I know a lot of people who have what I call "reactions to distractions". These reactions occur - without thought, intention, or planning - when something happens that causes a project to take longer than planned, strand you in traffic on your way to a meeting, or make you want to kick yourself because you answered the phone just because it rang.
I worked for a long time to identify what I was doing with the 168 hours a week I have at my disposal and why I wasn't getting anything done with that time. Sure, I ate some, slept a little, and appeared at work. What I wasn't able to do was accomplish anything. What I realized was the lack of accomplishment was a result of allowing others (people, things, and circumstances) to control what I did. I allowed others to put things on my agenda that caused me to have "reactions to distractions." Looking back I think they were doing it as a form of entertainment.
Little did they realize the challenges I spent years tripping over were catalysts to my higher learning. I picked up some great strategies for managing my work, my reactions to work, and eventually carved out time to do it "My Way."
Gurus of yesteryear have made way for the likes of Tim Ferris. I just read a great post from Tim's blog (www.fourhourworkweek.com/blog):
Time without attention is worthless, so value attention over time.
Here are a few questions that can help you put on the productivity blinders and put things in perspective. Even when you’re not traveling the world, develop the habit of letting small bad things happen. If you don’t, you’ll never find time for the life-changing big things, whether important tasks or true peak experiences. If you do force the time but puncture it with distractions, you won’t have the attention to appreciate it.
-What is the one goal, if completed, that could change everything?
-Can you let the urgent "fail" — even for a day — to get to the next milestone with your potential lifechanging tasks?
-What is the most urgent thing right now that you feel you "must" or "should" do?
-What’s been on your “to-do” list the longest? Start it first thing in the morning and don’t allow interruptions or lunch until you finish.
Will “bad” things happen? Small problems will crop up, yes. A few people will complain and quickly get over it. BUT, the bigger picture items you complete will let you see these for what they are–minutiae and repairable hiccups. Make this trade a habit.
I'm sure these ideas seem mundane and familiar. Stephen Covey, David Allen, even Ken Blanchard have contributed volumes on the subject. Tim takes all of that and moves it into the 21st century. Cliche? Not really. Today's technology has wrapped itself around us like chains - binding and constraining us. Why? Because we don't know how to use it.
A little old-school plus a little techno-understanding and you've got a powerful system for managing the events and expectations of your time. To begin with, there's nothing like a 40 hour work-week becoming just that so you can enjoy the remaining 128. From there the possibilities are endless.