It’s been a little over a month since I started experimenting with schedules and the results are the most unexpected and impactful of any of my experiments to date.
Limits for Liberation
I had been thinking about the power of limits for a while before starting this experiment. Limits– as opposed to an overabundance of choice– can improve focus and allow us to be more creative with our resources. If you only have one tool for the job, you get started and make it work. If you have an entire shed of tools, you can spend all day trying to decide on the best tool for the job.
For this experiment, limits were primarily being placed on the my flexibility (what I could work on) as well as on my availability (the amount of time I could spend on a project).
Each day of the week was mapped out in advance. I would be served up with different projects to work on each day. I could not deviate from the schedule.
Those 3 statements strike fear down to my very core.
There’s nothing fun about predictability, but by removing the “what am I doing today?” decision off from the top of the stack, I was able to focus on the real work, which is very fun indeed. The increase in the amount of focus was also unexpected in that distractions were not an issue at all.
Another result of limiting my options was an increase in satisfaction with what I was doing on a given day. There are so many things that I want to do that I often struggled with a guilty feeling that, “I should be working on [other project]”, instead of what I was actually working on. By dividing my week amongst my high-priority projects, I could rest easy in the knowledge that I have time allotted for each project. This allowed me to fully embrace what I was scheduled to work on for a given day, whether it be business development (Monday) or more creative endeavors (Thursday).
As you might imagine, having only one day per week to work on a project was a very real limit. This was probably one of the toughest aspects of the entire experiment for one simple reason– momentum.
When I first started this experiment, I was worried about the wasted momentum from not being able to continue working on a project the following day. Getting into the “zone” while working on a project is rarely immediate, so once you do get in the zone and things are moving along smoothly, it’s quite difficult to stop cold and work on something new the next day.
This is why I was hesitant to schedule just 1 day for a particular proj.I've got momentum and would love another day to finish current tasks
— Archetyped (@archetyped) October 18, 2011
Strong desire to continue work on my projects from yesterday before starting on my scheduled projects today.
— Archetyped (@archetyped) October 20, 2011
However, something unexpected occurred:
At the same time, I know I pushed hard to get a lot done today because I would be focusing on another project tomorrow
— Archetyped (@archetyped) October 18, 2011
Knowing that I was limited to one day to accomplish something on a project was a great motivator to remain focused on real results. As a result, the past 30 days yielded some of my best work to date.
While momentum is definitely important for continued progress, it is not the only factor. Placing a limit time (i.e. a deadline) applies a healthy pressure that helps us to prioritize and focus more effectively. This allows us to use any momentum we’ve built up to its fullest throughout the day, thus mitigating its loss at the end of the day.
Two more bonuses from having a daily deadline:
- Momentum is less important — As I became used to the lack of momentum from starting work on a different project each day, I depended on it less and less. Momentum is still a valuable tool, but now I have more tools to work with.
- Easier to get started — Perhaps it’s simply because I only have a day to get real results on a project, but I found myself diving into my projects much faster at the start of the day. I spent far less time on email, news, etc. as I was itching to get going each day.
A Fresh Start
A key factor that offset many of the downsides of having a fixed schedule was that each day of the week would bring something different from the last. It didn’t matter if I had worked myself to the bone on yesterday’s projects, because today offered something completely new. I was pleasantly surprised to find that I was actually looking forward to my work instead of thinking about how I could put it off.
Each day I had two options:
- Finish something (reach a milestone, release a new version of software, publish an article, etc.)
- Leave work unfinished until the next week.
The threat of having to wait for an entire week to finish a project was a strong motivator. Though not always possible, reaching a milestone each day was always the goal and led to some real results:
- 7 major updates of Simple Lightbox
- Major progress on Cornerstone
- 15 new articles published on this site
- 4 Video projects shot
- 3 Video projects published with a 4th 75% completed (Update: completed!)
- 40+ photos published
- Started work on several new projects
However, perhaps more important than the actual accomplishments was the increased sense of accomplishment. It is incredibly satisfying to finish something and move on to the next project each day.
As expected, there were some downsides to having a fixed schedule:
- No room for “life” to happen — If something unexpected comes up, a fixed schedule is harder to work around and the day may be lost. This almost happened, but I was able to shuffle my daily schedule around to accommodate things such as an unexpected trip to the vet.
- Less time to decompress — To be honest, I didn’t plan for relaxing (I never do), but the reality is that we need to decompress or we risk burning out somewhere down the road. On the other hand, the real reason I had less time to relax at the end of each day was because I was having too much fun working on my projects. A bad thing? Maybe just a little.
- No room for “dead days” — We’ve all experienced this type of day. Despite your best intentions, you just never really spring into action. According to my notes, this occurred once during the 30 day experiment. As a result, the tasks scheduled for that day took an extra week to be completed.
- No wiggle room — The biggest downside of them all. No continuing a project the following day. Work could sit incomplete for an entire week, mocking you. Then again, if I want to make progress on any of my other projects, this is a necessary evil.
- No room for other projects — My days are filled. How will I fit in another project? I think the answer has to do with finishing one of the projects currently in rotation…
Honestly, those are all the downsides that I can think off. To be frank, none of them significantly detracted from the benefits I experienced during this experiment (see above).
To Be Continued?
Yes, definitely; a schedule is here to stay. A strong sense of purpose and fulfillment are the key reasons that I will continue keeping a schedule.
I kept the same schedule throughout the entire 30 day experiment, even though I initially planned to tweak things after the first 2 weeks. I ultimately decided that it was best to let things run their course for the entire 30 days to better evaluate the costs of such a schedule. Here are some tweaks that I am considering:
- Implement a biweekly rotation — 2 consecutive days per project may allow more to get done. One potential downside is that by increasing the deadline, I decrease the pressure that helps to improve focus and prioritization. I’ll also have to let a project hang in limbo for two weeks instead of just one.
- Reevaluate project grouping — It turns out that the original daily pairings of projects worked out really well and there was very little friction to speak of. At the same time, I did find that work on some projects claimed the entire day, leaving no time to work on the other project scheduled on the same day. It is possible that a different distribution of projects throughout the week will ameliorate this.
Ultimately, I think I will continue with the original schedule, tweaking it as needed, and evaluating the results.
This experiment has made it clear that there are 2 very important factors for experiencing fulfillment and satisfaction in life:
- Purpose — knowing your role and why you’re doing it is vital to being satisfied.
- Results — experiencing the fruits of our labor keeps us motivated to keep on trucking.