How to pack for a holiday - a collection of time hacks

I am about to pack for my holiday and there's nothing like having a break to focus on getting things done, managing time well and really notice how time is being used up because suddenly you are on a mission to get everything done and organised.  There's a funny line that goes something like: "You manage time best the day before your annual leave.  On that day it is awesome".  I have found since working for myself in my own business lots of ways to be productive, deal with time wasters, and be really effective with my time.  I regard it as part of being an effective person and it supports my life work balance and wellbeing.  A recent Do Lectures missive talked about finding "multipliers", which for me is partly about consciously seeking out and doing things that work.

I hear more and more from people working hard in their jobs that they have less and less time. They are expected to do "more, better, quicker" most times with less resources (people and money). There is no silver bullet. I have learnt some time hacks, tips and ideas and decided a list - in no particular order - would be useful. And why not blog it (while I have the time).

First off a quote from the guru of time himself, David Allen, author of "Getting Things Done", who like me, advocates outcome thinking:

"Your life and work are made up of outcomes and actions.  When your operational behaviour is grooved to organise everything that comes your way, at all levels, based on those dynamics, a deep alignment become highly productive."

If you don't have time for a long read of his book, Allen gives an interesting talk that can be found on the Do Lectures website. But let's get back to quick tips.  First, for the top two time stealers that come up in training sessions, email and interruptions.

Email hacks

  • resist checking continually and turn the alert off
  • use rules, abbreviations and a personalised auto out of office 
  • use the 2 email rule - two exchanges and after that TALK to the person or call them
  • don't assume people have good or healthy email habits at work - implement team wide protocols and training
  • set and agree guidelines for sending and receiving that everyone follows in a team
  • don't start the working day checking emails; make your plan first, check emails second
  • use the subject line only for messages so the receiver doesn't have to open the email


  • be ruthless with time but gracious with people
  • be ready to say no and offer alternatives
  • have a clock in view
  • stay standing (or stand up if you are sitting and they come and stand over you) if someone invades your space - don't grant squatter's rights
  • keep all promises to call back
  • don't say "leave it with me" - get an outcome & deadline before the conversation ends

Being productive is something we can all achieve with some simple actions

  • make a plan at the start of the day/week
  • prioritise, then re-prioritise as you go along
  • negotiate difficult stuff
  • ask for help and offer feedback
  • identify the difference between what is urgent and what is important
  • do the big thing first

Getting time back - some of these are counter intuitive but they work.

  • take proper breaks (no fake breaks) - get out, take a walk even if it is short
  • oxygenate (take walks, stand up, breathe) and hydrate
  • get good sleep 
  • simplify - focus on priorities 
  • learn to say no - no is not a refusal unless you make it one
  • don't fight distraction, deal with it; if there is anything you absolutely must do that you can do right now in a couple of minutes then do it NOW.  It frees up time and more importantly, your mind.

Time for your life

Time can't be expanded but how you use it can be.  Working longer is, well, just working longer and it doesn't help manage time.  To go back to David Allen, he acknowledges that a major challenge is getting stuff out of our head.  There is usually an inverse proportion between how much something is on our mind and how much it is getting done.  And our minds keep reminding us of things when we can't do anything about them!  So...

  • plan, do, review; plan, do, review.... you get the idea
  • set goals and envision what you want, every day if need be
  • don't spend time organising incoming demands, process and decide actions instead
  • close the loop (the incompletes): get them out of your head by asking yourself what's the outcome and what's the action?  The act of decision moves thinking on and stops things that don't belong where they are pulling on your attention.

How to pack for a holiday

The recommendation is to put all the items you want to take with you on the floor, cut the number of items down by half, then pack.  Result: a lighter case that closes easily (who ever uses everything they take?)

How to get more done in a week: pretend there are only two and a half days available.  List the jobs that have to be done and prioritise.  Delegate or dump the rest.  Result: the important work gets done.