Time management: How an MIT postdoc writes 3 books, a PhD defense, and 6+ peer-reviewed papers — and finishes by 5:30pm

135 Comments

I’m always on the lookout for “hidden gems,” or people who are doing remarkable work that the whole world hasn’t caught on to, yet.

Today, I asked my friend Cal Newport to illustrate how he completely dominates as a post-doc at MIT, author of multiple books, and popular blogger. How does he do it all?

Cal writes one of the best blogs on the Internet: Study Hacks. His guest post shows how you can take I Will Teach You To Be Rich principles — plus many others — and integrate them into a way to use your time effectively.

Below, you’ll learn:

  • How to use fixed-schedule productivity — similar to the Think, Want, Do Technique — to consciously choose what you want to work on and ignore worthless busywork
  • When to say no — and how to do it
  • How a $60,000-a-speech professional manages his time
  • Case study: How to use email for maximum time productivity

Read on.

* * *

Cal Newport: How I Manage My Time

I recently conducted a simple experiment: I recorded the timestamps of the last 50 e-mails in my sent messages folder. These timestamps covered one week of my e-mail behavior, starting on Thursday, October 22nd and ending Thursday, October 29th.

My interest was to measure when during the day I spent time on e-mail. Here’s what I found:

emailchart2
Notice that over this week-long period, I didn’t send any e-mail after 7:00 pm, and only one e-mail after 6:00 pm. There’s a good explanation for this discipline: I end all work around 5:30 every day. No Internet. No computer. No to-do lists. Once I shutdown my day, it’s time to relax.

I must emphasize that I’m not some laid-back lifestyle entrepreneur who monitors an automated business from a hammock in Aruba. I have a normal job (I’m a postdoc) and a lot on my plate.

This past summer, for example, I completed my PhD in computer science at MIT. Simultaneous with writing my dissertation I finished the manuscript for my third book, which was handed in a month after my PhD defense and will be published by Random House in the summer of 2010. During this past year, I also managed to maintain my blog, Study Hacks, which enjoys over 50,000 unique visitors a month, and publish over a half-dozen peer-reviewed academic papers.

Put another way: I’m no slacker. But with only a few exceptions, all of this work took place between 8:30 and 5:30, only on weekdays. (My exercise, which I do every day, is also included in this block, as is an hour of dog walking. I really like my post-5:30 free time to be completely free.)

I call this approach fixed-scheduled productivity, and it’s something I’ve been following and preaching since early 2008. The idea is simple:

  • Fix your ideal schedule, then work backwards to make everything fit — ruthlessly culling obligations, turning people down, becoming hard to reach, and shedding marginally useful tasks along the way.

The beneficial effects of this strategy on your sense of control, stress levels, and amount of important work accomplished, is profound.

The notion is not new. Tim Ferriss famously recommend strict time constraints in The 4-Hour Work Week. He argued that much of the work we do is of questionable importance and conducted at low efficiency. (He made a popular — if not somewhat dubious — appeal to Parkinson’s Law to support the point that more time does not necessarily lead to more results.) If we instead identify only the most important tasks, he said, and tackle them under severe constraints, we’d be surprised by how little time we actually require.

In this article, I want to tell the stories of real people who successfully implemented this strategy – radically improving the quality of their lives without scuttling their professional success.

Jim Collins’ Whiteboard

Jim Collins’ Whiteboard (Photo by Kevin Moloney for The New York Times)
 

(photo by Kevin Moloney for The New York Times)
Jim Collins has sold over seven million copies of his canonical business guides, Good to Great and Built to Last. He attributes the success of these books to his research discipline. As he revealed in a New York Times profile from last May, he leads teams of up to a dozen undergraduates in the process of information gathering. His books require, on average, a half-decade of time and a half-million dollars of expenses to get from their initial premise to the polished ideas. When he enters his “monk” mode to covert this research into a manuscript, he produces, at best, a page a day.

In other words, Collins is a hardworking guy. You would expect, therefore, that like many hard-charging business-world types he would be a blackberry-by-the-bedside workaholic.

But he’s not.

Scrawled on a whiteboard in the conference room of Collins’ Boulder, Colorado office is a simple formula:

Creative 53%
Teaching 28%
Other 19%

Collins decided years ago that a “big goal” in his life was to spend half of his working time on creative work — thinking, researching, and writing — a third of his time on teaching, and then cram everything else into the last 20%. The numbers on the whiteboard are a snapshot of his current distribution. (He tracks his time with a stop watch and monitors his progress in a spreadsheet.)

Collins is a pristine example of fixed-schedule productivity in action. An author with his level of success could easily fall into an overwork trap: long nights spent updating twitter, signing partnerships, building elaborate web sites and launching product lines, speaking at every possible venue. But he avoids this fate.

Even though Collins demands over $60,000 per speech, for example, he gives fewer than 18 per year, and a third of these are donated for free to non-profit groups. He doesn’t do book tours. His web site is mediocre. He keeps his living expenses in check so that he’s not dependent on drumming up income (he and his wife have lived in the same California bungalow for the past 14 years), and he keeps only a small staff, preferring to bring on volunteers as needed.

“Mr. Collins…is quite practiced at saying ‘no,’” is how The Times described him. (He once wrote an article for USA Today titled: “Best New Years Resolution? A ‘Stop-Doing’ list.”)

His fixed-schedule approach to life comes from his simple conviction “to produce a lasting and distinctive body of work,” and his “willingness…to focus on what not to do as much as what to do” has made that possible.

He’s not alone in reaping the benefits of the fixed-schedule approach…

Elizabeth’s Conversion

When Elizabeth Grace Saunders started her first business, a professional copy-writing service, her schedule was “hazardous.”

“I would answer e-mails after going out with friends,” she told me, “and stay up until 2 a.m. finishing projects.”

At some point, she snapped. “I’m not a secretary,” she declared. “I’m not required to jump to respond to everything that crosses my path.”

Saunders adopted a 40-hour a week schedule. This new structure had two immediate impacts. First, she found herself focusing only on the most important tasks. With only a few hours to spare on business development, for example, she couldn’t justify wasting time with the small, ineffectual website tweaks and exploratory e-mails that used to keep her up late into the night. Instead she focused on the core activities that produced results, such as sales calls or the development of new products. The focus generated by this constraint ended up generating more results than her previous schedule, which was more expansive, but also more scattered.

The second impact was her discovery that she could teach her clients how to treat her.

“I’ll answer your e-mail within 24 hours (not 24 minutes), I need notice before starting a project, I will say ‘no’ if my schedule for the near future is already full, and I might schedule meetings up to a month in advance.”

“Choosing how and when I respond to requests has had a dramatic impact,” Saunders notes.

Friends and clients were impressed enough with Saunders’ lifestyle that she eventually left copywriting to become a “time coach” that works with other women in business to achieve similar results. (Her flagship service is called a Schedule Makeover.)

Here’s a typical day in Saunders’ life:

  • She’s up at 6 and by 8:30 she’s at the computer.
  • The first 1 – 2 hours of her work day are spent doing what she calls “routine processing,” which includes checking calendars, clearing e-mail inboxes, and cementing a plan to follow for the rest of the day. As Saunders describes it, this morning routine prevents her from wasting time deciding how to start, and it frees her of the “compulsion” to be checking e-mail throughout the day.
  • She continues with an hour of sales calls. This is often the most dreaded activity for the solo entrepreneur. But by having a regular place in her constrained schedule, she avoids pushing it aside.
  • The rest of the day follows the schedule she fixed in the morning: usually a mix of client assignments and at least one business development activity.
  • By 5:30 she’s done.

Most entrepreneurs work well past 5:30 (and claim that this is absolutely unavoidable), but Saunders’ business is thriving. The reason is clear: her fixed schedule forces her to do the work that produces results (sales calls, client assignments, major business development activities) and eliminates the hours of pseudowork that many use to fill their day in an effort to feel “busy” (tweaking websites, compulsive e-mail checking, chasing down small business development opportunities).

Saunders is not the only young entrepreneur I’ve met who was surprised to discover that doing less helped the bottom line…

The Baby Factor

Michael Simmons, a good friend of mine, reported a similar story. His company, the Extreme Entrepreneurship Education Corporation, expanded quickly in the years following college graduation. Around the time I was reading The 4-Hour Work Week, I started to discuss the possibility that Simmons tone down the hours. It was his company, I argued, so why not take advantage of this fact to craft an awesome life.

Among the specific topics we discussed, I remember suggesting that Simmons cut down the time spent on e-mail and social networks.

“This isn’t optional for me,” he explained. “Any of these contacts could turn into a important partner or sale.”

But then Simmons’ daughter, Halle, was born.

Simmons’ work schedule reduced from 10 to 12 hours days to 3 to 5 hour days. He took care of the baby in the morning, then worked in the afternoon while his wife, and company co-founder, took over the childcare responsibilities. Evenings were family together time.

Halle forced Simmons into the type of constrained schedule that he had previously declared impossible. And yet the business didn’t flounder.

“The baby turns ‘shoulds’ into ‘musts’,” Simmons explained to me. “In the past I used to put off key decisions, or saying ‘no’, because I didn’t want to deal with the discomfort. Now I have no choice. I have to make the decisions because my time has been slashed in half.”

“Since out daughter was born about a year ago, our business has more than doubled.”

The Fixed-Schedule Effect

Collins, Saunders, and Simmons all share a similar discovery. When they constrained their schedule to the point where non-essential work was eliminated and colleagues and clients had to retrain their expectations, they discovered two surprising results.

First, the essentials — be it making sales calls, or focusing on the core research behind a book — are what really matter, and the non-essentials — be it random e-mail conversations, or managing an overhaul to your blog template — are more disposable than many believe.

Second, by focusing only the essentials, they’ll receive more attention than when your schedule was unbounded. The paradoxic effect, as with Collins’ bestsellers, or Saunders and Simmons’ fast-growing businesses, you achieve more results.

Living the Fixed-Scheduled Lifestyle

The steps to adopting fixed-schedule productivity are straightforward:

  1. Choose a work schedule that you think provides the ideal balance of effort and relaxation.
  2. Do whatever it takes to avoid violating this schedule.

This sounds simple. But of course it’s not. Satisfying rule 2 is non-trivial. If you took your current projects, obligations, and work habits, you’d probably fall well short of satisfying your ideal schedule.

Here’s a simple truth that you must confront when considering fixed-schedule productivity: sticking to your ideal schedule will require drastic actions. For example, you may have to:

  • Dramatically cut back on the number of projects you are working on.
  • Ruthlessly cull inefficient habits from your daily schedule.
  • Risk mildly annoying or upsetting some people in exchange for large gains in time freedom.
  • Stop procrastinating.

In the abstract, these are all hard goals to accomplish. But when you’re focused on a specific goal — “I refuse to work past 5:30 on weekdays!” — you’d be surprised by how much easier it becomes to deploy these strategies in your daily life.

Let’s look at one more example…

Case Study: My Schedule

My schedule from my time as a grad student provides a good case study. To reach my relatively small work hour limit, I had to be careful about how I approached my day. I saw enough bleary-eyed insomniacs around here to know how easy it is to slip into a noon to 3 a.m. routine (the infamous “MIT cycle.”)

Here are some of the techniques I regularly used to remain within the confines of my fixed schedule:

  • I’m ruthlessly results oriented. What’s the ultimate goal of a graduate student? To produce good research that answers important questions. Nothing else really matters. For some of my peers, however, their answer to this metaphysical prompt was: “work really long hours to prove that you belong.” It was as if some future arbiter of their future was going to look back at their time clock punch card and declare whether they sufficiently paid their dues. Nonsense! I wanted to produce a few good papers a year. Anything that got in the way of this goal was treated with suspicion. This results-oriented vision made it easy to keep the middling crap from crowding my schedule.
  • I’m ultra-clear about when to expect results from me. And it’s not always soon. If someone slips something onto my queue, I make an honest evaluation of when it will percolate to the top. I communicate this date. Then I make it happen when the time comes. You can get away with telling people to expect a result a long time in the future, if — and this is a big if — you actually deliver when promised. Long lead times allow to you to side step the pile-ups (which will bust a fixed-schedule) that accrue when you insist on an immature, “do things only when the deadline looms” attitude.
  • I refuse. If my queue is too crowded for a potential project to get done in time, I turn it down.
  • I drop projects and quit. If a project gets out of control and starts to sap too much time from my schedule, or strays from my results-oriented vision: I drop it. If something demonstrably more important comes along, and it conflicts with something else in my queue, I drop the less important project. Here’s a secret: no one really cares what you do on the small scale, or what things you quit. In the end you’re judged on your results. If something is hindering your production of the important results in your field, you have to ask why you’re keeping it around.
  • I’m not available. I often work in hidden nooks of the various libraries on campus, or from my apartment. I check and respond to work e-mail only a couple times a day, and never at night or on weekends. People have to wait for responses from me. It’s often hard to find me. Sometimes people get upset when they send me something urgent on Friday night that need done by Saturday morning. But eventually they get over it. Just as important, I’m not a jerk about it. I don’t have sanctimonious auto-responders about my e-mail habits. I just do what I do, and people adapt.
  • I batch and habitatize. Any regularly occurring work gets turned into a habit — something I do at a fixed time on a fixed date. For example, I work on my blog in the afternoon after lunch. I write first thing in the morning. When I was taking classes, I had reoccuring blocks set aside during the week for tackling their assignments. Habit-based schedules for regular work makes it easier to tackle the non-regular projects. It also prevents schedule-busting pile-ups.
  • I start early. Sometimes real early. On certain projects that I know are important, I don’t tolerate procrastination. It doesn’t interest me. If I need to start something 2 or 3 weeks in advance so that my queue proceeds as needed, I do so.
  • I don’t ask permission. I think it’s wrong to assume that you automatically have the right to work whatever schedule you want. It’s a valuable prize that most be earned. And results are the currency you must spend to buy it. So long as I’m actually accomplishing the big picture goals I’m paid to accomplish, I feel comfortable to handle my schedule my own way. If I was producing mediocre crap, people would have a right to demand more access.

Conclusion

You could fill any arbitrary number of hours with what feels to be productive work. Between e-mail, and crucial web surfing, and to-do lists that, in the age of David Allen, grow to lengths that rival the bible, there is always something you could be doing. At some point, however, you have to put a stake in the ground and say: I know I have a never-ending stream of work, but this is when I’m going to face it. If you don’t, you’ll let this work push you around like a bully. It will force you into tiring, inefficient schedules, and you’ll end up more stressed and no more accomplished.

Fix the schedule you want. Then make everything else fit around your needs. Be flexible. Be efficient. If you can’t make it fit: change your work. But in the end, don’t compromise.

Cal Newport is an MIT postdoc, author, and founder of Study Hacks, the Internet’s most popular student advice blog.

* * *

Master your time — and your money

 

Get more in-depth productivity tips. Cal and I recorded a 1+ hour interview together where we cover extremely detailed optimization and productivity strategies.

To get access — as well as select time-management and productivity tips, and more — sign up below.

I want access to Ramit’s private list on productivity and earning more!

 

Related Articles

When is quitting the right thing to do?

My friend wrote a fascinating post on when quitting is the RIGHT thing to do: http://founderdating.com/silicon-valleys-best-kept-secret-why-quitting-is-winning/ So ...

Read More

The power of charisma: How to get people to like you -- with Olivia Fox Cabane

Yesterday, I asked you to tell me about the most awkward person you know. My god. The stories were amazing. ...

Read More

135 Comments

 
  1. Thank you very much for this excellent post!

    My life is pretty similar to Cal’s, except for the dog (OK, and except for all that huge success, but anyway.): working on my PhD, books, blogging, teaching. Recently I have been somewhat discouraged and down. This article gave me a lot of good ideas and encouragement. Many of the links were excellent, as well. Thanks a bunch!

  2. Great post – really enjoyed it! Maybe I need to find that old school timetable…

  3. The idea that having a baby can compress and then double your output is cute and fanciful. Having a family, being a good parent and being successful at work don’t mix well when the children are young. Sure, you can farm out your child care to a nanny or day care, but then, what are you working for?

  4. This post was wicked awesome! I never really thought changing my work style in this way before but now I have a few more books to read and a whole bunch of co-workers to dominate.

  5. This is a great post. I love reading real world examples of ordinary people accomplishing extraordinary things.

    It is shocking about much of our days can be spent on unproductive busy work. Amazing things can be accomplished in 40 hours a week if you are ruthless with your time and commitments.

    I think we all need to stop being busy and focus on the things that really matter. That Pareto fellow was definitely on to something. :-)

  6. Evidence continues to pile up that constraint based scheduling works well for many people – particularly entrepreneurs.

    Getting started on this can be daunting for some, however.

    One tip – start by tracking your time and understanding what you do in 15 minute blocks. If you can break your day down into 15 minute segments, it will give you a baseline for determining HOW you should be scheduling your day on a regular basis.

  7. I have no doubt this basic idea would work. The problem is that, one, I can’t set my own hours, and two, I have limited ability to change projects as I see fit. I do whatever I’m told to when I’m told to or I get canned. Also, I cannot drop any projects no matter how ridiculous they are.

    People do not have this much freedom in general, and if you do, well it must be nice.

  8. As a freelance writer still trying to get his career (and money situation) to work the way I want it to, this post couldn’t come at a more opportune time. For me, the post speaks to something akin to automating your time, like Ramit teaches us to do with money. By cutting out everything but the essentials and taking charge of exactly how we spend our work day, we don’t allow the work to overtake our lives and get to enjoy more of what is important to us. I can’t imagine it’s easy to do, but there are some things that were discussed that I’m certainly going to try.

    Thanks for a great post.

  9. This is an excellent post…one of the best I have read recently.

    The comments are interesting, too. They show that people often confuse beliefs with truth.

    “Having a family, being a good parent and being successful at work don’t mix well when the children are young.”

    That’s a belief.

    “I have limited ability to change projects as I see fit. I do whatever I’m told to when I’m told to or I get canned. Also, I cannot drop any projects no matter how ridiculous they are.”

    Also a belief.

    The good news in recognizing that it’s a belief and not the truth is that it can be changed.

    Beliefs aren’t necessarily easy to change, but they are worth changing.

    If you have a belief that you could never get all your work done in a fixed schedule, it will not happen for you.

    If you have a belief that you can, and it will just take some tough choices for you to get there, it will more likely happen for you.

    -Erica

  10. Ramit,

    Thanks for sharing this. Efficient time management seems to be theme of the week in the blogosphere. I myself have found that time limits are tremendously useful in addition to deciding what tasks are of the highest value and focusing your effort primarily on those and using that as the pecking order.

  11. I do this and it has worked for me in general.

  12. [...] your own actual, realistic deadlines and prospered from it? Tell us about it in the comments. Time management: How an MIT postdoc writes 3 books, a PhD defense, and 6+ peer-reviewed papers &#821… [I Will Teach You To Be [...]

  13. I appreciate the opinion that it is a “belief” that being a good parent and having an extremely challenging work schedule don’t mix. This is not a belief as there are mountains of studies and evidence that not being a present and involved parent can and does have a very detrimental impact on a child. I speak through both personal, professional and observational experience.

    I do agree that improving time management and developing the ability to focus are essential to being successful. In almost every art or science, the best works seems to come during times of great societal or personal pressure. Feeling the weight of boundaries is healthy in accomplishing a goal.

  14. Um…this doesn’t work in the real world. The majority of people don’t work for themselves, and if they turned down projects because they were too busy, or stopped doing things they considered trivial, they would be unemployed. And it’s those people who make it possible for you to do what you do.

    • Right, Karen…it would never work. There’s no chance of trying anything different at your job. You should just keep doing things the same way you’ve always done. I’m sure that will make you stand out and result in different outcomes.

      Or…maybe you can test the techniques on this blog and Cal’s blog and Chris Guilleabeau’s blog and other places to try to carve out an unconventional life.

  15. @Snowballer – As a manager of people, I can tell you that you really have a lot more freedom at work than you think you do – if you earn it. An employee that delivers truly outstanding results and delivers on the most important things are rare and precious gems. Employers want to keep such employees and will be very willing to flex to do so.

    The many, many employees who only produce mediocre results will not have that flexibility. Employers aren’t afraid of losing them.

    Reread Cal’s last bullet point, “I don’t ask permission”. You have to earn the privilege of the flexibility. You do that with outstanding performance. If you are an employee, that’s the key to making this work for you.

  16. [...] friend Ramit, from the exceptional I Will Teach You To Be Rich blog, just published a guest post I wrote about fixed-schedule productivity (the idea that you should fix your ideal schedule, and then work [...]

  17. [...] your own actual, realistic deadlines and prospered from it? Tell us about it in the comments. Time management: How an MIT postdoc writes 3 books, a PhD defense, and 6+ peer-reviewed papers &#821… [I Will Teach You To Be [...]

  18. “So see every opportunity as golden, and keep your eyes on the prize – yours, not anybody else’s.” -Roberta Flack

    Hey Cal,

    The Power of No is an effective method to get more important stuff done in less time. Possibly the most crucial tactic from your list.

    Have your eye on the prize and refuse any opportunities that will deviate you from your path. Say no, keep your valuable time and energy, and you can give your all and deliver maximum awesomeness to the world as a result. The Power of No lets you stay focused and accomplish your goal faster.

    When the Power of No is combined with the self-imposed structuring of your schedule, you can get all of the essentials done without needing to stay up ‘ill 3 am. You naturally weed out the tasks that don’t give you the needed results (with the blanket nothing-personal approach of saying “no”), and you keep your sanity and free time.

    Thanks for this. I’m constantly working to improve my time usage, and I’m guilty of not being disciplined enough with self-imposed limitations. You’re kicking my butt to take it more seriously and maximize my time even more.

    Awesome message, awesome resource, backed by proven examples. Great stuff,
    Oleg

    PS. Your site is down thanks to the Ramit Bump effect! A good problem to have I suppose :)

  19. [...] Time management: How an MIT postdoc writes 3 books, a PhD defence, and 6+ peer-reviewed papers &#821… [I Will Teach You To Be Rich] Tagged:gtdproductivitytime management [...]

  20. I manage time by altering it. Nothing else seems to work. (well, other than powering down the computer)

  21. For anyone who thinks that these techniques cannot be used when your are a “minion” of some evil boss. You need to recognize that when any manager assigns you a task, an honest assesment of when you will get that work done is more valuable than anything to them. If you tell them I cannot get this work finished for 3 weeks and someone else says “well I can do it in two”, fine let your manager assign the work accordingly. If your manager asks why you can’t get it done in 2 like the other person explain why, it’s up to the manager to sort out if the other person can actually do it in two due to efficiency or because they don’t have any other pressing obligations. Once you get on this track you will find that the “has to be done I don’t care how” situations start to become much more infrequent.
    Honestly the amount of stress that this kind of scheduling relieves is worthwhile.
    Sadly if you have to stay late and come in early to do work and see no increase in the efficiency of your own job, then you’re in the wrong business. Yes there is a learning curve, that curve should allow your productivity to increase to the point that you can accomplish work in a responsible manner to both your company and yourself.

  22. I think this is a great article because….

    -it identifies the major problem in society of not focusing on the important issue(s)/problem(s)/concern(s)
    -it details the lifestyles of other successful people
    -it pushes the idea of a LIFE and not just a LIFE OF WORK
    -it emphasizes a strict schedule of work/life balance

    Great guest post Cal

    Thanks for sharing Ramit

    —David Damron, LifeExcursion

  23. I have to admit that my gut response at first was to gape at this post wide-eyed with the “knowledge” that, “there’s no way this could ever be accomplished,” et cetera and so forth. However, I was lucky enough to be able to get into the Six Week Boot Camp, and this is an area Ramit’s been helping me with–particularly, identifying the passive barriers in my life. It’s really eye-opening what actually keeps us from doing what we need or want to do, not only to be successful, but just to be happy.

    Here’s the link to his article on passive barriers: http://www.getrichslowly.org/blog/2009/03/17/the-psychology-of-passive-barriers-why-your-friends-dont-save-money-eat-healthier-or-clean-their-garages/

    I’m not a parent (though I hope to be someday), but I can attest to the fact that having a fixed schedule does not mean you suddenly aren’t a good parent or aren’t spending enough meaningful time with your child. My dad actually had MORE time to spend with me and my sister when he structured his work and didn’t let his employers dictate his life outside of the office. Unfortunately, that isn’t the case anymore, even though his work environment hasn’t changed, and his employers are the exact same people; the only thing that has changed is where he places his obligations. (And no, he didn’t feel obligated because he was suddenly going to lose his job–he holds a vital position in which experience is valued, and basically runs the engineering department by himself. The shift was psychological due to issues at home.)

    Don’t think of it as, “I have to do x, y, and z completely and on-time or I’ll lose my job,” because people are far more understanding than you think. I’ve approached both employers and professors before and said, “Hey, I think I’ll do a much better job on projects x and y if we can negotiate on z.” Nine times out of ten, I’ve gotten what I’ve asked for, if not more, and I don’t think it’s because I’m lucky. I think it’s just because I actually asked.

  24. [...] Time management: How an MIT postdoc writes 3 books, a PhD defense, and 6+ peer-reviewed papers — a…. Filed under: Stuff [...]

  25. Thank you for all the comments…

    …working on my PhD, books, blogging, teaching. Recently I have been somewhat discouraged and down.

    What helped me with the PhD process was the realisation that once I ignored all the “woe is me” bullshit grad students pour on themselves, it’s actually a pretty sweet gig as fulltime jobs go. Enjoy your flexibility. Ignore your peers.

    The idea that having a baby can compress and then double your output is cute and fanciful.

    Michael Simmons is cute, but as far as I can tell, not fanciful.

    For me, the post speaks to something akin to automating your time, like Ramit teaches us to do with money.

    Absolutely. To use Ramit’s terminology, it’s about focusing on the big wins and stop wasting so much energy on collecting pennies.

    PS. Your site is down thanks to the Ramit Bump effect! A good problem to have I suppose

    It is choking, but if you reload a couple times it will come through in the end.

  26. Working consistently like that is ideal, but the biggest problem for me is fatigue. Don’t you just want to take a nap or doze off during some of those hours? How are those dealt with?

  27. Great article. I love Ramit’s responses. Direct and to the point.

  28. What I would really like to see is some reasonable suggestions for people working for someone else. Saying you can jettison things that are a waste of time is ridiculous – for example: I’ll just stop attending weekly faculty meetings (which are a total waste of time and filled with a bunch of hot air) would not go over well for someone trying to get tenure. Or someone who is trying to advance in their industry job.

    Likewise, people in high administrative positions (i.e. Associate Dean) cannot make themselves unavailable to students and faculty for more than a couple of hours each day. And even then it isn’t like you can go hide in a corner of the library!

    I’m totally on board with setting limits and making plans and implementing as many ideas from this as possible, but to act like you have total control over this when not an entrepreneur is a real stretch.

    I will be checking these resources out and applying what I can, but how about some good tips (or book recommendations) for people who don’t have total control over what they work on?

  29. This was fucking excellent. I like his method. I am doing something similar, but I’m not able to stick my guns as much as Cal. It’s quite admirable.

  30. [...] Time management: How an MIT postdoc writes 3 books, a PhD defense, and 6+ peer-reviewed papers — a… (tags: productivity gtd timemanagement work lifehacks toread career blogs) [...]

  31. [...] It’s a great article and a must read for anyone interested in lifestyle design. Read it here. Share and [...]

  32. I really liked the 1-hour interview. Great job!
    “Recently I have been somewhat discouraged and down. ”
    It’s surprising that a wonderhuman like you can, too, become discouraged and down! May I ask what caused that, and how you are dealing with it?

  33. I agree both that this sort of scheduling would be wonderful in a job where you have a certain degree of flexibility (most of academia, for example) and that it can be anything up to impossible in more menial jobs.

    Just to take my own example: I have a PhD but due to family constraints, have not been able to go on the job market since finishing. Instead I am employed as an administrative assistant at the university, yet try to keep up with publishing and grant applications etc during my ‘spare time’. For the latter, yes, setting a low maximum number of hours I will work on this per day seems like a great plan, and I will try it. I think it will eliminate any procrastination. Unfortunately, since I work 8 hour days as an admin assistant (and since my main role is to be present if someone needs me during their work day, I HAVE TO be there for those 8 hours), I still have to do my “own” research and work in the evenings and weekends.

    As for my day job, as said, I have to be there for 8 hours a day in order to support the staff. If someone comes by and says, “Rachel, I need you to photocopy these 500 pages, type up these three letters, and drop off my dry-cleaning” I can’t reply, “I’ll get that done in three weeks time when it gets to the top of my queue”, or “no, those don’t seem like good uses of my time right now.”

    My main task for when I don’t have more urgent things requested of me is data entry. There is a semi-infinite amount of this to get through (i.e. more than I will be able to do within the next few years even if working continuously), yet it is not urgent, so restricting the amount of time I work on it each day will not make it go faster, nor will it allow me to be more productive.

    And that’s just my relatively white-collar job. Imagine how these guidelines would work for e.g. a checkout operator, street sweeper, post office mail sorter or deliverer…

  34. I’m definitely ready to implement these steps. I’m in grad school, raising 4 young children, working as a major home repair contractor, running 2 blogs and getting 2 businesses off the ground. I’m not focused enough and i’m definitely letting the “unimportant” stuff take my time away. I will be rereading 4 hour work week, and implementing the advice there. Thank you Ramit, thank you cal for the awesome material. Both of you have given me so much

  35. [...] Time management – how an MIT Postdoc writes 3 books, a PhD thesis, and peer-reviewed papers – and finishes by 5:30 pm – Link. [...]

  36. Karen has a point, Ramit, and your snarky answer doesnt address it. Cal himself states that he can do this because of his “results”. In his case apparently writing papers and books. In many work environments those results arent as easily quantified, or include “effort” and “team playing”. Refusing projects, or dropping them when they get to busy (as Cal advocates) are not realistic options.

    It all has to do with objectives. The trick is to apply Cal’s strategy without becoming a leach. Presumably Cal’s goal is to get an academic position. I put it to you that just writing papers and books isnt going to get you there. There are a lot of different aspects to success in that environment. So, unless some of his projects include kissing ass with the right people, he is not exactly on a tenure track.

  37. [...] get entrepreneurial: In terms of potential benefit – my favorite post in recent memory. How setting a strict schedule actually equates to increased freedom and [...]

  38. The extent to which people are bothered by fresh new ideas, like the ones in this AWESOME post, is the extent to which they realize that the way they do things now is outdated or inefficient.

    Why would someone reading a blog post make a comment like the blog post just insulted them, attacked them, or insulted and attacked their family? It challenges the way they think and people don’t like change. Nobody is forcing them to scroll down on the screen. If they’re really offended they can just close the window and go back to whatever else they were doing.

    Really great post, and mad props to both Ramit and Cal for hacking at the status quo.

    • Exactly, Austin. People like to complain and feel offended, especially on blogs. But I challenge the whiners to either (1) constructively suggest something better in a detailed, comprehensive guest post like this one or (2) go away.

      On the plus side, the reception to this post has been overwhelmingly positive. Just look at the comments here and around the web. Lots of people are benefiting from Cal’s advice, so I’m glad we could help.

  39. Ah, youth…so full of hope. Get on out there and make us all proud! I pray by the end of the day you can count at least one truly good friend; otherwise, it was all for not. Go get ‘em tiger!

  40. Awesome article Cal! And thank you Ramit for bringing it to us.

    I agree with Erica that some commenters seem to be confusing thier beliefs about what is possible with the reality of what they are actually capable of doing. For example in the case of family time, the case study clearly showed that there was no magic involved:

    “Simmons’ work schedule reduced from 10 to 12 hours days to 3 to 5 hour days. He took care of the baby in the morning, then worked in the afternoon while his wife, and company co-founder, took over the childcare responsibilities. Evenings were family together time.”

    Simmons and his wife decided what kind of family life they wanted and arranged their day accordingly. I don’t think that their kid is going to suffer from being cared for by its own parents…

    However, as Cal has written, to live this way requires making some deliberate choices and being brave enough to walk away from secure or familiar ways of doing things. To make these choices can be scary– but the payoff is huge in terms of reduced stress and greater life satisfaction.

    For those looking for more concrete suggestions, my advice would be to start small. Test your beliefs about something trivial to see if they really stand up. Once you realize that you won’t be fired for answering email only once a day, it becomes easier to take control in more important areas. In my own experience, delivering results did guarantee that I was allowed to have as much freedom in my job as I desired. (I now go to school full time: a deliberate (and scary to make at the time) choice.)

    To TeamPlayer: I did spend the last 15 years working in academic reaserch laboratories at two univerisities. Yes, kissing ass works to grease the wheels to some extent, but people don’t give you tenure just because you’re a nice guy. They give it to you because you produce results. Of course, if the hiring committee has a choice between a nice guy who produces results and jerk who produces *about the same* level of results, the nice guy will win. But make no mistake, if the jerk produces more, he’s going to get the job. The point about beliefs versus reality also applies. It takes much less greasing of the social wheels than one might think to function well in an organization. More time spent ass-kissing is rarely going to be the deciding factor in how far you advance….

  41. The irony here is that anyone contributing to this post clearly is not following the time management plan suggested by Cal.

    I certainly agree that if you “get results” you get a lot of leeway about how you do it. And certainly time management and setting clear objectives are needed for this. The point is who determines what defines “results”. If your objective is to be a successful lawyer/investment banker/sales person/professor then you may need to adapt to a different definition of “results”.

    To Trish: I agree with you. But it is not just about nice vs jerk. My experience is that the people who have successful long term academic careers are those that invest in their relationships with other academics in their field, and that means not hiding in the library or not picking up the phone. Also that ‘result” in so far as they are relevant may mean a single relevant paper rather than 10.

    I will pick (2). Bye.

  42. Ah well this post was great and I’ll be applying some of these ideas with my school work, but with that said….I MUST completely agree with the said “pessimistic” bunch that have been saying this doesnt work for average workers. Right now, I work at a law firm full time, I go to school full time, and I have a part-time job on Saturdays……so all you great and optimistic people who applaud and defend this blog to the bone…..tell me, how could I possibly apply these things in my life where I have no control over the times that I must be doing work. I have a job where no matter what I do at work I must be there for 8 hours in order to get paid full time, which in turn leaves me with only a select number of time slots for classes. You see I’m paying my way through school and like MOST average people must do so with a 9-5 job. So enlighten me, how does this blog apply?

  43. Excellent post! I am currently attending grad school and run my own design studio full-time. I have been barely keeping my head above water between schoolwork and design projects. I am guilty of having a 6:00am to 1:00am daily school/work schedule.

    Running my own studio doesn’t necessarily mean that I can say “no” to things that come along and only accept the “cherry” jobs. However, I will be much more cautious about not accepting those “time sucking” design jobs that pay little and expect the moon.

    Your post has given me renewed vitality and a plan to help get a better hold of how I handle tasks and time management in the future.

    Fanastic!
    Eleazar

  44. [...] pm – I was just reading an article about time management using fixed schedules (via a Tim Ferriss tweet) and I noticed my eyes sort of tripping out – kind of like vertigo but [...]

  45. So pleased to have read this, to hear of academics abandoning the woe is me crap and getting things done. For those who can’t apply this approach exactly, try reading David Allen ‘Getting Things Done’ and if you’re a mac user check out/download a trial copy of Omnifocus. Academic and creative sector work need not be long and menial. Cheers!

  46. that’s nice and all but someone has to do the dishes! if you relax at 5:30 i guess it ain’t you…

  47. I work a regular 9-5 and also run a side business. During my 9-5, I have the freedom to drop and add projects as I see fit… so long as I produce results. And that’s the key. Did I always have this freedom? No. Though once I proved I can manage myself and accomplish meaningful tasks, it was like somebody handed me a key to the door of freedom.

    Sure. Not all jobs will give you opportunities like this. Doesn’t mean it isn’t worth trying.

  48. Okay, it works for paper pushing/sales/management/office/banking types of jobs. How about trying it in a job that produces something real. Welding, farming, forestry, textiles, woodworking, machining, day care, industrial production, transportation etc.

    You’ll see quite quickly that people and things don’t mature or grow or get made faster or better when you devote less time to them.
    Would you leave your daughter at a day care center that had this policy? “Oh, we just take care of the kids 3 hours a day… its much more efficient”

  49. This is great advice for me–honestly I don’t know how much I can apply in my day job since the things that seem to matter most to management are the biggest wastes of time. You have to be available, you can’t refuse projects, and projects have to be done when they say, it’s just too bad if it’s not enough time. Results are secondary to a whole list of pointless time wasters. I’m not saying it couldn’t work, only that, well, I don’t care to try to change how things are done at my office anymore.

    Where I really want to apply it is in my freelance business. Since I have a day job right now, I have to get a lot done without a whole lot of time for the side business. I’m definitely going to sit down and figure out how I can manage my time better.

  50. [...] Time management: How an MIT postdoc writes 3 books, a PhD defense, and 6+ peer-reviewed papers — a… [...]

  51. Maybe you can’t say no to projects, or change working hours. But what everyone can do is question what they do during the day, even if it is only to yourself. You will have a hard time convincing me that there is nothing inefficient in your day that can’t be attacked.

    Yes you can apply much of this to a job that makes “real” things. If you go into an auto plant that was just built versus one that was built several decades ago (I have) you will see that the cars in the new plant take less time to manufacture, require fewer people, less square footage… this is accomplished by applying techniques that reduce waste and inefficient processes.

  52. Great article.

    I found out about you from my good friend Cody. Would love to have a chat at some point as I am incredibly impressed and inspired by what you have managed to achieve and create at such a young age.

    All the best my friend, and hope you get in contact.

  53. Maybe it all just depends on where you want to sacrifice to get to the results. Our author is upfront about the fact that this requires dedication to the idea. Do you want to have more productivity and more free time? What would that require you to do?

    Maybe some of us can only apply this to parts of our lives to begin with instead of all of it. Or, maybe only one area needs refining, not all of it.

    For me, the struggle is, in part, identifying what I want to accomplish and then setting the parameters; I can follow a plan once it’s established. It’s almost as if I would have to set a fixed-schedule to get to the fixed-schedule!

    Fixed-schedule productivity is probably not as hard to adopt when you have lots of extra time and you know you’re being unproductive. It’s much easier to become efficient and add things to your life when you’re not having to delete stuff as well.

    Very interesting article. I particularly liked the parts where we are encouraged to teach others how to treat us, to retrain people in how they respond or approach us. I think this applies to ourselves as well: how do we treat ourselves?

    Ah, well. I suppose there are lots of individual parameters that maybe have to be considered when one determines to tackle this as a lifestyle.

  54. Why so much hostility towards such an extremely helpful and insightful post? Most of the critics here are in denial about how much time you actually waste at work. Yes, it is true this post is more directed to those that have jobs which are task oriented – an academic, a lawyer, an independent contractor – rather than time oriented – a clerk, an administrative assistant or pretty much any other 9-5 job. So what? Are you always so upset every time advice isn’t specifically authored with you in mind? On top of that, if you weren’t so simple minded, you would realize that these same tips can be applied to your 9-5 job so you can be a more productive and valued employee, and someday push your career forward.

    @Mayra: No, you can’t use these techniques to reduce the time you spend at your full time or part time job. But you can use them to be reduce the time you spend on school work. Or you could use them to be more efficient at your job, have that efficiency recognized, maybe get a raise, and spend less time working on the weekends. Was that really so hard to apply to your life?

  55. AD: I like how you found a way to apply this method to your life even if it won’t work for your “day job.”

  56. Someone should write a piece for all those job slaves on lessons to be learnt from being absent. In my experience when coming back from sick leave or holidays work has not accrued in such a way that you need double/triple the time to get rid of it. You just continue your 80/60/40/20 hours/week working schedule. How come?
    In respect of parenthood: it shows people need a reason to say no. As a young parent I worked half time and all of a sudden I could say bye bye when time was up. Obviously you should noy have to work yourself into a state of parenthoofd to enable yourself to say no.

  57. Lawrence Mitchell Link to this comment

    This is a great post – incidentally there are some excellent (Free) online organisational tools that have really helped me to organise my time and prioritise activity based on results. My favourites are: Evernote and Remember the Milk, but there are lots of others too. I wrote a short post about these tools on my blog a few months ago: http://blogs.rbi.co.uk/information-marketing/2009/07/organisational-and-planning-to.html

  58. Cal: You’re right. PhD students keep moaning about how hard it is. I, too, have found it an excellent opportunity. It also gives you a lot of flexibility to pursue various goals.

    Your post made me realize that what I really need is some guilt-free time off. Your system and the schedule shutdown process seem as excellent ways to achieve this. Thanks!

  59. @Ryan, I’m sure it could work, but after trying some methods from 4-Hour Work Week, like trying to get out of pointless meetings by coming up with results-oriented projects that really needed my attention, I found it just wasn’t well-received by certain staff members who get very vocal when someone doesn’t show for a meeting (despite having it cleared with MY supervisor), and since they have seniority, management listens to them and it’ll show up later on an employee evaluation. “Well we ALL have other work to do” is the typical response. Then why are we all here talking about idiotic crap that 75 percent of the time has nothing to do with work?!

    I’m just not up for trying to change it if doing so stirs up office politics and causes me strife. And that is just one reason that I’m really focused on my freelance work! I loved Pamela Slim’s Escape From Cubicle Nation book where she said she tried for years to help businesses change these things, and finally realized they weren’t going to change, so she decided to help workers who were so inclined to start their own business.

  60. I honestly find Ramit’s responses to the comments here fascinating. When people bring up legitimate concerns about the post’s applicability in other work environments, they are “whiners”? I mean, you don’t think that it’s possible that between you and Cal – as far as I can tell, two smart guys with unconventional career paths that haven’t spent much if any time in a typical office environment – you don’t have the best sense for what is and is not possible in such an environment? That’s not just arrogant, it is also dangerous for YOU as a seller of ideas.

    Now honestly, I think that most of the ideas in this post are great and I especially appreciate Cal’s attitude about avoiding the prevailing grad student attitude; having been there, I can tell you that it is ABSOLUTELY a sweet gig with a lot of freedom, and I’m amazed by how many grad students act like they’re slaves. He is right that in most environments, if you earn trust through demonstrated quality, a lot of the detail and style issues fall away and can be ignored.

    But at the same time, I suspect that most people would need to make significant modifications for it to be appropriate in their environments, and in some places it probably wouldn’t work at all.

    • PK, I actually agree with you on most points. First, nobody said it was easy. In fact, the very value of unconventional living is that it’s “unconventional” and therefore difficult…meaning not everyone can do them.

      But for virtually EVERY profession, you can take out elements of Cal’s post and apply them to your lives.

      A number of these comments exemplify The Shrug Effect — pointing to Cal and saying, “Well, I could never do that, but HE can because he’s an MIT student or [insert other reason here]. And while Cal obviously has advantages that most people don’t — perhaps some genetic, but many that he created himself — nearly everyone can do some variation of his suggestions.

      The challenge is, nobody is going to spoon feed people a solution to their specific situation. You have to make a mental leap and tailor the advice to your own profession and individual situation.

      The reason you see me having such pointed responses is that these types of comments are repeatedly made in the personal-finance/entrepreneurship/lifstyle design space, and they get old.

      In fact, I dedicated an entire post ranting about how people expect advice to be custom-tailored for them, when really successful people will (1) take the best of anything they read and apply it to their individual situation, (2) understand that you don’t have to do 100% of the tips suggested — even 10% will make a big difference, and (3) acknowledge that not all advice is applicable for them. In which case, contribute something that DOES work, wait passively for another post, or move on!

  61. [...] via Time management: How an MIT postdoc writes 3 books, a PhD defense, and 6+ peer-reviewed papers — a…. [...]

  62. Thanks Ramit. I’ll give it a try. I had to cut back on my work schedule. I worked 7 days a week on projects. I was tired and exhausted. I don’t spend as many hours online anymore. I go to bed earlier and I feel better.

  63. Thanks for the post, Cal. I actually used to do something similar during my student years, but somehow forgot about it in the meantime. I should get back to doing this…

  64. [...] Time management: How an MIT postdoc writes 3 books, a PhD defense, and 6+ peer-reviewed papers — a… @ Ramit Sethi’s “I Will Teach You To Be Rich” blog [...]

  65. Excellent. This is one of the best posts I’ve read on your blog, Ramit. Nice work to you and Cal. I just recently listened to your audio conversation together too.

  66. If I hadn’t been reading Ramit’s blog on a Sunday evening, like I usually do every weekend, then I wouldn’t have known about this topic, and would have continued doing things the usual way. The problem is that one cannot expect different results from doing things the same way.

    I’ll definitely be taking points from this topic and applying to my life to achieve more by doing less busy-work.

    Timely and well-done post!

  67. Ramit,

    Awesome post, I love how you, Tim Ferris, Leo Babauta, and Cal Newport all stick to the same time management philosophy. Since I’ve read 4HWW and pleasantly stumbled onto the other BIG 3, I’ve increased my income 3 fold. I’m doing way better in cutting out the unnecessary time wasters (emails, phone calls, and meetings), and am now working on trimming the time fat on my income generated by flesh and blood clients…and revisiting Parkinson’s Law & fixed schedule productivity sure helps.

    Thanks again Ramit and Cal!

  68. I loved this post as it reinforces a lot of the things that I have already put into practice after reading the 4HWW (one of my all time favorite business/entrepreneurship books). Another book that I have really appreciated that ties into Cal’s concept of knowing when to quit is “The Dip” by Seth Godin which I also highly recommend.

  69. [...] Time management: How an MIT postdoc writes 3 books, a PhD defense, and 6+ peer-reviewed papers &mdas… – [...]

  70. I like this post; it’s actually what I try to do most days, finish by 5 pm at the latest (not too hard right now, since my lab isn’t set up yet, so I’m just writing stuff–which I can do in my sleep).

  71. I’m really enjoying these comments.

    One of the best things about writing publicly about your lifestyle experiments is that you can get feedback from others trying similar things. For example, from reader comments over at Boing Boing I just discovered that the US Military teaches a philosophy similar to Fixed-Schedule Productivity to their officers (for them it’s aimed at making missions fits certain constraints.)

    Here’s my request: If you have tried some variation of this advice in a traditional office job, consider shooting me a quick e-mail (author [at] calnewport [dot] com) and sharing your experience. I’m fascinated by how these ideas born out of my academic lifestyle translate to other contexts.

  72. [...] what and how to spend my time, and I never have enough time to do the things I want. I just read this article about time management, and the thesis was basically “do only the things that get you where you want to go, [...]

  73. fantastic. i check my email 12 (or 120) times a day, and because i run few website there are always some tweaks i could make.

    i know i have this problem for a while, but this post really summarized it, so i can easily internalize.

    hope, this post will be enough motivational jump in my life :))

  74. Thx Ramit for another excellent article. I’m experimenting with a site called Log My Task, in trying to see how I spend my time.
    Best,
    Coop

  75. Michael Hammer Link to this comment

    Hi there — long time reader, first time poster.

    I have worked for other people for several years now and I have to say that this post is VERY applicable to “normal” employment. In fact, probably more so. Except for the most micro-managed and routine jobs, ALL of us make decisions about time — and we are ALL judged by results. This is especially true when others make decisions about your employment. Employees create cultures where they convince each other that they are micromanaged, yet somehow they find time to complain rather than do extra work to get ahead (even if that means just prepping themselves for another employer).

    The idea that focusing on the big wins in time management only applies to the self-employed is a total myth.

  76. [...] Time Management – from “I’ll Teach You To Be Rich” and the Study Hacks guy. [...]

  77. [...] In a guest post for I Will Teach You To Be Rich, Cal Newport of Study Hacks discusses fixed-schedule productivity: a productivity system whereby you set a schedule of work (and play) bet…. [...]

  78. Loved the tips and thanks for sharing. I would love to stop everything at 5:30 and just relax. Sounds great. Let me work my way backwards to see how I can fit all of that into one day. Will let you know if it works out for me.

  79. 5:30 pm? Why does he work that late?

  80. I have a hard time believing that no one can come up with even just a few areas where they could use Cal’s advice. Seriously?

    You seriously couldn’t check your email once an hour instead of every time the little box pops up at the bottom corner?

    You couldn’t plan to spend a few hours on the weekend running errands so you don’t have to stop somewhere different every night after work? Or run your errands after work so you have your whole weekend free to persue other things?

    Granted, these two examples are small wins, but if I go from spending 3 hours total over an 8 hour day checking my email everytime I get a pop-up to an hour and a half a day reading and responding to email, that’s still an hour and a half I could devote to something more important.

    Think outside of the box a little, folks..

  81. I must say that at first glance I wanted to say…ummm this would NOT work for me, I’m a single mom of 3. Then I thought about my life. I work a FT career, founded a non-profit and I have a LOT on my plate.

    Yet, I have done my best to:

    1. Choose a work schedule that you think provides the ideal balance of effort and relaxation.
    2. Do whatever it takes to avoid violating this schedule.

    I must say that we all have the same amount of time in our day and this post is an excellent outlook on concentrating on what is MOST important. We spend too much time on the small foxes. I am a problem solver and am paid to produce results in my career. When I produce results I get money to fund my dream.

    Recently I produced my 2010 schedule. Every topic, every segment and workshop, scheduled and on the calendar. Time Management at its best. What will I do when the schedule changes? Adapt as necessary or quit.

    Excellent post, one of the best yet! Thank you.

  82. [...] link to Ramit Sethi’s blog takes you to the full article about Cal, which takes about 25-30 minutes to read. I will summarize [...]

  83. [...] am posting this mostly to put it in an accessible place to me to read, and possibly study, later.  I [...]

  84. Thanks for including the perspective of a professional who is also a parent. Many folks who love Ramit’s blog and guest posts have kids. It’s a totally different life when there’s another person or 2 or 3 who are more important than your work, but that you also need your work to support. Very helpful post!

  85. [...] The cost of success Posted in Education by mathialee on November 26, 2009 I chanced upon this : Time management: How an MIT postdoc writes 3 books, a PhD defense, and 6+ peer-reviewed papers — a… [...]

  86. [...] November 25, 2009 · Leave a Comment reading some great blog posts, here and here. [...]

  87. [...] Time management: How an MIT postdoc writes 3 books, a PhD defense, and 6+ peer-reviewed papers — a… Living the Fixed-Scheduled Lifestyle [...]

  88. Thanks for an valuable post.

    I must admit, that the title caught my attention, but it took me over a week to finally get to read more than just the title.

    You may call it procrastination, and you would be right, but just reading the title left me rather breathless and had me loose my appetite for reading. At the same time I was drawn to the subject and the hidden promise within the post.

    Now my breathlessness and worries are put to shame, and I can only smile. Thanks for sharing.

  89. [...] Time Management: How an MIT Postdoc Writes 3 Books, A PhD Defense, and 6 Peer Reviewed Papers, and F… [...]

  90. I am currently in the proses of restructuring my life and this seems like exactly the sort of thing i need to start doing. But i will tell you the iron control of my schedule that it will require scares me. After reading this in know what i need to do it is just a matter of making the comitment and putting it in to play.

    Thanks for challenging me in an area I realy need it.

  91. Nice principle.
    Unless your job is to support 24×7 systems and some disaster has to be solved “now” and not tomorrow.

    Even there is not disaster but you are just small wheel in huge system when someone else is waiting until you finish you task to continue. And because all projects had to be done yesterday to “leave it to tomorrow” will cause that the other people will start day-after-tomorrow…

    Regarding the interruption of my work. There is a plenty of situation when I need a 5 minutes of someone’s else time to continue in my task. If this person will do it hours later my 30 minutes task will take 1 day. Therefore I go and ask personally this person to resolve issue blocking my job. There is a set of people that are willing to do it and then I’m willing to do the same for them. Then many tasks are done faster that to keep “processes”.

    Idea described by you is great if you are working mostly alone…

  92. Thank you for the tips. This post inspired me to create a workflow for both my personal blog and my job. Though it will evolve over time, it is a great starting off point to make the most efficient use of my time.

  93. [...] ought to barely even count as such, considering what’s going on with me right now.  (This is a much better source, if you want more details on the concept.)  I can’t really elaborate because [...]

  94. [...] giorni alla settimana e dedica quotidianamente un’ora all’attività fisica. Sembra incredibile, vero? Se volete carpire qualcuno dei suoi segreti, visitate il suo blog (lo fanno già circa [...]

  95. Hey Ramit,

    I “spy” your blog for some time and like most of your previous posts this is another useful material for me. Thanks for sharing and keep up the good work.

  96. Great post Cal! and great feedback Ramit – except I need to find a way to have my staff follow this – without the saying no part!!!

    Seriously though, I’ve just clipped several sections and comments here to Evernote, to present to my teams since the end result may be more results, less effort, and happier people. So yes – corporate environment (support staff/help desk) but we can say “no”. How can we not and survive?

  97. [...] Working so much is actually counter-productive in a lot of ways as well (see this excellent post on time management by Cal Newport over at I Will Teach You to be Rich for more about how an undefined schedule is bad for [...]

  98. [...] Time management: How an MIT postdoc writes 3 books, a PhD defense, and 6+ peer-reviewed papers — a…. [...]

  99. Lol… The hidden secret is to hire unexpensive students that know how to write…

  100. No offence to Cal Newport, as much as I respect that guy, but I think a look through his CV/publication record might yield some interesting observations:

    1) Majority of his publications are conference papers, which are generally regarded as “sub-quality” interim work in academia. Journal publications are one that matters more.
    2) He has 5 journal publications, that’s 1 publication per year (for his Masters + PhD duration), which is fairly “standard” requirement for most graduate schools. As a MIT graduate student, shouldn’t the expectations be higher?
    3) He does not have first-authorship on most publications – He has only one 1st-author journal, one 1st-author conference paper and two 2nd-author conference paper. In most of the papers, he’s close to the last author (i.e. least contribution). In academia, anything beyond the 2nd-author is not regarded highly, unless it is a prestigious journal.

    As much as I enjoy Stuck Hacks by Cal Newport, I find that his research output is not as good as Ramit claimed it to be.

    Sorry.

  101. I really enjoyed this post and was a little surprise to find it on a personal finance site. Thanks!

  102. [...] This article was truly an eye-opener for me. There’s even discussion of synthesizing parenthood, domestic life, and work. Here’s an excerpt (although I do hope you read the whole thing): [...]

  103. [...] How an MIT postdoc writes 3 books, a PhD defense and 6+ peer-reviewed papers–and finishes by 5… [...]

  104. [...] Time management using fixed schedule The main idea of article simply says that we can accomplish more by doing less. Quit all inefficient activities, say “no” to not important task, concentrate on doing things, which give the most of results. Time management: How an MIT postdoc writes 3 books, a PhD defense, and 6+ peer-reviewed papers — a…. [...]

  105. [...] Time management: How an MIT postdoc writes 3 books, a PhD defense, and 6+ peer-reviewed papers &mdas… – Manage your time. From the "I will teach you to be rich blog". Structure your working hours and have time over. [...]

  106. [...] only one problem: Learning takes time. But fear not, you can learn that too – here’s Cal Newports great post on time management (and how he can write his PhD thesis and three books and still be done at [...]

  107. [...] Describing how he gets important things done, Cal Newport says: [...]

  108. [...] I’m pretty sure the problem is I don’t know how to cooperate with him. I read this article (found via the lovely Organic Sister, who tweeted about this post) and realized that I am fooling [...]

  109. [...] blog I Will Teach You To Be Rich features an excellent article by Cal Newport. Cal is a very successfull computer scientist and in this blogpost he reveals the [...]

  110. @Garrett: Conference papers count more (and are more prestigious) than journal papers in many Computer Science areas of research. It is not an ideal situation and there are calls from within the community to change this status quo. Many top conferences have acceptance rates of below 15%, leading to rejection of many quality papers. For me, I consider his publication list to be great for a new post-doc.

  111. [...] I Will Teach You To Be Rich: How an MIT postdoc writes 3 books, a PhD defense, and 6+ peer-reviewed … – I love reading about how other people structure their days or manage their time. This guy, as you can tell from the title, is a total champ at being a productive individual. [...]

  112. [...] Time Management: How an MIT Postdoc Writes 3 Books, a PHD Defense, and 6+ Peer Reviewed Papers &#821… [...]

  113. [...] the article on the I Will Teach You To Be Rich blog, the writer is doing more tasks in one day than many of us [...]

  114. [...] MIT postdoc writes 3 books, a PhD, 6+ peer-reviewed papers, finishes by 5:30pm via Hacker News on 12/26/09 [...]

  115. [...] author of I will teach you to be rich had his friend Cal Newport share his knowledge and he wrote  a very good article about time management (via [...]

  116. [...] Shared MIT postdoc writes 3 books, a PhD, 6+ peer-reviewed papers, finishes by 5:30pm. [...]

  117. [...] post on Signal vs. Noise reminded me of an article that I read a little while ago on fixed schedule productivity. The article is fairly long but the point of it is very simple: decide when and how much you want [...]

  118. [...] iwillteachyoutoberich.com: Time management: How an MIT postdoc writes 3 books, a PhD defense, and 6+ peer-reviewed papers &#821… [...]

  119. [...] [ svn ] Ideas on how to structure your time starting with setting the number of hours you’re going to work: How an MIT postdoc writes 3 books, a PhD defense, and 6+ peer-reviewed papers — and finishes by 5:… [...]

  120. [...] principle was illustrated quite well in a blog post offered by Cal Newport here.  You may also learn more about him on his own blog here. The starting principles for [...]

  121. [...] time around the realization came via Cal Newport’s article on fixed-schedule productivity. Read it. Great stuff. I’m also digging the Zen Habits [...]

  122. [...] Ramit Sethi wrote a blog post a couple of months ago about someone he know who goes by the name of C… He describes how Cal structures his work life in a way that allows him to focus and get things done. He called it fixed-scheduled productivity and is based on fixing you working hours and working backwards to fill it. I used this to create the following 6 hour work day plan based on Cal’s case study of business author Jim Collins): [...]

  123. [...] - Chargify: Chargify simplifies recurring billing for Web 2.0 and SaaS companies – Time Management:  How an MIT postdoc writes 3 books, a PhD defense, and 6+ peer-reviewed papers — and finishes [...]

  124. [...] two volunteer positions and a part-time business simultaneously. Cal Newport has used a similar restrictions-first approach to get a PhD at MIT, build a wildly successful blog and publish several [...]

  125. [...] two volunteer positions and a part-time business simultaneously. Cal Newport has used a similar restrictions-first approach to get a PhD at MIT, build a wildly successful blog and publish several [...]

  126. [...] I’m not particularly great at managing my time. I’m not one of those smug cunts who can churn out 3 books and a PhD defense before breakfast. I have trouble staying focused and finishing the things I start. My wife loves it when I leave wet [...]

  127. [...] from I Will Teach You To Be Rich has some great strategies for reaching this balance between work and [...]

  128. [...] Time management: How an MIT postdoc writes 3 books, a PhD defense, and 6+ peer-reviewed papers — … [...]

  129. [...] Time Management: How a an MIT postdoc writes 3 books, a PhD defense, and 6+ peer-reviewed papers &#8… (I Will Teach You To Be Rich) – This is amazing. Really shows that you don’t have to work 70-hour weeks to get things done. [...]

  130. [...] An interesting read provided to me by my friend and co-worker Chris Martin. Obvious parallels to agile methodology abound. [...]