I have learned a valuable lesson this past week – micro-scheduling is critical to maintain hyper focus and consistent output. Over the past few months I had been experimenting with a new personal production model. The idea was to have six, one-hour focused time blocks of work throughout my eight hour work day. I have discussed this further in my Five Personal Habits post. Quickly I felt that one hour of deep work wasn’t enough, so I pushed it up to four 90 minute blocks per day. However, I had noticed that at 90 minutes I had a more difficult time staying focused and productive. While I still maintained an overall productive workflow in the 90 minute time block, each time block felt like it could have been spent more effectively.
A couple of days ago, it hit me. Just like I schedule tomorrow’s task list today, I can also micro schedule each 90 minute focus block. The issue with an unscheduled 90 minute block is that it becomes easier to lose focus on task after about 45 minutes of work (based on my own personal estimates). At the beginning of each 90 block, I take two minutes and write on a small post it note three tasks to complete in that 90 minute block. I also allocate the amount of time I will spend on each one, with no task allocated more than 45 minutes. That is essentially it. For clarity and formality’s stake, here are my four steps of micro scheduling.
Step 1 – Start your time block.
While this step may seem like a no-brainer, there is actually some formality to it. First decide how much time will be devoted to the entire time block. I suggest 60 or 90 minutes as a good amount. To make sure your time block is structured, use a timer of some kind, something like a Pomodoro Technique. I also recommend doing your micro scheduling after you start your x-minute time block. I find the act of starting the count down time is a great trigger for then writing your micro tasks for that time block.
Step 2 – Micro Schedule
Once your countdown timer has begun, break out Post-It notes and write out three or four things you want to have completed by the end of that x-minute time block. Don’t worry about the time allocation straight away, first list the two or three tasks. Then once you have your list, allocate 15, 30, or 45 minute micro-time blocks and write that amount of time next each task. If possible, have one task be an ongoing task, like writing a report. The idea is that if you finish another micro task early, or are waiting for a program to finish running, you always have something to work on for the remainder of the current time block.
Step 3 – Post the Post-It note directly in front of you and get to work!
Simple but effective. If you find your mind wander or just want to quickly that notification ‘bing!’ on your phone, the visual reminder of where your focus should lie. Once you have your post-it note in front of you, get your butt to work! And don’t quit until your countdown timer has reached 0:00.
Step 4 – Quick summary of each block
Once the timer has reached its end time, stop working. Take the post-it note and write just a couple words, two sentences max, of the actual progress you made toward each task. An important aspect of a highly productive lifestyle is knowing what you accomplished. Being able to look back on x-amount of time working and see the fruits of your labour will provide energy and motivation to keep moving forward. Additionally, it is a great organisation tool for estimating task-time allocation.
I realise the micro-scheduling technique may sound rather simple. But if you implement it, you will be blown away by how much focus and productive output it provides. Seriously. Additionally, it relieves a lot of anxiety as it helps break down larger tasks into smaller tasks. Writing is a prime example. I micro schedule in one 15 minutes micro-block of writing into each of my four daily 90 minute blocks. I can easily write for 15 minutes, four separate times per day. In fact, I wrote the first, nearly complete version draft of this post in two 15 minute micro scheduled sessions. If I attempted to do it all at once, I’d argue it take twice that long.