From time to time, everyone gets so ridiculously busy than they need to make cuts on some of their activities. If these cuts aren't consciously chosen, they'll happen anyways - we've only got 24 hours a day.
Interestingly, I hit a massively busy patch last week. I came onboard as a partner at a new company that's growing fast, but we haven't hired the staff to take over a lot of the mid-level tasks that need done. So we were jamming on everything for a week, plus I have a lot of other things going on.
What shocks me is how poorly the cuts I made at first were. The things that weren't getting done were some of the most valuable. Here's three that I wasn't doing, that I've now reversed even though this week is still busy -
1. Planning/organizing: There's been a bit of an anti-planning backlash the last few years in response to stupid bureaucracy in big companies. But the more experience I get and the more I interact with people performing on a really high level, the more planning and organizing I see.
Think about it - many activities and tasks only get 5-10 minutes of planning, but then take 3-10 hours to do. If you double your planning and make a task only 10% more efficient, you've got a net gain. Yeah, it can feel like "shit, I've got to get to work" when you're super busy, but being frantic leads to waste. Don't stop planning if you have too much going on. Arguably, that's when you should plan more carefully at the start of each day and week.
2. Fitness: I'm doing a wonderful set of bodyweight exercises put together by my friend who is a top biomechanist. I've started doing handstands, even! I always feel great after my quick workout and for the rest of the day.
But when time crunch came on, what was the first thing that got cut for me? That's right, fitness. Now I'm explicitly scheduling fitness into my daily schedule, and holding it just as sacred as an important business meeting. Whatever kind of fitness you normally prefer, make sure you're giving it the proper amount of time. Again, this is where planning/organizing helps - you recognize that you need to make cuts on the demands on your time to do your fitness, because it's going to lead to everything going much better.
3. Sleep: So I'd been running at a low level for a while, which is fine for high stimulation activities where you're on the go, but I was hazy when doing things solo that require continuous concentration.
I'm all for sleeping less if possible to do in a healthy and pragmatic way, but once you feel the drag coming on, it's time to schedule some sleep. Opt out of something else, and actually schedule a bedtime or long nap, or plan to sleep if you've got a significant train or taxi ride coming up.
These are all activities that no one is going to get on your case about if you neglect them, but your work quality will suffer and you'll move closer to breaking point.
You do need to know what you're up against - you might have to make cuts to an area that people will be unhappy with you in order to plan, exercise, and sleep. They might be vocally unhappy. Still, getting a rote task that isn't mission critical done 2 days earlier by skipping your workout is a fool's bargain. Try to explain to people calmly when things can be done. Some people will be upset anyways, and that's fine. It's not good, but it's probably necessary if you want to keep producing at high levels.
People talk a lot about #2 and #3 in general. I like the distinction you made between stimulating activities and more rote ones. Sometimes we need to execute well on blocking and tackling, and this is where sleep really helps. Also, sleep and exercise are related, IMO. If you're well rested, you'll perform better physically and recover faster. And exercising helps you sleep more soundly.
People don't talk as much about #1, but you can see this manifest in lots of different contexts, unfortunately when you omit it. As my contractor buddies like to say, "Measure twice, cut once."
Sebastian, can you put your bodyweight workout online?
I'm currently trying to make excercise part of my routine but unfortunately it hasn't stuck yet.
I'm interested in your bodyweight workout routine. I've just started trying to learn how to do handstands and a bodyweight routine would be great for traveling. Anything in there besides pushups, pullups, crunches, handstands?
I've been getting good value recently out of doing bursts of exercise in breaks at work. For Repetitive Strain Injury prevention reasons, I take 5 mins every half an hour of solid keyboard work, and I've got a Kinect in the office - so I spend 5 minutes jumping around every half an hour.
It's very noticable that I get a burst of productivity after the first time I do this in the day.
#2 tends to get me the most, always looking for excuses not to workout no matter how badly I need to.
I have noticed #3 the most in my life. Because I have learned to pay attention to my reactions I have realized how much lack of sleep affects me. That power nap can be THE difference between just-completed and quality work. Learning the importance of taking breaks and getting sleep is still a work in progress but I am becoming more comfortable stopping work and sleeping for a short time; ultimately it makes me more productive.
What a damn strange week. It was totally off-track by my metrics, through a mix of stupid stuff coming up (people late, canceled appointments, need to do runaround stuff like renew visas), good opportunities coming my way that I grabbed that weren't on the core metrics, and after things started to slip, then poor pre-planning and poor tracking making it worse.
Let's review this week in-depth, it might be interesting for you. Here's a breakdown of what happened by day --
Day Eight: Busy, a couple big wins, but not on-track with my metrics.
Day Nine: Day started very strong, but then I had to do a lot of running around -- renewing my business visa, foreign resident registration at the police station, etc. Once I got into the "errand running" part of the day between visas, etc, the day went off-track.
Day Ten: Also hosed -- I had a few client calls at weird hours, so I had broken sleep through the night (with calls mixed in), then first thing in the morning I had to go to the Public Security Bureau for the new interview for my F-Visa. ("Interview" sounds stronger than it is. I stood in line for 40 minutes or so, smiled, said hello, they took my picture, I signed the form, and left.) Then had lunch about 40 minutes later, though my host for lunch was an hour late… and just like that, the top half of the day was gone, and already out in space. Did a long walk back home (from Guomao to Shuangjing), then a client canceled a call (family emergency on his end), and the power went out at one of my properties because the guys renting burned through a lot more power than normal.
Sounds drastic, right? I've decided that I'm going to take a break from polyphasic sleep - probably 3-4 weeks. As of today I've been doing it for about 4.5 months, and I feel like I have a good feel for what it's like.
The truth is that napping during the day isn't hard to do, but it is definitely disruptive - especially to other people. For example, last week a friend from San Francisco was in town for South by Southwest. I was hanging out with him and his friends, when all of a sudden it was nap time. They basically had to sit around and wait for me to take my nap, or lose my company. If I was deriving great benefit from the schedule, it would be worth such social impositions, but I'm not really getting that much from it.
I don't really need the extra time right now. I thought I would make good use of it, but I honestly don't. If I was super busy, then I would be more motivated to stay on polyphasic sleep. Also, no one else is doing it with me anymore, so my options for what to do during the night are fairly limited. Because I don't really need the sleep, and usually don't have too much to do at night, I end up slightly oversleeping. This means that I probably sleep 4-4.5 hours per day on average.