A couple of weeks ago I wrote about the benefits of a timer for increasing productivity. When you use a timer, you can break tough or dreaded tasks down into small increments of time. Doing this can keep you from getting bored or frustrated and enable you to make slow but steady progress toward your goals instead of procrastinating.
If you’ve progressed beyond the point where working in five or fifteen minute increments is helpful and you want to stretch your work time a bit further, you can divide your day into periods. You probably remember your school days when every day was divided into periods. You knew where you were going to be and what you were going to do for just about every hour of every day. There was comfort in that structure and it forced you to work on the selected task for the prescribed amount of time. Now, if you’re the sort of person who chafes under such predictability, this idea might not be for you, and you may want to look at other ways to be productive. But for those who need structure to be most productive, reverting back to your school days can be helpful.
Divide your day into blocks of time. If you work outside the home, those eight or ten hours are going to be one long period and you’ll create blocks with the rest of your time. If you work from home, you have more freedom. You can work with blocks as short as thirty minutes or as long as a couple of hours. When the time is up, you wrap up the project and move on to the next.
In my case, I start the day with an hour of exercise. Then I spend two hours writing, working on whatever projects I’m currently dealing with. Then I spend an hour doing paperwork such as billing, filing, balancing the books, etc. Then I get an hour for lunch. After lunch, I spend an hour making any phone calls I need to make and dealing with email or other computer tasks like research and searches. Then it’s another two hours of writing, followed by thirty minutes of “idea generation” which is where I simply play around with ideas for various projects. After dinner is a couple of hours of hobby and family time. Then bed. Weekends are different, and I have time periods for things like cleaning, maintenance, and errands.
For further variety, you can change your schedule during the year. In school you probably got a new schedule every quarter or semester. You’d finish one batch of classes and get new ones. You can do the same thing with your life. While there will be some things that will always be on your schedule (cleaning, work, etc.), there will be some room for different things. If, in the winter, you block off time for an indoor hobby like knitting, when summer comes maybe you can pursue an outdoor hobby like gardening. So you still have hobby time in your schedule, but you’ve got something different to do.
You can also rearrange your times. Maybe you spent the last six months with cleaning scheduled for a morning period. Why not change it up and move it to the afternoon? Playing with your schedule in this way not only keeps you from falling into a rut and getting bored, it allows you to find the times when you are best at certain tasks. If you only ever do your work in the morning, for example, you might never discover that you’re really much more alert and productive in the afternoon. If you change it up and it doesn’t work for you, change it back.
The advantage of structuring your day this way is that you never find yourself wondering, “What should I be doing now?” or just wasting time staring at the wall. You know what you need to be working on or doing and you can get right to it. When the first thing is done, it’s very easy to move on to the next. You never get bored or work at something so long that your brain starts to fry.
Obviously there are going to be times when you can’t adhere to your schedule. Life gets in the way and things have to get shuffled around or thrown out altogether. That’s fine. Don’t cling to the schedule so rigidly that important tasks and events get overlooked. However, as a general rule I’ve found that breaking my down into structured periods keeps me alert and productive.
(Photo courtesy of f_mafra)