A BlackBerry handset with LinkedIn appBrad* is as hard a worker as anyone I know. He’s not just busy, he’s keenly focused on getting the right things done. And it pays off — he is the largest single revenue generator at his well-known professional services firm.

A few days before Thanksgiving, Brad flew from Boston to Los Angeles with his family. He was going to work for the first few days and then relax with his family. During the flight, he decided not to use the plane’s internet access, choosing to talk and play with his children instead. A five-hour digital vacation.

When they landed, Brad turned on his BlackBerry and discovered that a crisis had developed while he was in the air and he had close to 500 email messages waiting for him.

So much for a digital vacation.

The truth is, we can’t ever really get away from it. There is no escaping the nonstop surge of email, text, voicemail, Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn — and that’s just the technology-based stream. How can we ever catch up?

We can’t.

The idea that we can get it all done is the biggest myth in time management. There’s no way Brad can meaningfully go through all his email and there’s no way any of us are going to accomplish everything we want to get done.

Face it: You’re a limited resource.

Each day only has 24 hours and we can’t sustainably work through all of them.
On the one hand, that’s depressing. On the other hand, acknowledging it can be tremendously empowering. Once we admit that we aren’t going to get it all done, we’re in a much better position to make explicit choices about what we are going to do. Instead of letting things haphazardly fall through the cracks, we can intentionally push the unimportant things aside and focus our energy on the things that matter most.

There are two main challenges in doing the right things: identifying “the right things” and “doing” them.

Most of us manage our time reactively, making choices based on the needs that land on our desks. To determine the “right things,” we need to make deliberate choices that will move us toward the outcomes we most want. Which, of course, also means that we need to make deliberate choices about what not to do. The world will take what it can from us. It’s never been more important to be strategic about what we choose to give it.

In terms of the second challenge — “doing” or following through — we need tools and rituals. We need an environment that makes it more likely that we will do the things that matter most and less likely that we will waste our time with meaningless, unproductive diversions. We need to know how to prioritize properly, delegate deliberately, tabulate to-do lists, and mitigate multi-tasking.

But which tools work best? Which rituals will help us follow through? If you spend all your time discovering and using all the advice you get from me and others, it could become a distraction to the work itself. Here’s a process to help you avoid turning time management into another excuse to procrastinate on your most important priorities.

  1. Think for a moment about the time-management problems you face. Do you leave the office with a nagging feeling that you worked all day but didn’t get your most important work done? Do you feel like you aren’t taking advantage of your talents and passions? Are you distracted by little things? Avoiding big hairy projects? Do you interrupt yourself with email and other distractions? Try taking this three-minute quiz to discover where you are distracting yourself the most.
  2. Once you’ve identified your biggest time-management challenges, choose a single one to tackle. Maybe you’re not clear on your “right things.” Maybe you use the wrong rituals. Maybe you strive for perfection. Pick the challenge that most often gets in your way. Then choose one time-management tactic to solve that challenge — just one of the many good suggestions you’ve encountered here and elsewhere.
  3. If that tactic works, repeat the process with another challenge. If it doesn’t, try a new tactic. Continue to approach things this way, one at a time, so you can be sure what works for you and what doesn’t.

Brad, overwhelmed by his hundreds of emails, put his BlackBerry away and did nothing until he arrived in his hotel room. Then, using his laptop, he triaged his now more than 500 emails based on what he knew were his most important priorities, answering the ones he needed to and deleting the majority of them. Within an hour, he was done. He shut his laptop, left his BlackBerry in his room (gasp!), and enjoyed a fun, chaos-filled dinner with his family, which, at that time, was precisely the right thing for him to do.

*Names and some details have been changed

A person with a clock as head.On a recent hectic business trip to Florence, I lucked out; my client booked me into the Four Seasons. The hotel consists of two restored Renaissance palaces, separated by 11 acres of garden. I was thrilled.

That is, until I arrived and saw that my room was in the more distant building. Every time I entered the hotel, I had to walk the length of the garden to my room.

My days were jam-packed with consulting, and I still had all my other work to take care of. That long, forced walk was going to steal valuable time in my day, time I could scarcely afford.

At first I entered the garden annoyed and walked through with speed and determination. But, to my surprise, each time I walked through the garden, I walked a little more slowly. Eventually, that garden walk became a transformative experience. As I meandered along the winding paths, my mind began to wander too, making connections, drawing insights, and developing ideas.

In our fast-paced, productivity-focused lives and workplaces, we are losing our gardens — literally and figuratively. We need to reclaim them.

I had lunch recently with Rajip, the Chief Technology Officer of a large investment bank. When we returned to his office after spending an hour together, he had received 138 new email messages. As we talked, the email dings kept ringing out. “How can I possibly keep up?” he asked me.

He can’t. Rajip has close to 10,000 employees in his group. “I have no time to think,” he complained to me.

I have no time to think. Possibly the six scariest words uttered by a leader. But they don’t scare us anymore because they are so commonplace. We don’t need 10,000 employees to feel too busy to think. Almost all of us feel the same way.

It’s not that we’re unproductive; we’re astoundingly productive. We produce deliverables. We make decisions. We create and spend budgets. We direct our teams. We write proposals.

Actually, in some ways, our productivity is the problem. Something’s lost in an environment of manic productivity: learning.

These busy days, we rarely analyze our experiences thoughtfully, contemplate the views of others carefully, or evaluate how the outcomes of our decisions should affect our future choices. Those things take time. They require us to slow down. And who has the time for that? So we reflect less and limit our growth.

Often, it’s only when our lives are forcibly disrupted that we slow down long enough to learn. An illness, a job loss, the death of a loved one — they all compel us to stop and think and evaluate things. But those are unwelcome disruptions and, hopefully, they don’t occur often.

Wouldn’t it be great if we could learn continuously without forced disruptions? If we could disrupt ourselves for a few moments every day in order to think and learn?

What we need is a few minutes to walk in a metaphorical garden.

My suggestion to Rajip? Think about where you do your best thinking and make it a habit to go there daily. I have made it a practice to take a variety of garden walks daily.

One garden walk is outdoor exercise. If I go for a bike ride, a run, or a walk, it’s practically inevitable that I’ll figure something out and come back with a better perspective. This is my favorite, most dependable garden for creative ideas.

Another is writing. As I write, my ideas develop and my experiences gently nudge me towards my continuously developing worldview. There’s no need to share the writing — a private journal works well — and it doesn’t have to take more than a few minutes.

Conversations with friends and colleagues reliably provide me with a refreshing and instructive walk in the garden. This depends on the generosity of those around me and I’m careful not to abuse that. I usually start the conversation with some version of: “Do you have a few minutes to think about something with me?” I don’t let it turn into a gripe session, and I keep it focused on questioning my view, rather than seeking confirmation of it.

Garden walks can be very quick; you just have to periodically prioritize thinking over tinkering. I set my watch to beep hourly, and, when it does, I ask myself how the last hour went and what I plan to do over the next hour. One minute is almost no time, but it’s enough of a pause to be useful. And, as I mentioned in a previous post, The Best Way to Use the Last Five Minutes of Your Day, I take a few minutes every afternoon before leaving the office to evaluate what I experienced that day.

Chris Fox, profiled by Fast Company as one of the 100 Most Creative People in Business, manages all the engineers and designers working on Facebook. Like Rajip, he doesn’t have the luxury of lots of time to think. “My commute is my most productive creative time,” he said, “I’m not focusing on anything but I still have the energy of intense focus.”

Unfocused focus. Sounds like a nice walk in a garden.

Some names and some details changed

 

About the Author

Peter Bregman speaks, writes, and consults on leadership. He is the CEO of Bregman Partners, Inc., a global management consulting firm, and the author of Point B: A Short Guide To Leading a Big Change.

(Via HBR)



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To Do List With "Nothing" Last week, in A Better Way to Manage Your To-Do List, I wrote about the importance of using your calendar — not your to-do list — as your main tool to guide what you do in a day.

Transferring items from your to-do list to your calendar will help you make strategic choices about where you spend your time, but it will also leave you with the probability of a long list of items that didn’t fit into your calendar for the day. And that list will simply grow longer and more stressful day by day, a continued reminder of what you aren’t accomplishing. I call it my guilt list.

What do you do with those things?

I have a rule to handle those items: my three-day rule. It ensures that no item on my list ever stays on it, haunting me, for more than three days.

Here’s what I do: after I’ve filled my calendar for the day, I review what’s left on the list. I leave new items, those I just added that day or in the previous two days, on the list to see if they make it onto my calendar the following day.

But for everything else — anything that’s been on my calendar for three days — I do one of four things:

1. Do it immediately. I’m often amazed at how many things have been sitting on my list for days that, when I decide to do them, take a few short minutes. Often they turn out to be 30- second voicemails or two-minute emails. Those things I do immediately.

2. Schedule it. For those things that I don’t do immediately, I look for a time to slot them into on my calendar. It doesn’t matter to me if it’s six months away. If it’s important enough for me to have on my list, then I need to be able to commit to doing it at a specific time on a specific day. I can always change my plan when I review my calendar for that day, but if I want it done, it needs to be scheduled.

There are, of course, some things that I’m not willing to schedule at all. Perhaps a meeting with someone that I think would be a good idea but isn’t a priority enough to schedule. Or something that I schedule and then, each time I get to the scheduled day, I choose to bump off for more important priorities. If that’s the case, then I face the fact that while I’d like to think that particular item is important, I’m not acting that way. So I let it go.

3. Let it go. That’s a nice way of saying delete the to-do. If I’m not willing to do something immediately or schedule it for a specific time and day, I simply admit that I will not get it done. I face the reality that while I might like these things to be priorities, they simply aren’t enough of a priority to do.

Sometimes, though, it’s too hard to delete something. I don’t want to admit that I’m not going to do it. And I don’t want to forget that I think, someday, maybe it would be a good idea. So I put those items in a someday/maybe list.

4. Add it to a someday/maybe list. This is a list I learned from David Allen, author of the bestseller Getting Things Done. It’s where I put things to slowly die. I rarely, if ever, do things on this list. I look at it monthly or so, periodically delete the ones that are no longer relevant, and then put the list away for another month. I probably could delete everything on this list but I sleep a little better knowing I can put things on it when I’m not courageous or guilt-free enough to delete them right off the bat. And who knows? Perhaps someday, maybe, I’ll do something on that list.

There’s one other list I keep and that’s my Waiting list. If I’ve sent someone an email, left a voicemail, or expect to hear back from someone about something, I put that item on my Waiting list. This way I don’t lose track of things I expect from others — and I’m able to follow up if I don’t receive them — but I also don’t have to look at those items every day or confuse them with things I have to actually do. This list is on my computer, and I assign a date and reminder to each item. That way I don’t have to think about what I’m waiting for or when I should review the list. I simply wait for the reminder and if I haven’t received the thing I’m waiting for, I’ll know to follow up or, simply, let go of the expectation of hearing back from the person.

That’s my process. It ensures that nothing stays on my to-do list for more than three days. And once I’ve scheduled everything I plan to do for the day, I don’t have to look at my list again that day, except to add items that come up throughout the day.

It takes all the guilt out of the list.

 

 

About the Author

Peter Bregman speaks, writes, and consults on leadership. He is the CEO of Bregman Partners, Inc., a global management consulting firm, and the author of Point B: A Short Guide To Leading a Big Change.

(Via HBR)

 

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CalendarWhen my wife Eleanor was a little girl, maybe nine or ten years old, she needed new shoes. So she told her mother and they agreed to go shoe shopping the following Saturday morning. But when Saturday rolled around, Eleanor’s mother was too busy and realized she wasn’t going to be able to fit in the shoe-shopping trip. So she told Eleanor they’d have to do it later.

“When?” Eleanor asked.

“Sometime this weekend,” her mom responded.

“When this weekend?”

“Tomorrow.”

“When tomorrow?” Eleanor persisted.

“How about two in the afternoon?”

At that, Eleanor relaxed. “Sounds great! Thanks, mom.”

And, sure enough, at 2 pm the following day, Eleanor and her mom went to buy new shoes. The shopping trip that would not have happened had Eleanor not insisted on knowing exactly when they were going to go.

She reminded me of this story the other day when she asked me how my day had gone and I responded that it went well but there were a lot of things I had hoped to do that I didn’t get done. She remarked that I felt that way every night. She observed that I never get to the end of a day and feel like I accomplished everything I had set out to accomplish. Perhaps, she mused, what I hoped to get done in a day was unrealistic.

She’s right of course. For many of us, our to-do list has become more of a guilt list: an inventory of everything we want to do, plan to do, really should do, but never get to. It’s more like an I’m-never-going-to-get-to-it list.

And the longer the list, the less likely we’ll get to it, and the more stressed we’ll become,
The solution to this I’m-never-going-to-get-to-it list can be found in Eleanor’s childhood shoe-shopping trip, specifically in that final question that satisfied her: “When tomorrow?”

Even at that early age, Eleanor understood the secret to getting stuff done. She had a formula for turning an intention into an action.

It’s what I call the power of when and where.

Decide when and where you will do something, and the likelihood that you’ll follow through increases dramatically. The reason we’re always left with unfinished items on our to-do lists is because those lists are the wrong tool to drive our accomplishments. A list is useful as a collection tool. It’s there to help us make sure we know the pool of things that need to be done.

A calendar, on the other hand, is the perfect tool to guide our daily accomplishments. A calendar is finite; there are only a certain number of hours in a day. That fact becomes clear the instant we try to cram an unrealistic number of things into a finite space.
So, once you’ve got your list of things to do, take your calendar decide when and where you are going to do your to-do’s. Schedule each to-do into a time slot, placing the hardest and most important items at the beginning of the day. And by the beginning of the day I mean, if possible, before even checking your email. That will make it most likely that you’ll accomplish what you need to and feel good at the end of the day.

Since your entire to-do list will not fit into your calendar — and I can assure you that it won’t — you need to prioritize your list for that day. What is it that really needs to get done today? What important items have you been ignoring? Where can you slot those things into your schedule? Then, once you schedule an item, cross it off your list.

Following this process will invariably leave you with things still on your to-do list. But don’t worry: that’s actually a good thing.

If you hadn’t scheduled those items, you’d still have had things to do left over at the end of the day, only you wouldn’t have had control over which items got done and which got left behind. And that would have left you surprised, disappointed, and, most importantly, helpless.

Now, on the other hand, you can be strategic about what gets left behind. You can decide, in the morning or the night before, what’s really important to do and commit to when and where you’ll do it.

And you can be sure that if you decide when and where you’re going to do those things — if you answer Eleanor’s question, “When tomorrow?” — you’ll reliably and predictably get them done.

About the Author

Peter Bregman speaks, writes, and consults on leadership. He is the CEO of Bregman Partners, Inc., a global management consulting firm, and the author of Point B: A Short Guide To Leading a Big Change.

(Via HBR)

 

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The Value of Ritual in Your WorkdayI recently saw the movie The Last Samurai for the second time. Set in Japan in the 1870s, it tells the story of an American civil war veteran who was captured by samurai fighters and, over time, learned to honor their ways.

The first time I saw the movie, when it came out in 2003, I was enthralled by the beautifully choreographed fight scenes.

But this time, I was most moved by a scene I don’t even remember seeing the first time: a samurai drinking tea.

Sitting at a low table, he moved deliberately, singularly focused on his tea. He contemplated it. Then poured it. Then sipped it, tasted it, and, finally, swallowed it.

This, I realized, was the source of the samurai’s strength.

His acrobatics were impressive, but they were merely ademonstration of his strength. The source was this tea ritual and many other rituals like it. His power as a warrior came from his patience, precision, attention to subtlety, concentration, and his reverence for the moment.

The power of ritual is profound and under-appreciated. Mostly, I think, it’s because we live in a time-starved culture, and ritual is time-indulgent. Who can afford the luxury of doing one thing at a time? Who has the patience to pause and honor an activity before and after we do it?

We all should.

Religions understand and leverage the power of ritual. In Judaism, blessings are as plentiful as iPhone apps. Wake up? There’s a blessing for that. Wash your hands? There’s a blessing for that. Experience something new? Eat a meal? Go to the bathroom? There’s a blessing for each one. Every religion I know has similar practices to make our experience of the world sacred.

Which might be why we avoid ritual in the business world. Religion is so loaded, so personal. But ritual doesn’t have to be religious; it’s just a tool religions use. Rituals are about paying attention. They’re about stopping for a moment and noticing what you’re about to do, what you’ve just done, or both. They’re about making the most of a particular moment. And that’s something we could use a lot more of in the business world.

Imagine if we started each meeting with a recognition of the power of bringing a group of people together to collaborate and an intention to dedicate ourselves, without distraction, to achieving the goals of the meeting. Perhaps even an acknowledgement that each person’s views, goals, and priorities are important and need to be heard. Of course, that would require that every meeting have a clear goal, an agenda, and a purpose. But those are just nice side benefits.

What if every performance review began with a short thought about the importance of clear and open communication? If every time we worked on a spreadsheet someone else created for us, we paused to acknowledge the complexity of the work she did and the attention to detail she brought to it? If at the beginning of the day we paused to honor the work we are about to do and the people with whom we are about to do it?

Here’s what makes it easy to get started with this: no one needs to know.

Start with just yourself. Sit at your desk in the morning, pause before booting up your computer, and mark the moment. Do this by taking a deep breath. Or by arranging your pens. Whatever it is, do it with the intention of creating respect for what you’re about to begin. Do the same before you make a phone call. Or receive one. Or before you meet with a colleague or customer.

Each time we pause, notice, and offer respect for an activity, it reminds us to appreciate and focus on what we’re about to do. And by elevating each activity, we’ll take it more seriously. We’ll get more pleasure from it. The people with whom we work will feel more respected. And we’ll feel more self-respect.

Which means we’ll work better with each other. And produce better results.

That focus will help us accomplish our tasks more carefully, more proficiently, and more productively, with fewer distracting under-the-table BlackBerry texts. And all the research shows that that kind of singular focus will make us far more efficient.

In other words, that time-indulgent ritual thing? It might just be the perfect antidote to a time-starved world.

About the Author

Peter Bregman speaks, writes, and consults on leadership. He is the CEO of Bregman Partners, Inc., a global management consulting firm, and the author of Point B: A Short Guide To Leading a Big Change.

(Via HBR)

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Imagine this.  You’re strictly on a deadline and enjoying the creative process and in the flow but you keep getting interrupted either by phone, twitter, email and colleagues popping into your office, or by family demands.  Sometimes our colleagues don’t realise they are interrupting us as we ‘look’ open to converse.  It can be terribly hard to regain quite the same creative focus as interruptions do leach time.

Try these tips to see how you can keep your concentration and manage interruptions differently:

  • Have someone answer your calls, including your mobile, and take messages for you and then you can call back when you have completed your important tasks .  If you are a solopreneur then you might consider a call answering service which gives a professional image too.
  • Spread the word to colleagues that you would prefer not to be interrupted for a specific period – set your boundaries and people will respect that and learn an important personal time management skill from you.
  • Keep a tidy and organised appointments diary and avoid unscheduled meetings – unless the request comes a time when you can do the meeting of course — only you will know if the unplanned meeting is very necessary for that time or if you welcome the distraction!
  • Close your office door, turn off your email and social media dashboards so that you can really concentrate.  Chances are when you exert this kind of personal discipline you will get through the task quicker and more efficiently.
  • Make sure you have everything you need right with you before you commence your ‘non interuptus’ period! The right files, as example, close to hand.  “Prepare or prepare to fail.”
  • Manage your mindset to do the tasks which require your total concentration at the peak times when  you flow creatively.  Become self aware enough to recognise when your peak creative flow actually is! There is little point in setting time aside for the task if mentally you are off beam!
  • Keep a handle on procrastination and dwelling on what else you HAVE to do (the busyness syndrome) can interrupt what you are actually working on and affect the quality.
  • Decide the length of time you will be uninterrupted and stick to your guns! If you finish the task(s) earlier than scheduled, that’s a bonus and it’s time to take a break from your desk.
  • Be ruthless. Today is not a rehearsal for tomorrow and we will never have this time again.  Make the most of your working hours by being as time efficient and productive as possible!

The fact is that subsconsciously we will always gravitate towards tasks and activities we enjoy so help yourself to create ‘enjoyment’ of doing the ‘tricky sticky less favourite tasks’ by creating a supportive environment for yourself.  Work to music?

Do you have a favourite time management tip that works for you?  Please let us know.

[Via EBA]

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Time Management

Poor time management can lead to stress

We’re now in the fourth quarter of the year and there are under 50 working days left before the holidays and new year kick in.  That may seem a lot of time yet in reality we all know how quickly each working week goes. If you don’t want to have regrets about what you didn’t achieve this year and if you think you have a time management issue, this is the time (excuse the pun) to take stock of how you use your 24/7.

Time is one thing busy entrepreneurs often need more of. The main thing to realise is that you have the skills to be a great time manager but for that you will first have to work out where your time drains and what are the time stealers!

We take a look at classic office time stealers – emails, twitter and procrastination:

EMAILS

  • Control how often you check your emails. No one expects an immediate reply – emails aren’t ‘MSN’. If you feel your are spending too much time and are too accessible on email, create your personal email protocol.Let’s say you aim to check emails three times a day:  Not the first thing in the day as it’s easy to fall into the pattern of distraction and your to-do list will get longer before you’ve even had  a chance to make a dent in the already created to do list!  Spend the first hour or so of your day on the top priorities on your to do list.  Without email distractuon you will get through your tasks faster and feed your sense of accomplishment.  Once you have ticked off some (or the biggest) task(s) then check your emails.Review/action emails after lunch and before close of play.   You can’t afford to spend too much time on emails – there must be many tasks for your business that rely on other activities!  Immobilise the email connection if necessary so that you can’t see them coming in! If you also have a Blackberry and are in the office, working on a proposal, for example, avoid email distraction and switch the Blackberry to ‘phone only mode. Your output and creative endeavours will thank you for it.
  • Review how you use email. Could you make a telephone call instead?  Conduct an honest review of your email communications style and write less to receive less.  People will thank you for it and you don’t need to send an email thanking people for their email necessarily.Your overall communications style is part of your personal brand and how people perceive you.  If you’re known for being on the ball and efficient, people will expect this from you. Be sure you are self aware so that feedback is never a big surprise! Aim to be regarded as an efficient communicator – that’s in time terms (i.e: not wasting other people’s time) and clarity terms too.
  • Schedule your emailing periods into your diary for the day and stick to it. Having these allotted times will make you more productive in your responses and just like any new habit, it needs to be performed for a consistent period of time to ensure it becomes the new habit.  Experts say it can take up to 21 repeated experiences to create a new habit.If you audited your email style today and applied some discipline, imagine how much time you could have clawed back for important tasks in just 3 weeks? You might even be able to work less and have more pleasure time as you become more time efficient!
  • Set up files per client/project to file emails. If the aim is to have a light and well managed inbox then you will need to help yourself with some basic email housekeeping with ‘all mail folders’ which are easy to create in Outlook.  Your inbox is less likely to crash with the weight of emails/attachments too.
  • Print certain emails to read as hard copies on the train etc to enable you to have different thinking/response time.
  • Create your email auto signature to ensure it has a contact number for you.  If you don’t want to be regarded as someone who relies heavily on email then don’t be.
  • Frequent checking of emails and twitter etc can easily develop into an addiction and feeds procrastination. Connected-ness is one thing  but over dependence is not great for your wellbeing, productivity or the bottom line of your business.  All things in moderation!

SOCIAL MEDIA

  • Never work with your Tweetdeck/Hootsuite/Seesmic or other social media dashboard on in the background!
  • If Twitter etc is important for you, be ruthless and schedule 20 min periods once or twice a day and no more. Recognise if you think you are preferring twitter to tackling awkward tasks for your business. Be honest.  Twitter is one of the biggest time stealers now.
  • Check your other emails during your email ON periods.

PROCRASTINATION

There are two main reasons why people procrastinate:

  • The task seems too big!
  • You don’t want to do it!

Procrastination is an attitude and one you must self realise in order to do something about it.  If you are a BIG procrastinator then do yourself a favour and make a commitment right now to change.

Try these simple tips:

  • Break the big task down into smaller manageable chunks and create a paper plan with tasks and deadline dates
  • Do what you can to make it more enjoyable – lessen the mental crank – could you perform the task in a different environment?
  • Reward yourself with something pleasant and healthy when you complete what you had been putting off.  A lunchtime swim? A cycle ride at lunchtime? A new book?
  • Be ruthless with distractions (emailing and twitter as above as examples) and your sense of achievement, level of stress and enjoyment for your business will thank you for it
[Via EBA]

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