Cafe Witness

Thursday, March 01, 2007

How Do You SEE Time?

Everyone has 24 hours in their day. But not everyone divides those 24 hours the same way.

For some actions, an hour is sufficient. Others may take minutes, while still others take all day.

But if you begin to understand WHEN you're most productive, and what time of day you're best suited for certain tasks, you may also find an unusual stumbling block: instead of not having ENOUGH time, you may not have the right KIND of time.

Hickory Dickory Dock

I like to start actions at the top of the hour. Whether it's a meeting, a class, a lunch break or a load of freelance work, starting a new action at the top of the hour makes me feel as though I have a long stretch of time to work uninterrupted. In fact, I'm so keen on the top of the hour that I've trained my brain to see this part of every 60-minute cycle as an optimal time of day.

Conversely, starting an action at the bottom of an hour, or anywhere else in-between, agitates me.

The same work that I can dive into with abandon at 3 PM becomes a case of the blahs if I get started at 3:10. Somehow, my mind has already begun to write off this hour as being underproductive. Already, my brain aches for 4 PM, to get a "fresh start."

This explains why I prefer to round up to the nearest full hour whenever I take naps, if possible.

Eight Days a Week

My preference for the top of the hour extends to the calendar week as well. Mondays are huge days for my mental success. If I can get a jump on the week on Monday, if I can execute my list of things to do for that day -- or, heavens be praised, work ahead -- then it's smooth sailing the rest of the week. Even if I dawdle by Thursday, my brain assesses the week as a positive because of the strong start.

Meanwhile, if I stumble on Monday and don't get to the meat of the workweek until Tuesday, the entire week feels like a wash. I could actually be twice as productive as I would be in the previous week's example, but my brain would register it as a failure because I was always working to catch up.

The Solution

I doubt I'm alone in this chronal oddity. Everyone has their own idiosyncracies in life, and their perception of time should be no exception. (If that were the case, I doubt David Allen would be making millions off the Getting Things Done movement, which is proof that none of us has a mastery of his or her own time.)

One of the ways I combat this mental attrition is to schedule my workday in a consistent manner:

- Start a new action at the top of each hour, when applicable.
- If that action is done early, find a similar action to take next, so it feels as though I'm working on a related arm of the same project
- Try to squeeze showers, naps and lunch into the timeframe when my computer is busy doing something else (capturing video, awaiting email feedback, etc.), so I don't derail productive time and end up with a handful of stray minutes... like, say, 55 of them...

Of course, no approach is foolproof. Every day, precious hours are sliced into sections due to previous engagements, transportation woes and other exterior obligations that disrupt my ideal timeframe. Instead of a full hour to complete a mid-sized task, or 4+ hours to devote to something major, I often find myself with 28 minutes here, 90 minutes there.

So the next-best solution is to identify tasks I can knock out in lesser amounts of time and still feel productive. Is there a blog post I can write in 20 minutes? Are there pending emails I should be responding to that would only take 10 minutes? Does something in the apartment need to be cleaned and reorganized in the next 45?

Now that I'm coming to grips with HOW I see time, I can better schedule my necessary actions to better fit within all the fractured hours my day provides.

How do YOU see time? How does that impact YOUR workflow?

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  • I see where you are going with this, but it doesn't relate to me. I try to do everything all at once. Appease everyone all the same time, have my cake, eat it while sharing it with everyone around me. Tools to success, great bakeries.

    My problem is that I know I am most productive in the morning. However I am not a morning person. Seriously.

    Honestly I am influenced by those around me and i am most productive while meeting the demands or expectations of those people. This is a gray area in the professional realm where everyone is an individual and expected to produce on an extreemly high level without the help of anyone aroudn them.

    I suppose in the big picture I trick myself into beliving that the work I do is more important than any other work and therfore justified and worthwile.

    So who else reads this blog?

    By Blogger Norm, at 12:54 AM  

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