I hope your travels are going well. My time tracking has been going
great. I added a whole ton of stuff as well as a journal. I'm trying
really hard to track my energy levels and figure out how to increase
that since it is pretty much the deciding factor in how much I can get
done. The whole process has really been helping me out. Just the
fact that I know I am writing each block of time down makes me want to
use it in a way I would be proud of.
I could use a bit of advice though. The whole system seems to break
down whenever, i am busy especially if it involves running around of
place to place. Any suggestions on how to deal with this?
Great questions here. Well first, congrats on getting onto time tracking, it's one of those things that's potentially life changing. I've gotten huge mileage out of it.
But yes, this is something I've realized lately - probably the #1 way people get off-track in their habits is by having some sort of hard time happen. Stress, illness, being overwhelmingly busy, something like that.
I actually just came down with a quick common cold, and it threw a lot of my work off-track for about a week. What happened was I had a very long time where I woke at 3:30AM to do some work and calls to America, and I was catching the train from Kuala Lumpur to Singapore in afternoon. Well, long story short, I missed the train so I had to take a night sleeper. Then that train was delayed.
I wound up having a 20 hours-long day, then getting five hours of poor quality sleep on the train, then the next day I was awake from 7AM to 1AM again when I had a couple meetings in Singapore. My immune system broke down under the weight and I came down with a cold.
This was strange for me, because a big thing I was working on was limiting my internet surfing to one hour per day. I'd basically succeeded at that and was having massive productivity, but my new defaults were meeting new people and socializing more, reading more, and working more.
Coming down ill, I now didn't have the concentration to read, to do the majority of my work, or to talk very much. So, there I was surfing the damn 'net, reading Hacker News, and playing Chess online. Now, those are all fine activities when limited to a concrete amount, but I had one day of spending like 10 hours surfing the net, reading HN, and playing Chess... no good.
That's when I realized... Bad things happen. If your systems require things to run perfectly, your systems are going to break down.
So, I recommend you plan around things going wrong. Here's a few ways that might help -
1. Inviolable rules: What will you absolutely refuse to fail on, no matter what? Me, I got my one blog post a day out, that's inviolable. I kept tracking my spending. I didn't go back to eating sweets or anything else that I've cut out of my diet... most everything else went to hell for 5-7 days while I was ill, but those were the inviolable things for me.
What are you going to hold inviolable and complete even when you get crazy-busy, stressed, or ill?
2. Exceptions to the rules: What intelligent exceptions should you make? I was running a caloric deficit of -500 calories per day, which isn't something you want to be doing when ill. I stopped tracking my calories entirely for the week, and just started eating as much nutritious food as I could. Fruits, vegetables, chicken, fish, grains, juices... I figured getting healthy was priority #1, so I didn't worry at all about calories for the week.
What are you going to make reasonable exceptions to for when you're busy, stressed, or ill?
3. Scaling down and estimating: A lot of people fail because they aim for perfection, fall short, get frustrated, and quit. That's incredibly common. For me, I try to not let the train go entirely off the tracks when things get bad. For instance, here's me estimating my time tracking, those are the only two entries for the day -
6PM: Some good time, some not good... not sure. Perhaps half surfing, half maintenance? (120 surfing, 60 semi-productive, 180 maintenance)
3AM: Meeting, walked around, got massage. (60 transit, 210 social, 90 exercise, 60 relaxing, 120 surfing)
Normally I'd track much more often. You'll also note that my first entry of the day is at 6PM, as I hadn't touched my template at all that day. That's no good, but at least I got a rough estimate down of what I did.
Remember: It's better to scale down, estimate, or do a little than to get frustrated at non-perfection and let things fall apart.
4. Substitute activities: After a few days of heavy internet surfing and non-production, I was getting frustrated. I was kind of hazy and wasn't able to concentrate all that well during that time, but I still didn't want to just piss my life away surfing the net aimlessly and purposefully. Then I realized, I could lay down, close my eyes, and listen to a good audiobook. So, I did just that - I listened to dozens of hours of James Clavell's Shogun, listening to almost the entire audiobook over that week.
When you're too taxed or burnt out to do your normal activities, what can you substitute in that's also good?
5. Success rate: This is a general good practice, but what success rate are you aiming for? I aim for 70% in general in my goals. An astute reader just recently mentioned to me that a 70% success rate means failing 110 days out of the year. I think aiming for 100% is insanity - either you're going to set your targets artificially low to reach them, or you're going to get frustrated when things inevitably go wrong.
There's no perfect number. 70% works for me with the kind of stuff I'm working on, and I think it's good to keep me a mix of stretching my potential, but also achieving more successes than not. But I could see a person aiming for a 5% success rate on high upside projects, or a 90% success rate on something crucial to do with consistency... this is worth thinking about. I don't have an exact number that's best, but clearly aiming for 100% seems like a mistake to me.
What success rate are you aiming for?
Okay, those are five points that I reckon thinking over would help -
1. What rules are inviolable?
2. What general rules have reasonable exceptions?
3. It's better to scale down or estimate rather than completely get off-track.
4. What kind of substitute activities can you do when normal activities aren't working?
5. What success rate are you aiming for?
Also, I'd love to hear suggestions in the comments about improving your energy level - it's a topic I'm quite interested in too, so let's hear your thoughts on that.
One way to get more done is to raise energy level; lotta low-hanging fruit here: sleep, nutrition, Pomodoro, nap, exercise....
Another way is to make getting things done easier: plenty of easy stuff here too: written goals and plans e.g. autofocus, imagestreaming, figuring out your cycles*, Pomodoro again, deliberate practice, brainstorming....
Sweet spot's probably somewhere between maximum happiness and maximum productivity; given congruent goals those maxima could be pretty close to each other.
* I'm a lot more creative, focused, productive mornings. I'm a lot more friendly, social, outgoing afternoons. So I schedule accordingly....
One of the things I've gotten tremendous amounts of mileage out of it is tracking my time, habits, and life each day.
To put it simply - I now realize it's impossible to understand how your life is going without some careful observation. There's a lot of time each day, and knowing where that time goes, what you ate, what you did and didn't do... it's almost impossible to get a good picture of your life without some kind of measuring.
I'm going to you my newest tracking template, and then I'll give some analysis. Before I start though, I'd like to share a quote -
“A complex system that works is invariably found to have evolved from a simple system that worked. A complex system designed from scratch never works and cannot be patched up to make it work. You have to start over, beginning with a working simple system.” -John Gall
Thus, if you want to track your time, please do not attempt to track 20 things at once, because it's unlikely to work. I started very simply, as I described in "The Evolution of My Time/Habit/Life Tracking" - I'd recommend you read that post if you want to do something like this.
Today's story is dedicated to my good friend Austin. I moved from Boston to Austin my freshman year of high school and of course had no friends here. On the very first day I made friends with the people who remain my best friends to this day, and I consider that to be perhaps the most fortunate event of my life.
One of those friends is Austin. Now in the military flying whirly-copters, he used to be the one guy (well, actually I could pretty much always count on Terry too) who would always be in for a crazy plan.
This scheme fell right into our laps.