How I Optimise my Time
No hacks, just some real advice from my own experiences..
A few weeks ago, I accidentally procrastinated away a whole afternoon watching Thomas Frank, Ali Abdaal and Matt D’Avella videos. The irony of wasting time by watching productivity videos is not lost on me. But I must admit, they are some damn good videos.
I often pride myself on being disciplined and a very get-sh*t-done sort of person. My productivity procrastination sesh has inspired me to reflect on my own life systems.
Here are some guiding principles that help me get the most out of my 24hrs a day.
⚙️ Build a trusty system
If there’s anything in my head that I can outsource to a system, I’d probably do it. Human brains aren’t very good at remembering or recording things — computers can do that way better than us! What we are good at, though, is thinking critically and creatively — we need to make space for it.
How I Do It
I live by my calendar quite diligently — “If it’s not in my calendar, it doesn’t exist!” is something people often hear me say. All my scheduled activities and planned work time go into my calendar. This does sound restrictive, but it actually frees up more energy to the task at hand instead of worrying about what’s coming up.
Everything else lives in my Notion. I try to minimise all the apps I use because it’s distracting switching from one thing to the next. I’m using Thomas Frank’s Task & Project Notion template. It’s worked pretty damn well so far so I really haven’t seen a need of creating my own template (which would actually take up a lot of my time as well!)
☕️ By outsourcing my schedule, to-do lists and project management to a few apps, I can save brain-power for the more important stuff — like writing this post.
⚔️ Ruthless Prioritisation
I’ve got to credit the fantastic Sheryl Sandberg for this one. “Ruthless prioritisation,” asks us, “What is the most important thing you can do right now?”. It’s easy to let time and energy disappear into a black hole, so we need to be intentional about how we choose to spend it.
How I Do It
As a bit of a self-confessed workaholic, it’s easy to just keep working. The Eisenhower Matrix generally helps me plan what I need to do at work.
The more important thing to talk about, in my opinion, is ruthlessly prioritising personal time. Every day, I have 1–2 hours of non-negotiable exercise time — sometimes I take an extra-long lunch break just for it. It keeps me sane and energised, and what you come to realise is that everything will keep functioning as usual if you disappear for a bit longer than expected 😉.
☕️ What are your non-negotiables? Make sure you ruthlessly prioritise these no matter how busy it gets!
✂️ Cut Context Switching
This one is inspired by the book Scrum: The Art of Doing Twice the Work in Half the Time by Jeff Sutherland. I started reading the book because it was relevant to work, but there are principles that I think we can bring into our personal lives too. My favourite is cutting context switches.
Have you ever tried to juggle multiple different tasks all at once? But in the end, you don’t end up making much progress on anything? That’s the cost that comes with context switching.
It’s a well-researched area. A study done with software teams found that the amount of “waste” exponentially increases as the number of simultaneous projects increases. If you have more than 4 things going on at once, more than half the time is a complete write-off!
It would be much more efficient to do one thing at a time at full efficiency.
How I Do It
During uni days, I would study one subject in the morning, another in the afternoon and another at night, thinking that the variety would be good to break things up. I found that I spent the first 30minutes — 1hr of each session just getting up to speed. Afterwards, I switched to dedicating entire study days to 1 subject. It definitely made it easier to get into the flow and retain more information.
☕️ Focus and flow lead to meaningful progress, so try to tackle things one at a time.
🏃♀️ Just Do It
A lot of times, we can try all the hacks that we want but the only way to get something done is to, well, get something done.
How I Do It
I’ve often found myself overwhelmed by how big a project or a task can be. I would fill time with busy-ness to make myself feel like I’m moving forward, picking fonts, font sizes, colours etc. Nothing that makes “real” progress.
Now I break up all of my big rocks beforehand, set milestones and block out time in my calendar to get these done. When you make time for yourself and set a time limit, you’re in a better place to push ahead and make some meaningful progress.
With every Batch Day post I write, I’ll pick a topic I want to write about, create a skeleton with key points and timebox each paragraph. Usually, there’s an event in my cal to block out time as well. This (typically) means I can get a first draft done within a day (or less!). I can spend time after refining, editing, culling or rewriting.
☕️ My recipe for getting sh*t done: block out some time for yourself, break down your big rock into small milestones, sprinkle a bit of time pressure and let the magic happen!
🎁 One final note…
These are the key principles that I follow to get the most out of my days. It’s taken some persistence, but it’s pretty hard-wired into my brain by now. However, it’s definitely not foolproof by any means. It’s essential to call out when things are going sideways so you can change course as needed. Life isn’t going to be the same every day, so it doesn’t make sense to have one static set of ways forever.
So, what did you think?
Love it or hate it, I’d love to know either way so I can keep improving 💪
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📚 Good reads on productivity
- Make Time: How to Focus on What Matters Every Day — Jack Knapp and John Zeratsky
- Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World — Cal Newport
- Scrum: The Art of Doing Twice the Work in Half the Time — Jeff Sutherland