Amazing output. Flashes of brilliance. Things that make us ask, “How’d you learn to do that?” They come from practice. They come from thought. They come from time management. Wait, time management?
Music critic and historian Ted Gioia told Tyler Cowen (Conversations with Tyler podcast) that disciplined time management is the most important skill we can develop. He said (emphasis added):
In your life, you will be evaluated on your output. Your boss will evaluate you on your output. If you’re a writer like me your audience will evaluate you on your output. But, your input is just as important.If you don’t have good input you cannot maintain good output. The problem is no one manages your input. The boss never cares about your input. The boss doesn’t care about what books you read. Your boss doesn’t care what newspapers you read. The boss doesn’t ask you what movies or what TV shows or what ideas you consumed. But I know for a fact I could not do what I do if I was not zealous at managing high-quality inputs into my mind every day of my life.
If we want quality output, we’ll first need quality input. How do we find quality input? We might stumble around a bit at first (social media isn’t all bad), but it’s a funnel that narrows towards deliberation. Gioia reads for about two hours and listens to around three hours of new music daily. The takeaway is not to consume that specific quantity of information, but to recognize he makes time to explore, parse out the high-quality from the low, and that it all happens before he produces his output, aka what the world sees as his “work.”
Just like the process informs the outcome, the input informs the output. We can’t guarantee the results or how we’ll be judged, but if we know how to manage our time around our processes and inputs, we can consistently produce high-quality output. Disciplined time management, it’s the difference between the professionals and the rest of us.