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Episode 2: Growing Time to Invest with Organizational Skills

Americans waste about two days a year just looking for misplaced things—keys, wallets, phones, etc. Disorganization eats away at our time and makes it impossible to hit our targets for each day. In the second episode on a series on agency, Nathan examines the language or agency that he finds most challenging to master, and he offers some strategies that he's implemented to help effectively organize his time.

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Welcome to the Life on Target podcast. I’m your host, Nathan Spearing. Today is episode two, organizational skills. If you remember, we are in the middle of a four-part series inspired by the book, Man of the House, by C.R. Wiley. And in the margins in that book, he has a little excerpt where he talks about general competency being necessary if you want to be free. And the specific word for this kind of freedom is agency—the capacity to independently affect change. Starting with yourself, specifically in our movement and what we’re doing here with Life on Target podcast, we’re focusing on starting with yourself, moving outward so that you can help your family, your church, and your community.

            And that’s probably about where we’re going to stop. Because we’re about a affecting things locally and being concerned a lot less about the idiots in far away places and affecting what you can change right now where you are. Another definition of agency is, the capacity to independently make your own free choices, act independently and make your own free choices. So I want to give you that here, and C.R. Wiley talks about there being four languages to agency. So in the previous episode, we talked about mechanical skills or mechanical competency. Today, we’re going to talk about organizational skills and how you can get better at that particular language of agency.

A Framework for Education

            And this also being what I have adapted as my framework for education as a whole. So not education in the sense of sitting down at a desk for a long time, but education for more in the enlightening experience, type of things. Things that are making your life better. And even adapting these four languages as a optic that I am using as a framework I’m using to raise my children to be free and independently thinking. We also talked about last episode, free doesn’t equal doing whatever you want, or this is going to be my truth or whatever, but freedom in the sense that you have freedom because you are in obedience to God’s law and that is the only freedom.

Free doesn’t equal doing whatever you want.

            So, with that in mind, let’s talk about organizational skills a little bit more. Real quick too—I’m going to talk about a lot of different books and YouTube videos and surveys and articles and things like that in this episode. And I want you to know that all these resources are going to always be available in the show notes for our podcast. So, our website www.spearing.co, so don’t worry about trying to write any of this down or figure it out, just point your browser to the page and we’ll have everything chronologically listed, the stuff that we are going to talk about in this episode.

We Lose Whole Days Each Year from Disorganization

            So, for organizational skills, you may immediately go to being able to find things. In full disclosure, organizational skills is probably the language of agency that I am the least competent in. I am all over the place. I lose things. I can’t find my keys. I can’t find my phone. I can’t find my wallet. And for me, personally, not only does it take my time, it takes my wife’s time. And oftentimes depending on if I’m on my way to a consult for a client or something, will end up getting the entire household engaged in find daddy’s wallet. “Everybody look for it!” And stopping homeschooling and whatever, because my lack of organizational skills and practices in that particular domain is terrible. So, Apartment Therapy had a little summary of Pixie survey for Americans and losing things. It shows that 45% of Americans lose their remote control at least once a week, with 71% losing a remote control monthly. The next 33% misplaced phone, 28% house keys, and 27% glasses, 24% shoes, and then 20% purse and wallet. And, for me, I’m looking at these statistics and I’m thinking, Americans aren’t being honest because I feel like I misplace every one of these items weekly.

            So, based on this data, they are assessing that about two and a half days a year for the average American is spent just looking for things. So how we are trying to combat that, or I am personally trying to combat that, is having a landing pad to put everything. So we have a key basket right inside the front door. I have a landing spot that we are doing upstairs as well because I’m finding myself going upstairs, changing clothes into gym clothes or whatever, leaving keys, wallet in the pants. So trying to become disciplined. When I come through the door, placing the phone, the wallet, the keys, and everything in the key basket right by the door or on the upstairs landing pad right by my dresser and not leaving things in pockets of bags or in hoodie pockets or whatever.

            So, there’s also a pretty humorous YouTube video that I’ll link to in the show notes, where he rewrites the head and shoulders knees and toes song into a glasses, wallet, keys, and phone, and singing that to yourself as you’re getting out of the car, as you’re walking into the house, whatever, using that as a ADHD hack. And so, I’ll link that in the show notes. But, I want to quickly transition from that reactive type of organizational skills or that superficial organizational skills and move to a more proactive, holistic way to organize your life. And if you think about, from a monetary perspective, when you are investing money early and allowing compounding interest to develop over time, that is the most effective way to gain wealth.

            And there’s all those statistics about people who invest money early having more wealth later, or at least less investing required early on to have the same amount of gain as a lot of investing later on. And I think with time, it is the same way. It’s easy to think of, I’m going to just spend two weeks and blitz this particular thing, or I haven’t been doing it. Or even with weightlifting. Weightlifting is compounding interest of not going out there and trying to do a one rep max every week or every month, but consistently showing up and doing a little bit. Organizational skills is the same way. And specifically with organizing your time towards the things that you’re hoping to achieve.

Weightlifting is compounding interest of not going out there and trying to do a one rep max every week or every month, but consistently showing up and doing a little bit. Organizational skills is the same way.

            So two particular resources I think are really helpful for this, one, the book by Doug Wilson, Ploductivity. And he defines plodding as doing a little bit consistently every day. And I think it’s one of the most beneficial books with perspective to a biblical understanding of why we’re supposed to keep working and be productive versus all these worldly life hack kind of things. And the other thing is the Power List. I’ve talked about this on several other podcasts and then probably even linked in some other blog posts, but just that ability to define three to five critical tasks that you’re going to do in a day and just consistently waking up and defining those tasks and doing them, and realizing that doing a few tasks consistently every day will compound over time and will allow you to achieve what you’re trying to do.

            And this is difficult to do day in and day out. But if you’re able to do it, the particular podcast where Andy Frisella that did this, I’ll link that in the show notes as well, but just talked about doing it for a thousand days and having that mindset that at almost a three year optic to just consistently achieve three to five critical tasks for three years, what that will actually do. And it being three to five, because that is a manageable thing that you can do over time.

And in the time vein, I want to go to another resource. So if you all don’t know about this, this is incredible. But if you go to www.optimize.me, the creator of this Brian Johnson, he’s basically read hundreds and hundreds of books and synthesized them all down into short videos and/or three to five page PDFs that summarize all these books. And it’s one of the most amazing ways I feel like to get some of the core principles and knowledge from such a vast amount of resources because, I don’t know about you, but I just feel that I can’t read books or listen to books on Audible fast enough, the ones, and everyone that I listen to, it’s five more books I need to read.

            Brian Johnson has created one of the most amazing ways to get through a large volume of stuff. And his prescribed goal in this resource is to make wisdom and knowledge more accessible in less time. So his whole life has been kind of devoted to building these resources and enabling you to get more. And it’s all actually free now out of endeavor to try to enable a majority of the world’s population to thrive. So it’s a philanthropic venture. And I’ve sent this to several friends and it’s amazing how few have even taken advantage of it, which is fine. Everybody learns their own way or whatever, but particularly for me, I’ve loved it. And I’ve been trying to go there at least once a week and just consume a specific book or knowledge that way.

What I Learned By Tracking My Time

            So in the leadership section, he has a summary of The Effective Executive by Peter Drucker. And it’s a 200 plus page book and he is got a 17 video in there. But part of that being effective executive and let’s think not, “Hey, I’m not in business, I’m not an entrepreneur or whatever,” okay. Being an executive of your life. So part of the thing with time is to track your time, then manage your time, and then consolidate your time. And he talks about how anytime you start to measure something, you get better at it. So what we did as a family, some people have used the resource toggl.com. It’s an app. And it allows you to organize your time. I kind of started to set that up and was like, man, this is just taking too long.

            And I just made a PDF and broke down a day into half hour blocks, and just started tracking. And what Peter Drucker and Brian Johnson in his video about the book talks about is, as soon as you start to measure and track, you’re going to get better at it. And what I particularly noticed when I did that was, I was not getting started on anything significant or meaningful until way too late in the day, talking like nine o’clock, 10 o’clock in the morning. Getting up may, maybe having coffee, talking with my wife, getting breakfast. So checking a couple important things off, but like actually stuff that goes to my core tasks or moving the ball on specific initiatives that are important to me, I wasn’t achieving anything until later on in the morning.

Deep Work versus Distracted Work

            And I was also seeing that I was not transitioning from say, going to the office, then going out to a consult or checking on a job site or whatever, very quickly. As I started track, I’d have, send three emails to clients, follow up on this. And that would take up an hour and a half block. And I know it didn’t take me an hour and a half to send three emails. So what happened was, in that block of time, I picked up my phone and wasted some time or I didn’t stay on task. Another book that is really helpful is Cal Newport’s, Deep Work, which talks about trying to get into a position where you are not distracted. You are able to focus on what you’re doing.

            And it’s been a little bit since I read that, but his summary was, if we could achieve three to four 90 minute deep work cycles a day, so work cycles where you’re not distracted, that he is claiming that you mentally can’t do much more than that, but also will achieve more than you will in an eight hour work day if you can just do four and a half to six hours of deep work in a day you’ll achieve a lot more. And I’ve just really noticed that to be the case. If I can leave my phone in the car, come into the office, turn do not disturb on, and just have a purpose that I’m in there the office to do, I’m going to draw this plan. I’m going to get this design out to the clients. That’s my task that I’m trying to do in this 90 minute block. And I’m not going to let anything pull me off. And I get a lot more done.

            My wife and I obviously talked about this time tracking and stuff. And we’ve always been trying to figure out, how do we get more done? And so as a family, we have decided to get to bed earlier. And then for my wife and I, what that equals is being able to get up earlier with a clear mind. Anytime that you don’t have enough sleep, you’re not able to be focused and do what you need to do. So we focus first on getting enough sleep. So our target is seven and a half hours of sleep. And essentially what that is, is getting to bed at 9:30 and waking up at 5:00. And minimizing hitting the snooze and getting out of bed and knowing what we’re going to do.

Anytime that you don’t have enough sleep, you’re not able to be focused and do what you need to do.

            So, it’s not even eight o’clock this morning, I’m recording this podcast. I did all the prep for the podcast, outlining and everything. I’ve already done some reading. I’ve already had coffee with my wife, and I’ve already made a plan for the day that we’re going to do with the business, and it’s not even eight o’clock. And there’s just something incredibly powerful about knowing that you’ve achieved some core tasks before you even eat breakfast, and having a plan for the rest of the day. I went and sat with the Benham brothers actually for a day over in Charlotte, I’ll link to theirs. They’re some of the best guys that I think out there are giving sound Christian advice for business. There’s a lot of people that are giving advice, theological advice, and things like that all over the spectrum.

Proactive versus Reactive Tasks

            But for Christians in business and Christians that are trying to excel, they’re giving some great stuff. So I went and sat with him and he particularly talked about trying to get all of his proactive tasks done by like ten o’clock in the morning and breaks it down. And I can actually probably link to the social media channel that our conversation, but getting proactive tasks done. And then just being able to shift into a reactive mode with your businesses. For me, that’s handling calls from clients. That’s responding to subcontractors questions on job sites and inquiries for our rental properties and Airbnb’s. And there’s just a lot of things that can come at you for the rest of the day. And the fact that you’ve already got your proactive tasks done in the morning early, and that reactive mode the rest of the day is a lot and less alarming to you because with that understanding and knowledge that you’ve gotten it done.

            Another thing that I like to recommend is the book, The Organized Mind, and that book talks about how the most effective executives or world leaders, talk about like the president of the United States or Fortune 500 CEOs. They cannot be concerned with anything other than what they’re doing at that present moment. And specifically how they achieve that is, they have systems to make sure that their bandwidth of their brain is not being taken up by anything but what is at hand. So, for them, that’s significantly sized staffs that are handing them. They just know, somebody’s going to come in and get me when the meeting’s supposed to be over. They’re going to take me to the next one. They’re going to hand me what I need to know. And I can just be with this person until it’s broken up.

            And so, for some of you that can’t maybe do that you can, one of the things I’ve done before is, you can set an alarm that sounds like your phone is ringing. And if you go into a meeting and know you got to go to another one, and it’ll go off and you can, “Excuse me, I got to take this,” or whatever, and step out of the meeting and regain control or not lose track of time. So I’ve done that going into client’s house knowing, Hey, I got another client that needs me in 45 minutes. I only got about a half an hour here with this client in setting something up that I can just forget about looking at time or whatever, I can be with this client. And then I know my phone’s going to go off.

My Index Card Method for Tracking To-Do’s

            The other thing that you can do and what they talk about as well, and what I’ve I have done is an index card method of anytime you think of something that you need to do, writing it down on an index card. And the reason why the index card is better than a notebook is, if one particular task is on an index card, you can move it back and forth in the stack and keep it organized. And they talk about, making sure if you sit down for a half hour, 45 minutes a day, and just knock out the three to five minute tasks all in a row, throw the index card away. Or if it’s something that you can’t do, you push it to the back of the stack and just thumbing through your index cards daily and organizing, knocking out what you can, pushing stuff off till later that’s a longer sit down kind of thing.

            And the fact that you’ve written it down somewhere, have the ability to organize it and flip back through, you’re able to gain back that mental bandwidth for what you’re doing. And for me, what I’ve done is, I’ve got a book of index cards that are all held together with a key chain ring. I bought it at the office supply. I got one of those stacks on my desk. I got one on my bedside table at home, and then I got one in my car. And then I have one that I keep in my pocket. So whether I am at in my car, at my desk, up at my bed at night, I can immediately, instead of picking up my phone and doing something with it, I can just write it down on an index card. I know it’s there. I’m not going to lose it. It’ll be there in the morning.

            And then I can consolidate the stacks of index cards between my car, my desk, my bedside table, to the one in my pocket, so I have my list with me. And sometimes it ends up, there’s two stacks of index cards at my bedside table, there’s two in the car, on the book, and you have to reorganize and make sure that the one’s in your pocket… But basically, for me, I’m allowing myself or I’m helping with multiple stacks of index cards that there’s going to be an index card stack where I am, even if I forget the one in my pocket or I’m in the car and I have something to write notes on. And then, because they’re on a key ring that clips open, I can consolidate them all into one stack and I can flip through and do that.

            And I’m at the beginning of this practice, it’s been about a week or two that I’ve been doing this, but it’s enabling me to at least get a good chunk of what I’m supposed to do. I don’t have to worry about it now that I’ve written it down. There’s this ease that I’m not going to forget it because it’s somewhere and you gain that bandwidth back. So, hopefully, that’s been helpful to you all. In quick review. You have to have agency if you want to make your own free choices. Agency comes from general competence. And C.R. Wiley talks about in his book the four languages of this general competence or agency, mechanical competency or skill, organizational skill. Then the next episode, we’re going to talk about people skills and then the fourth one being aesthetics.

            So, obviously, you can spend a lot of time looking for things and it’ll rob you of time, but ultimately we want to get to the proactive aspect where we are tracking and managing and consolidating our time and achieving the tasks that we want to organizing our life in the way that we spend our time to achieve massive results. So, hopefully, those resources, some of them have been helpful to you. If any part of this podcast or this podcast as a whole was helpful, we’re encouraging you to share it with one of your friends.

            Each podcast that we do that helps, share with one friend, share with a different friend every time to help us grow the podcast listener-ship and allow us to continue to produce stuff for people. Again, the show notes will be available on our website, spearing.co. And also you’ll see our blog post on our website. Sign up for our email list that we’re going to send out biweekly, which will be a summary of some of what we’re talking about in the podcast, other resources that I find helpful. Thank you, and have a good one.

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