Brian Rhea Brian Rhea

Embracing the Unexpected: Navigating Life's Twists and Turns

I read _Procrastinate on Purpose: 5 Permissions to Multiply Your Time_ several years ago, and I continue to come back to it time and time again. This post will illuminate the key points in the book and help you find ways to make more time for yourself in the future.

The five permissions are the gauntlet that every task should have to navigate:

  1. Eliminate: Permission to Ignore (it ain’t worth your time)
  2. Automate: Permission to Invest (automation is to time what compound interest is to money)
  3. Delegate: Permission of Imperfect (done is better than perfect)

If you can’t eliminate, automate, or delegate the task, then there is one question to ask yourself, “Can this wait?”

If yes:

  1. Procrastinate: Permission to Procrastinate on Purpose (put it off and send it back up t1. for a future review)

If no:

  1. Concentrate: Permission to Protect (if it’s on you and it can’t wait, focus and finish)

While the book is littered with brilliant one-liners that at first sound like bizspeak yawners, they're actually legit nuggets of advice.

For example:

The Amount of Our Endurance is Directly Proportionate to the Clarity of Our Vision


Success is Never Owned, Success is Rented and the Rent is Due Everyday

So sure, that's exactly the sort of lameboat blah blah you'd expect to hear from a New York Times bestseller, or from Michael Scott who would then look at the camera in search of affirmation, shocked at himself for saying something insightful. But, it's solid, applicable stuff if you can get past the Sales Conference Keynote vibe.

Five Permissions to Multiply Your Time

Vaden thinks we can create more time for our future selves by making better choices about how we spend our time today. To get a sense of what he’s talking about, we start with Covey.

Covey’s Time Management Grid

You may have seen this grid before. Popularized by Stephen Covey, the x-axis is Urgency ("How soon will something matter?") and the y-axis is Importance ("How much does something matter?").

[caption id="attachment_103" align="alignnone" width="444"]covey-time-management-grid Source:[/caption]


Avoid doing the Urgent & Not Important crap in the bottom left. It presents itself as urgent, but is a waste of your time. Stop doing those things and don't feel guilty about not doing them. This is your life, you only get one, and time is running out.

The Not Urgent & Not Important bottom right is healthy in moderation because everyone needs to veg from time to time. Too little of this quadrant and you're kind of a chore to be around ("I don't watch television. I prefer to settle in to a longform article about the ill-effects of globalization and some kale chips instead.") Too much of this quadrant and you may find yourself unfulfilled when the time comes to reflect on how you've spent your life. Easy short-term choices, difficult long-term consequences.

The Urgent & Important upper left are the things that truly need to be done and need to be done soon. Vaden has some suggestions on how to identify and prioritize these tasks, and that is what the bulk of this post is about. We'll get there in just a second.

The Not Urgent & Important upper right is full of things that our bodies and our (extremely persuasive) lizard brain don't value because biologically we're optimized for survival and instant gratification, not long-term success. On the one hand, that's a drag, but on the other, we probably wouldn't be here if it were otherwise. So, that being the case, we have to hack our wiring today to work towards a future we’ll enjoy.

It's worth noting that the Avoid quadrant contains “somebody else's problems and needs" and the Focus quadrant contains “relationship building". I point this out because viewing "somebody else's problems" as a waste of time sounds self-absorbed and generally asshole-ish. My interpretation of this nuance is that some relationships are healthy, and some are not. Investing in the problems and needs of someone with whom you have a healthy relationship is a good thing; investing in the problems and needs of someone with whom you have an unhealthy relationship probably isn’t. Your mileage may vary.

What Gets In?

Ok, all good. I get it, and I agree. But how do I know what’s important and what isn’t?

In my personal experience, I’ve found that in a given day, week, or month where I was less effective than I could have been, it’s because a bunch of Urgent & Not Important nonsense made its way in to my Urgent & Important day-to-day grind.

This is a bit anecdotal, but you know that “Life-changing Magic of Tidying Up” book that’s taking the world by storm right now? I think it’s the tangible, objects-in-our-home reflection of what we do with our time. “There’s all this crap taking up space, and it’s keeping me from appreciating the things that bring me actual joy. What do I do?”

Trash it. Kill it with fire. And when possible, don’t let it in to begin with.

I think the “gate” between the Urgent & Important and the Urgent & Not Important quadrants is the most prone to failure, and so we should take extra steps to make it as airtight as possible.


The Focus Funnel

In the podcast and in his book, Vaden introduces the (bizspeak alliteration alert!) Focus Funnel. I suppose the publishers thought the “Will This Lead to a Fulfilling Recollection of My Life?” Funnel just didn’t have the same ring. The Focus Funnel is the obstacle course that every incoming task competing for your time should have to go through.

The obstacles and their associated permissions are:

Eliminate: Permission to Ignore

Automate: Permission to Invest

Delegate: Permission of Imperfect

If you can’t eliminate, automate, or delegate the task, it falls out of the bottom of the funnel and there is one question to ask yourself, “Can this wait?”

If yes:

Procrastinate: Permission to Procrastinate on Purpose

If no:

Concentrate: Permission to Protect

Let's take a closer look at each of these five steps.

Eliminate – Permission to Ignore

The first thing to ask is, “Does this matter?”

If it doesn’t, don’t do it, and give yourself the emotional permission to ignore it.

“There is nothing so useless as doing efficiently that which shouldn’t be done at all.”
– Peter Drucker

I think doing inefficiently that which shouldn't be done would be even more useless, but I take his meaning.

The host and Vaden banter a bit about how a lot of people (including themselves) have trouble saying, “No.” If you’re a people-pleaser, or a kind, reliable person in general, you’re probably thinking this about yourself at this very moment.

But as he points out, when you say Yes to one thing, you are simultaneously saying No to something else.

This is a big deal.

If you say Yes to something unimportant, you might be accidentally saying No to something that matters.

There’s a great talk by a guy I really admire, Des Traynor. It’s called, “Product Strategy Is About Saying No”. The gist is that in considering any new feature request, any bug fix, any fresh idea, the product manager should default to no, and the request should have to make a really good case for itself to get on the roadmap.

Default to no, and the truly worthwhile things will be obvious over time. You’ll also be surprised to realize how many things weren’t worth doing in the first place.

Automate – Permission to Invest

Create a process today that will save you time tomorrow.

“Automation is to time what compound interest is to money.”
– Rory Vaden

What are some things that can be automated?

Bills, common email responses, packing list, wardrobe, etc. Anything that can eliminate “Think Time”.

Do you find yourself writing the same email over and over? Look in to using a Text Expander.

Find yourself making a new packing list every time you go on a trip? Create a packing template in Trello that you can use and reuse next time.

Trello Packing Template

Not sure what to wear today? Always wear the same thing.

So, if you have a task come your way that can’t be eliminated, ask yourself if it can be automated. And if it can, give yourself the emotional permission to invest today in order to create more time for yourself in the future.

Delegate – Permission of Imperfect

The old adage, “If you want something done right, do it yourself” is not only wrong, but is also insanely limiting.

Is it sometimes applicable? Sure. But are they words to live by? Not remotely.

In the workplace, if you’re in a position to delegate tasks to your team, then you already know there’s a stack of books to the moon and back about the importance of nurturing personal growth rather than micromanaging to your specification. It’s ok if the result isn't perfect (yours wouldn’t have been either), and it’s ok (and probably better) if the method is one you wouldn’t have chosen.

And of course, there are ways to delegate at home, too.

If a couple dozen people are going to be walking through the door in a half hour, I have no idea how the four pans on the stove, the whatever in the oven, the drinks on the island, and the kids’ activities downstairs are going to come together.

Laura does.

So the last thing she should be doing is slicing tomatos. We’ve learned this over the years, and as a result, I’m pretty good at slicing veggies.

If you’ve got kids, give yourself permission to accept imperfect and delegate like crazy. They’ll get better over time (our five year-old prides herself on being the best bathroom cleaner among her siblings) and you are litcherally adding minutes to your day. To add some structure to chore delegation with the kiddos, we’ve recently begun using ChoreMonster with great success.

Other resources for delegating tasks that can’t be eliminated or automated:

Procrastinate – Permission to Procrastinate on Purpose

In the unfortunate circumstance that you can’t eliminate, automate, or delegate the thing, you get to decide if it can wait.

If it can, you give yourself permission to procrastinate on purpose.

Don’t panic, you aren’t putting it off for forever, you’re just sending it back to the top of the funnel to wait around for a while.

Eventually, one of the conditions it just fell through will apply. You’ll be able to eliminate, automate, or delegate it; or the question of “Can this wait?” will be “No.”

When you decide that a task can wait, and then it gets eliminated on a future trip through the funnel, you have scored a major victory. Going back to Covey’s grid, you’ve protected some space in the Urgent & Important quadrant and avoided the psychological stress that comes from over-crowding.

Concentrate – Permission to Protect

When it can’t wait, you do the thing. Concentrate, give yourself permission to protect your focus, and do it.


Not much to say about that.

Actually, there’s quite a lot to say about doing things [efficiently](/using-multiple-inboxes-and-keyboard-shortcuts-with-gmail-for-inbox-zero/). But that’s another post for another day.

Any Advice for Me?

I hope it goes without saying that I’m not writing this from the position of an expert or someone who perceives themself as an expert. I’m not much better at applying these things than the average person. But, I am better at applying them to my own life than I was five years ago, and I hope to be better in five years than I am today.

So, do you have any thoughts or advice about self discipline and effectiveness that you’ve seen work in your own experience? Leave a comment below or let’s schedule a 15-minute Hangout. I’d love to hear from you.

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