Fixed schedule productivity

July 3, 2020

In this post, I decided to document my experience with the fixed schedule productivity system which has been something that has been preached by Cal Newport for some time. I decided to give it a go. Bottom line. It works.

Day 1: It seems obvious that to make this work, one has to be realistic about how many hours each tasks should be completed. I started out the day with three missions. I finished only one, made progress with the second and didn’t even get to the third. The third wasn’t such a big deal and I could have deferred that to a different time, but my lack of appreciating the amount of work that needed to happen got the better of me. What should have happened is the following: I should have stuck to two projects that day as not only are they more important, and they have a specific deadline. Therefore, in my weekly planning, I should try to become better at working backwards. On the plus side, I checked my e-mail only twice: once at 11:30 and another time at 15:00. Things to improve for tomorrow: keep it simple and take upon less.

Day 3: The last two days have been a bit hectic as I had to make some changes due to unforeseen changes in my work and school schedule. This doesn’t mean I had to abandon all my fixed-schedule, but it did become apparent that I’ve taken upon myself too many obligations. It is now obvious that in order for the system to work, one has to be more realistic with the number of projects one can work on at any given point in time. Sadly, I’m in a situation when I still have “project debt” which under this fixed schedule program I wouldn’t have taken upon myself. Hopefully this hectic situation should clear up a bit next week. On the plus side, I did manage to increase my productivity. That is, when I worked, I worked deeply.

Day 5: Things are going ok. I have less of a struggle to fit in tasks and estimating how long they’d take. What I like for now with the system is that it forces you to make hard choices about your working day and making every hour count. For instance, yesterday, I had a back to back meeting and I knew that if I go to both meetings, I wouldn’t be able to to finish my tasks for the day and probably end up working on the weekend. The old me would have probably been ok with that. The new me put the foot down. Things I struggle with: I am still a bit too optimistic when setting time constrains. New method I will employ: give an estimate and double it. I also struggle with letting go completely of work related things on the weekend. I still ponder about work and think I should be more productive on the weekend. On the other hand, I do keep my phone far away from me and minimize my email checking for twice a day only. I admit sometimes I do check it more often, but it is a work in progress.

Day 10: It is becoming clear that the fixed productivity method demands ruthless prioritizing. I am getting better at this, but i am still not quite there. What helps a lot is doing the first deep work session in the morning before emails. This means you can accomplish a lot more done in your todo list before lunch and then there is already less pressure. It also makes you appreciate your spare time better and really consider if the project can fit in your long term project. All in all, looking back at the week, I have accomplished a lot. i would have wanted to accomplish more perhaps ex-ante, but I need to be more realistic towards what I can achieve in a week and remember the key is FOCUS. For next week: remember to look at emails only twice daily, continue to ruthlessly prioritize even if it means offending people and not going to meetings that go nowhere and work on your focus. I am writing this on Thursday, the end of the work week, and today I let myself wander too much. I did accomplish part of my list but it could have been a lot better.

Day 15: It has been almost a week since I wrote my experience as I thought there was nothing new to write. Things are going much better in terms of estimating how much every assignment will actually take. I also find myself saying no to obligations that come up (that is when I have the liberty to do so) which is part of being realistic with the amount of time you have. I do find though that after I am done with certain big projects I have a tendency to take my time and find my focus again. I think this will be improved with practice as it is kind off like “laying on a bed of roses” since there is nothing immediate now on the horizon. I am trying to avoid this as this is how you get in trouble and to strict deadlines. A few things that greatly improved my productivity: Not checking email after 11:30. This has been big. I go to the office, get the most important thing done and only then at 11:30 check my email. Huge booster. Also, I work in an office. What I did was turned off some lights. This makes it seem from the outside that I am out of my office which achieves the following people who want to casually chat with me don’t come in assuming i am not there. People who need to reach me actually make sure I am there…

Day 25: As I am writing this, it is 17:30 and I’m about to leave work. This will be my final note about this experiment I’ve taken upon myself. I will start from the end. The method works. It works not because it is sophisticated but because starting from the end and working backwards to plan your year/day/week just makes much more sense. The fixed schedule also makes you be a lot more serious about your time. In the last month, I’ve said no to countless of requests just because I couldn’t fit them in in my priorities which are made very clear with this method. There is no room to horse around. The biggest game changer for me was not checking my email until 11:30. I would come to work and just work uninterrupted. Just this trick boosted my productivity quite a lot. I do admit i had to work a few weekends, but this is only due to “inheritance” of projects i said yes to but shouldn’t have. There were also a few times that i checked my emails more than i needed to.. it is after all a work in progress…