tasks get done second, or third, because they aren’t the big rock. The big rock, when I’ve put it on the calendar to write a book, is the writing. The writing comes first.

Not enough time? I don’t want to be contrary but no one does. Everyone I’ve ever heard say this spends plenty of time on FB, checks their email a hundred times a day, has work they could be delegating (and replacing with more important work), and has no real sense of what things are most important to be doing. They wander through the day looking busy, hoping that the important stuff will get done in the slivers of time that are left to them.

None of us have enough time. So you make it. You get relentless about it. Put the big rocks in first, say no to the other stuff. Something has to give, don’t let it be the things that are most important to you, feed your soul, and give you joy.

This doesn’t come naturally to most of us, so none of us gets to blame it on a missing gene. That should give you hope. You can do this. if I can do it, you can. But it costs. You have to make some tough decisions. As I have become more and more decisive (a choice, not a talent) I have more time that is undistracted and productive, and that work has borne fruit.

Creative people create things. We make. We do. And we need time in which to do it, while still living out lives. That time is made, chipped out of an unchanging 24 hour block of stone, and if you don’t make the most of it in that 24 hour block, of which we all have a finite and unknown number, the clock resets. As we live our moments, so we live our lives. Make this month the month that you reclaim your time, batch the smaller things to free up bigger blocks, schedule your work, and make it manageable to avoid the paralysis of being overwhelmed.

Thank you so much for joining me. I’m David duChemin and this is A Beautiful Anarchy, the podcast for everyday creators and those that want to make art with their lives as well as their hands. You can find more at including my book of the same name. If you enjoyed this show please subscribe and tune in every week, and if you’ve got a moment, I’d be so grateful for a review. Thanks so much, until next time go make something beautiful.

Music in this episode: Acid Jazz (Kevin Macleod) / CC BY-SA 3.0