Feeling like you are not making good use of your time is a massive source of stress in the world. So it is that I share something today about time management.
I learned the concepts of ‘horizontal time’ and ‘vertical time’ from two main sources.
The first was from my study of trading stocks and foreign exchange, and the other was from a book on time management called ‘How to get everything done and still have time to play’ written by Mark Forster.
I recommend you get it because while I didn’t adopt Mark’s time management system verbatim, I did use a lot of the wisdom to develop and refine the Ultimate Productivity System which I personally use on a daily basis.
As you look at a diary that shows one calendar week, you see Monday (or Sunday) on the far left to signify the beginning of the week, and you see Sunday (or Saturday) at the end of the week.
You then have time of day down the side of the page. If you’re using a computerised diary then you normally have time of day running from midnight at the top, down to the following midnight at the bottom and everything in-between.
Vertical time is when you focus exclusively on one task. So if you where to allocate time in your schedule, it would appear as a big block running from say 9am till 5pm.
We call this vertical time management because it goes up and down the page.
If you block out 8 hours in one day to focus on a task, it appears as a tall, thin rectangle, reminding you that it’s vertical time.
All crises require vertical time. As soon as there’s a crisis, an emergency or something else urgent turns up, it doesn’t matter what you had planned, that crisis suddenly takes over your schedule and you focus all your attention on it.
It doesn’t have to be a crisis though. You can by all means use vertical time intentionally if it works for you.
If I had 30 seconds to sum up how horizontal time works I would have to say ‘little and often’.
If vertical time runs top to bottom on your weekly calendar, then horizontal time must run left to right.
You take a task, say you have to type up 5 pages of notes that you wrote or you have a book that you need to read.
With horizontal time you block out a certain amount of time each day to work on that task. Say in this case you choose a 30 minute block. You could also choose a specific amount of work (say 1 page of notes typed).
So on Monday you make absolutely certain that you invest this 30 minutes to work on typing up your notes, and you have to make it one of your top priorities.
With horizontal time, if you start missing every other day, you’ll likely lose your thread and it will take at least twice as long to complete.
I personally put most horizontal tasks on my priority list so they get done first. I make sure progress is made on the horizontal tasks before moving on to other things.
Horizontal time is brilliant for quadrant 2 tasks. If you don’t know what a quadrant 2 task is then see my other time management articles. In a nut shell quadrant 2 tasks are those that are important but not urgent. The ‘get round to it’ tasks that could be of great benefit to you but that get neglected because they don’t scream for your attention. They are ‘killing me softly’ tasks if you will.
The other key thing of course is not to add too many horizontal tasks to your day. If you are not careful you’ll end up with a diary full of horizontal tasks which may actually work for some people but doesn’t leave room for some one off tasks that might come up.
A calendar full of horizontal tasks means you are facing an identical work day, potentially for several days until one of your horizontal tasks are fully completed.
If you use horizontal time for a more complicated task then it’s good practice to quickly write up a few notes about where you are leaving off and what you did during that session.
I write these little notes as if I were going away on holiday for 6 months and someone else was coming in to cover for me. I write them as if I was going to have no opportunity to speak to them in person before I left.
Now this doesn’t mean you have to explain the task and your whole industry, take it that they understand your business and just limit the notes to that particular task.
This has helped me in numerous ways. Jim Rohn used to say ‘don’t trust your memory’.
The first benefit is that I can literally forget about the task completely until the next day, because I’ve done a memory dump. Those extra few minutes writing a note to myself enriches my next work session and (the second benefit) it gives me an incredible clarity of mind because it’s empty of all that junk out of my head.
When I first came across the idea of horizontal time, the novelty got the better of me and I applied it to everything.
It actually worked really well for a while but like any system or approach there’s a level at which it starts to work, a level at which it works best and then a level at which it can no longer cope. That’s the time to change your approach.
I believe that this is one of the main reasons why people find successful time management so elusive.
To know when to use which starts really with your own personal preferences. Another secret to time management is that you have to align a system with your own nature for it to work as well as it can.
By that I mean if you are like me, certain kinds of tasks are uninteresting, meaning I can only take them for a certain amount of time, then horizontal time works. If I spend 30 minutes a day on a boring task, I don’t get bored immediately, I am willing and productive for a while because I’m using the novelty factor.
Then after 30 minutes when I start to lose my concentration, I know my quality of work will start to drop, I don’t risk it. I put the task down and come back tomorrow for another 30 minutes of super productivity.
I personally feel that it’s far better for me to do that than to push on for another 30 minutes with only 50% concentration. That’s a false economy.
I keep having to say ‘for me’ and ‘personally’ because of the very fact that we all have different natures.
I’ve found one of the biggest keys to success in any area of life is not to try and change who you are at your very core. Yes change your bad habits, yes change your skills, yes grow as a person, but there are some very deeply ingrained strengths and weaknesses that may be too ‘expensive’ to change.
Could we strengthen these deep weaknesses? Yes probably, but who said they were weaknesses?
If we come up with a system that makes those weaknesses irrelevant then we’ve saved an enormous amount of time that we would have otherwise spent working to strengthen that weakness.
Time management is an art form and systems are sometimes only good as guidelines. The systems themselves can’t account for the large number of variables during your day. So you have to get used to using THAT system in THAT environment and tweak it as necessary.
Yes I know you don’t want to have to do that. I don’t either. I want to just buy a time management book or time management system and have it give me the answers. I want a step by step system that I can follow to the letter and then be as productive as I can possibly be.
BUZZZ! Not going to happen. Unfortunately it just doesn’t work that way, and if you fail to accept it then you’re going to hold yourself back.
Horizontal time is one of the main components to my Ultimate Productivity System which I use each morning to plan my day and allocate the available time.