Category Archives: Time Management

Capacity is Not a Myth

Andrew Carroll recently shared an old post on capacity in which he wrote the following:

Capacity. You hear the term in business a lot:

“We are making mistakes because we are above capacity”
“We are having cash flow issues because we are below capacity"
“We are investing in building out our capacity so we can grow”

The secret is capacity is a myth. The only really limit to your business’ capacity is the limit of your ability to think, dream, and work.

Capacity is far from a myth. Individuals, teams and businesses alike have limits. We all do, even you. Regardless of the context, not acknowledging and not respecting these limits will be just as harmful to your effectiveness as succumbing to them.

Ignoring capacity leads us to take on more than we can manage. It leads us to burn ourselves out. And when working with a team, it often leads us to push others beyond what is reasonable.

Capacity is a Friend

Not only is capacity a reality, it can be a tool. Sure, we can push through and “expand capacity” by working ourselves to death in the service of achieving a potentially unreasonable goal—it might even work out once or twice—but continually ignoring capacity will negatively impact relationships, health and, more than likely, sanity.

Capacity, when used correctly, can be a guide. It can force us to consider all of our various goals against available time and resources. When used as a filter, it helps us to make better choices. We just have to make sure we see things clearly.

A Clear Sense Of Capacity

The true myth isn’t that capacity doesn’t exist. It’s that there are two versions: what we believe our capacity to be and what capacity actually is. What we refer to as our capacity is often a combination of realities and challenges. It balances the (likely) excessive number of goals we’ve taken on with a (typically) flawed approach to accomplishing these goals. It traditionally only factors in some of our ambitions, rather than forcing us to consider a holistic view of our goals.

You have to discover where you currently stand in order to move past the myth. Don’t ignore it, consider it. Pretending capacity doesn’t exist will only lead you astray. Learn your limits, then consider ways to improve in order to push against them.

So how do you know? How can you tell perceived capacity from true capacity? Start by understanding your current capacity, regardless of its truth. Then begin to push against what you believe to be possible. Unless you’ve consciously tested the limits of your capacity, unless you’ve taken the time to learn how you go about doing your best work, and unless your team has a process that allows for effective collaboration, it’s unlikely you’re there.

You also have to be careful as the desire to push can be a double-edged sword. There’s pushing beyond what you believe to be possible and then there’s pushing beyond what’s reasonable.

Working vs. Wanting To Expand Capacity

As Andrew points out:

Capacity is a myth. If you think you can’t or won’t, it is not because you don’t have the capacity. It’s because you don’t want it bad enough to stretch beyond your current capacity.

In case it isn’t clear, the point of this piece isn’t to say you can’t push beyond what you believe to be possible in service of achieving your goals. In fact–regardless if it is personal or professional–if what you are doing is even remotely ambitious, you’ll likely have to push against your current limitations.

When it comes to stretching, Andrew has a point: What we believe to be our capacity, almost always isn’t. But ignoring the fact that capacity itself is indeed a reality . . . well . . . it might help you push through some barriers in the short run, but ultimately it will cause you to break.

Understand your current capacity. Then continually question it to see just how far you can push your boundries. Just be sure to understand that, at some point, even the best of us have our limits. And respecting those limits can do just as much to help you to push past them.

A Leap Forward for TextExpander on iOS

Who is this for? TextExpander users who have been hoping to see more of the functionality of the Mac come to iOS.

To date, TextExpander for iOS has primarily served as a sync engine between the snippets on a Mac and those on an iOS device. Their iOS offerings shared some of the functionality of the Mac counterpart, but it was primarily something you’d setup once and occasionally reopen to update your snippets. The real magic happened when you used it in tandem with other applications.

Today that changes with TextExpander 2.0 for iPhone and iPad. Rather than just serving as a conduit for your snippets, the latest update adds in essential functionality that has been missing from iOS including fill-ins and pop-up menus. A visit to the app makes it possible to take advantage of more advanced snippets and can send them to the clipboard, a text message or a new email message.

In addition to its own new tricks, Smile Software has also updated their SDK. This will make it possible for other applications to take advantage of this new functionality. You can already see this in action in latest version of Drafts.

While I agree with Federico Vittici’s thoughts on the design, his desire for URL Schemes to expand snippets and that it would be helpful “to build popup menus using variables as options, not just pre-defined text,” TextExpander 2.0 is a strong step in the right direction.

For more, be sure to check out Vittici’s comprehensive review over at MacStories. And if you’re yet to do so, be sure to download TextExpander for Mac, iPhone and iPad. It is easily one of the best time saving applications ever created and as you can see, it keeps getting better.

Create Your Alternative Settings

Who is this for? Those looking to make more of the time they spend (or waste) waiting.

I’m captivated by the video that was created from a 2005 commencement speech from David Foster Wallace.

Like some, I’ve been fortunate enough to change some harmful default settings. This isn’t always easy. It forced me to observe habits and routines that were deeply ingrained and then decide to remake them.

For far too long my default setting was “Waiting.” I commute for over 80 minutes a day, there are long lines at the supermarket regardless of when I shop and there are often lulls between projects at work. All of this time spent “Waiting” was wasted. Without even realizing it, I let my situation limit my opportunities.

At some point I got fed up. I chose to no longer allow circumstance to dictate my choices. Just because I had to wait in line, on the train or at my desk didn’t mean that I had to wait. Since I didn’t want to change jobs or pay even more to get groceries delivered, I had to change the one thing I could control, my own default setting.

Rather than change circumstances—a common overreaction to a real-life limitation—I set out to make better choices. I changed my default settings for the previously squandered moments spent “Waiting.”

Now when I find myself “Waiting” in line, on the train or temporarily without anything to do at work or home, I choose between the following settings:

  • Making: While you can’t do everything while waiting in line or sitting in a car, you can do a lot more than you’d think. When I decided to write regularly, I still had the realities of a job and a family to manage. Deciding to watch way less TV went a long way towards freeing up some creative time, but it would not have been enough had I not found a way to write while on the subway or expand on an idea while waiting in line.
  • Learning: Long commutes and checkout lines are ideal places to learn. Rather than encouraging your brain to go numb, pick something better to capture your attention. Just about every smartphone and tablet out there gives you access to a wide range of books, blogs, audiobooks and documentaries. Take advantage of them.
  • Maintaining: This isn’t ideal when waiting in line or stuck in a daily commute, but it’s the perfect choice for downtime at home or at work. With 90% certainty, there is some level of cleaning up, filing or organizing that you could be doing right now. There’s value in regularly scheduling this kind of maintenance to ensure that it gets done, but getting it out of the way when you have downtime give you more free time.
  • Enjoying: All too often, we overlook the value of that which cannot be tied to a tangible result. Vegetating in front of the TV is often the thing that keeps you from doing what you really want to be doing, but in moderation it can also be a treat that allows your mind to wander somewhere unexpected. You’d also be surprised by what you’ll notice when keeping a watchful eye online at a supermarket or stuck in a daily commute.

Your default setting and your alternatives may differ from mine; that’s fine. Take a hard look at your own, determine the ones that are holding you back, then create the alternatives that help you to do better.

Train the Spotlight

Who is this for? Those who feel that the distractions in their lives keep them from accomplishing their goals.

From Jamie Phelps:

It’s up to me and you to be conscious of where we train the spotlight of our top-down attention. It also means taking appropriate measures to reduce the number of distractions and improve the signal to noise ratio for bottom-up attention stimuli so that when something comes in, it has a very good chance of being a welcome tap instead of a distraction.

Excellent 30,000 foot examination of how our attention, distractions and tendency to procrastinate interrelate. I’m particularly fond of the spotlight analogy that Jamie uses throughout the post to describe the singular nature of our attention.

Change Your Default Setting

Who is this for? Everyone who has ever felt frustrated by the routine aspects of life.

From David Foster Wallace:

The most obvious important realities are often the ones that are hardest to see and talk about.

If you really learn how to think, how to pay attention, then you will know you have other options.

You get to consciously decide what has meaning and what doesn’t.

As David Foster Wallace also says in this video:

The alternative is unconsciousness, the default setting.

If you’re yet to watch this video, make time. It will change the way you will look at the time you have, even the seemingly mundane and soul crushing bits.

Real vs. Expected Productivity

Who is this for? Those whose peak performance tends to stray from hours of the traditional work day.

Peak Productive hours

Clearly this is meant to be funny, but it’s also important. There are many things you can do to change your habits, but occasionally your best option is to realize what’s working for you and embracing it.

It’s not always possible to align your life with what this image calls the “Magical Hours of Productivity”, but if you’re aware of your own, you can certainly take better advantage of them.

Hat tip to Craig Jarrow

Better Gmail and Evernote Integration with Powerbot

Who is this for? Those who use the Gmail interface for email and calendaring, but store files, notes and agendas in Evernote.

I currently use Mailplane to send email threads to Evernote, but for those who live in their browser Powerbot for Gmail takes things to the next level. You can save new and received email messages to Evernote with ease. You can also attach notes to an email without having to leave the Gmail interface. It’s pretty slick.

There’s also Powerbot for Google Calendar. It lets you create a template for your meeting notes or agenda in Evernote when creating or accepting a new calendar event.

There is one downside, Powerbot is only available as a browser extension for Google Chrome, Firefox and Safari. If – like me – you use an application like Mailplane for email or Fantastical for scheduling, you won’t be able to take advantage of this integration between Gmail and Evernote.

Here’s hoping that Powerbot has future plans that look beyond the browser.

Hat tip to the Evernote Blog