Last Sunday evening, I was all pumped for the first week of being in complete control of my day. Over the weekend I had compiled a list of topics for the next 3 months, had my color coded to-do list done and had all the books I wanted to read arranged on my reading shelf.
I imagined how my work day was going to be –
- Get up at 6 in the morning
- Pray, exercise and eat breakfast
- Cook a healthy lunch
- Start working at 9
- Research and write for 3 hours
- Have lunch at 12
- Work on freelancing tasks from 1-3
- Write for another 3 hours
- Go for a walk
- Come back, take a shower, plan the next day, shut off the computer, read a book and write until I slept.
Sounded perfect to me. If I had this much time to write, I could drastically improve my writing. Great plan!
But that is not what really happened. My day went like this –
- Got up not-so-refreshed at 8.
- Didn’t have time to cook so asked my husband to eat out.
- Checked email.
- Checked my Facebook, Twitter and my reader.
- The time was 12. Tried to cook something quickly.
- Decided to watch one episode of NCIS re-runs, just while I was having my lunch.
- One more episode wouldn’t hurt right?
- The time was 3. Looked at the to do list, freaked out seeing the list of tasks spanning 3 pages, promised to concentrate and write at least one introduction.
- Even on a great day, I don’t get words pouring out of me, add in anxiety, all I had was a title, which now that I thought about it, didn’t even make sense. What was I thinking? Well, the day was a “wash”, I decided to at least get some admin work done.
- Went back to email.
- Someone asked for tech help in the forums. Answered that and while I was there checked other threads. Thought, “Oh I have not read this person’s blog in a week, let me see what they are up to”. Read the post and the comments. “That was an interesting comment, let me check the commentor’s blog. Ohh he just did a round up!” Down the rabbit hole I went…
- The time was 2 in the morning!
As someone who spent pretty much 16-18 hrs in front of the computer, what did I get done? Nothing. How many of the tasks in my to do list got checked off? Nada. Zilch.
What just happened?
Why was I wasting my time when I was charged and dreaming about changing the world?
To figure this out I allowed myself to waste a day.
- I tracked every single site I visited and the time I spent on them. Tip : I used RescueTime plugin for Chrome to accomplish this.
- I went over each one of them to remind me of why I went there and what I accomplished.
|Site||Start time||End time||Purpose of the visit||Task accomplished|
|11:13||12:10||Re-tweet interesting tweets, find new information for future articles||Re-tweeted a few articles. But no new information.|
What a goldmine of information! Turned out I was more emotionally unstable than I thought.
- Email provided me with a feeling of self-importance, starting from the third day of my self-employment!
- Answering someone’s question in the forums satisfied my need to be needed. Their “thanks” gave me the instant gratification I needed.
- Constantly checking out the news/Twitter feeds gave me an illusion of not missing out and not being alone.
Now that I know what emotional needs I was fulfilling with my timesuckers, I came up with some alternate habits to give me the same satisfaction.
- First, being aware of my distractions and the reason I am spending so much time on them itself was enough to steer me on the right track. As I have already thought about the “fake” euphoria of self-importance from getting a forward, it didn’t give me that feeling anymore.
- I changed my location of work. Instead of working at home, I took my work to the library.
- I set myself some rewards. If I successfully accomplish what I wanted to get done that day, I allowed myself to watch up to two episodes of my favorite shows.
- Create a list of 3 most important things I want to accomplish that contributes the most to my goal.
- Finally, have a NOT to do list. Nothing proved more effective than this.
Creating a NOT to do list to improve productivity
This lists consisted of my time suckers and tasks that didn’t contribute to my overall goal. Here is a sample of my NOT to-do list –
- Not take calls from unknown number. Tip : I have set up Google Voice to transcribe all the voicemails and send it via email.
- Not check my email first thing in the morning. It spoils my plan for the day, I kept shifting my priorities as I heard back from different folks. Check off at least one planned prioritized task before checking email.
- Not check certain sites in the morning. I have a list of sites that I get easily sucked into and spend hours at a time. I installed apps to block the sites during my work hours. Tip : If you are using Firefox, leechblock is an excellent add-on to block site during specific times. For Chrome, StayFocusd or Nanny for Chrome works well.
- Not check social media sites at times other than when I have specifically set aside time for them.
- Not watch any TV in the morning. Sometimes I feel like taking a 10 minute break and when I go get myself some tea, I feel like watching one of my favorite episodes of NCIS. But the problem is I can’t stop, 10 minutes becomes one full episode, which leads to the next episode and before I know it, it would be evening.
- Not check accounting everyday. When I was bringing in more money, it used to be my motivator. Now, due to some recent events, even my freelancing income took a nose dive. It is easy to get suckered into looking at the empty income section in Mint and feeling self-pity or getting discouraged.
This has been working beautifully for me. Have I become a productivity queen? Nope. Far from it, but I feel great to have failed and started on the right track the first week instead of not getting anything done for months at a time.
Being mindful of my time lets me concentrate on accomplishing things that are important to shape my life the way I want it to be.
“It’s not enough to be busy, so are the ants. The question is, what are we busy about?” – Henry David Thoreau.