Time spent organizing my time

Something organized people don’t often talk about is how much time they spend organizing their time.

~ Cal Newport from, https://www.calnewport.com/blog/2015/11/03/spend-more-time-managing-your-time/

Guilty as charged, Your Honor! So today, something a little lighter than usual—I think?—with a few snapshots of how much time I spend organizing my time.

It is an exceedingly rare morning that I don’t spend about half an hour planning out the day. This little block of time begins with “surfacing:” Ducking into all the many online mediums where I am present, and—this is very hard—not engaging, but skimming over things to see what rises to a level of getting my attention today. Many productivity sources and guides suggest doing this at night, at the end of your day, but that does not work for me.

Every Monday I take an “administrative day”—the entire day. I stuff the day full of all the random things of life. Any errands to run, laundry, lawn mowing if I can, bookkeeping (literal banking and accounting and such). I do my best to resist doing any real work. I do anything like changing the bed linen, or high dusting the house, or stacking firewood, or changing a flat tire on my bike, …anything that I would consider “not important” …except of course if I never got around to doing it, then it’s a critical disaster …that’s “administrative day” stuff. This isn’t exactly time spent on organizing, but still.

I use sophisticated planning/project-tracking software, called OmniFocus, to manage a lot of stuff. (Things from recurring daily things, to true projects that have many steps and milestones and due dates.) Every two weeks—on an Admin Day!—I spend about an hour just going through every nook and cranny of my OmniFocus. (If you’ve read Getting Things Done, this is part of the review process.) I tend to ruthlessly delete stuff in an effort to combat my incessant tendency to take new things on.

At least once a month—again, on an Admin Day—I do the same sort of “look through every nook and cranny” review of the Basecamp system that is used for one of the companies I’m part of. Sometimes I can do that in 5 minutes, sometimes I’ll spend hours on it.

At the least organized end of the spectrum, (yes, my time spent managing my time comes in a spectrum of how organized it is,) I often—maybe twice per month this happens—will go off, (as in “off the deep end,”) and outline some project that I’m considering doing. I’ll whip out my favorite outliner, OmniOutliner, and do a brain dump of some project. This can take from 5 minutes to an hour or more depending on what I’m thinking about. Quite often, I’ll then simply set aside some awesome idea that I don’t have the time to execute, or the resources to have it done under my direction. I used to think this was wasted time, but it is the only way I can get things off my mind: When it pops up later, I either think, “I already did all the thinking,” or I go back to the outline and tinker some more. (What remains, forever, is just to squash the recurring lizard-brain fear of missing out by not executing the project.)

So let’s see, how much time is all of that combined? I’m awake 16 hours a day, but realistically, only half that time could ever be used to some specific end. So 8 hours a day of “self-directable life”. 1 out of 7 days is an Admin Day… 1/7 ~ 0.1428… The rest of that stuff might—maaaaaaybe, but probably not—eat a second day’s worth of each week . . . 2/7 ~ 0.2857…

So in response to how much time do I spend managing my time? I’ll say:

15 to 30% of my entire available life.

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Time management

As addicting as it is, desire is the enemy to proper time management. Poor sleeping habits, unhealthy lifestyle choices, and just plain dissatisfaction are all byproducts of a poorly managed life.

~ Ryan Holiday from, https://dailystoic.com/5-stoic-lessons-on-time-management/

Time management is the only thing—the only major skill critical for leading a good life… Time management is the only thing which no one ever attempted to teach me explicitly. Everything else was covered to some degree: science, religion, morality, philosophy, work ethic, hygiene, sexuality, language, geography, personal finance, and more, depending on how you want to subdivide all the stuff in my head.

Time management isn’t the most critical thing to know. Language and critical thinking are the top two, because with those two and sufficient time you can bootstrap everything else. However, things would be far better for everyone, if the third item on the list of must-have skills to be Human was a basic grasp of Time Management.

For me, I was trying to fix my sleep when it became obvious that I needed to arrange my day around sleeping. That lead immediately to an entirely new need for time management. “I need to be at work by 8,” is not Time Management (with capitals.) I then took a circuitous route discovering the needs and methods of Time Management.

But where do I wish I had actually started? That’s an excellent question. Right around 18 years old, I wish someone had handed me a copy of this tiny book: How to Live on 24 Hours a Day by A Bennet.

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45 minute meetings

Meetings always expand to fill the available time. Therefore, first be sure that the meeting has a goal and when the goal is achieved, the meeting is done. Second, things often go faster and better when there is a known deadline. To this end we almost always set an end time when scheduling a meeting.

But we usually pick one hour for a meeting’s duration. Then we try to schedule back-to-back meetings and are surprised when everything turns into a flurry of rushing to the next meeting… that meeting that starts at 4, right after the meeting that ended at 4. This never works.

Schedule all your meetings to be 45 minutes. Magic happens.

Everything gets done in the 45 minutes—or if doesn’t, you had far too much packed into your usual one-hour meeting—and you have time for the rest of your life between the meetings.

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Creating an administrative day

Once I reached a point where most of the administrative and maintenance things were under control, I found that I had a steady stream of small things to do every day. Certainly, having things organized saves time, but things still need to be done—I can’t organize and optimize everything to zero-time required. The next step was to grab a trick from time-blocking: Set aside a chunk of time to focus on those administrative and maintenance tasks in one long go.

I’m not going to bother you with which day of the week I picked. The point is simply that I have a day—the entire day—set aside to do all the things that must be done. Laundry, occasionally changing the house air filters, stacking firewood, scheduled appointments (if I can get them on that day), banking and bookkeeping, special errands and shopping trips for home repair items, and on and on. The point is that I’ve moved all the things which feel like they aren’t directly related to my goals and aspirations—although obviously they are directly related, they just don’t feel related—to one place; one big block of time; the admin day.

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Sand through the hour-glass

I mentioned recently that I sometimes use a cheap little sand timer when I want to know when to stop, but don’t want to be directly interrupted by beeps or alerts. The sand runs out quietly. At some point later, I notice the time is up and I bring the work to a stop.

Except when the sand timer gets stuck. My half-hour timer—just that one—every once in a while, stops dropping sand. It’s a pretty teeny stream of falling sand that I can easily miss at a glance. So it’s not at all obvious if it stops. I get into the flow of work. I’m thinking, “yeup, in the flow state.” I’m tearing along, confident that my little sand timer will quietly let me know when to stop.

…and like two hours later I notice the room is getting cold because I haven’t fed the wood stove. Wait wat. *taps sand timer* oh.

I can’t decide if this is good or bad. It’s like deep work roulette. I think I’m going to do a half-hour dash, but maybe I’m going down the rabbit hole. I could easily replace the cheap little sand timer, but I like the randomness of it. The analog-ness of it. Not only is its time keeping approximate, but sometimes it’s totally not keeping time.

Too much planning and structure kills spontaneity.

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The emperor has no clothes

These contrived notifications were the “Emperor wears no clothes” moment for me. It became obvious then that Facebook knows its users have better things to do, and quietly hopes they don’t notice how little they get out of it. It knows that most of the value it delivers is on the level of lab-rat food pellets: small, scheduled hits of gratification we’ve learned to expect many times a day.

~ David Cain, from http://www.raptitude.com/2017/06/want-more-time-get-rid-of-the-easiest-way-to-spend-it/

I can tell you now there has been no change in the amount of human interaction since I left the last of the social networks.

Want to see how addicted you really are? Clear you home screen.

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Dying every minute

Whenever I’m playing with my phone I am only shortening my life. A smartphone is useful if you have a specific thing you want to do, but ninety per cent of the time the thing I want to do is avoid doing something harder than surfing Reddit. During those minutes or hours, all I’m doing is dying.

~ David Cain, from https://www.raptitude.com/2013/12/16-things-i-know-are-true-but-havent-quite-learned-yet/

The whole article is full of great truths, many of which I feel comfortable saying I’ve learned. But on this one in particular I was guilty, until very recently.

About a year ago, I picked up the idea of clearing my phone’s home screen and re-learning to always use the search to explicitly launch the app I wanted. I also disabled all notifications and converted the phone into a tool which I use—the phone never uses me.

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I struggle with distractions

To say that I “struggle” with distractions is a HUGE understatement.

Some time ago, I saw the following idea — sorry, I forget where — and I wanted to share it. (I’ve no idea if/how you would do this on non-Apple-IOS devices, sorry.) Ready?

Move EVERYTHING off of the home screen.

This is not the lock screen on my phone — THIS IS THE HOME SCREEN. When I unlock the phone, this is what I see. Nothing. The frequent-apps/dock is empty, and all the apps are ‘rightward’ in other screens. And they’re just in a jumbled mess because I never swipe off this screen.

Instead, I swipe down and type in the search field.

Perhaps you’re thinking, “so what?”

It changes your life. I spent weeks (after making this change) waking up my phone, staring at this screen and thinking, “wait, why did I wake up my phone?” Now I think, “what’s the weather going to be?” wake the phone, swipe down, type ‘w-e’ touch weather app. Etc. Wake the phone, do exatcly what I want, close phone.

Yes, this does still require a small bit of discipline to not double-tap Home and swipe through the running apps, but I never was a big user of that anyway.

If you’re paying close attention, you’ll note my phone is in “do not disturb” mode at 1:30 in the afternoon. That’s another pro-tip. Add EVERYONE you’d ever want a call from to your VIP list. Disable the “ring through” feature (where multiple calls from the same number can push through do not disturb). Then schedule DND from 11:01 to 11:00 daily. <<= …read the ordering of those times carefully.

(…and sorry, no, that is not the one-secret-minute when you could actually call me.)

Any time I’m expecting a call from someone random — car’s in the shop, plumber is expected around 9am — I just turn off ‘do not disturb’. As a bonus, I immediately realize how many junk calls I used to get. I don’t have a problem remembering to turn it back on, and I get a fresh reminder of how delightful it is to have the phone screen my calls.

These days?

My phone now NEVER rings.

Except when it does! …and I discover that it is now always someone I would like to talk to.

One.
Tiny.
Success.
At.
A.
Time.

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