Productivity Book Reviews: Brian Tracy’s Master Your Time Master Your Life

Somewhere in the distant past I must have read “Gettting Things Done” by David Allen. I know this because I recently re-read it and discovered that I’ve been doing this for years. It’s a great book, by the way, and everyone should read it at some point. Some of it is useful across the board: break big projects down into the next action. Have a place you capture all the tasks so that they don’t have to use up brain space (the same way you have a calendar to free up brain space on your schedule.) The hallmark of the “GTD” method is to have lots of in-baskets and “to do” lists, and simply DO any task that takes two minutes or less. Plan your days, clump your emails, clump your phone calls. I am a past master of “to do” lists. Efficiency and productivity are my hobbies. I watched “Cheaper by the Dozen” as a child and whittled down my shower speed as a result. I love apps and keep trying to use them. My CRM is currently Insightly (but it’s always on probation.) I use Evernote nearly daily. A new find is Focus@Will. My friends and I get together and cross-fertilize with productivity tips. I’m good at this.

But I still have my struggles. The main one is how to turn my vast collection of “to do” lists into things that I’ve actually accomplished? Turns out that playing with technology solutions doesn’t actually get my work done. My work requires focused accurate attention. Nearly anything I do needs a full hour to get to a good answer, so clumping my emails to do all at once rarely gets them all done. And big projects are hard to start: procrastination is my sworn enemy. So I’ve been getting some coaching, and listening to podcasts, and reading.

Last week I read “Master Your Time: Master Your Life: The Breakthrough System to Get More Results, Faster, in Every Area of Your Life” by Brian Tracy. He’s apparently an efficiency consultant who inspires CEOs to hire him. His main contribution in this book is that we should have one central focus for each block of time.

Regarding time blocking, he says to have clear priorities for each day. He likes the idea of having three things you must get to. Since he previously wrote a book called “Eat that Frog” we can all guess he wants those to get done first, but I’m trying to get my workout done first! And then planning my day done first! And then set aside some time to answer emails first! Wait, what just happened? I liked his point about doing fewer things. I need to face this issue head-on: I not only have three things I’m going to actually do, but I also have at least as many that I’m actually NOT going to do. Spending a few minutes each day on being impeccable with my word would mean telling people when I’m not going to answer them today. If I imply I’m going to do something when I’m not, I’m not being impeccable. Jennifer and I got into a discussion today about how I’m handing some specific things off to her so she owns it, not me. (Scheduling, calling prospects, etc.) The formality of the hand-off was uplifting to me.)

But he doesn’t just talk about getting work done at work. He also wants you to set aside time for personal development, restorative recreation, creative and problem solving time (I could add “meditation time” here), people and family time (he recommends being fully present with your family, duh), and getting enough sleep. He has various essays on ways to be productive during the various times.

He wants us to have clarity about our goals for that time. He wants you to be very clear about your goals. A goal isn’t a wish; you’ve probably heard this before. But his steps are:

  • 1. Decide what you want.
    2. Put it in writing
    3. Set a deadline
    4. Brainstorm how to get this done, looking especially at challenges
    5. Organize your list of what needs doing by sequence
    6. Take an action on this plan.
    7. Do something every day to move this plan forward.

I’m always looking for good tips on conquering procrastination  He suggested you just nibble away at some small portion of it to get started. My favorite recent one is to ask yourself what’s the cost of procrastinating. What’s the penalty for not doing the thing I’m having trouble getting myself started doing?

A bunch of things I’ve been reading are about intention, focus and mindfulness. For example, at the top of the “To Do” list I should put my purpose for doing this. So, for example, the list of tasks I have for urgent retainer matters has the header “To delight and relieve my people” on it. Another list has “To have a healthy and attractive body”. Basically, I have a “to do” list for most of my “Big Rocks” core values. It’s nicer to research dishwashers if the task is part of “To have a pleasant living environment”. Tracy points out that one of the reasons to align tasks with your core values is so that you’ll drop tasks that do NOT align with one of your core values. This is why I haven’t managed to blanch and freeze a pile of beans someone gave me. I ought to. But it just isn’t my priority on any of my “to do” lists other than “urgent”.

I don’t remember if Brian Tracy said it, but somewhere I picked up the idea of using the “Thinking Fast and Thinking Slow” idea to stop and engage my deeper brain for what I should be doing next. What’s the best thing I could be doing RIGHT NOW? Basically, step outside of my panicked headlong sprint through the day, take a breath, pause, and let the governor part of my brain have a moment to speak. It’s 3 PM. I have sixteen things on my “to do” list. Which do I go do now?

I liked the Brian Tracy book as an inspiring assortment of thoughts on productivity. I took issue with one small piece of it, but it’s a quibble. Basically, this would be good for anyone to read who’s never read anything on productivity, and probably a far better place to start than “Getting Things Done”. I think I would have liked this book as an ambitious 25 year old. I might get it for my kids. But it’s entry level for a productivity pro like me.