One of the most important things you can do for your productivity (whether you define it in a traditional office work-based sense or as a student or in the sense of getting the things done as a stay-at-home spouse or even a retiree) is to make a schedule. I don’t mean a specific schedule for each day but instead a master schedule, breaking down your time into large blocks dedicated to big actions that are central to your main purpose of work.
Ideally, once you have a schedule, you can try to follow it to the best of your ability. But it seems like there’s always something that can throw a wrench in the works. For example, as I was writing this very sentence, an employee of my HVAC contractor showed up and rang the front doorbell! So right now I’m dealing with huge renovations caused by the HVAC project (which will bring the house’s systems up to standard—the previous work was done wrong and so was very expensive to run and a health hazard), including drywall work and repainting in more than half the house. And this is on top of my chronic genetic disorder which has a side effect that alone is bad enough that most people who have it are on disability.
Needless to say, this time is very hard for me right now, and my schedule, which is strained at the best of times due to the issues from my disorder, can easily crumble under the pressure.
I had been treating everything on my schedule as Things I Must Do. And that works when there isn’t any extra chaos. But that work is very fragile thing, and one blow can throw off the whole day. I realized that I had to do more to make sure the important things were what got done on my not-good days.
So I decided to focus on just four key moments in my day.
- I absolutely must start writing at my scheduled start time.
- I absolutely must wake up within one hour of my scheduled wakeup time. A severe sleep disorder can make this very hard, but if the day starts out off, I lose some of the most important parts of my day.
- I absolutely must finish up with critical work tasks by 8pm to get the kids through their evening activities and in bed. (Even if I can sneak in more work, it won’t be high-quality time.)
- I absolutely must get to bed on time.
Among all the many parts of my schedule, it’s these four things that I’m going to put my energy toward. I’m hoping to use my momentum to get as much done as possible beyond that, but right now, this is where my attention will lie.
I’m very good at doing JUST ONE THING to the exclusion of everything else. I can get more done this way than 99% of people. Unfortunately, when I have multiple things to do (as everyone does eventually in the real world), my physical limitations become much more of an issue, and the small, constant interruptions and demands on my time derail me more. Having a schedule and sticking to it helps enormously, but when the schedule can’t be “stuck to,” having official, deliberate, (dare I say) tactical priorities is an enormous benefit.
Essentialism. It’s what I called this website for a reason, isn’t it? It’s time to make the word mean more!
ADDENDUM: It’s now one week in.
I’m pleased to say that this prioritization approach helped me keep it together enough that my productivity was around 50%-75% of my baseline. Which is completely awesome because normally on days like this, it’s 10%-25% of my baseline.
What didn’t work so was was the bedtime because I’ve been sleeping so poorly that there hasn’t been much of a point in getting to bed just to lie awake. Nevertheless, I’m getting up and ready to start my most important task on time or as close to it as I can humanly manage with all the madness that’s been going on here.
Another link in the chain….