For those of you who don’t know me well, I have been searching for the perfect time management system since about 1950 – and I wasn’t even born then.
For the last few weeks, I’ve doing an experiment, using myself as the lab rat. I’ve tried taking a few interesting concepts I’ve seen around, but flip it all on it’s head. In the next few days I plan a few posts to lay out what I’ve been doing, then give you an update on how it’s working so far.
But first, I’ll start with the concepts.
I’ve learned over the years that living things don’t work like machines. Fields need to lie fallow to be productive. And I need variety to keep going. So, one of the things that I think a good time management system should have is some balance between the different kinds of work being done.
So I stole the idea of “contexts” from Getting Things Done. For David Allen, contexts are about having the right tools for the task at hand. These are things like “computer tasks”, or “errands,” or “things you can only do in a meeting.”
But in my experience, the biggest tool I need for the task at hand is the right headspace. There some tasks that require detail orientation and others that require big thinking. Some things are “tasky” and I can do them almost without thinking – but can’t do them for too long before I get bored. Other things are fun – but I have a tendency to sort of lose my way if I spend too long doing them.
So, I tried to build in a way to make sure that I’m mixing up the different contexts (aka headspaces) and making sure I’m doing the right things at the right time for me.
I also read recently about natural energy cycles. Apparently just like we have natural 90-minute sleep cycles, we also have natural 90-minute wakefulness cycles. We naturally fade a bit every 90-minutes or so, and need a little break.
I’ve also read about something called the Pomodoro technique, where you set a kitchen timer for 25 minute increments and use those highly structured blocks of time to regulate your activity. They have you do 5 sets of 25 minute blocks with 5 minutes between each and a longer break every 2.5 hours.
I decided to combine the natural cycle information to make my tasks into 90 minute blocks of work and set a timer for an hour (more on that in a bit). Every 90 minutes I take a half an hour break.
I schedule about hours worth of tasks in the 90 minutes and set the timer for 60 minutes. In the end, this usually works out well. The timer goes off and I still have a little bit more to do. The timer reminds me to wrap things up and the cushion (plus the promise of a break) motivates me to wrap things up quickly.
So, I combine these two basic tools to create little mini-sessions of work and then mix them up some I’m hitting all the notes regularly.
That’s the system in a nutshell. In my next post I’ll tell you how I go about scheduling my tasks.