I tried something this week; we will see if it sticks. In the aim of being much more productive with my time, and with the idea that I hit a minimum of 40 hours a week between school and work,1 I made the following changes:
- I embraced a weekly schedule, where each week day includes:
- the time I get up, and a goal for how long it takes me to go from when my alarm goes off to when I have breakfast made for Jaimie and me
- half an hour of Bible reading and devotions
- five minutes to read the news
- five minutes to plan my day
- two hours of reading and writing for school
- six hours of software development work for Olo2
- a specific workout in my self-designed training plan for the half marathon I am running this fall
- an hour dedicated to creative projects I am working on—I’ll fill this with things like writing blog posts, prepping New Rustacean episodes, recording and editing Winning Slowly, and working on building a modern iOS and macOS app
- roughly 90 minutes devoted entirely to spending time with my family, over dinner and afterward until our girls go to bed
- about two hours freely available—this varies enormously: it might include more of those creative endeavors, it might be just hanging out with Jaimie (watching The Flash or something) for a few hours, it might be spending time with friends we have over for dinner and time afterward, etc.
- sleep 7–7.5 hours every single night—this is my sweet spot, so hitting it makes a big difference in being able to hit all those other marks throughout the day
- a lot of small spaces throughout the day during my pomodoro breaks which I use for other reading (especially news, RSS, etc.)
- I cut nearly all social media: Facebook, Twitter, Slack, and email all receive drastically lower amounts of time now.
- Facebook: I now check once a week. I may post news stories to it, but I am basically treating it as a “write-only” medium—posting content to it but not interacting there. (I find interactions there to have a very low ratio of value to time spent.)
- Twitter: I now check once a day, for no more than five minutes. It is incredibly easy to get sucked into reading my Twitter feed at great length, and far more difficult to conclude that using my time that way is remotely valuable for my goals.
- Slack: I now use in dedicated blocks of time. I get very good value out of Slack:
- for professional use, as we use it to coordinate our work at Olo, and it’s very handy for quick interactions for a distributed team
- for side projects: Stephen and I use it to coordinate and plan for Winning Slowly, and I also provide a fair bit of input and discussion for Mere Orthodoxy, as well as occasionally write there (you may see something of that sort this very week, in fact).
- for personal use, as a virtual water cooler with a bunch of other developers in one team, and with a group of Christians in tech in another, which is very helpful for staying sane while working at home
- Email: I now have closed much of the day, and only check at intervals. Especially with the way we get automated emails for various kinds of error reporting, issue tracking, and so on at work, having my mail up all day is a quick path to constant interruption. (Further minimizing notifications from email will help even more on this.)
- I have started thinking about how I want to treat my time on the weekends, as well: dedicated blocks of time with family, for side work I’m doing a little of, for those creative side projects, etc.
There’s a lot there, and I’ve only been at it one week. So far, however, I like it, and it’s felt like something I can sustain effectively going forward. A few things will have to be tweaked a bit when I’m in class proper in the fall, not just doing an independent study. But the main routine is very good and very helpful so far, and I intend to stick with it.
A few other other observation on the changes themselves:
- They do require a lot of discipline to stick with over the course of the week.
- This was most helpful because I did take that planning time each day and set specific tasks I wanted to accomplish in that time.
- I didn’t quite pull it off all the way; some schedule surprises Thursday and Friday threw it off. I did still get done basically everything I wanted to this week, though!
- I also didn’t manage that full hour-long creative block every day. I managed about 30–45 minutes most days, because I found myself craving some non-thinking time right after wrapping up work. I’ll need to sort that out more as I go.
- I suspect that making this an actual habit will yield huge dividends over time, but it’s going to take a while to make it stick.
So, why did I do all of that?
Over the past few months I have been feeling, increasingly keenly, the amount I have to get done (work, school, side projects like New Rustacean and Winning Slowly and a few more simmering as well) and the amount of time I have to do it (no more than anyone else). I have also been feeling the effects of too much “multitasking,” which I increasingly recognize along with everyone else is impossible. If I am jumping back and forth between some kind of work (writing software, reading, or writing) and other activities like email, Slack, or Twitter, I simply do not get as much done. But I want to.
There is a trap of thinking that productivity is the most important thing in the world. It is very American. I understand the temptation, but I do not generally indulge it.
However, I do care about accomplishing the particular things I want to do, and doing those as well as being a good husband and dad and a faithful member of our church means using my time as effectively as I can. This is not a new concern for me, and as such I have written about it before.
A lot of the things I wrote about before I still do, and they work well for me. I still use OmniFocus to manage my tasks; I still use the pomodoro approach for keeping my brain moving throughout a whole day, and I still refuse to use email as a task manager (though I’ve been less disciplined about hitting “Inbox Zero” than I’d like of late). However, I found in the past few months that, while good, those habits aren’t quite enough for everything I have going. They are necessary but insufficient.
If I can manage more on the school front over the weekends, that’s a win, but this breakdown is usually enough to get done everthing I need to.↩
Olo is a fantastic employer. Among many other things Olo does exceptionally well, they were willing to hire me as a salaried, full-time type employee with full benefits, but working 30 hours instead of 40 while I’m finishing my M. Div. I have pro-rated pay and vacation (though, pro-rated vacation just means I have the same amount of functional time off as everyone else does), but otherwise am just like every other employee in terms of health-care, training availability, laptop, etc. Olo is the best place I’ve ever worked, bar none, and by a large margin.↩