How I tweaked my schedule to be more productive!

Don’t you love it when you get immersed in what you’re doing and completely lose track of time? I do. This is mainly because there are very few activities that can hold my attention for long. So once I’m set, there is no looking back.

Watching TED talks is one such activity. I try to watch at least one video every day. I love how some ideas trigger a thought process. One day, I ended up watching 8 Talks back to back. When my legs fell asleep, I stood up to stretch and looked at the time. I had spent way more than the allotted time for the videos. I remembered that I had to move on to other pressing matters. A part of me wanted to continue watching the videos because I was sure I would not remember most of the details if I resumed later. A part of me also knew that if I continued watching the videos, I would have to forgo the next task. At the end of the day, I would be left with pending tasks which would never get done unless I compromised on something else. That would go on till I gave up on the list of tasks forever. I was in a dilemma.

It took me years of exceptional planning and failing to realize one simple fact. I was bad with estimates. I would plan my work but I’d end up underestimating the work that could be done in a timeframe. So I would either have a dozen half-completed tasks or end up completing only 50 percent of the planned work, leaving the rest untouched. I still haven’t figured out which option I can learn to live with. Some days I’m fine with skipping other work as long as I’ve completed one important task at hand. Some other days I need to make progress on multiple tasks and can’t have the luxury of doing just one thing right. The struggle is real!

Turns out I wasn’t the only one who made this mistake. Google had so many solutions for me. But I was interested in two particular solutions.

I was bad at estimating the work because my tasks weren’t clearly defined.  I got to know that the most important rule to make progress with work is to define measurable goals. It would help us track our progress in a much better way. For example, I used to write tasks like this,

1. Read for an hour

2. Write for an hour

3. Drink 4 litres of water every day

And I figured it should actually read like this,

1. Read at least 50 pages

2. Write 500 words

3. Drink 1 litre every 3/4 hours

Defining goals clearly will give you a much better idea of what you should be doing, rather than spending time figuring out what to do and what amount of work to put in to label a tick off a task from your Todo list.

So now that I’d tackled one problem, it was time to tackle my estimates. Learning the art of estimating wasn’t all that simple.

I resorted to analytics to get some help. For 2 weeks I made a note of the time I took to complete my tasks. I did not make any conscious changes. I wanted to see if there was a pattern in my habits under normal conditions. I also changed the time at which I worked on my tasks. If I did something before leaving for work on a day, the next day I would do that task after getting back from work. I tried all possible combinations and made a note of the time taken.

After two weeks, I could see a pattern. A certain kind of tasks got done consistently (like working out and reading) and a certain other kind of tasks always took up more time (like writing and cooking). I noticed my productivity was at its best the first thing in the morning and just before I slept. The same task that took 1 hour in the evening (right after work) got done in 70% of the time when I took it up in the morning.  Irrespective of how quick or slow I was, any tasks I took up right after coming back from work (and taking rest) took way longer than anticipated. I was happy to draw many insights from my habits with just a simple pencil and book. I will also take credit for knowing to ask the right questions to get the right answers.

Knowing my strengths and weaknesses got me closer to reality and helped me understand my capability (No, I’m not the jack of all trades, sigh!). I was able to plan well and work effectively. Completing 80% of the work on an average, was a huge achievement.

A few tweaks to my existing schedule (in terms of organizing) and a bit of reorganizing and reprioritizing got me a system that worked wonders for me. Putting it all down in paper, helped me gain a different perspective of things and process the information better than it was in my head. It helped me clear the false sense of reality that was clouding my mind and let me handle what was staring at me.

If you want an objective and unbiased analysis to see how things work, you don’t need a complicated algorithm or tool. Put everything down on a piece of paper.  Analyse and review it like how you would if it were someone else’s data (that was the best part of the entire exercise). Unless you stop giving excuses for your habits, accept that there is a problem, and find ways to handle it, you will never be able to figure out even the most obvious patterns. It’s all in the mind!

Image Courtesy: Pixabay

14 thoughts on “How I tweaked my schedule to be more productive!

  1. Quantitative goals always have better success rate. I loved how you changed your approach. Takes a lot of dedication and will to make changes in life. It’s very inspiring for procrastinators like me 🙈

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    1. I was failing badly and I knew I had to make amends before it got too late. It’s not that I get everything done all the time, but I at least know what mistakes not to make 🙂

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  2. Setting your mind and following through and then, keeping it consistent is the key to making such changes work. I constantly work around my priorities to ensure that I stay productive, but there are times when it doesn’t work (well, life gets in the way, you know!)

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  3. I can relate so much with this post, Ash. Both about defining goals correctly and about prioritizing. I am also setting aside time blocks these days. Since I work from home, this really helps me in being more productive and doing all that needs to be done. It makes me less anxious as well.

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    1. Thank you, Rachna. I knew I was making a fundamental mistake and I was able to narrow it down. It makes such a big difference and I am able to plan better and get more stuff done.

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  4. This is the first post I read on your blog and I am so excited we are alike, especially in the parts were we love to watch TED back to back and want to continue doing it. I have been wrong with estimates too! Professionally, I estimated things much better, but personally I lacked that skill. Like you said, it is worth it to analyze our own data like someone’s to see what works and what doesn’t. Right now my routine is write when the little one sleeps, read when the little one sleeps and sometimes only one gets accomplished, while at others, I just sit down and do nothing! 😉 At the end of the day, a piece of paper helps much better!

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    1. Thank you Jayanthy for visiting my blog. Glad to see we both share a lot in common. People have cheat sheets and magic codes that they claim would work for all, but it’s important is to analyse what works for us and what doesn’t and have a tailor made routine that can actually help us and get work done than make us feel guilty for not getting any work done.

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  5. It does takes time to implemenmt good aspects in ones life. Let me get to productivity. I feel it is an ongoing process and one constantly needs to be at it I have scheduled time for things during the course of the day And when I read I read, and when I write I write. I dont keep gadgets around me , lest it affect my productivity. I also have a scheduled time during the day to use the phone and reply to messages on social media.

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    1. You are so right. It definitely is an ongoing process and it keeps evolving Constantly. Having a schedule works and if it works 70 % of the time then it will work wonders for us. Thanks for visiting 🙂

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