I had a teacher in high school that I absolutely loathed. Mr. X had a very hands-off approach to teaching, and asked us to read our textbooks and come to class the next day test-ready. “This is how it’s going to be like in college,” he told his students. “It’s all about TIME MANAGEMENT.” Whenever he said the words “TIME MANAGEMENT” he would pound his desk with both hands in a way that really got my goat.
What bothered me the most is that he was right. So much of my personal successes depended on my ability to responsibly manage my time. If you ask any of my friends, I have a fiendish obsession with punctuality (something you may have read about before). What’s interesting about time is that it is a finite resource and for each person there is a limit to the amount of work they can get done in a day. I’m interested in optimizing my productivity in a sustainable way, which means getting as much done as possible without feeling terrible.
I base my approach around the Benjamin Franklin work schedule, which I have pictured below. The basic concept is to wake up, assess “what good” I can do today, and to stop at a set time in order to enjoy myself, and to reflect on my achievements in the evening.
In adapting this structure in my own life, I’ve noticed that there are two key aspects of this mode of thinking that are particularly useful: assessment and enjoyment.
If you wake up in the morning and make a reasonable goal for what to do that day, you already have a head start on getting things done. As opposed to approaching the day without a plan, you now have a frame of reference for where you should be directing your energy. Furthermore, by ending the day with reflection, you can see what worked and what didn’t, which informs how to do the next day better than the last. This creates a loop of continuous fine-tuning and adjustments that will help you get close to being your most effective self.
For example, let’s say I wake up and decide I’m going to do three hours of code before I go to my day job. After one hour, I feel horrible, and the next two hours of study are fruitless because none of the information sticks. At the end of the day, I really only got one hour of work done and I am also unhappy. The next day, if I say I will only do an hour and a half of work but with ten minute breaks and diverse subject matter, I will get more done and feel better by the end of the day.
For me and my workaholic friends, self-care and non-productive play is a foreign concept. We are often alarmed at how good it feels to just hang out and do nothing, especially when our values are centered around how much value we can produce in a day. The Benjamin Franklin work schedule highlights the need for “diversions”, or things that are just nice to do and not necessarily “work.” My rule is that any work I do after 5pm is extra credit. I don’t have to work after 5pm, and if I do it shouldn’t feel like a pain in the ass. This means I can watch movies, listening to music, and hang out guilt-free because I have designated hours for work that are separate from my hours for fun.
Currently, I wake up early to code in the morning, I do my coffee job in the afternoon, and I do whatever my heart desires in the evening. This creates a loop of productivity and enjoyment that I can keep doing instead of burning out and losing my mind (which still happens, but less frequently).
Mr. X, to my ire, was right. It’s all about (pounds desk) TIME MANAGEMENT. And funnily enough, for me it revolves around making sure that I have enough wiggle room to do things that aren’t scheduled. I once read that Gertrude Stein often abandoned her commitments to go on long walks and attend operas. It’s interesting to me that seemingly unproductive time can actually be productive if I allow my mind to wander and play, instead of relentlessly pushing its limits. There is a time and place for everything, and I guess that’s where the science lies.