Choosing tasks for the day is somewhat of an overwhelming process. With so many opportunities and so many things we can be doing, how do we make the most of our limited willpower? In this post I'm going to cover some familiar productivity concepts, introduce new concepts, and show you how I'm applying these concepts to make my workday easier.
The concepts: Popular concepts you've either heard to not heard of, but have already been written about:
1. Maker Schedule vs. Manager Schedule - http://paulgraham.com/makersschedule.html
Some concepts I've been thinking about that are important for consideration:
4. Task on-ramp vs. Marginal Endurance:
Task on-ramp basically takes the idea that for certain tasks, its easy to be in the mood of working once started, but the initial effort of getting yourself to start that task requires a lot of inertia. So we want to find ways to on-ramp us into a particular task that otherwise might be hard to get started. Cal Newport's book Deep Work gives examples where some authors go for a walk in the woods in order to spur their creative minds for writing.
Marginal Endurance is the idea that certain tasks we have no problem getting started on but we can easily get bored of doing. For example, washing dishes -- I have no problem starting the task of washing dishes, but if there's a lot of dishes, I would get really tired of washing 20 minutes in.
5. New Task vs. Routine Task: Many times a particular task is really difficult to do, not because it takes a lot of time and effort, but simply because its a new task we've never done before. Because of this, a routine task would require way less will power to execute. Tactically if you're swamped with work, it might not be as effective to push yourself to do a task you've never done before. you've probably heard the advice of breaking up a large task into smaller chunks, but its helpful think about only setting aside a huge chunk of time and expectation to do a large task if you know its a routine task you've done before. For example setting aside a Saturday afternoon to start and finish an oil painting sound super doable if you're already familiar with oil painting, if you've never finished an oil painting before it might be better to break up that project into chunks by just set aside an hour of time to paint the background.
Quick note on my thought process after learning these concepts:
My entire thought process on these concepts begins with thinking about Design vs. Marching (concept #2). A few months back I was going about my days relatively smoothly, until I told myself I should be more productive and that I should march and use more will power to get more things done. During that time, I did notice myself being more productive, but it felt pretty brutal (at least compared to my happy-go-lucky style of not constantly pushing myself to do work). Upon reflection, I decided that my quality of life would be better if I just focused on doing things through design. And this blogpost is basically the way I'm thinking about leveraging the concepts listed above to design a productive day as much as possible. If I'm to utilize willpower, I think it'd be better spent marching on habit building than task crunching.
A few things we should agree on:
1. Maker schedule vs. Manager schedule has the biggest impact: As you've read in Paul Graham's article, it just takes a ton of effort to switch momentum when you're in the mode of making something vs. being in the mode of a manager.
2. A small amount of Deep Work is more valuable than finishing a ton of shallow work: You really need read Cal Newport's book in order to fully understand the argument, but I think his reasoning is pretty easy to agree with.
Application (How I'm applying all this):
The first thing I do before I put tasks onto my daily task list is to decide whether it'll be a maker day or a manager day. I usually only classify it as a maker day if I see that my calendar is free from scheduled calls or events, which means there will be a strong likelihood that I'll probably classify the day as a manager day. I like to assume that all events, meetings, calls should automatically have a task that requires two things: (1) planning and prepping beforehand and (2) notes/analysis/debriefing to be logged and organized afterward. Other types of manager schedule tasks include teaching / managing / leading / sharing, basically anything where you schedule a set time for an activity, even measure activities, like head to yoga or the gym mid-day.
This puts me in a nice groove of just following my schedule. You might think, well how does this differ from maker schedule? I'll explain my reasoning in a little bit when I discuss maker schedule.
So if I'm arranging my schedule, I would try to time it to pack anything communications related into this day if I can. This applies to sales meeting or calls, but also if there's anything I need to explain or clarify to the team, I try to schedule a specific time to do this. The main emphasis I want to add here is the scheduling. In "Getting Things Done", David Allen recommends only scheduling things you know you're going to do, not things you hope you'll do.
Manager schedule entails management...clearly, so its management of the team but also project management and routine operations. A manager-schedule-themed day would be a good time to check in on metrics, cashflow, and dragging Trello cards around. Other stuff of similar grounding include emails, networking, browsing on social media, FB groups or forums. And depending on how mentally draining the day is I would also group in mindless tasks like cleaning, organizing, or looking for useful software and tools.
If there's a lot of extra time that day, the rest of the day I'll spend on very light work. Dreaming, setting vision, decision making, thinking, strategizing, watching content to hone my craft, journaling, reading, gathering resources for the future, or systemizing and documenting processes.
Now if you notice, aside from the calls and meetings, most of the tasks are pretty non-intensive tasks that don't require a lot of concentration to do. This is intentionally so that I can jam pack the rest of my day with this type of work in between my calls and meetings. The extra five minutes here and there all add up to getting a lot of small things done, and these are things I'd rather not spend time doing from my precious maker's schedule. I want my maker-schedule-themed days to be devoted to creating things and executing things.
I feel like manager's schedule is pretty easy because it's pretty much laid out. If you watch Dailyvee and you wonder "how the heck does Gary Vaynerchuk work so hard?", well his entire day is a manager schedule day. Its blocked out and all he does is take calls, have meetings, and give speeches. These aren't things that people tend to procrastinate on. Not to downplay his hardwork, I think its still a lot of work, but these are things that he enjoys doing and is already familiar with. Remember the new task vs. routine task concept I wrote about earlier? Well Gary Vaynerchuk doesn't have any new tasks. He might have new ideas for projects, but the tasks he's responsible for are things he's done for over 10 years; VaynerSports might be a new thing, but his tasks within is role like leading his team, giving speeches, and checking out new social media platforms to advertise and develop content in isn't new for him at all.
Okay, let's get into maker's schedule.
Maker's schedule is much harder and I feel like its also rare to get pure maker schedule days because it's so easy to get caught up putting out fires and the plethora of small tasks that nag at our attention.
If i've decided that the particular day is a Maker-schedule-themed day the first set of tasks I put on my task list are tasks that have a due date. Its important for me to do the urgent tasks first, even if they're of low importance because I've found that knowing I have nothing due (or that the things that are urgent are going according to plan) frees me up to work on the big project. I've noticed that when I try focus on that one main project that if I have small urgent tasks, even if they're not that important, they keep popping up in my mind and distracting me. When your mind is free from nagging things, it tends to be a much less overwhelming process to focus on the priority.
Oh, I'm going to go on a slight tangent here and bring up a few other concepts that I didn't mention in the concepts portion earlier:
6. 1-3-5 Task list - http://lifehacker.com/5994155/make-your-to-do-list-more-doable-with-the-1-3-5-rule
7. Eat that frog - http://www.briantracy.com/blog/tag/eat-that-frog/
If I'm on manager's schedule I almost always set 9 (1+3+5) tasks to do that day. If I'm on maker's schedule, it really depends on how I'm feeling, some days I choose 9 tasks some days I aim to put work into 2-3 really important projects.
So picking back where we left off before that slight tangent, I usually pick a task I'm excited to do and put that on the top of my task list. The reason is, I want a warm up task just to get me in the groove of work-mode. Then I start putting in work on eating the proverbial frog. This is where the task on-ramp concept comes into play. Only you know what gets you into deep work mode fastest and like I mentioned before Cal Newport has a whole book written on this, but it's strategically beneficial to be intentional with your on-ramps and to put them into practice. For me, I do video copywriting and if I ever feel a ton of inertia preventing me from writing or editing copy, I can watch Apple or Nike commercials for inspiration, and I can also print out the rough draft I've written and make notes and comments onto that print out. Of course I could use pure will-power and force copy out of myself, but being aware of what reduces inertia just smooths out the day.
There's a lot to explain so I'd like to end this post with questions that might have arisen as you were reading this and to answer and clarify.
How does morale and willpower play into my workday?
A lot. On days with high morale and high willpower, none of this matters. For most of us, during those types of days we just push through and get done what we want to get done. However, those days don't happen to be as common as I'd like them to, so I rely on structuring my days where I'm most likely to get those tasks done, and if I plan it like this then I won't beat myself up when I don't do a task because I'd have properly planned when to work on that task. I'm aware that there will be days where you need to get something done and utilize willpower to do so, and I think the best way is to develop the awareness to sense when those days are coming up and plan ways ensure motivation though igniters and also to failure proof those days with firebreaks.
What if my days are mostly somewhere in-between maker's schedule and managers schedule?
I only explained Maker schedule and manager schedule with dichotomy so that its easy to see the distinction. I'm aware that most of the time, there's going to be a lot of overlap between the two schedules. When there's a day of overlap I'd recommend still trying to set a distinct point that separates one schedule from the other and add a buffer time so you can mentally shift. For example, If my last call of the day ends at 3pm and I have up till 7pm to still do work I can mentally assign morning to 3pm as manager schedule, an hour of buffer time to chill, and then 4pm-7pm to be maker's schedule.
You mentioned a lot of types of tasks for manager's schedule, what types of tasks are there for maker's?
There's nothing wrong with doing small manager-schedule type tasks on a maker-schedule day especially if you think it can help you on-ramp to a maker-schedule task, but just know that the focus of this day is on focused creation, execution or deliberate practice.
Woah, I think this might be the longest post I've written, and If you've read to the end, thanks for tuning in. If you have any questions or if any of this is confusing to you please write in on the comments section. This is a lot and I know some of this can sound convoluted, but thanks for reading, and really as much as I'm writing this post to internalize all of this into my productivity, I hope my writing is clear and readable enough that you can find these ideas useful for your own daily productivity.
As a creative or strategist, there seems to be a never-ending flow of good ideas. Ideas that we are really hyped up for, but for some reason we just don’t execute.
What tends to happen to me is that during times where I’m driving, showing, or when I’ve just had coffee, I get flooded with ideas and visions of things I could do. I immediately start actioning them in my head. It goes something like:
Okay I’m going to set up this joint venture program, what does that look like. Okay, this works and this works but I don’t have these resources to actually make it work.
Then I get distracted before I fully develop the strategy in my head. This is detrimental because while I’m spending energy half-determining the upside and resources involved, I waste a ton of mental energy thinking about what those action items will be for myself. I don't write it down because I’m not fully convinced — because the concept isn’t thought through.
After reading Getting Things Done, I’m convinced that this is the reason why I often feel mentally drained. If, when you’re planning out the strategy and don’t fully plan out the action items, you actually waste will power by halfway thinking through implementaion task even though you aren’t actually implementing. Meaning, you spend energy “implementing” when you haven’t actually implemented anything.
I've gotten a lot of emails lately, which has been fantastic. My email volume keeps going up.
There's one question I've gotten a few times, in a few different forms. "How do you do so much [thing]?" Reading is a common one, since I read a lot of books. Or balancing projects with working, traveling, tourism, connecting with people.
First off, I don't think I'm so good at getting stuff done. I see there's a lot more I could do. There's probably a lot better role models than me - if you can find someone who works a stimulating high powered job, competes athletically, parents, and does some philanthropy or art, that person is way ahead of me and you ought to look them up and ask them for their thoughts next time you see them.
I used to be insanely busy like that, with 3-5 things that should be a full time effort on the go at the same time. That's probably part of the secret to it right there - if you overload yourself without getting to breaking point, you'll be amazed at what you can do.
There's ripple effects when you're extremely busy. You stop screwing off and wasting time, because you can't. And other people start respecting your time more, too. If your entire calendar is open, people are flaky and whimsical and ambiguous with plans. But when you say, "My only time free for the next three weeks is this Saturday, at 8AM" - guess what? People come meet you at 8AM Saturday. Now, it'd be absurd to ask someone to commute into the city to meet you at 8AM on Saturday if you weren't busy, but if you are busy, you do it because you have to. And people respect your time.