altHow to Have a 48-Hour Day by Don Aslett (Marsh Creek Press, 1996)

I've always found Don Aslett's books inspiring, and I first read and reviewed this one over ten years ago.  This week I decided it was about time for a re-read, especially since I was looking for something quick, easy, and not too mentally challenging.

I found it more challenging this time than last.  Not mentally, but emotionally.  I didn't really want to hear, "Just suck it up and work harder," which is how the message struck me this time.  I found it less inspiring than discouraging, and thus easier to quarrel with some of his premises and logic.  On the other hand, I recognize that there's still a lot of wisdom in the book, so instead of picking it apart, I'll reproduce my original review:

“If you want to get something done, ask a busy person.” How to Have a 48–Hour Day explains why this saying is true. If you’re looking for a book that suggests you can accomplish more by doing less, you will be disappointed: This is like one of those tiresome diet books that tell you the only way to lose weight is to eat less and exercise more.

As he does in many of his other books, Aslett tells us things that we already know, but in such a way that we believe them. He provides no great revelation, no fancy organizational system. Instead, he dresses up wisdom in an entertaining, inspirational package. A few of his suggestions—such as cutting back on sleep—go too far, but most represent sound, common sense.

  • It’s good, not bad, to be productive. People who get things done generally find that success, happiness, confidence, respect, motivation, options, influence, and security follow.
  • The measure of productivity is not how hard you work, nor how busy you are, but what you actually accomplish.
  • To do more, first do less. Get rid of unnecessary and unhelpful possessions, activities, relationships, habits, distractions, interruptions, and worries that clutter your life and divert your time and attention from what is important.
  • Determine your direction. From ethical values to career goals to family relationships, knowing where you are going makes it possible to set priorities and think clearly when you come to a crossroads.
  • Realize that you are going to have to learn to work within the time you have. Finding a large block of time in which you can catch up is about as likely as getting out of debt by winning the lottery.
  • BE EARLY. This is his most important point. Work ahead, not behind. Keep a “frontlog”—a list of things to do ahead—rather than a backlog. Being early eliminates deadline stress, allows for more options, and reduces the chance that you will be derailed by unexpected problems.
  • Keep many irons in the fire; be working on a variety of projects simultaneously. As long as you’re working well on a particular project, keep going. When your interest and concentration wane, “jump ship” to another project. If you have a large “to do” list and are working ahead instead of behind, you can work at your peak for each job, and rest by doing different work, rather than stopping. As a side benefit, your subconscious often continues to work on the previous project after you’ve switched, so you may find additional insights when you return. With many goals to work toward, you can always be making progress even if you run in to an obstacle or find yourself in a slump.
  • Keep your schedule flexible. If you tie yourself down too rigidly, you won’t be able to “go with the flow” and work at your peak.
  • Take work with you wherever you go, so you can take advantage of travel and waiting time.
  • Use time fragments. Many small moments add up to much time either used productively or wasted.
  • Avoid overkill. It’s counterproductive to do more when less is enough.
  • Do it now, perfect it later. Don’t wait till your product (project) is “perfect” to get it out into the real world. You’ll profit from the feedback.
  • Getting started is the hardest part of a job, so make it easier. Keep your tools and projects handy, lay out your clothes the night before, make sure the car is filled with gas, straighten the mess in the evening rather than leaving it for the next day.
  • Don’t wait to be in the right mood to get started. Get moving, and the right mood will usually follow.
  • Don’t allow low–fuel jobs to burn high–fuel time. Do your hard work during your most productive times, and save the easy work for when your energy is low.
  • Keep spares on hand—tools, supplies, cash. You don’t want to interrupt something important to run to the store.
  • Practice preventive maintenance. It takes less time and trouble to repair things before they actually break.
  • Observe productive people and learn from them.
  • Be at peace with the people in your life. Disharmony wastes much time and energy.
  • Learn to love work. Good work is healthier and more rewarding than most so–called recreation. Working around and with your family and friends builds better relationships than most leisure activities.

The last, I believe, is the key to Aslett’s success. He really enjoys what he is doing. I’m sure it helps that he is self–employed. He has been accused of being a workaholic, of never taking time to “smell the roses.” When you love your work, the division between work and the rest of life blurs, as we discovered with homeschooling. School was never “out”; there was no distinction between “school” and “fun.” There was just life, and life was both education and recreation. Don Aslett would add that roses smell far sweeter if you’ve labored to grow them yourself.

On my recent reading, the advice that struck me as the most valuable is the one I emphasized in my review:  BE EARLY.  No, I don't mean arrive at a dinner party half an hour before the time on the invitation, to the horror of you hosts!  (If the weather or traffic is iffy, however, it might be good to arrive early, and hang out a block down the street until the proper time.)  Janet's oboe professor taught me the value of that:  you'll never be late if you plan to be sufficiently early, and there's always something productive you can do to fill the extra time.

This goes against my grain.  I'm always trying to squeeze in one more job before leaving for somewhere.  It looks productive, but tends to make me late, as everything takes longer than expected.  At the very least, it makes me impatient with red lights and traffic.  Why not leave early instead, and if you have extra time once you've arrived, find a nice place to read a book, or write a letter.  Aslett advises always carrying work with you, so you'll be able to be productive while waiting.  (If you're me, though, you'll need to set an alarm, or you'll be so caught up in what you're doing you'll end up late to the event after all.)

There are many more applications of Be Early, and I'd be a happier and less-stressed person if I made them into habits.  Do you need to mow the lawn before your trip?  Don't wait till the day before you leave.  Are you having company for dinner?  Get your shopping done days early.  Houseguests coming?  Get those boxes off the guest bed now, not as they're pulling into the driveway.  Because you never know what distraction—good or bad—might come up and derail your timetable.  Your mowing plans might get rained out, the store might be out of a key ingredient, your guests might arrive early, you might make an unexpected trip to the emergency room, a friend you haven't heard from in months might call you on the phone....  It takes no more time—and sometimes much less—to do a job early, and then you can rest in the knowledge that you are prepared.

Good advice.  I hope that when I re-read How to Have a 48-Hour Day in another ten years, I'll be able to say, "I've been practicing EARLY for a decade!"

Posted by sursumcorda on Friday, July 27, 2012 at 1:56 pm | Edit
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Be early: The boys waited until Friday to mow the lawn before we left for Maine, but it rained. Unfortunately for the one who stayed home, it ended up on his to-do list.

I would think this ties in to GTD quite well. You have those various lists for phone, at computer, etc. I forget, but isn't there a list for stuff that you can do away from the computer. You could grab it as you head out the door.

Posted by dstb on Saturday, July 28, 2012 at 10:50 am

Oh, what a great chance to tie together all the bookes we've read recently. It sounds like Aslett focuses on motivating the Elephant (from Switch) and thinks the rest should be obvious, but FlyLady and GTD helpt with other important parts of the picture. FlyLady's babysteps and 15min rule help you start when you don't feel like it, and her ides to keep the toilet brush in soapy water is an environment tweak that "shapes the path" (Switch) so that it's easier to form the habit of a daily quick-clean of the bathroom. GTD puts the "rider" to use where he is best: defining a clear path and shaping the path so that it's easy to use the moments you have to be productive while expending the appropriate amount of mental energy. I think Covey (7 Habits) helps the rider set and keep a clear destination in sight, which is something GTD takes for granted a bit. I've summarized using Switch as the baseline, but where Switch shows the big picture well, it assumes you are smart enough to implement the concepts, which of course you are, but if someone else had done a lot of leg work and creative thinking it's nice to learn from them (FlyLay and GTD).

What struck me most in your list is the last one. I do feel the social pressure to provide great recreational opportunities for my kids. What if I opted out of keeping with the Jonses on this count and tried to find work projects that need to get done but that I can slow down enough for the kids to help?

Thanks for reposting, I was thinking of reading some Don Aslett again, but this satisfies my curiosity.

Posted by IrishOboe on Tuesday, July 31, 2012 at 4:22 am

Oh, I missed that last one. My dad must have realized how collecting kindling, chopping and stacking wood, scraping and painting, moving buildings with rollers and block & tackle, and constructing a new building, all served to build better relationships.

Our kids are getting off easy because there are more adults available to do the work. When we were younger it was just my dad, so he had to rely on us. Seems like some change might be in order - you know, to build those relationships.

Posted by dstb on Tuesday, July 31, 2012 at 8:10 am
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