The Timeful Productivity System

I’m always looking for something to improve my efficiency and help process the never ending to-do list of life. I’ve tried different types of productivity systems over the years and taken bits and pieces from each. Although personal productivity is highly individualized, there have been several recurring themes across many popular systems. I’ve enjoyed Ariely‘s books and content for years, and his behavioral economics approach to time management resonated with me.

timeful logoI’ve read through all of Allen and Leo‘s stuff and incorporated that into my timeful productivity system. I don’t use the dedicated smartphone app, but I have adapted various parts of timeful productivity to my exact needs. This has helped me get a lot more done. I’ve come to realize that I tend to be more productive when I have more to do. I don’t waste as much time- however, I’m not immune to the effects of Parkinson’s law.

Basically, the timeful productivity system (or at least my modified version) is quite similar to a zero based financial budget. In essence, you are budgeting your time each day. The trick is simply to budget for all of it- including non-productive time. In addition, uni-tasking, structured procrastination, and productivity patterns are all facets of the timeful productivity system.

My Current Favorite
I generally find that I tend to chunk my time among wastefulness, distraction and efficient concentrated effort. If I have a particularly challenging mental task, I need time to prepare and focus my attention. If I am tired or just drained, I tend to spend much longer on a task often without noticeable progress. I’ve learned that I work best with scheduled blocks of time, even for fun things and anticipated distractions. The timeful productivity system can be utilized by almost anyone, but it is even better for knowledge, research, tech, and information type workers.

Our time is often managed like our wallet, too filled with prior commitments to have any margin. If we keep everything tightly packed for too long, just like in finance, it’s going to burst. Sometimes, we lay out all the things we need to “get done” and we have too little time to complete them all. That is when it gets hard. And that is when prioritization becomes even more important. We must tell ourselves, our boss, our friends or family ‘no’. Who are we going to tell first? Mostly we give in to who yells the loudest instead of actively managing our own priorities.

Luckily for me, I have designed my life to have enough time to do everything that is important. Despite the different things on my plate (see below), I am pretty time rich. When I am efficient, I actually have more than enough time to get all the important things in my life completed. We all fill our days with something. And if we are not careful, we will just waste away our time without actually getting the most important things done. We will fill our days with the urgent and end up missing the most impactful.

Timeful Productivity System Summary
Allocate all of your time to something. If you don’t have every minute of your day planned that is ok. You can even block certain sections of the day as unstructured. The blocks can be as large as you like. But have something on paper. The unplanned time will get stolen by the email, pinterest, and facebook monsters if we do not pay attention.

I keep track of tasks using Simplenotes/Evernote on my phone and each morning I begin with a paper notepad that has each hour of my workday listed out. I try to list all of the commitments I already have such as: meetings, classes, trainings, travel, conference calls. Next, I brainstorm all the to-dos I wish to accomplish by the end of the day. If it is something that doesn’t require urgency, I place it on my future calendar with a time and date.

IMG_6468[1]Once I have my list of tasks that need to be completed, I simply work through prioritizing them. Typically, each day there are only 1-3 tasks that are imperative. Once my prioritized list is complete, I simply fill up the hour slots of my page with tasks for each time. This process usually takes about five minutes but seemingly adds hours to my day. Once complete, I simply do each task individually, with focus. If something doesn’t make the day’s list it goes on the calendar for a future time and date. Being realistic about what we can actually accomplish each day takes practice. Just like with money, the first budgets don’t work very well. I also schedule in walks, relaxing reading, and mental breaks because, without them, I will actually be less productive. I put them all on the notepad each day.

For years, I’ve tended to push tasks that required extensive thought to later. However, almost all productivity systems will tell you to begin with a challenging task to mitigate the effects of tiredness and decision fatigue. This has been the single most important part for me. Beginning the day with a nice workout followed by completing a challenging work assignment (or at least a chunk of it) means the rest of the day is downhill. Before I open my inbox, I need to complete an important task.

The Personal Case Study
We all have the same amount of time. Some individuals never get everything that they want completely finished and others do significantly more, feel relaxed, and enjoy the process. The basics of my day rarely change and they are broadly scheduled (similar to things in your financial budget such as rent, 401k contributions and taxes). This is just a short sample of what my typical day looks like:

My Typical 24 Hour Week Day

  • 8 (Hours) – Sleep
  • 1 – Workout (Including Commute)
  • 1 – Morning Family Time
  • 8 – Office/Class/School/SE/Homework (Including Commute)
  • 2 – Evening Family Time
  • 1 – Household Task (Fixing things & Cleaning)
  • 1 – Television/Movie/Sports
  • 1 – Reading & Other

My Daily/Weekly Tasks

  • Sleep eight hours a day
  • Work out daily (gym or run)
  • Work for major employer full time
  • Take full PhD graduate school load
  • Keep the house working: maintain house, yard, and vehicles
  • Spend several hours undistracted with my child daily
  • Develop, plan, read and write SimpleEconomist
  • Eat, cook, or clean a home-cooked meal every evening
  • Empty my email inbox daily
  • Read and relax with my wife every evening
  • Run our family’s brokerage business
  • Spend time developing our family’s start-up consulting business

I typically go to bed between 9:30-10:00 and wake at 5:30. I find that if I don’t get my workout completed before the rest of the family wakes up the likelihood of it happening goes to almost zero. I have plenty of free time and my days feel pretty relaxed. I only produce this list to display that it is possible to be timeful and still do/complete plenty of different activities on a daily and weekly basis. If you chronically run a time deficit, you have a broken system. Something must give and you don’t want it to be your health. The beginning starts with stepping back and fully prioritizing the important activities and people in your life.

Bonus Tips
Schedule the clingers early in the day (that thing you keep rolling over on your to-do list)
Getting rid of data on your phone – the ultimate distraction
Throw your TV out the window – Or at least get rid of cable. Mindless watching is a huge time suck
Put a timer on your router so the internet doesn’t become a late night or early distraction
Schedule Email! (Don’t just leave it open), Do something important before you check it

In essence, being timeful is simply about managing priorities and being realistic with your time, commitments, and mental energy. So, I challenge you to try it for a week, what do you have to lose? What works and what doesn’t? What productivity system do you currently use?

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