Believe it or not, it's not actually a lot of work. Periodically through the day, I mark down what tasks I've been working on. At the end of the day, it takes me around 5-10 minutes to tally up how I spent my time (along with some other things - what I ate, how much I spent, appointments I had, general habits I completed or didn't). Again though - this looks like a lot of work, but it's not. It takes work to set up and habituate, but then it's pretty automatic.
Over time, I've broken down how I spend time into four general categories - Excellent, Good, Okay, Bad. "Excellent" includes things like exercising and working on big expansive things. That's really excellent time.
"Good" includes reading and general maintenance-type work that keeps things how things going the way they were. Now, note that "Good" really is good. When I have a day with lots of time in the Good category, I'm happy.
"Okay" is okay. Semi-productive, general life type stuff.
"Bad" is bad. Surfing the internet mindlessly, screwing off and wasting time, deadtime and commuting. Stuff like that.
Now, I've noticed a pattern. Often after a massive ass-kicking few days in a row, my productivity breaks down for a few days in a row.
How to read that picture above - every day the last ten days is in the vertical column. The 9th was Excellent 80 minutes, Good 220, Okay 200, Bad 330. That's a "Mixed" day in my book - some good, some bad.
You'll see 3 days in a row - 13th to 15th - were quite expansive. Minimal time into bad categories, lots of time in good and excellent.
Then 16th to 18th break down, with very low time in excellent, not much in good, and lots in bad.
I've seen this pattern a lot. After a few very expansive days, then a few days off-track.
I wonder if I should take off a day explicitly on a day like the 16th, and then the 17th and 18th wouldn't be off-track? Or perhaps slow down slightly on 13th-15th... build more willpower? Run out the very expansive time? Make the landing crash less hard when coming down?
Hmm... it's strange. Would love feedback. Anyone else noticed something like? After a few very good days building, then a few days off-track? I'd like to avoid the crash after the expansive time. Suggestions welcome.
I've noticed the exact same thing, in fact, I've spent faaar to much time reading your blog today, but the past few days have been immensely productive.
I actually think it's a good thing. It gives us a chance to assimilate our new knowledge. It's like the work equivalent of REM sleep. I don't feel guilty for not being 100% "on" every day. Because even the bad days are productive in their own way. You stumble around and learn random things that you don't have an immediate use for, but expands your general awareness of the world.
I've noticed a similar pattern with myself. When sustained effort does not give sustained results, that sounds a lot like habituation (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Habituation), where the brain does not respond as strongly to stimuli it has been exposed to for some time. If that is the case, then the solution might be to change project for a few days until the stimuli is novel again, as the OP suggested. Of course, fatigue may also play a role, so taking it easier for a day could help in combination. This also reminds me of One Week On, One Week Off that Steve Pavlina describes.
I get very similar patterns when working with deadlines. I might have to be on for three solid days to meet a big deadline and then once i'm done, i always feel great and try to bring the same intensity and energy to a non time sensitive project. However I can never maintain that peak for long and it always drops off a little. And i'm left cursing my screen. I used to call it deadline hangover. Now after 3-4 days of high intensity work i usually build some downtime into my schedule. While i want to be firing on all cylinders 24/7, I've learned that forcing myself to take time out and rest and renew is vital to my overall productivity.
Definitely noticed such a pattern with myself.
2 best solutions have been:
- Avoid pushing too hard in the first place
- Change the nature of the activity
eg: Productivity loss on programming can be offset by productivity gain in writing blog posts. I simple change in brain-use patterns usually suffices, but sometimes it isn't since both tasks involve one being stuck at the keyboard. That's probably where having
If the subject is the same, switch up the scope and . eg: after 4 hours of micro-intensive programming, switch over to brainstorming about possible improvements to software architecture and implementations.
At present, my current framework of 'structured chaos' is working out pretty well.
Yes, this was actually explained as one of the secrets that some successful people have by Brian Tracy, it's called productivity cycle or something like that, and it lasts 4 or 6 weeks if I remember correctly.
Basically you can't expect to have the same level of energy and good mood every day, you'll be a bit different each day, but you can predict how you'll feel in advance. If you keep track of your general mood at the end of the day (or the impact this had on your activities like you're doing already), you'll soon be able to predict which days you'll be performing at your best.
Now what does this mean in practice? Two things. First, if you know in advance in which days you'll be at your top, you can plan activities that require your maximum concentration during those days. Second, if you know in advance which days are the worse, you can use mood-enforcing techniques like self affirmation to keep your energy levels high.
Does it really work? I don't have enough data to back this up, but you know from your direct experience that this cycle does indeed exist for you, and I know from mine as well. That's why I'm including a way to track your mood in one of the projects that I'm working on.
I'm curious to hear is someone else has similar experiences.
I'm reading "Mastery" by George Leonard.
The book is odd. It's excellent in some ways, it's an exceptionally grounded and pragmatic book. I recommend it.
But, it's a bit of a downer. For instance, I just read Donald Trump's "Think Big and Kick Ass", and after reading it, you feel ready to go climb a mountain, kill a lion with your bare hands, lay waste to an enemy army, and otherwise build an empire.
Mastery isn't like that. Mastery is someone reminding you that success doesn't come easy, that it's a long hard slog through lots of plateaus, and that you should enjoy the process because that's the only way you'll get through it.
In a way, it's an uplifting message if you can really internalize it. It'll help give you strength during the plateaus. It immediately answered some questions I've had recently. Recently I wrote in "A Strange Pattern I’ve Noticed in Productivity" -
The one thing I consistently fail to account for when planning trips, especially shorter ones, is the disruption it will cause to my routine. For over a hundred days in a row, I wrote a blog post every day, did a Chinese lesson, worked on SETT, and a few other things for which I hold myself accountable.
I went to Peru for ten days, and although I started off strong, jamming in the blog post and Chinese lessons on my flights and bus ride to the Andes, once I started hiking I stopped doing those things. No real foul there, because breathing and walking had become difficult first priorities. When I got back to civilization, still in Peru, I resumed working hard on SETT, but I stopped doing Chinese lessons. I was practicing Spanish every day, though, so that made it okay. I wrote a monster blog post about Peru and sort of let myself coast on that. After all, it was a lot longer than my average post.
I got back to San Francisco and had only a week before I was going to Mexico. That week was great. I felt bad about being off schedule, so I used that as motivation to get back on. I rated three of those days as As and four as Bs, which is a pretty solid week. Next there are ten days completely missing from my schedule. I remember them, though. I worked on SETT every day while I was in Mexico, at a reduced capacity, as expected. I did a couple Chinese lessons, but was speaking Spanish, and fell behind on blog posts. Maybe I wrote four during those ten days.
Again, I got back and got back on schedule, but this time with less consistency. One day I gave myself an F and didn't even write any notes on the day. A few others I got Ds. There are As and Bs, too, but not as many as there should be.