Stop Stacking Time + Substitute It Instead!
Have you ever found a random $100 in your pocket or bank account, and got SO excited about how you would spend the money?
If you’re like most people, brainstorming what to do with it is half the fun. Maybe you’ll use it to go to fancy restaurant, buy a shirt you had your eye on (that was too expensive), sign up for a membership/course you wanted to buy, etc.
This is called “earmarking” – we mentally decide what we’ll spend the money on, except something happens in this process. A lot of us accidentally earmark the same $100 for multiple things…especially if the $100 isn’t tangibly in our hands, just in our bank accounts.
If you observe yourself in the area of finances, you might notice this subconscious behavior. Since we thought it, our minds think it done.
Hold this analogy in your head as we walk through one of the biggest time management problems I see, especially with entrepreneurs who don’t have a boss to answer to.
If you use the Paper Whiteboard, you might have a long to-do list or brain dump of stuff to get done. And if you’re practicing the art of Sacred Time, you also have dedicated times set aside to get certain tasks done (the ones qualified for that time slot).
But what happens if all this just stays in your head and doesn’t visually get “earmarked”?
You fall victim to TIME + TASK stacking.
What Is Time +Task Stacking?
Time + Task Stacking is a phrase I came up with for people who have a mental plan for how they will spend their week, but don’t actually physically earmark it, and therefore stack way too many tasks on the allotted time they have. What inevitably happens is that unexpected things come up, and because they have no visual representation of what that looks like in a schedule, they say things like, “Yeah I can fit that in….” or “I’m sure I’ll find a spot later in the week to do it…” or “Just give it to me and I’ll figure it out…”.
- Have you ever had what you thought was a big wide open week to get stuff done, and then magically meetings and phone calls suck it all up?
- Are you the kind of person who frequently doesn’t get your important work done because of hair on fire issues?
- Do you try to cram in way more than is humanly possible because you’re trying to alter the laws of time and space?
You’re probably time + task stacking.
It’s the process of “stacking” more and more and more on your plate for the week because it appears like there’s so much time later to do it, when it’s really already earmarked for other things.
How To Switch From Stacking To Substitution
I learned how to do this well with finances, which is where I made the connection that we can do it with time too!
Back in my early days, I struggled with spending outside my budget. In order to gain control of my debt, I started using the envelope system with Dave Ramsey. All of a sudden, I had a visual representation of how much I was saving for things like haircuts and clothes and entertainment.
I’d take my envelopes with me to the mall, and if I saw a shirt or pair of shoes I REALLY wanted, I had to grab my envelopes and physically pull the money out of the right category. If my clothing envelope was empty, I had to use an envelope for something like entertainment or food.
All of a sudden I could clearly see what I was substituting. I would take the $50 from entertainment to get the shoes, and my brain registered that I was substituting weekly movie night for shoes.
What happened is it created a clear way for me to weigh how important the shoes were. Instead of a vague “are these shoes worth $50?” I now thought, “Are these shoes worth missing weekly date night with my husband?”
That’s a TON more powerful. I successfully got out of debt using this method.
Most of us are in massive time debt. Because we aren’t using specific substitution style questions for our time, we stack more and more and don’t really understand the value of our MOST precious resource.
If you have a free afternoon (let’s say 2 hours), and there’s nothing earmarked on it…you might stack the tasks of working out, calling a friend, writing a blog post, and who knows what else in that time block. And even if you could get all that done in two hours, when your mother-in-law calls you and asks to come over and there’s nothing REALLY stopping you from saying yes (like a doctor’s appointment let’s say), you stack that inside the two hours on top of it.
Let’s stop shall we?
The Process For Time Substitution
This is super simple and easy to do. It requires you to set aside an hour or so on Sunday evenings before the week gets started.
- Get out your paper whiteboard and write down ALL the things you have to get done in the week. EVERYTHING. Personal, business, etc.
- Open up a Google calendar and create a Time Substitution calendar (it can overlay over your regular calendar if you want). You can also just use it as your main calendar.
- You’re going to drag colored blocks for EVERYTHING on your paper whiteboard. Do the best you can to estimate the time it’ll take.
- I want you to include things like getting dressed, working out, admin work, buffer time, and all the time suck type stuff that we forget about.
- Make sure you color code your sacred time a different color than the regular meetings/admin style work.
- After you’ve done that, you might see some open blocks. If so, drag a block around them and label them a third color. This way, you know what open blocks are still available and can be used for last minute things or overflow (if you estimated incorrectly).
Here’s a sample week.
Notice I’m including wake up time, voxer time, meal time, and other things that most people don’t calendar in. I’m not using this calendar so much for reminders as I am trying to realistically make sure I’m not time + task stacking and earmarking time inappropriately.
The Inevitable Unexpected’s
It’s impossible to plan your whole week perfectly. It’ll never happen, so just remove that expectation. In fact, last week my Monday morning Sacred Time tasks got completely derailed because of an issue in the One Funnel Away Challenge. I lost all that time putting out a fire.
So once that was done, I looked at what I missed, and quickly moved the block around and leveraged some of my free time still available.
By Wednesday, all my yellow free blocks were full. And by Thursday, there were unexpecteds that came up and there was now NO MORE time to just put stuff.
Entire TIME SUBSTITUTION.
In order to say yes to something new that I wasn’t expecting, I had to say no to something that was planned. You will see how much easier it to make a decision when you’re measuring specifics tasks against each other, instead of this vague intangible “can I fit it in” mentality.
As this becomes a part of your weekly habits, you’ll notice that you’re checking your calendar more frequently to see if you’re on track. It’ll get easier to estimate tasks, rearrange things, and draw boundaries because everything is visually measured.
Sometimes I have to move things to the following week because the unexpecteds are really important and there’s no time available left. The good news is that when I move it to another week, I don’t worry that I will forget or lose track. It never says off my radar completely, which helps with procrastination.
Start this on Sunday nights and use the super easy Google calendar to move things around as your week unfolds. Since you can have unlimited calendars, you can use a separate calendar from your main one and overlay it.
Don’t be surprised if the first couple weeks are a cluster. It takes practice to get it right, but once you do, you’ll wonder how you ever visually measured time before!
One last reminder: TIME is our MOST precious resource. It’s FAR FAR more valuable than money. It’s irreplaceable. You should be protecting your time with 10x more vigilance than you money.
P.S. Are you liking the productivity posts? There are MORE of them! Check out The Paper Whiteboard, Sacred Time, and The Art of Refocus for additional tips and strategies.
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Love this. I am a HUGE advocate for putting things in writing. Really like how you break this down for us. Starting it today!
Love this stacking idea! Thank you so much for sharing it. I am going to stack today!!!
Totally Love this…Thanks for sharing!!!
I absolutely love your emails! I get hundreds of self-proclaimed useful or important emails and yours are really the only ones that provide REAL value. Even as you explain it, I don’t understand how you do it all but I’m so glad you take the time for us, your readers. Thank you for everything you do Julie!
This was extremely helpful advice. I used the post to set up my calendar and I’m excited about trying it out this week. Thanks!
LOVE LOVE LOVE this!! Thanks Julie!
Thank you, Julie. I’ve never used Google Calendar but I’m intrigued enough to give it a try.
Hi! This is totally hits the stop for me! I have been trying to figure out how to better manage my time because I can’t seem to finish all the tasks I have set out to do! I always get distracted by something shiny or take longer than expected
Definitely going to try this out! Thanks for sharing!