Andy Gainey

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The Daily Routine

As I noted at the end of my previous post, my next phase of designing routines focused on the structure of a full day. After two weeks, the effect seems to be impressively positive. My days have been more consistent, more focused, and less frustrating. Productivity has roughly doubled. It is possible that this new schedule is unsustainable, a form of crunch that will eventually burn me out, but right now I’m optimistic that it can be maintained indefinitely (with the aid of occasional days off, of course). Allow me to describe the daily structure, and why I have adopted various features.

Prior (lack of) Routine

Before I get into the new schedule, though, I want to present what my prior schedule looked like, in order to better contrast the changes. Below is my calendar for the two weeks starting on September 1st, Labor Day. (Note that this is retroactively accurate. I always keep my calendar up-to-date according to what I actually do. Unfortunately, Google Calendar makes it hard to be get more granular than thirty minutes, so precision isn’t perfect, though it’s good enough for my purposes here.)

14-day calendar from 2014/09/01 through 2014/09/14.

Focus in particular on the blue and red blocks. Blue represents game development tasks, my main target of productivity. Red represents entertainment, usually of the merely diversionary variety. There’s just as much red as blue, and that’s not good. You’ll also notice that there’s very little rhyme or reason from day to day. This was me attempting to be flexible, tackling tasks according to my mood and not trying to pressure myself into doing something. I didn’t want to get beaten down by the demands of an inflexible schedule imposed on me (even if it was an imposition of my own). I’m sure I’m not the only person to have noticed that the feeling of obligation, extended over time, can generate a strong, if subtle, feeling of bitterness. I certainly did not want to become bitter at myself for constantly holding myself to an unpleasant schedule, hence my attempts at remaining loose and adaptable. As the above calendar indicates, there were consequences to that attitude.

Also, for reference, here are what all the colors mean: Gray blocks are sleep. Lavender are routines & replenishing activities, like walks or naps. Orange are meals. (Breakfast, when I do eat it, is absorbed into the lavender morning routine.) Blue are game development. Green are miscellaneous side projects. Yellow green are educational activities, such as drum practice, reading non-fiction, or watching an informative video. Pink are chores. Red are entertainment. And sky blue are social activities.

Newly Developed Routine

My first idea for improving the situation was to experiment with a mid-afternoon nap. This practice certainly has a long history in various cultures, but not the culture (especially the business culture) to which I belong. Since I was working at home for myself, no longer confined by many ordinary rules and expectations, I decided to give it a try. I recognized that this could also provide a more consistent anchor event for brushing my teeth and making a midday report.

In addition to inserting a nap into the middle of my day, I was inspired to replicate the productivity I somewhat accidentally stumbled upon one day recently. Notice the second to last day in the above image, and the impressive amount of blue game development time, bleeding across midnight into the next day. On that day, I had decided to be easy on myself and forgo all chores, as well as any side activities that I found uninspiring. I would focus entirely on a programming project I had recently started, and not allow myself to feel bad for ignoring all else. I ended up working on that project for ten hours that day; the last seven of those hours were in one single uninterrupted chunk! This concentration didn’t require much effort. It felt quite natural, actually.

Now I’ve certainly had this type of experience numerous times in my life, but it was never really intentional. This time I wanted to make it purposefully reproducible. It seemed that the key attribute was a feeling of freedom from all other concerns. But thus far, I’d been breaking up my daily schedules, both to maintain daily variety, and because I didn’t think I could ever expect more than two hours of focus toward a single task on a regular basis. Yet now I suspect that this highly broken up schedule was responsible for my difficulty concentrating, rather than being a response to that difficulty. I chose instead to move all of my shorter activities to the morning or early afternoon; things like chores, drum practice, reading, or walks. Stuff that was either short by its nature (e.g., mowing the yard), or short because I legitimately couldn’t do it for hours on end for mental and/or physical reasons (e.g., drum practice). Then I could take my afternoon nap and have the rest of the evening blocked of for uninterrupted productivity.

So far, this has actually worked out phenomenally well. To compare, for the two weeks prior to adopting this daily arrangement, as shown in the image above, I managed around forty-six hours of work toward game development, twelve toward educational activities, and eleven hours toward side projects, for a total of sixty-nine hours of productivity. During that same time, I spent another fifty-nine hours on entertainment. Thirteen hours were also unaccounted for, probably sucked up by the time vampire known as the internet. But for the two weeks following, I was up to eighty-eight hours of game development, twenty hours of education, and still at nine hours for side projects, for a total of one hundred seventeen hours of productivity, and dropped to fifteen hours of entertainment, (and four unaccounted). That’s a 70% productivity increase, and a 75% reduction of mostly wasted time. For visual comparison, here’s the much nicer looking calendar:

14-day calendar from 2014/09/15 through 2014/09/28.

It’s like I’ve taken the spilled bowl of Skittles from earlier, and am molding it into an orderly rainbow.

As for the afternoon nap, I now believe it plays a more important role than I had initially realized or intended. I’m not really a big fan of having lots of little tasks. Switching gears is somewhat obnoxious and tiring. If I have a clear to-do list and can efficiently move through the items, marking them off as I get each one done, it can be rewarding, but still tiring. Having all of my short tasks in the morning and early afternoon can indeed be a bit draining. Not significantly so in my case, but enough that when the late afternoon rolls around and I’m thinking about trying to work for hours on game development, the temptation to engage in some distracting entertainment instead is notable. And once I go down that path, even if I mean it to only be an hour long diversion, I have a hard time returning to my development.

By sticking the nap right there in the middle of the day, I can regain energy for the second half of the day. I have also found that it helps in the morning: When I’m faced with starting yet another short task, it’s comforting to know that I don’t have an entire day of work ahead of me still. Just a few more tasks, and then I get to take a nap. Also, the evening work is conceptually divided from the morning work, making it that much easier to really go deep with my concentration on the evening’s activity. Essentially, I end up with two semi-days, and I’m finding it much easier to manage and optimize semi-days than full days.

There’s obviously still a lot of flexibility in the schedule. Meals pretty much never occur at the same time from day to day. Sometimes I forget to eat dinner entirely! Morning activities shift around a lot depending on what I’m working on. And some evenings I will get to a good stopping point and decide to allow myself some entertainment. Also, activities such as hanging out with friends, attending meetups, and going to my drum lesson will always interject themselves somehow or another, so I just fluidly work around them. Nonetheless, the overall pattern is very apparent, and seems to be very enabling. I can’t overstate how excited I am to have figured this structure out. As I said at the opening of the post, I really hope it works out to be sustainable, because I’m loving the feeling of getting stuff done! (My bank account will really love it too, once I start producing stuff that can be sold. I’m in a very unbalanced relationship with it currently; it gives but never receives.)

Next time I think I’ll go over my small but important weekly routine that I’ve been doing since January, spending an hour every Monday morning thinking about the past week and looking ahead to the current one.

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