Over the last week, I have tried to follow a somewhat fixed schedule for how I should spend my time. I have generally divided my time into seven weakly-defined categories, and have tried to apply these categories to each hour of my week. It might be easier if I just show you the schedule:
I am not trying to follow the schedule to the letter. I do not set down my bowl of rice and beans at exactly 8pm if I am not yet done eating. The purpose of setting this schedule for myself was to get a higher-level view of how many hours per week I dedicate to each "category" of my life. So, I mostly focus on spending the right amount of time, not necessarily in any particular order or at a specific time. However, I have mostly followed the schedule, as it has been pretty easy to do so this week.
Why do I want this higher-level view? It is for a couple of reasons...
The first is that I did not really know how much time I was spending on my profession, outside of my freelancing responsibilities. This caused me to feel guilt, for never doing enough.
The other reason is that I wanted to force myself (or allow myself) the time to do things strictly outside my daily routine. Like, I am new to San Francisco, so now I can "force" myself to explore the new city for at least 2 hours every Sunday by including it in my schedule. I know myself, and therefore if I am not intentional about exploring, then it is not going to happen.
In fact, both of these reasons sort of mix. The guilt that I feel for never being productive enough might stop me from allocating time for exploration, because "it is not a productive activity". Except that it is a valuable activity for my own well-being, and it becomes a lot easier to see these patterns (and manage them) after adding this structured routine to my life.
I have used the words "force" and "allow" here, but deep-down I think of it slightly differently. I am giving myself permission to be unproductive.
So, if you took a sharp look at my schedule you might have a few questions. I will try to answer them as briefly as possible.
What does "Work::Free" mean?
It is the time that I have allotted to myself to be "productive". Mostly, this means learning more about my profession (Computer Science), building some cool widget that I can either profit from or release as OSS, or time I can spend helping others learn software development.
"Work" is my 9-5 career, and "Work::Free" is my own time to get work done. I can use it however I want, as long as it fits the above criteria.
What about "Exercise::Public"?
This is time I have allotted to do some sort of physical activity... socially. Normally, I exercise at home doing a bodyweight-focused routine. This allotment of time is to force me to spend more time out of my house and taking part in some sort of community.
At the moment, it means going to the rock climbing gym, Mission Cliffs, in San Francisco. Other ideas might be yoga classes or dance classes.
"Organize" is pretty generic isn't it?
Well, yes. I haven't really figured out exactly what it means yet, but I have a rough idea. In general, it's supposed to be the time I spend on things that allow me to keep my routine (and my life) running smoothly.
This can mean cleaning the apartment, getting groceries, doing laundry, or whatever other chores come up. I could also do these activities in my "Free" time, but I am dedicating time to being organized so that I cannot be lazy about chores and push them off. I have to spend time on chores.
And "Free" time? What does it really mean?
It is time where I can do anything. Whatever I feel like. I think it is always good to have flex time in your routine, in the same way that is is smart to have flex money in your budget: Life is unpredictable, but you still have to handle it.
Okay, and what about the hashtags?
Well, where two colons (::) specify the "type" of the activity, the hashtag (or pound sign) specifies a very specific activity inside of a category. I use this on two occassions at the moment.
"Work#Blog" is time I have dedicated to blogging every week, because it is important to me. Look, I am doing it now, at 11:08am.
"Organize#Reflect" and "Organize#Plan" are meant to be the times that I reflect on my schedule and my week. Am I satisfied with how my week went? Is there anything that I want to change? What about next week, what should I do?
This actually leads me to my Trello board. Along with my new routine, I am using a Trello board to track what I am getting done. I have been using the Trello board for quite a long time, but I find that it fits together extremely well with my new routine and has become even more valuable to me. Let's talk about it.
This is only a small sample of my current state of affairs. As you can see, I currently have a few things in my "Doing" column. I have started these tasks, but not yet finished. In fact, my laundry is done in the washer right now, and I need to go change it...
Okay, I'm back.
I use this Trello board througout the week to help me prioritize which tasks are most important and to categorize activities so that I can "pull" from a category during a time when I am meant to be spending time on it. At the moment, it is mostly organiational activities (the purple label).
The purpose of the "Reflecting" part of my week is to just quickly go over everything in the Done column and be mindful and aware of them. Once I have reminded myself of everything, I archive all the items in the list and start fresh for the upcoming week.
The purpose of reminding myself of these activities is so that I can more effectively reflect on my process as a whole. After I review the Done column, I start having a retrospective with myself.
This is an idea stolen (and modified) from Agile. Essentially, I take some time and come up with things that I thought went well last week, and things that I thought went poorly. I reflect on the things that went well, and I try to come up with solutions to things that went poorly. This can mean that I need to change my routine (more "Organize" time?) or it can mean adding a specific task to my To-Do list.
During the retro is also a time where I am able to mind dump all my small worries that I have been holding onto. Like, last week, I remembered that I had not yet blown up my air mattress, so I added that to my Trello board. This takes the worry off my mind, because now I know that I will get to it.
The purpose of the "Planning" part of my week is to go over the Trello board and make sure there are enough things in my "To-Do" column for the upcoming week. It is also a time to make sure that I do not have too much, as it is not a good feeling to be overwhelmed.
If you are familiar with Agile software development, this workflow is likely quite familiar to you. If not, I hope that I explained myself well enough, because this article is getting quite wordy and I think I need to stop soon. As well, it is now 11:38pm and I am almost out of time!
I know that it is a lot to take in, and if you have any questions please reach out to me on Twitter or email. I would love to answer your questions. My twitter is @NickOnTheWeb and my email is email@example.com.
I will also leave you with full access to my schedule and my Trello board. It might be a bit daring to make my Trello board public, but we will see how it goes. Feel free to leave comments on the Trello board.