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What are you putting up with?

My top ten time management tips

If you saw my recent post on Jane Friedman’s blog, then you’ll know I like to use what’s become known as the Alcoholic’s Prayer as inspiration when setting goals, which is also important for the purposes of this current post. The article on Jane’s site is an extract from the new edition of my book on goal-setting and time management, a sort of ‘try before you buy’ if you like. And I’ve been writing a series of blog posts to accompany the launch of the new edition too.

What I’ve covered so far

Here’s what I’ve covered so far. These pro tips are meant to be cumulative. You can click through them all from the beginning from the first post in the series here.

  1. There’s no such thing as time management.
  2. The Pomodoro Technique
  3. The dangers of context switching when planning
  4. Hofstadter’s law
  5. Mental load
  6. Warren Buffett’s 5/25 rule


“God grant us the serenity to accept the things we cannot change, courage to change the things we can, and wisdom to know the difference.” – Reinhold Niebuhr

I learnt the importance of acceptance from reading Tara Brach‘s book Radical Acceptance. Let me correct a common misunderstanding: acceptance does not mean passivity, putting up with bad behaviour, or refusing to act in a difficult situation. After awareness, often acceptance is the first step in doing something about whatever it is, depending on your circumstances. In fact, awareness and acceptance often feel like two sides of the same coin, or two parts of the same strategy.

I also learnt from Brach that acceptance goes hand-in-hand with gratitude and ‘enoughness’ too. Ironically, all of these things, working together – awareness, acceptance, gratitude, enoughness – have such a powerful effect that they can inspire change in you and in those around you. I’m mentioning this first because awareness, acceptance, gratitude, enoughness feel like the opposite of what I’m suggesting in the rest of this post, but I prefer to think of them as foundational to it. The secret to Reinhold Niebuhr’s advice is that we’re not being invited to do one part, we’re being invited to do all of it!

What are you putting up with?

This next time management technique is one that many of us (me included) don’t do because it doesn’t feel important in the face of busyness or more significant goals or more valuable ways to spend our time. But the outcome of this technique is more powerful than many standard productivity strategies put together. It’s summed up in the title of this blog post, that is: what are you putting up with? 

I’m not talking about big things or really difficult circumstances here. I’m talking about things you never get round to sorting out. This is the second part of the Alcoholic’s Prayer, the ‘courage to change the things I can.’ That change might not (only) mean the big stuff. The big stuff can be obvious. The things you never get round to sorting out can go under the radar for so long that you simply don’t realise you’re putting up with it.

Rucksack anyone?

I imagine you were going hiking and had to take a rucksack full of provisions. It’s heavy, but you’ve packed only what you need. When you put it down after a day’s hiking, you really appreciate the difference between wearing that rucksack and not wearing it! Now imagine that you had added several things that you don’t need on your hike: a few tin cans, a toy duck, a calculator. Taking one of them out might not make a big difference to the overall load. Taking several of them out of the rucksack probably will.

In life we’re carrying around small or small-ish issues of which we’re only partially aware. They’re not only time wasters, they also affect our mental load. What small things are you carrying around in your rucksack of life? Could you sort them out? And can you identify any that you’ve been putting up with for ages, because you’re only partially aware of them?

The uncomfortable pillow and the slow computer

Some of these issues seem small but could have a big impact. You could easily live with an uncomfortable pillow for ages, because it seems like a small issue, and it’s easy to forget about during the day. Sleep is so crucial, though, arguably that uncomfortable pillow is significant when it comes to all of your seemingly more important goals.

Personally, I lived with a slow running computer for years – costing me time and therefore money as well as inconvenience – before discovering that there was a fix. It was only when the computer went seriously wrong that I took it in to be repaired. This ‘crisis’ forced my hand. Sometimes there has to be a crisis of this kind before we’ll take any action because the crisis brings things to a head or brings the issue into our awareness. We can’t ignore it any longer. On the other hand, in our house, simply getting ourselves a pot and lots of pens and hooks to hang our keys on, saves stress every day. The trick is to identify the niggles and bugs in your life and to take some action.


These practical exercises are taken from the new edition of my book on goal setting and time management. While you do these exercises, keep a grateful list. This could include ordinary things that happen during your day, the people in your life you appreciate, or objects / places that you’re grateful for. Keeping the grateful list at the same time stops any tendency to get into a negative spiral and generates positive energy around making small changes.

  1. The niggles list. Write down every niggle in a list: anything that annoys you, interrupts you, frustrates you or prevents you from doing what you want to do, goal-related or otherwise. Spend some time recording these things in a journal.
  2. What bugs you? Keep a bugs diary. In the previous exercise, you wrote a list of small niggles. Do that again but this time carry a small notebook with you all day and note anything at all that bugs you.
  3. The bugs diary, extended. If you want to, include trains of thought in your bugs diary, as this will capture at least some of your mental load. You could also include news items, bad customer service or the way you relate to people and they to you.
  4. Do the niggles exercise again, but this time, focus on basic tools that you use every day, like pens, your keys or your pillow. Jot down anything that comes up for you.
  5. Do a survey of all your stuff, making a note of the things that you use regularly that you really love.
  6. Do the niggles exercise again but this time, focus on your computer and your use of the internet and social media. You could also focus on tools that are specific to your job.
  7. Following the ethos of the Alcoholic’s Prayer, look at your lists and work out how you can de-niggle and de-bug anything in your control. Focus particularly on small steps, or small, specific actions you can take today. (‘Go to X shop on Saturday morning and look at pillows’, rather than ‘buy a new pillow.’)

Some of the niggles and bugs won’t matter any more, some will have become so habitual you’ve forgotten there’s another way to do it. Awareness helps. Some may stand out to such an extent that you can no longer ignore them. How does this help with time management? Fixing these niggles and bugs, or at least some of them, will save you time and help you to focus – or perhaps to get a better night’s sleep.

What have you been putting up with? Let me know in the comments.

More soon. Until then, happy writing,

Lou xx

P.S. In the next post, I talk about applying this technique to your writing.

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