The Productivity Road Test

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So, what’s this great experiment going to look like, anyway?

My brain had more than a few ideas.

(Fun fact: I have a lot of trouble focusing on writing and business tasks, especially when I’m trying to get the ball rolling every day. But show me a bright, shiny idea for a new interest or project and it’s like a switch has flipped in my brain that turns me into a mega-focused idea generation machine. If only I could use my powers for good instead of procrastination…)

I wrote down a lot of those ideas, discarded a few, and wrangled a bunch of them into what I’m calling phase one of the experiment. The whole thing is ridiculously unscientific, of course. The fact that I’m tracking my time and focusing on productivity will no doubt offer a false boost to my focus and productivity. My sample size is moi. I can’t control other variables that might affect outcomes when I’m testing an idea because this is life, and life is messy.

But I can plan, I can implement, I can track, and dammit, I can take notes.

And I can make some rules to keep my rebellious mind in line (maybe):

  • Give ideas a fair shot, including time to adapt to changes and to account for health/hormone fluctuations. Unless something presents a clear danger to my health or well-being (or anyone else’s), stick it out.

  • I will not try illegal drugs, questionable supplements, crazy diets, etc.

  • Work productivity will ideally not interfere with home and family responsibilities or my ability to take time to (attempt to) relax. Short-term scheduling experiments may impact the hours I spend available to my family, but should not get in the way of commitments I’ve decided are a priority (like helping with homework/projects, taking time to walk the dog, cooking supper, packing lunches, spending time hanging out with my husband, listening to the kids talk about their interests*, etc.)

  • Control other variables when possible. I will do my best to take medications consistently, get the same amount of exercise each week, sleep the same number of hours, and not make any huge changes to my diet unless I’m actually testing those changes.

  • Be honest about the process, results, successes, failures, and obstacles that affect outcomes (even if they make me sound like a whiny baby or look like an ass… and I totally will).

  • Post results on the blog once per week. Add other posts when possible on related topics. Write posts on the weekend so procrastiblogging is not an option, and don’t count writing them as productive work time. They’re not, even if they feel like it. This is a hobby that will hopefully support my work. Got it, brain?

  • When possible, cite the sources of ideas and information used in the experiment.

So, how are we going to do this thing?

*cracks knuckles*

It’s going to be pretty low-tech for the most part. One of the “hacks” (ugh, I hate that everything is a hack now) that works for me is limiting the time I spend with my phone in my hand, as it inevitably leads to temptation and distraction from email or social media. I don’t use electronic calendars, time-tracking apps, or to do lists if I can avoid them.

I have a notebook, pens, and markers.

I have a Fitbit.

I have an app to block internet sites while I’m working, though I have honestly never used it and should therefore probably test it separately. So scratch that one.

I have Phone Jail, which is a box where my phone lives when I’m not actively using it or out of the house (and which keeps me from losing my phone, which I do a lot.)

I have my bullet journal, which is also a notebook. But it’s a different notebook, so it’s on the list.

And I’ve got books that are full of ideas.

Here’s how I’m putting them together.

  • I will be tracking how I actually use my time. As I write this, I’m on day one and am already hitting snags (my tendency to float from task to task if I’m not working at the computer means accuracy is difficult even if I track my time in 15-minute increments. And the fact that my Fitbit only lets me set 8 alarms a day means I have to rely on my phone–the one that’s supposed to be in jail–for the rest. Seriously, Fitbit. The heck.) This is where the markers come in. Tasks/activities are colour coded and broken down into categories like work, exercise, personal time, family/home focus, and sleep. I have no doubt I’ll need to mess around with these categories (and find a way to track focus vs. multitasking and minutes spent procrastinating) but it’s a starting point.**
  • I will also be tracking my energy levels every hour to see how changes might affect them.
  • I’ll be noting water, caffeine, food, and exercise in case I need to look back on them later.
  • I have a list of ideas to try out. I also have a list of “nope” ideas I’ve come across, because you just never know when a nope might become a “but what if…”
  • I’ll be noting my hours worked, word or page count (drafting vs editing) and business hours/accomplishments, mood, energy and focus I have left for post-work stuff, and other measures that will help me more judge what’s happening.

All of this is just to help me track the results of my experiments/changes, and it’s really important. I’m a terrible judge of both how I use my time and how long tasks take. My memory of how I’ve used my time is also awful, so I tend to feel unproductive at the end of the day even if I’ve crossed off a whole lot on my list. Stopping to think about it and make accurate notes every hour will force me to look at what I’m really accomplishing instead of what I feel like I’m accomplishing.

Not everything is objectively measurable. If I write 10K words in a day but end up burned out, headachey, and miserable (with my kids starving and the litter box overflowing), I can’t call that a win. That’s why I’m tracking the non-objective stuff, too.

The Plan

Weeks one and two will just be me working the same hours I attempted to work last school year, but with attention to how I’m really spending my time. How long does it take me to actually sit down and work after the clock starts running? What’s getting in the way? What hours are the most productive, assuming I’m focused? I’m not changing anything (except that increased awareness of how I’m spending my time), but seeing what I can do without making any major changes. This schedule frequently felt like it was working for me, so for now it will be the baseline I’ll test other options against to see whether they’re helping or hurting me.

Then I’m going to move on to the one major factor that will actually affect the number of hours I have available for work and personal (ie not home/family) time: My schedule. We’ll get into details on the hows and whys later, but the basic plan is to experiment for four weeks with what I’m calling the Godawful Early Schedule (waking up at 5:30 to get 90 minutes of work in before I need to get the kids up and out, working through the morning after they’re at school, and using afternoons for reading, exercise, and restoration so maybe I’ll actually be awake after supper). The second schedule I’d like to test is the split shift: Working during the day and then attempting to add a few scheduled hours here and there in the evening after everything else is taken care of or on weekends.

(Yes, this is where the blog comes in. It’ll be easier for me to stick to early mornings/justify later hours to myself and my family if it’s For Science But Not Really Science rather than just me kinda trying a thing.)

And then? Then I’ve got an ever-growing list of ideas to try once I’ve settled on a schedule that works for me. Some of them are weird. Some of them make me want to slap myself for even considering them. Some will require big commitments and further changes to my routine. Most are smaller. All will be challenging, but I hope some will be rewarding.

Let’s go.

(In the next few posts we’ll talk about what my current schedule and productivity look like, what I’m working on, and the productivity techniques that have worked for me. Yay, groundwork… ^_^)


*Minecraft. They talk about Minecraft. And other people playing Minecraft. Save me.

**I’m reviewing and posting this on day four, and this has already evolved a lot. We can look at that in another post once I’ve got all the kinks worked out.

 

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About Kate Sparkes

Kate Sparkes was born in Hamilton, Ontario, but now resides in Newfoundland, where she tries not to talk too much about the dragons she sees in the fog. She lives with a Mountie, two kids who take turns playing Jeckyll and Hyde, two cats, an intentional boxer and an accidental chihuahua. She's the author of the bestselling Bound Trilogy (mature YA Fantasy). www.katesparkes.com View all posts by Kate Sparkes

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