21st Century Dad
One Dad's Thoughts, Ideas, and Feelings.
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Time Management: Barely Sufficient is Enough

March 6th, 2009 . by 21st Century Dad

Photo: judepics

Time, just like money, is a resource that must be managed properly. Time is the great equalizer. While there is no limit to the amount of money you can amass, there is a limit to the amount of time we have. We each have the same 24 hours each day, yet why do some people accomplish more?

When you start plugging the holes in your budget, you start to see the holes in your day.”Oh, I’ll just run to the store and pick it up,” turns into “I didn’t realize it takes 40 minutes just to buy a stick of butter!”

Getting In to a Scrum

One way I plug the leaks in my schedule is to employ the principle of “barely sufficient.” It’s a term I came to know while spending time with some software developers using Scrum at their workplace.

The idea behind “barely sufficient” is to do enough to be effective without compromising the end result. It is not permission to slack off and turn in a sub-standard performance. Adolescence may be a little early to introduce this concept to your children.

  • It takes longer to use a label maker than it does to hand-write one neatly. The printed label is prettier, but the hand-written one performs the intended function adequately.
  • Have you ever tried to design, print, and apply an adhesive label to a CD-R or DVD-R? Isn’t it a royal pain? Those blank CDs and DVDs you can print on directly do a little better. However, they often run on proprietary software that is difficult to use. For presentation purposes, it’s perfectly OK to go the extra mile. But for your own archiving and backup, a water-based marker made for writing on CDs is fine. (You do not want to use a solvent-based permanent marker. This will corrupt the data on the disc).

Some tasks do need to be performed with a degree of precision while other do not.  All process improvements eventually reach a point of diminishing returns. It takes experience to determine what that point is.

Recurring Tasks

“Barely sufficient” can also apply to the frequency of a recurring task:

  • Do you really need to wash your car every week or is every-other-week OK?
  • I maintain a closely cropped buzz cut instead of shaving my head. I can maintain the buzz cut by clipping my hair every other week while a slick chrome dome takes almost daily attention. A buzz cut is the least expensive hairdo to maintain in terms of time and money.

You can think of “barely sufficient” as the trade-off between speed and accuracy. You can also think of it as being frugal with your time. Just as you find where to trim the budget, you can find where to trim the time it takes to perform tasks. Save your “going the extra mile” efforts for those times when it’s truly necessary. Do baseball players sprint to first base after getting walked? “Barely sufficient” tactics will still accomplish your overall strategy.

What “barely sufficient” methods do you employ?

How To Save Time When Grocery Shopping

September 2nd, 2008 . by 21st Century Dad

checkout line at supermarket

Photo: alisdair

There is a lot of talk about saving money when grocery shopping right now. But what about saving time? “Grocery shopping” appears as a single line item on your big-picture to-do list. However, it’s made up of several steps. Nothing in life should ever take more than 2-3 minutes. The issue is, we have 4-500 things to do each day that all take 2-3 minutes. Before you know it, it’s 8:00 and you just started boiling water for the pasta.

It’s going to take about 300 words worth of rambling before this little nugget of wisdom is revealed. Don’t be such a lazy ADD’ed-out blog reader! Stick with me. I promise I’ll make it worth your while.

Let’s take a detailed look at this single line item:

  1. Take inventory of your pantry and your refrigerator.
  2. Plan some meals for the week and make your list.
  3. Collect all the plastic bags you’re going to drop off in the recycling bin at the store. You have all these plastic bags because you always forget to bring the reusable bags.
  4. Get in your car and drive to the store.
  5. Turn around and go back home. You’re not going to forget those reusable bags again!
  6. Sit in your car for 3 minutes. Someone is blocking traffic in the parking lot waiting for a parking space 10 feet closer to the store.
  7. Find a parking spot close to the cart return area.
  8. Do your shopping.
  9. Check out.
  10. Load up the car.
  11. Drive home.
  12. Unload the car.
  13. Put groceries away.

Whew! Even on my most caffeinated days, it can take up to 3 hours. Shopping during off-peak hours will shave some more time. So will making a list, and planning a week’s worth of meals. If you’re stopping at the store on your way home from work, pre-planning is critical. This is also one of those times when it’s definitely OK to “outsource” some food. You’ll spend more money on unnecessary impulse purchases than you would on a quick snack. Without hunger to worry about, you’ll also perform the task of shopping much faster and with more clarity of purpose.

Organization is The Key

I went through the trouble of mapping one of the two main Publix locations that I shop at. I thought I would make my list according to the sequence of the aisles. How many people actually do that. I know I don’t.

Organizing your pantry and your refrigerator starts at the checkout line. That’s right. You can start organizing while in the checkout line. I load the items on the conveyor belt in the following order:

  • Frozen items
  • Refrigerated items
  • Perishable items
  • Non-perishables
  • Non-food items

Each main group is also organized further. All like items go together. The items end up getting bagged together. You can put them away much more efficiently.

The benefit of leaving non-food items for last will help you when analyzing what you really buy. In order to create an effective budget, you have to know how much money you’re actually spending on food. Having those non-food items at the end of the receipt makes this accounting much easier.

The beautiful thing about this little trick is that it doesn’t take any additional time or effort to implement. You’re performing one of the necessary steps in the grocery shopping process, but you’re doing it with a little forethought. This advance thinking saves you time at subsequent steps.

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Time Management For Dads

June 2nd, 2008 . by 21st Century Dad

Optimus Prime Hoists The Cup

Photo: jquiz

Game 5 of the Stanley Cup playoffs is tonight. I’ve only watched two periods of game 1 so far, and I’ve only kept up with the scores and standings online. What has fatherhood done to me?! A die-hard hockey fan hasn’t been watching the Stanley Cup Finals!

Having a child is a paradigm shift of epic proportions. Everything that used to be important is suddenly subject to questioning. Activities that used to be fun no longer hold the same appeal.

The main reason we shed old activities is the time factor. We have the same 24 hours in a day we’ve always had, but why does it feel like we have less time now?

Every day is payday, but you only get 24 hours. This temporal currency is subject to inflation upon the birth of a child. You pay one third to Mr. Sandman. One third goes to your job. Varying amounts go toward family obligations. With what we have left over, we have to watch the ball game, get our video game fix, socialize with our peers, and engage in our hobbies. This reminds me of how Frugal Dad taught his daughter about money with only 4 quarters

I always wish I had more time, but I’m also thrilled in my role as a dad. Spend your time wisely.

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Dad’s New Job – Update

March 18th, 2008 . by 21st Century Dad

I get up at seven, yeah
And I go to work at nine
I got no time for livin’
Yes, I’m workin’ all the time
It seems to me
I could live my life
A lot better than I think I am
I guess that’s why they call me
They call me the working man

-Rush “Working Man”

I have received an overwhelming show of support in my new venture as a 9-5 dad (actually an 8-5 dad). Thank you all!
The “50-50-50 Plan” has caused a stir. I will definitely be fleshing that concept out more and writing about it soon. In theory, it’s brilliant. In practice, one of the “50’s” has expanded. Unfortunately, it’s not the 50 I want to see expand.

I’ve elected to use public transit for my commute. There are many great reasons to do so. Frugal Dad is tossing around the idea of riding his bike to work to save money and lose weight. The buses here have bike racks, so I do a combination of both. 12 miles each way is a little ambitious in my current state of fitness.
Unlike the hero in the tale penned by a trio of Canadian rockers, I don’t get up at 7. It’s more like 5:15. The bus comes at 6:40. Hence, the expansion of one of the “50’s.” Fortunately, that time is spent catching up with my favorite bloggers, reading a good old fashioned book, or taking a cat nap. Try those activities while driving!

I haven’t ruled out driving to work a couple days a week. I win back some time, but I can’t double dip.

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Dad Gets a Job

March 12th, 2008 . by 21st Century Dad

The job search has ended. I interviewed for a graphic design position two weeks ago and I finally got the call. I am starting today.

One could see this as an admission of defeat, but I don’t. Work-at-home dad is the best job in the world. Why would I want to leave that? This experience will inspire me to write with more empathy for dads who have to go to the office. Time away from my desk devoted to infant potty training sure beats banal water-cooler chit-chat with co-workers. You take the good with the less-than-optimal. That’s life. This is an opportunity to increase my breadth and credibility as a daddy blogger.

I trade in a totally free-form schedule for one with more structure and less time. The blog will live on, and other ventures will continue to germinate. With this in mind, I started solidifying a time management strategy.

I came up with the “50-50-50” plan. I break up my week into 50 hour chunks – 50 for sleeping, 50 for the job and commute, and 50 for everything else. Out of 168 hours in a week, that leaves me 18 hours of “flex” in my schedule. That’s 2.57 hours each day or a little over 10% margin for error. I can use that time to sleep more, work more, and address the inevitable snafus that occur in life (after 7 months, I finally got peed on my by my little baby on Monday).

Double-dipping is an effective time management strategy. It’s different from multi-tasking. Multitasking is a myth anyway. Since I will be using public transit for my commute, I have the ability to read books or RSS feeds on my iPod. I have yet to try using my laptop on the bus. A 17″ MacBook Pro might be too cumbersome to be effective.

Fortunately, this job situation appears to be a good fit. I’m looking forward to this new opportunity.