The R&D Workshop No.10

I would like to get something out of the way here at the top of the post that pertains to the last Workshop post that I wrote—my morning writing routine. It started out going pretty well, but it didn’t last. I know I kept it going for at least a month, but it was difficult to write in the morning on days I had off from The Place That Pays Me and writing for 15-20 minutes in the morning before going to The Place That Pays Me wasn’t enough to sustain the forward progress I needed to make. If I were picked up by a giant claw from the sky and placed into a completely different life situation, it could work. This is by no means a complaint about my life, but a mere mature and responsible look at what works and what doesn’t and why. We survive, thrive, and succeed by being cognizant of reality and our abilities within it. It’s the only way to figure out how to move forward intelligently.

Where has this left me? While I did try to make this morning writing routine work, I didn’t want to push it. Whatever the routine is, there has to be a certain groove that it falls into. Effort will always need to be made, but if something is going to work, there can’t be that constant uphill battle type of feeling. To me, that’s a sign that something needs to change. Maybe it's the goal. Maybe it's the approach. Luckily, there are many ways to accomplish a task. One thing I know for sure is that reading in the morning before I went to The Place That Pays Me served me well, and I should get back to making that a priority. I'll either need to set more time aside on those mornings or other time during the day in general to accomplish my reading goal for 2019.

Graham Sedam, blog, thoughts, life, interests, writing, Google Calendar, Time Blocking, Batching, Tim Ferriss, Cal Newport, efficiency, productivity, time management, priorities, goals
A picture taken on a 2009 family vacation in Black Hills, South Dakota. Go where the arrow points, I guess?

Gcal, Time Blocking, Batching—OH MY!

Early last year, I started reading more and watching videos about some different approaches to tackling things. My morning writing approach was, in a sense, me trying to get more writing done by having many mini morning sessions. I thought that this approach could work out and be more efficient for me—the potential was there. I also knew that it went against what some big-name people preach. The same people who are known for writing and researching how people spend time. Still, sometimes it’s good to give an approach a go or you’ll not know for yourself. There are always exceptions.

A couple of these big-name people are Tim Ferriss and Cal Newport. I will not be giving the material the same justice that those two men have. You are better off going straight to the source, if you are interested in the topic beyond this post. What I WILL do is provide some simple explanations of the subject matter and personalize them. Now, if I really want to tell this part of my tale correctly, I should start off with Google Calendar and how I was using it about a year ago.

For many years, I used my Google Calendar (or Gcal) as a reminder to set the garbage out each week and recycling biweekly. My wife and I had relied upon using a paper wall calendar since the time we had started living together. I also used a small paper planner to help me keep track of things and make notes. Ironically, I didn’t pay any attention to the actual days and weeks that it laid out. That system worked for us only because we had the ability to call, text, and send each other emails.

I felt that we would have a much easier time managing our lives if we scheduled things via an e-calendar—the kids are getting older, life is only getting more and more complicated for all of us. I decided then to make better use of the Gcal tool. I knew that it had the potential to transform my time management, productivity, and efficiency. It would be one universally accessible place to manage appointments. I didn’t know everything that it would teach me, but I knew it was a step in the right direction. My wife was somewhat resistant at first, but I think she now sees the value in it, even if she struggles to use it and keep it updated.

When I started dabbling with Gcal use, I only entered the “important things"—appointments, out of the ordinary get togethers, overtime that I was going to work, etc. During the last full week of April 2018, I started using my calendar in an even more purposeful way. I had been absorbing information from Cal Newport and Tim Ferriss about concepts of time management—Time Blocking and Batching, in particular. My Gcal has taken on a much bigger roll since.

Graham Sedam, blog, thoughts, life, interests, writing, Google Calendar, Time Blocking, Batching, Tim Ferriss, Cal Newport, efficiency, productivity, time management, priorities, goals
Time Blocking is planning your day/week by blocking out time on your calendar for all tasks and activities. How you block and what you do in that block is up to you. You set your schedule while taking into consideration the immovable responsibilities you have. You will quickly start to see how you spend your day and what you prioritize. Blocking out longer sessions of time allows for greater productivity and therefore efficiency—you get more done in the long run and the quality is better. My calendar is literally and sensibly chopped into blocks from the time I wake up until the time I go to bed.

Batching is getting a lot of a similar type of work done in the appropriate block instead of at random times throughout the day/week. Some examples of how I utilize this are creating blocks for writing, music, financial planning and maintenance, errands, family time, exercise, and so on. If I don’t have time within that block to get a particular thing done, then I have to either 1) decide it's more important to attend to and reschedule the next block or 2) it doesn’t get done until the next available and appropriate time block. It does help light a fire under my ass to get things done, but it also plays into something I learned from Cal Newport. I must say that it was a lightbulb moment that I had technically already learned from experience.

Here it is: It takes a person 20 minutes to focus on a project. This is why it felt like I was just getting started on my mini writing sessions, and then I had to quit. This is why it would take me 15-20 minutes to get a good paragraph or two some days. I was spending a lot of time warming up. This also means that every distraction can cause a need to reset and a 20 minute warm up to resume. Get distracted by social media or kids or wife or anything? 20 minutes to reboot and focus. I have experienced this enough times to give this information merit, and it has changed how I approach things. It might not always take 20 minutes, but it depends on the distraction, how long is spent away with the distraction, and how ‘deep’ the work is to begin with. There will always be distractions but knowing that they exist and how to minimize them can produce better results.

It may seem obsessive, but Gcal runs my day. My wife feels more comfortable with it now, but it drove her nuts in the beginning. One of the reasons is because she saw what I was doing as being inflexible. I wasn’t unwilling to be flexible as much as trying to be clear on my objectives, and I felt that I was laying it all out on the calendar—no surprises. I also had every intention to follow through on what I had scheduled and wanted that to be respected. I have no problem with compromise, but I need to know my wife's plans for the week as well to do so. She looks at and uses the calendar sparingly. I use it as my day’s guide. It’s an easy way for her to peer into my future, even if she still chooses to ask me daily.

I’m in a good place with calendaring. It took me a while to become more efficient with it. There can be too much micromanaging. There can be too little guidance as well. I rely a lot on “recurring events,” which carries my schedule over from week to week. I then modify that schedule as necessary. Gcal lives to serve me and my unique life. It allows me to be more realistic with how much time I ACTUALLY have and what my PRIORITIES are in how I spend that time. I’ve learned how to plan and execute better. Those were two benefits that I knew would come along with the practice but didn’t expect to be so fruitful and eye-opening.

"If you don’t have time, you don’t have priorities." —Tim Ferriss

One more thing that this experience has shown me is how powerful the right focus can be. There is always a better or best time to do something. It may be different for everyone, and it may change over time for any one person. Once that appropriate schedule locks into place, it’s likely to make you happier, more productive, and more purposeful in the ways that give your life greater meaning. If and when that changes, notice this and change with it. Life is never stagnant. When is the best time to check emails, to write, to drum, to run, to eat, to do anything? Is it your priority to spend time on social media throughout the day or to tackle a larger project that has greater consequence and reward? It’s up to YOU to decide, but YOU must own that decision. No whining. No excuses.

I have my yearly goals among many other accomplishments that I want to achieve along the way. I know that I’m in more control of my time and my life by the way I’ve chosen to move forward. If you are not deliberate with your time, you may feel as though you have none at all—where did it go? I know where my day, my week, and my year has gone, and I’m proud of how I spent it. Can you say that?

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The R&D Workshop is a recurring feature where I talk candidly about my works of passion and associated things.

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