A week is the perfect length for making significant improvement. This post is a brief summary of my experience and lessons learned while tackling one improvement over the course of one week.
The Goal: Have productive activities for each hour of the day between 5:30 a.m and 5:30 p.m.
The Problem: My days had “dead zones”—periods of 15 minutes or more in which I would find myself with no high-value activities to do.
The Story: George Savile wrote, “Misspending a man’s time is a kind of self homicide.” It’s interesting that he chose the words “self homicide” instead of “suicide.” Suicide is taking your life because you no longer want to live; homicide is killing another person…and to me, “self homicide” implies the killing of the person you could be.
As someone who has memorized every episode of M*A*S*H, Star Trek, and Gilligan’s Island, I know a thing or two about misspending life and have had quite enough of it. Seeing perfectly good pieces of my day go by without a productive result is no longer acceptable.
The Action: I was not starting from zero—I have a weekly calendar, weekly goals, a task list and priorities for the day. The action for the week was to merge these various into a daily plan that takes into account previous commitments, identifies potential empty space, anticipates possible disruptions, and estimates time required for tasks.
I focused on 5:30 to 5:30 because those are hours over which I have a great deal of sovereignty—where I chose how I will work and (to some extent) what I will work on. My family has claim on hours after 5:30 if they want them. I try to build in four 90-minute task windows because it seems to work for me. Some time periods have multiple tasks scheduled because their length is uncertain. I identify a few margin activities that are useful and important, but not urgent.
The Lessons: Chaos is real—for Monday I used the term “schedule” for my day’s activities. I switched to the term “Plan” for the rest of the week in recognition of the fact that my schedule was not really in my control, but my plan is. Here is an example of a day’s plan:
Plan for Tuesday
5:30-6:50 Eat/Pack/Decide on Book Distribution
8:30-10:00 Sharepoint 100
10:40-noon Sharepoint 100
1:00-2:30 Sharepoint/Shred/Retention Wizard Billing/Practical Law
2:30-2:50 Break/Note on Forum/Connect with Ty
2:50-4:20 Update conflict list and forms
Margin: Check Twitter, Identify anniversary hotels
This planning technique takes about 15 minutes and was largely successful. The take away for me was that planning also requires preparation. For example, there was one morning when I planned to “edit video” but found that importing the video clip took 50 minutes; had I known that, I could have done it in advance or at least planned for it.
Incorporation: I will definitely continue and refine this practice.