Each Sunday, The Simple Dollar reviews a personal productivity or personal development book.
Cut to the Chase was recommended to me by a friend of a friend, who swore up and down that it was the best book on time management he’d ever read. As a long-time believer in Getting Things Done (and having read a lot of material on time management), I was skeptical.
Cut to the Chase, subtitled and 99 Other Rules to Liberate Yourself and Gain Back the Gift of Time, actually turns out to be a collection of short essays on specific aspects of time management rather than an overall philosophy. As with other books that use the same philosophy, I found that such bite-sized pieces made it very readable (I could read a bit or two before bed, for example) but the book doesn’t present a grand overall philosophy. Instead, it uses the idea that applying lots of little things will produce a big solution.
Does it work? Let’s dig in and find out.
Evaluating Cut to the Chase
Given that this is a collection of 100 short essays, each less than two short pages in length, I’m going to focus on several of the overall themes that the book presents.
The biggest theme in the entire book can be summed up in those two words. Any task that you need to do only gets done if you get started, and if you sit there not getting started, you’re not just delaying the start, you’re delaying the finish as well.
This concept permeates the whole book. Levine looks at a bunch of ways to apply this, from starting earlier each day (and thus going home early, too) to starting on real tasks immediately upon arriving in the workplace.
Brevity is key
In every aspect of what you do, minimize the time spent wasting time. Take charge of meetings and trim that agenda down. Keep your contacts short and clean, but also with all of the needed information so they don’t have to contact you again for more info.
Not only does brevity cut down on the time you have to invest, but it passes along time savings to others, too. When you run a meeting with a brief agenda and get everyone out the door in ten minutes, that saves everyone in the room some time. When you write a brief email with all of the needed information right up front, the person that receives it can get right to work. The whole workplace becomes more efficient when you’re brief and to the point.
Working towards something without any idea of how to finish isn’t very useful because you never know if your task is misdirected or not. Know what your big goals are, your smaller goals, and how your immediate task fits into them. If you can’t answer those questions, take some time to define your goals. What are you really trying to accomplish?
I’ve found that time and time again, if I put forth the effort to really detail what I’m working towards and then define my tasks as being ones that work towards that goal, then I’m almost always more successful than just handling whatever comes along and not worrying about it otherwise.
Toss out the non-essentials
In hand with setting goals, once you define them, you should use those goals as a filter for the tasks that you do. If you have larger goals you’re working towards, focus on the tasks that meet those goals and minimize the tasks that don’t really help with them.
Not only does this help you prioritize things, it also gives you clear explanations for why you make your choices. You can start tossing aside the non-essential tasks and focus on the essentials.
Don’t let the details overrun your life
Of course, there are some non-essential tasks that you have to do. Unfortunately, with the intrusiveness of things like Blackberries and cell phones, it’s easy for these non-essentials to follow you all the time. Don’t let them, seriously. Turn off your cell phone and Blackberry when you’re not on duty and give yourself some time to recharge.
Similarly, try dealing with the other non-essentials in one session during the day. Do all of your emails in one batch, along with all of your paperwork, then close your email program and don’t check the mail again. I’ve been moving to this over time – having one email session a day really cuts down on the amount of busywork and allows me to get more “real” stuff done.
Find time for other things
If you’re going through all of this effort to save time, don’t use it to just work harder on your career. Step back and smell the roses. Work on your personal relationships, and work on improving yourself as well.
Buy or Don’t Buy
Cut to the Chase is one of those books that summarizes most of the “standard” knowlege quite well, but doesn’t provide anything new. If you’ve never read much about time management, this is a good introduction to the topic, especially for people who like their information already broken up into little digestible bits.
For me, though, I still think David Allen’s books are the best one can find when it comes to time management. Getting Things Done is still the standard, but if you prefer your reading broken up into little pieces, Allen’s Ready for Anything is excellent as well. Cut to the Chase is a solid complement to these if you’re not widely read on time management.