7 Ways to Beat the Clock

I wish I had more time. Don’t we all? After years of filling my To-Do list with a hose and emptying it with an eyedropper, I finally hit on the secret to getting more done: How to Have a 48 Hour Day by Don Aslett.

Believe it or not, the book’s contents deliver the miracle promised on its cover. Aslett opens with several pages on the benefits of doing more with your time.  I’ll assume you are already persuaded, and dive right in.

#1 De-Clutter

Remove the debris from your life. Useless, ugly, broken things slow you down. They get in your way when you are searching for something you need.

In my case, I live with plenty of stuff I could do without, but the clutter hampering me the most lurked in my To-Do list itself. I had a tag-based system with over 800 items pending—not necessarily a bad thing, according to Don Aslett.

The problem was the clutter choking the goals and dreams I had painstakingly recorded: those To-Do items I no longer (or hadn’t ever) wanted to do.

I let them go: the email I was still waiting to answer even though I had met a dozen times since then with the friend who sent it, the book recommendation that no longer interested me, the little tidying chore I had lived without, the projects I had no desire to pursue.

If I cut out the dry brush, I reasoned, the forest could grow in its place.

#2 Do One Thing at a Time

I had heard this advice repeatedly in one form or another: “Multi-Tasking is a Myth” articles, for instance, and from a professor advising his freshmen:

“If you choose to write the paper, then write it. If you choose to stay up late with friends, then do that—but do not stay up late while worrying about the paper, or write while wishing for your friends. Wherever you are, be there.”

A friend from college seconded that approach: “I finish my work, and then I hang out. I never try to study ‘with friends.’ That accomplishes neither purpose.”

In my experience, the maxim “Do one thing at a time” should guide even the activities I pursue within time designated for “study” or “play.”

In the case of leisure time, surfing the web while watching a baseball game with my brother saps the enjoyment of both (that is, of both my brother and me, because my divided attention fuels squabbles).

When working, I often fall into the trap of answering three emails simultaneously while checking the news and uploading photographs. Instead of amplifying my productivity, it frazzles me. At the end of your work time, which would you rather have: five things partly done or three things finished?

But you can forget about doing one thing at a time, unless you also train yourself to…

#3 Avoid Interruptions

Sometimes deflecting an interrupter demands no more than a simple, “I’m busy, I’ll get back to you later.”

For the tenacious interrupter, give them a job to do. It surprised me how effectively this tactic deters intruders.

#4 Sail a Large Fleet

In any given day, I have a dozen little jobs to complete, plus four or five ongoing projects I would like to advance. To my great relief, Don Aslett not only accommodates but encourages the oversized To-Do list.

Why? With a flock of tasks available, I can choose whichever suits the circumstances best.

You know those times when you lose enthusiasm for what you’re working on. You just don’t feel like it. At moments like these, a large fleet allows you to jump ship.

Yes, abandon the project for the time being, but don’t surrender to the enticements of social media in a vain effort to rekindle lost energy. “When I have writer’s block,” Don Aslett offers, “I work on a different book.”

This trick of redirecting focus brings to mind my mother’s approach to stubborn dogs: When they refuse to move forward, she walks them in a circle.

Admirals with a large fleet can also take advantage of spare time. Delays, waiting rooms, and downtime between events all lend themselves to quick, portable projects, if I have the vessel ready.

#5 Frontlog

Most of us have work backlogged: piled up pursuits overdue for polishing off. The productive person keeps a “frontlog,” a mental list of docked projects.

I may be typing away at the office, but in the back of my mind, I am ready to start drafting a blog post as soon as I hit my lunch break. Frontlogging cuts time wasted on transitioning.

I experienced the magic of frontlogging on the way home from church last week. Cruising down the road, I asked, “What will we have for lunch today?”

I had the menu finalized before I hit the driveway and lunch tucked away half an hour later. Always knowing what’s next maintains momentum.

#6 Negativity Wastes Energy

“Don’t cry over spilled milk.” “Keep the peace.” These trite maxims take on new significance in 48 Hour Day.

There are countless reasons to get along with friends, family, neighbors, coworkers, and even cashiers, but Aslett piles on another incentive: It will save you time.

For avoiding arguments, my father taught me this gem: “If you say something, and he objects, don’t answer back the third time.”

This strategy applies to not only interpersonal conflict but internal negativity: worry, anxiety, stress, pessimism, and protectionism.

Speaking as an introvert, I have noticed that I could sustain hours of busy-ness far better if I refrained from telling myself, ‘I am so tired. I don’t want to go out again after dinner. I can’t do this.’

I felt less exhausted physically just by changing my mindset to: ‘This is what I am doing today, and all will be well.’

#7 Be Early

I used to dislike arriving early because I felt like I was wasting time by showing up before things started. 48 Hour Day set me straight: Now I would rather spend 10 minutes in the car, finishing a library book while waiting for the building to open, then dawdle 10 minutes more in the house and show up to a line.

“If you’re on time,” as they say in the Army, “you’re late.” Here’s the clincher Don Aslett offers frequently to overcome the reader’s objections: Do you know any high producers who make a habit of arriving late? Don’t make excuses—get there early.


Why are these methods successful? No offense to Don Aslett, but he didn’t concoct the secret formula that has eluded magazines, motivational speakers, and self-help books for decades. He highlights a smorgasbord of useful tips and strategies, including many I had not the space to address here, but there is nothing new under the sun.

The advice in 48-Hour Day works because it boils down to discipline—not the beat-your-head-on-a-wall-until-you-can’t-feel-it discipline, but an intelligent, prudent, well-ordered habit of discipline. Consider these 7 methods stepping stones to cultivating self-government, or focusing on the one variable in life we can all account for: ourselves.

Author: Kittie Helmick

Kittie Helmick studied Comparative Literature and Critical Translation at the University of Oxford, after serving with the Peace Corps in South Africa. Her desire to speak truth in grace led her to found Salt and Iron: Seasoned Writing and its predecessor GoodTrueBeautiful. She has also published critiques of pop culture on The Critic, The Federalist, and Patheos.

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