How to Accomplish Anything, Principle #4: Avoiding Time Sinks

This is part four of a nine-part series on How to Accomplish Anything (When You Have No Time). My first three posts included:

  1. a mantra to stay focused on what matters and shortcut the use of willpower
  2. picking the top three priorities and focusing only on those
  3. permaculture stacking: making sure that you get at least three uses out of everything you do

Today I'll talk about avoiding time sinks.

Avoid Time Sinks (aka Why All-Clad is better than a Nintendo DS)

Purpose: Free up time

In 2006, I’d gotten a check for my birthday, and was wondering what to spend it on. 


My friend Gene Kim, cofounder of Tripwire and author of The Phoenix Project, suggested I get a handheld gaming device. (This was before smartphones.) 

He promised that it was not only a ton of fun, but that the games were playable in five minute increments. But as I had a full time job and three kids in diapers, I couldn’t even imagine having five minutes.

That’s when it hit me: I couldn’t bring anything into my life that consumed more time. No matter how awesomely great the handheld game console was, I wasn’t going to be able to enjoy it if it required a new investment of time. 

The corollary to this is that I could bring things into my life that either reduced an existing time investment or replaced time spent.

I pondered this for some time, and eventually decided to spend my money on an All-Clad pan. I already spent time cooking. An insanely great pan would improve my quality of life doing something I was already doing. 


Although I don’t have kids in diapers any more, I still think about the stuff and activities I bring into my life, and consider whether they require a time investment, create time savings, or are a one for one replacement. 


Writing, time with my kids and spouse, and my day job all deserve time, and require strategic time decisions and tradeoffs to ensure I have enough time for them.

If you're trying to free up time to take on a new project, you can evaluate the things in your life to see what time investments bring you value and which ones don't.

(Just in case your thinking that deciding on a pan versus videogames has more to do with growing up than with time, I will point out that I did choose to bring videogames back into my life at a later point when I felt that it had a particular value that justified the time spent on it.)
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