Get What You Want, Part 1—Are We Being Busy or Fruitful?

Image via Flikr Creative Commons, courtesy of elaueverose.

Image via Flikr Creative Commons, courtesy of elaueverose.

We live in a society that feeds us a lot of lies. The biggest one is about TIME. Oh, if I only had more time, then I could (fill in the blank). The truth is we are all given the same amount of time—24 hours a day. Of course the next big lie that’s easy to believe (and I’ve been guilty) is Well, if I only work HARDER, that will get me where I want to be.

That’s crap.

More time doesn’t equal MORE AWESOME.

Thus, today we’re going to look at some of the lies and time-stealers and ways to be masters of time, not slaves to it. We need to be vigilant and proactive so we don’t fall into Hamster Wheel Management. We’re called to be fruitful NOT busy.

Original image via Dan Derritt Flikr Creative Commons

Original image via Dan Derritt Flikr Creative Commons

We Can’t Find Time, We Can Only SPEND Time

One of the most common phrases in the English language? “If I could only find the time…”

Okay, sorry to break the news but time isn’t hidden in the couch cushions like loose change, Cheerios and that remote control we haven’t seen in a month. We can’t find time. We’re given time. How we spend it’s our choice.

Via Flikr Creative commons, courtesy of Tax Credits.

Via Flikr Creative commons, courtesy of Tax Credits.

Write a Clear Mission Statement of What We WANT

Feel free to have multiple mission statements: Faith/Spiritual, Family, Health, Finances, Work (Writing). For templates of how to do this, I recommend Habits of Highly Effective People.

Mission statements are a lot like the log-lines for our novels. No log-line for a novel—ONE sentence that clearly states what our book is ABOUT? Easy to drift off down a bazillion rabbit-trails because every wild idea that pops in our brain seems worth giving a try. In the end, we’re more likely to end up with a mess than a masterpiece.

Same in life.

Without a clear picture of what we want, it’s impossible to spot the time-wasters versus the sound investments.

Make at Least TWO Lists

We’ve talked before about the Pareto Principle, also known as The 80/20 rule. Twenty percent of all our decisions will have 80% of the most return. This is a fairly universal rule. If you have employees, 20% will produce 80% of the output. If you run a volunteer organization, 20% will do 80% of the work.

Conversely, 20% of employees (customers, friends, volunteers, family members) can create 80% of our headaches. Limit time with psychic vampires and focus more on spending time with those who add value. Even being alone is better than leaking 80% of our time on stressful, counterproductive people/activities.

With the 80/20 Rule in mind…

List #1—The Boulders

The boulders are the BIG stuff. These are the actions that will make 80% of positive impact. Being a career author (need a finished novel). Becoming debt-free (need a budget). Possessing a healthy spirit, family, mind, and body (need boundaries and rest).

With a clear action plan, anything that gets in the way of these big goals can be easily spotted, rerouted or removed. No plan? We are reactive, wasteful and spend most of our time treading water.

No item on the BIG LIST can be done in one day, but we can write out steps that get us closer to that BIG goal every day. Remember, small actions over time add up. Those steps to our BIG GOAL are what we tackle FIRST.

Every day, I have a list of 2-6 BIG things that need doing, often stuff I dread. But the day isn’t complete until these items are knocked out (so many pages of research, writing so many words, writing a critical e-mail, creating a spreadsheet, etc).

In the meantime…

List #2—The Pebbles

The BIG LIST are boulders. They will take steady chipping away over time. Between time? Pebbles are easy. Too many people focus all their time on pebbles—which NEVER go away—at the expense of a few whacks on the boulder. Or they focus all on the boulder, then wear themselves out and become overwhelmed and discouraged because they’re buried in ignored pebbles.

Or they ignore/avoid the boulders AND the pebbles with useless activities that will never bear fruit.

Pebbles are small, worthwhile tasks that take less than 20 minutes to complete (most about 5).

Every day, when my main blog is finished, I call my mother and close friends. I believe in healthy relationships. But, while on the phone, I tackle a bucket of pebbles (stuff on my #2 List).

I sort laundry (5 minutes), empty the dishwasher (5 minutes), put a chicken in the crock pot for dinner (15 minutes), tidy the silverware drawer (5 minutes), sweep (5 minutes), or wipe down a counter or two (5 minutes), and have great company while I work.

If I have to pay a bill and they put me on hold? I read research, fill the cat bowl, or jot down ideas for blogs.

5 minutes a day reclaimed ADDS 30 hours a year

10 minutes a day reclaimed ADDS 60 hours a year

15 minutes a day reclaimed ADDS 90 hours a year

30 minutes a day reclaimed ADDS 120 hours a year

60 minutes a day reclaimed ADDS 340 hours a year

It’s easy to waste an hour a day 5 minutes at a time. Take those minutes back, and we can add 31.6 eight-hour workdays to our lives (Via The Art of Getting It DONE). And all this time we wondered where our vacation time went? 😉 It’s leaking away unless we are proactive at plugging holes.

I’m not here to make you guys multi-tasking robots. I’m here to help you invest in the future you want.

Time with family, naps, relaxation, downtime, vacations and rest are essential for genuine success (the kind that doesn’t have us living off energy drinks, Xanax and screaming at the kids). If we’re conscious to be fruitful instead of busy, we’ll find we accomplish far more with less effort.

Focus increases confidence, offers a sense of authentic accomplishment and relieves anxiety. Focus will also free up time for more fun stuff (and more writing). Activity can be diffused like white light, or it can be a laser (which is MUCH of what I teach in my new book).

Do you feel eaten alive by your life? Is your To Do List a Frankenstein monster wrecking your life? Do you feel discouraged and overwhelmed? Have you learned to prioritize and set boundaries? What are some tips that have helped you regain control?

I love hearing from you!


Winner of 20 page edit. Troy Lambert. Please send your 5000 word Word Document to kristen at wana intl dot com.

Since it was such a HUGE success and attendees loved it, I am rerunning the Your First Five Pages class SATURDAY EDITION. Use the WANA15 code for 15% off. Yes, editors REALLY can tell everything they need to know about your book in five pages or less. Here’s a peek into what we see and how to fix it. Not only will this information repair your first pages, it can help you understand deeper flaws in the rest of your manuscript.

My new social media book, Rise of the Machines–Human Authors in a Digital World is NOW AVAILABLE. Only $6.99.

WANACon, the writing conference of the future is COMING! We start with PajamaCon the evening of October 3rd and then October 4th and 5th we have some of the biggest names in publishing coming RIGHT TO YOU–including the LEGEND Les Edgerton. 

If you REGISTER NOW, you get PajamaCon and BOTH DAYS OF THE CONFERENCE (and all recordings) for $119 (regularly $149). Sign up today, because this special won’t last and seats are limited. REGISTER HERE.


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  1. I was just thinking about this and trying to figure out WHERE to spend my time. With motherhood, wifehood, writing, etc, where is my time best spent? Reading blogs? Tweeting, Pinning, Blogging? Love this blog (time well spent here) More to think about and put into action. Thank you Kristen.

  2. Great post, Kristen! I use a similar method myself. I have my annual goals which I break down into tasks by month. I review those monthly tasks every two weeks to make sure I’m on track.

    If have a tendancy to take on more things than I should which leaves me feeling overwelmed and overworked. Taking a step back and reviewing my annual goals helps me gain perspective along with asking the question, “What is the most important thing that has to be done?” Nine times out of ten I can eliminate or reschedule the mountain of tasks on my list to 3-5 things daily.

  3. I definitely want to be more fruitful. thanks for the reminder that busy does not equal fruitful. also, i have a kobo reader. book in that format? pretty please?

  4. I’ve written two similar posts on my own blog. I used to–before having the baby–get this “I wish I had more time to do stuff like that” from other people when I’d state that I was working on the novel, or the blog, or even taking a hike with the husband. So I wrote the blog article about how having more time is just a waste of time! Everyone said “well, wait until you have kids.” So when I had the baby, I had to write another article, a part two, expressing how I still do all of those things and how I’ve adapted my life to my new little bundle of awesome. Still, it’s refreshing to read this and know I’m not alone in putting my time together in a useful way.

    1. Thanks for this comment! I haven’t had kids yet (but want to down the road) and I’m tired of hearing all the doom and gloom about how being a parent doesn’t allow you much for for anything else. It’s nice to hear an encouraging point of view once in awhile!

      1. Oh it’s awesome being a mom! It seemed like everyone was always trying to turn me away from it, that I wouldn’t have any time for myself afterward and such. Truth is, you have to find time for yourself or you go insane! My inspiration has also changed as well! I was writing novels, and now I’m writing motherhood poetry and romance short stories. She inspires me to be a better person. An actress–can’t remember who–said that the greatest thing we can do for our children is follow our dreams. We need to show our children that dreams CAN come true, so that they will want to follow their own.

  5. You’ve done it again. Thank you for the sound advice!

  6. I think it’s easy to say “find time” because it always feels so easy to lose it during the day. lol

  7. So, so, SO glad I get your posts, Kristen. This one is very timely for me! I am inspired to try anew to spend my writing time wisely – now that I know where it’s hidden! Just kidding. I agree that it isn’t something hidden – it is the hours in the day that I get to plan for and spend on fruitful time in front of the keyboard. Thanks so much, as always.

  8. Thanks, Kristen, for the timely organization reminders. Perfect for me today. Also – will WANA be running that Saturday first five pages seminar on a regular basis? It’s not in my budget this month, and probably not next month, either.

    Appreciate it, you, and everything you bring to us!

  9. I’m happy I stumbled across this today. Bookmarking and hopeful of making my life much more efficient. Thanks.

  10. I love your idea of boulders and pebbles. I spend far too much of my time on pebbles while the boulders sit there, glaring at me. Thank you for the kick in the pants!

  11. So true.

  12. Your post today dovetails with mine. 😀 I just posted about how talent doesn’t equal ticket and that you have to work at it, it doesn’t just happen. I love your tips here on how to use time wisely. As I read, I realized I still needed to do a load of laundry. So on my way to the washer, I stopped to do some Tree Fu Tom moves with my 3 year old. After laundry was in I did some more moves with him while on my way to empty the dishwasher. Haha!

    If we think we don’t have time now, with all our ‘time-saving’ gadgets, we’d be in for a shock if we were suddenly plunged into 1800’s life… 😉

  13. Excellent advice. Thank you so much. I needed this today. 🙂

  14. Wonderful advice. I was having trouble with the balancing act of getting my daily writing done and not burning out too quickly. Your break down of how 5 minutes can turn into 30 hours a year was a great perspective changer.

  15. Reblogged this on Lori King Books and commented:
    Another fantastic post. I need to reread this one every now and then to refocus. I have read 7 Habits of Highly Effective People and I second her recommendation. Some of the tips in it might just change your life!

  16. What a great post, as always, Kristen!

    It’s ironic, isn’t it, that the more “time-saving” gadgets we have, the more time we spend fiddling with them (and sometimes getting frustrated by them!). And ditto for social media … a wonderful way to maintain outreach, but an awful time zapper if we let it be.

    We really do have to be smart with how we manage our time if we want to meet our goals (daily, weekly, monthly)—especially with all the distractions we have in our digitally based world. For me, it’s about writing everything down (and yes, I still love writing with a pencil in a planner in lieu of a digital calendar) and prioritizing those tasks daily. It’s also key to set aside only so much time for social media; otherwise, it can gobble you up! And a good night’s sleep is a MUST! Not to mention time for ourselves in the form of meditation, exercise, or a bubble bath … whatever works for you. 🙂

    I love how you describe boulders vs. pebbles … what a great way to visualize your priorities! Thanks so much for another heaping spoonful of excellent guidance!

  17. What a terrific idea, I love posts about personal organization. There is a great book out there called the “Four Hour Workweek” that helped me to understand the 80/20 rule, a recommended read.

  18. Reblogged this on Cynthia Stacey and commented:
    I wonder everyday where all the time goes? Awesome post by Author Kristen Lamb.

  19. Great post Kristen! There are many days I feel my time is mismanaged! Maybe we can build a time machine!

  20. If only we could find time in the sofa cushions…. I sometimes get stuck in a loop of checking emails (too many addresses) then FB, then jump from my blog to linked sites. One author I know sets a timer for ten minutes every hour, and when it’s up, he’s off social networking. A good method, he says.

  21. I think multi-tasking while on the phone makes great sense, but a warning from one who learned the hard way — don’t do anything CRITICAL while you’re on the phone! Just last week, I tried to make a quick back-up copy of a writing file while I was talking to my sister and copied the wrong way (old file over new). After about half an hour of trying to recover the lost file and a talk with my tech savvy BIL, I had to admit defeat, and re-write the 2000+ words I’d just written. Not my best day.

    I love how the minutes can add up over the year, so I will definitely keep doing dishes and laundry on the phone, but no more backing-up files while on the phone for me! (Since then, I’ve been making back-ups daily, while doing absolutely nothing else. She can be taught!)

  22. ‘5 minutes a day reclaimed ADDS 30 hours a year
    10 minutes a day reclaimed ADDS 60 hours a year
    15 minutes a day reclaimed ADDS 90 hours a year
    30 minutes a day reclaimed ADDS 120 hours a year
    60 minutes a day reclaimed ADDS 340 hours a year’
    This bit punched me in the face (spot the accountant) – I’m definitely feeling a bit overwhelmed at the moment and important pebbles are slipping through the cracks while I try and chip away at the boulders. Your post is a welcome reminder that I need to sit down and make an efficient plan of attack rather than panic. Thanks!

  23. I think poor time management and lack of long-term strategies are the major reasons why people fail to achieve their goals. Being a world-class procrastinator myself, I know how difficult it is to fight laziness, but developing self-descipline is easier for me if I constantly re-ignite my passion, enthusiasm, remind myself why I want it. I like to free time for reading, cinema and other leisure activities, so it motivates me to become more and more productive. Work smart not hard 🙂

  24. This is an amazing tool. I wish i would have had this years ago. However, I have learned most of this through trial and error and failing many times before i succeed. But all the same, a great helper for those that havent’ thought of trying this yet.

  25. Awesome stuff, Kristen! Another book that has helped me so much is Boundaries by Drs. Cloud & Townsend.

  26. Thanks for the reminder, putting things into better perspective and the point that 5 wasted minutes a day equals 30 hours per year…

  27. Reblogged this on Laurie Boris, Freelance Writer and commented:
    I really resonated with Kristen Lamb’s blog today. It made me think about how I’m using my time and ways I can be more efficient.

  28. You truly are an inspiration. I’ve been letting so many things come between myself and my writing and I’ve decided that the time has come to claim back that part of my life. Thank you for this – it really helped!

  29. I don’t understand how sticky notes help me out so much, but they do. If I type up or write up a sticky note about what I NEED to get done, and then what I WANT to attempt to get done, I actually get done what I need to.
    When I don’t write it down/type it up? The many thoughts of what I should be doing float around in my head like dust bunnies and run from my attempts to mentally arrange them.
    So, yep – I stick to sticky notes. And the clock. Most of the time. If I take too long on something, my dog normally licks me away from the computer, so its all good regardless.
    But when I don’t pay attention to how long I take and what I’m doing (and if its important or not) I end up getting nothing done. Bleh.

    1. I LOVE the timer function on my iPhone.

    • malindalou on September 9, 2013 at 9:27 pm
    • Reply

    Unless you know what is important, it’s impossible to know what isn’t. I LOVE that!! So simple and yet so profound.

  30. Great post, thank you. My big Boulders include my WIP, my blog, my course and keeping my home fire-proof[ish]. Cooking, cleaning, shopping, washing, paying bills blah blah are my pebbles. The one constant in my life is that family comes first. That’s not a Boulder, its the ground beneath my feet. I’ve learned to prioritize to an extent but probably not as much as I should. 🙁

  31. Great post that was inspiring and useful. Most who are busy looking for more time are busy wasting what they have when they should focus on better managing the time available. This was a timely post, for I’m making substantial changes in my life and better managing my time is a part of those changes.

    • Dan on September 10, 2013 at 6:06 am
    • Reply

    Boy are you right! It’s only because of you that I can fight through working a full schedule and (almost now) completing what I hope is at least a “good” medical mystery. Fighting through the psychological is the biggest impediment if you have even a modicum of talent. Thank you.

  32. Nice post Kristen. It’s so true. My favorite includes people who say they have no time to exercise, yet if they didn’t look at facebook for 30 min. a day looking at dumb stuff. Or didn’t take a 20 minute shower. Or didn’t sit on the toilet reading for 20 minutes (that would be everyone’s husband….), they could get a 20 minute workout in. Or a walk to see a little nature. Or something that could help clear their brains a little better to make them better doing what they do….Anyway, I’m super-guilty of this. I sometimes think wow, I could actually write something in the time I spend reading other people’s blogs. But, I like reading blogs! It’s a choice. There are tradeoffs. We need to manage it. Love the way you sum it all up though, you can clearly see how much time adds up.

    1. Blogs and Facebook can be time well spent. If we are on Facebook playing Candy Crush? Um, no. If we are building relationships? AWESOME. But doesn’t take as much time as people believe. I pop in randomly through the day when I just want to sit for a minute. I hop on Facebook after making a certain word count. It’s all in being deliberate :D.

  33. Great job breaking it down.
    I love the math on what just 5 minutes can add to your year!
    Thanks 🙂

  34. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again,…you ,my dear, are simply brilliant!

  35. Holy moly! Guilty! Your breakdown really hit home with me. I’m guilty of taking “little breaks” and getting on Facebook and other completely unproductive media. To see how this adds up and actually takes away from my real goals, UGH! Thank you, I think.

    1. Facebook doesn’t have to be unproductive ;). Building a platform, network, creating relationships is vital. But it doesn’t take as much time as people believe :D.

  36. Wonderful advice, I think I’m going to tweak my cozi to-do list so I have my pebbles in one and my boulders in another. Boulders must get done- pebbles will get done, but yes keep adding up 🙂

  37. Loved this.

  38. I really needed this: “We Can’t Find Time, We Can Only SPEND Time”

    Now to reclaim some time–and finish my class assignment for you (almost there). 😀

  39. Boulders and pebbles – much less icky than Eat That Frog.
    I know the idea is that if you eat a live frog, you can rest easy that the worst thing today has already happened, but I always figured if you don’t eat it, you have successfully avoided what would have been the worst thing in your day. Win!
    Spot the expert procrastinator…

    • Alan Mintz on September 18, 2013 at 1:08 pm
    • Reply

    This reminded me of you and our plight to be efficient at trying to maximize our potential effectively and efficiently. From Artisans to Mastery, practice hard work at play. And the band plays on…

  40. I’ve recently started making weekly lists on my blog about what I want to achieve. It has only been about my month, but since doing it, productivity has rocketed. You’re right; having a clear idea of what I want is key to actually getting there. Once I knew that much, getting stuff done has been much simpler. 🙂

    • joeicarus on October 6, 2013 at 5:41 pm
    • Reply

    This was a message I needed to hear today; thanks for writing it!

  1. […] Get What You Want, Part 1—Are We Being Busy or Fruitful?. […]

  2. […] Get What You Want, Part 1 – Are We Being Busy or Fruitful? […]

  3. […] Get What You Want, Part 1—Are We Being Busy or Fruitful? | Kristen Lamb’s Blog […]

  4. […] Part One, we explored the notion of being busy versus fruitful. I also shared a neat, yet scary bit of math. We can miss out on a lot of great stuff because of […]

  5. […] Kristin Lamb asks:  Are we  being busy or fruitful? […]

  6. […] changing up my motives, my direction, what I am putting as priority and why. I recently saw an article from a great author that I follow about being fruitful vs. just doing busy work. I have taken much […]

  7. […] changing up my motives, my direction, what I am putting as priority and why. I recently saw an article from a great author that I follow about being fruitful vs. just doing busy work. I have taken […]

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