A Calendar Framework To Keep You Productive & Sane
Time is our most precious resource. No matter how badly we want more hours in the day, there’s nothing we can do to stop the inevitable sunset. We’re conditioned to fit as much as possible into a 24-hour span. We juggle priorities like work, family, health and social needs, chores, and relaxation. Ahh!! It’s easy to feel like a hamster on a wheel, trying everything we can to get ahead. Yet when our head hits the pillow we often dwell on all we didn’t accomplish. You can see our incessant need to do more with our time; here’s a graph showing Google search results for “how to be more productive.”
“Most people overestimate what they can do in one year and underestimate what they can do in ten years.”Bill Gates
How can we structure our time to get the most out of our next ten years? We consistently practice rigid flexibility.
I love oxymorons: those phrases that pair two opposites to make sense of something counterintuitive. Jumbo Shrimp. Bittersweet. Dark light. They shouldn’t make sense, but they fit together just right.
Rigid flexibility is the art of structuring your calendar to maximize your output, while leaving room to just be human. When done correctly, you feel incredibly productive and fulfilled every night when it’s time to shut things down.
The rigidity comes from blocking windows of time in the calendar for very specific must-do projects and tasks. These are the non-negotiables. The flexibility manifests in the time between the must-do’s. This is unscheduled free time that should be spent on things that fulfill and re-energize you.
Rigidly blocked time examples:
- Active recovery
- Family time
- Work time
Flexible time examples:
- Socializing with friends
- Time in nature
- House chores
Focus is underrated
Distractions dominate your waking hours. Social media is designed to hijack your neurochemistry by constantly beckoning you to return to your news feed for more updates, likes, and virtual social connection. This has far-reaching negative implications, one of the most important of which is the draw social media has on our attention.
To get ahead, you have to focus. Ruthlessly prioritizing what needs your attention and cutting out distraction enables you to enter a deep state of focus on the work at hand which accelerates your productivity immensely. According to a University of California Irvine study, it “takes an average of 23 minutes and 15 seconds to get back to a task” after being distracted.
Think about that. In a modern office setting, open-door policies and agenda-less meetings are the norms. The pulls on your attention sap your ability to accomplish meaningful work in the time allotted. To earn the daily productivity you yearn for, you must set boundaries around your time.
A rigidly flexible calendar should have blocks of time carved out to do deep work on important projects and activities. This includes work priorities, exercise time, errands, etc. All that matters is blocking the time and sticking to that window with intense focus.
As I sit here writing (7-9am time block) my phone is on Do Not Disturb to prevent me from checking notifications. A great tool to hedge your diminishing willpower is Cold Turkey – it prevents surfing the web while working on something important.
Productivity hacks aren’t the answer
My Twitter feed (yes, I fall victim to the social media brain drain) is riddled with headlines ploying me with “5 hacks to be more productive.” I have multiple books with tips and tricks on how to do more with my time. I’ve fallen into the trap of believing that stacking more stuff into my day is the way to succeed.
Most of the hacks follow the same rhythm:
- While driving, use voice notes to write emails and texts.
- Listen to audiobooks while you workout.
- Use Alexa to turn on your coffee maker and give you the news.
These aren’t hacks, they’re distractions! Doing multiple things at once simply ensures that nothing gets done with a high degree of efficacy. The best way to get more done is to set time blocks with hyper-specific goals in mind and lock in your full attention until the time block is completed. The time spent in deep work ensures you give your priorities the attention required to achieve the results you desire.
Don’t fret trying to get more and more stuff done in a given day. Instead, focus on goal-setting and blocking time for the people and projects that are critically important. As you begin accomplishing more work during those blocks, you’ll be able to complete more projects over the course of weeks and months. Focus takes discipline. Set your phone aside for two hours and see what you can accomplish.
All work and no play leads to a dull life. The value of practicing rigid flexibility is twofold. As already outlined, it forces focused attention on priorities. Being rigid means staying laser-focused on the task at hand for the time that’s been allocated. The space between these areas of deep focus is your flexible time.
Flex time is designed to keep spontaneity, novelty, and freedom of choice in your day. Fresh experiences like meeting new people, visiting new places, or trying new things grant you an updated perspective. New perspectives drive gratitude and reflection of the goals you’ve set for yourself. Without taking time to decompress from work, family, and daily to-do’s it’s easy to lose sight of the bigger picture: living in full pursuit of your life’s purpose.
Integrating regular fun and flexibility into your day-to-day will keep you fresh and excited to tackle the priorities that make up your long-term goals. Embrace the downtime: how you spend it gives your life richness.
Time management is one the most important parts of building a high-performance lifestyle. Not only do you need to budget for high-productivity tasks, but you also need to create space for novel fun experiences. There’s a delicate dance between output and recharging. The best way to accommodate all that needs to happen in a given week is to maintain a rigidly flexible calendar with alternating periods of deep focus and relaxation. Without the effort, your goals will never come to fruition. Without rest, you’ll burn yourself out of the energy needed to keep going.
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