Last week I mentioned that I was reading a book on productivity, despite having some aversion to the word "productivity." As it turned out, I got a lot out of it!
The book is The Productivity Project: Accomplishing More by Managing Your Time, Attention and Energy by Chris Bailey.
Chris Bailey started by writing a blog (not entirely dissimilar to my own), called a "A Year of Productivity," which he started after he graduated from business school, before he took on a job. Over the course of one year, he researched and tried many productivity hacks, then he wrote the book, focusing on the ones he found most helpful. You can find a list of his experiments here.
I listened to the audio version of his book, in my car and while walking the dog (aka times I couldn't write things down). I'd like to get a paper copy so I can do all the exercises he suggests, but in the meantime I printed off some resources from the website. He has a 26-week program, but I didn't think it was detailed enough, nor did it correspond closely enough with the exercises I wanted to do from the book (probably a good move, considering the goal is to sell the book - Bailey doesn't have any outside advertising on his website). There's also a sheet for tracking your energy level, which I tried to use but failed (he recommends giving up both caffeine and alcohol for that experiment - thanks but no!).
I even tried an app he recommends called Aging Booth. The idea is that if you have an inkling what Future You looks like, Present You will do more to help Future You out. So now that I have an idea what Future Anne looks like, I'm ... horrified. Maybe the results are better if you're in your twenties and seeing Future You in your sixities, but Future Me looks like she has one foot in the grave.
And then there's the time log, for tracking how you spend your time every day, which I love.
Basically, it's a three page, week-long grid in 30-minute increments. I've been doing it for a week and a half. I've got a few question marks on there, but for the most part, I've been pretty good about filling in what I did each half hour. I intend to keep this up for three weeks.
Within a few days, I discovered that I spend a ton of time on maintenance-type activities. All good things, and a vast improvement over how I used to spend my time. A year ago, my morning routine involved drinking tea for several hours while I read email, updated my financial tracking software, and perused the internet. I improved on that by resuming some journaling (morning pages), a task that theoretically takes 30 minutes, but when you add in making tea, feeding the animals, letting the dog out, etc., can easily stretch to an hour. Then I added dog walks (30-40 minutes) and working out three times a week (up to 90 minutes). And finally I added meditation, which I was doing for up to an hour a day.
All good things, but put together, along with getting ready for work, this routine could take up to 5 hours! When I realized that, I started looking for places to cut back. I gave my morning tea and journaling routine a 30-minute limit, regardless of how many pages I had written. I scaled my workout back just a bit (same exercises, but fewer sets). I decided 45 minutes of meditation was good enough.
Those few changes, coupled with more awareness in general of how I spend my time, freed up enough minutes for me to add a little bit of time every day for reading and working on my fiction. Success!
Bailey also advocates for routines. He recommends dumping all household maintenance on one day, including cleaning and errands, as well as establishing a bedtime routine that is conducive to good sleep.
I've been working on my evening routine. I'm trying to drink a full glass of water when I get home (I usually work evenings, so I'm getting home in time to go to bed at midnight - my home-from-work routine is also my bedtime routine), wash my face and change my clothes. I would like to stop looking at my phone once I'm home from work, but I find it more difficult to stop doing something than I do to add a new habit in.
I'm also trying to limit most cleaning to one day. It's not like I was doing a lot of cleaning to begin with, but I was doing it whenever I felt like it (hahaha!). For now, I'm experimenting with putting cleaning on the calendar and doing it for a couple of hours that day. Otherwise, all I'm doing on other days is stuff that has to be done - watering plants and washing dishes.
One of the first things Bailey talks about in the book is establishing why you want to be more productive. And maybe this is where my aversion to productivity comes in - I don't like the idea of getting more done, just to get more done.
But I do like the idea of getting the things I need to do done in a timely manner, and cutting out time-wasters (I'm looking at you, Reddit) so I can do more of the things I like to do, such as reading books and writing.
It's a matter of getting more of the right things done. Journaling, exercising and meditating are all important for my mental and physical health. Having a relatively clean house makes me feel more comfortable. I want and need to spend time with Eric and friends, and that pesky job thing sucks up a lot of time. So that means I need to carve out time for reading and writing from what's left.
It takes me a couple hours to write a blog post like this from start to finish, including pictures. I'm doing that once a week on a day I have off from work. So far, so good.
The nice thing about reading is that I can do it in any reclaimed bit of time, no matter how small. It's perfect before bed, when I can separate myself from my phone. It's even good when I'm beat and don't feel like anything other than crashing on the couch.
Working on fiction is where I really want to be more productive, if you interpret productivity as use of time, rather than output. I added "Creative Work" to my habit tracker (HabitBull, in case you're curious - I have the paid version and I love it) and I'm counting everything from reading about writing, to talking about my idea, to writing notes and working on the plot. Every week I'm marking a few more days as successful.
I've got a long way to go, but I already feel better about how I'm using the time I freed up when I stopped being a manager at work. I'm not as frustrated by how much time I'm NOT spending writing, and I'm more optimistic that I will use found time well.
Bonus Interesting Website
A shout-out to Wait But Why, the only blog I spent hours reading over the last year, for the post 100 Blocks A Day, which is also about looking at what you do with your time in a day. His idea is that if you sleep 7 or 8 hours a night, you're left with approximately 1000 minutes of time. That works out to 100 10-minute blocks. He too has a printable sheet. I did this once, wanted to do it again, but didn't. It turns out 30 minute blocks are much easier to monitor than 10-minute blocks. Wait But Why also has your whole life in weeks, if you're curious about that.