After I wrote the post last week I started thinking about how I schedule my time. This last week I have started on a project that has required a lot of meetings, and I am finding myself scheduling many 60 – 90 minute time slots throughout the week.
Now as a disclaimer for what I am about to say, I have met a lot of people who find this sort of thing really effective: 3-4 PM is for reading X article, 4-5 PM is for Y activity, and such. For me personally I like to leave room to listen to my motivation.
Every day things happen in our environment that affect how much we feel like engaging in one task vs. another. We talk about this sort of stuff as “inspiration striking” or being “in the zone,” but whatever you call it, sometimes we feel particularly motivated to engage in some behavior. I have found it immensely helpful to leave enough flexibility in my schedule to allow for just that sort of variability.
Similarly, there are times when I feel particularly inspired to write. When that happens I drop what I am doing and leverage that motivation. Were I to regiment all of my time I would lose out on those moments of motivation. In those moments I am much more focused and effective than I would normally be if I forced myself to do those things.
While effective management of your time is important it is possible to go overboard and find yourself in a situation in which you are not maximizing your effectiveness. So I say leave your free time free, but to keep it both free and effective keep a list of things you need to get done handy so that free time doesn't turn into wasted time.
It is useful to know what are the nice-to-do tasks and the need-to-do tasks. By differentiating those you can determine just how often you can afford to “listen to your motivation.”
I mentioned before that sometimes we find ourselves more or less motivated to do one task vs. another. It is a great exercise to try and identify what things prompt those feelings of motivation.
For example, after some self-observation I have noticed that I feel particularly motivated to write when I listen to some sort of business audio book. These things get me in a very proactive mindset, so when I know that I need to do some writing I allocate some time before hand to listen to one of these books. My favorite is to listen while running, this gets me particularly motivated to be productive.
Similarly, I have found that I work best on my dissertation when I have a really clean work space. I have a lot of documents that I need to spread out everywhere when working, and when there is already a ton of clutter it stresses me out. So when I know I need to get some work done I spend time cleaning and clearing my work space. By the time I am done I actually want to start working, rather than feeling like I have to.
Identifying your triggers can really help in increasing not just how productive you are when you are engaging in a task, but also the “response latency.” This is the time from when you decide that you need to start working to when you actually get to it. You would be surprised how much time is wasted in just getting going on a task.
But that said, maybe you are one of those people who can schedule out every activity of your day successfully. If so, let me know your secret.