A few weeks ago I wrote a post called Productivity: The 3pm Mystery and The Case For Mornings. Much to my surprise the post got picked as one of Word Press’ “Freshly Pressed” posts and as a result thousands of people read the post and hundreds commented on it. It was all very exciting, and I’m so greatful for all the comments and kind words. Because the topic of productivity seems to be one that people are most interested in, I figured I should follow up on some of the suggestions I made in that post.
Time Tracker Spreadsheet
The first suggestion on the list was to track every half hour of your day on a spreadsheet to see where you spend most of your time and how you can change it. I made my own “Productivity time tracker” sheet and dutifully tracked every half hour of my day, every day for the past three weeks. (Yes that’s as tedious as it sounds).
Here’s what I learned from it:
1) I don’t do as much work as I thought. I’m sure this is true of everyone–you are sitting at your computer from 9:30am to 6pm with a half hour for lunch for example, but of those 9 hours, maybe 5 are full on work. No matter how productive I tried to force myself to be there was always 1/2 hour gaps of “miscellaneous stuff” (checking email, paying bills, reading blogs, etc). I don’t think that stuff can be avoided completely but this was a good way to become more aware of it.
2) It made me feel the need to do more. Especially after reading about how morning people get more done, I felt the need to get up earlier, especially since I’d be recording it on the spreadsheet. It worked with mixed results–sometimes I’d feel like that extra hour made be get more done and other times I’d still find myself at lunch time feeling like I hadn’t done much. Housework especially made me feel this way.
3)It’s all about how you frame things. Do I consider riding my bike to a friend’s house or walking to the doctor’s office “commuting time” or “exercise”? Is writing a blog post “freelance work” or “personal writing”? Simply looking at your time in a different way made me feel like I was doing more.
4) It took a lot of time to track how I was spending my time. As I mentioned, it was tedious to track how I spent every 1/2 hour of each day. It was interesting to see, and learn from for a few weeks, but I don’t think this method is useful in the long term–you would end up spending hours of your life tracking how you spend hours of your life, rather than just living it.
To Do Lists
As I’ve mentioned before, I’m a master list maker–and at any given moment I have at least 4 different types of lists going. As far as To Do lists go, I tried making a schedule for myself (like Mondays from 10am-1pm: Apply for jobs, 2pm-4pm: work on freelance pitches, etc) and I’ve tried to do lists by day (do all of these things on Monday and all of this things on Tuesday). Both of those didn’t work too well. Mostly because you can’t always know what’s going to happen in a day– you have your schedule to write a blog post every Wednesday afternoon, but you find something interesting you want to write about on Thursday. You are plan to work on freelance pitches but have a dentist appointment. Then when you don’t accomplish what you planned for that day you feel like you’ve failed.
I found the To Do list that worked best for me was a week goals: these are the 20 things I need to do this week–some I put days by–like contact this person by this date, etc. And others I could tick off part of as the week went on (Apply for 10 jobs). By the end of the week I had almost always crossed off all of the items, so I never felt like I got off track.
The Kitchen Timer and Internet Black Hole
I still think my kitchen timer method of putting myself in “writing prison” (i.e. you have to write for this time, no matter what–you can’t get out), works the best for shorter (1 hour) bursts of productivity. I found the working without internet to be really difficult however–not because of the urge to check facebook or gmail, but because it’s nearly impossible to write without looking something up every once in awhile. I couldn’t work on an article about the best beaches in New York State without being able to look up info on the state parks, I couldn’t write a fiction story that takes place in Chicago without looking up the names of streets, I couldn’t transcribe an interview without clarifying the name of the camera the person mentioned. I even use Google for spell check when MS Word fails to know what I’m trying to say and use online dictionaries and thesauruses.
I think from all of this I’ve learned more about myself and the way that I work. I can see some ways I need to make changes, and I think I’ll keep my eyes and ears peeled for more methods of making the most of my time. There are many things (like creative writing and art projects) that I’d like to make more time for. I’ve also learned that some amount of “miscellaneous stuff” and “time wasting” is just going to happen no matter what and there’s no use beating yourself up over it