30 days of super productivity

Jan 2013

Throughout November, inspired by Sebastian Marshall, I decided take on the challenge of having the 30 most productive days of my life.

As Marshall writes:

This is a bit scary. I had the idea last Saturday, and was terrified on Sunday.

It’s scary as it feels like it’s whatever you come down to. When you give everything you have, you find yourself in a paradoxical state of weakness. What if the result of your absolute max is disappointing? After my home-spun philosophical observations – I decided to give the challenge a fair go. For the challenge, I jotted down the things I wanted to achieve:

  • Start practising regularly on the piano. Inspired by a concert with Olafur Arnalds and Nils Frahm in Berlin, a good friend lent me his piano and volunteered to get me started over some beer. I felt it was about time I started something completely outside my comfort zone. Music was a great candidate.
  • Get back into running. Since the summer of 2011 I have enjoyed barefoot running on and off. In August and September I had excused myself with the preparations for and the actual Informatics Olympiad and got out of my running rhythm.
  • Waste fewer hours a day. Too many hours are wasted on social media, Skype and improper planning. Low hanging fruit.
  • Start practising for the 2013 Informatics Olympiads. This was a biggie. I wish to get a medal at the 2013’s International Olympiad, and commencing regular training a year before is an absolute must to obtain that.
  • 750 words. I had already started this in October, but as this was new to me, I felt it should be added to the list. I wanted to wake up 15 minutes earlier, and write about whatever first occurred to me. Whether it was a noun, adjective or verb, I would just go with it and explore every road, memory and reflection from there. On some days it got philosophical, other days spiritual, reflective and often political. It proved easy to find something to write about once I had broken the barrier each day of the first week.
  • Figuring out a planning scheme. How do I get the most done? Planning the day down to the minute? Preparing the next day?
  • Reading every night before going to bed. Seeing as I got rid of my iPhone which I always used before closing my eyes, I needed to replace that with something meaningful that wasn’t just bringing the laptop to bed.

These were the added things out of the ordinary things that include work, assignments, homework, classes, duties and errands.

November

The productivity month did not feel as much out of the ordinary as I had feared. I quickly found out that I am already very productive and it proved difficult to cramp in more things. It has always been a dogma to myself that I could always do more, if I just planned better and wasted less time. But I believe I did hit a well-sought limit with the piano-training. I decided to peel that off in the first week. Every week, I experimented with a new planning method: planning the entire week at once, planning only the next day, a combination of the first two. I tried all these three both at a rough level and at a down-to-the hour specification level. This proved very rewarding. Other than that, I reached all my goals: I used my time more efficiently, I solved a lot of Olympiad tasks, wrote a rant every morning and ran 5K or more every other day.

Reflections

I learned quite a few things about myself and my approach to my daily life throughout this month.

  • Three is the focus limit. I reconfirmed for myself that focusing on more than three things at once is almost impossible for me. For now, these three things are: school, work and the Olympiad. I am in a point of my life where my mind is active from 7 AM to 11 PM every single day. Piano currently does not fit. Although three is not many, I would always prefer just one thing. The less you do, the better whatever you do will be. Currently, it is impossible for me to get down to one. But I found to scatter the focus among three major things works out to acceptable results.
  • More than one habit change at a time is hard, but definitely possible. I’m a firm believer of changing only little at a time, which generally leads to greater consistency. Changing or adding more than one habit, makes it exponentially more difficult. The new habits in this month were running and writing regularly (and piano).
  • I am near my personal limit already. Pushing in more things is dangerous at this point. I took on a larger school duty which intensified in December and the start of January. This was a mistake and made me neglect “the big three”. My old dogma of “just planning better” has been put to a final sleep.
  • Find the planning system that works best for you. I tried a lot of different methods, and I found that what works best for me is to make a rough plan on Sundays of what the week is going to be like on paper, listening to some silent music. Then keep on track throughout the week every night before going to bed, by making a rough plan for the next day and evaluating that day. That way I am always on top of my week; assignments, work, errands and training. This also prevents these things from popping up when I am laying in my bed. A month like this is a great way to figure out what works best for you.
  • It proved very motivational. I have never been able to do so much, in so little time. Setting a short-level goal like this, involving your larger goals is an amazing way to make progress on all fronts.
  • Reading is just so much better for falling asleep quickly. As a replacement for social media and screen light from a smartphone’s tiny screen.
  • Writing every day is rewarding. Keeping a journal is amazing, and 750 words every morning is a great way to do that. The gamification part of the website works better than I would admit. Many morning I would prepare for meetings or classes if I had something special going on. Just try to write out a hypothetical conversation where I play the other part as well. By enforcing it on myself every morning, I often was more well-prepared for the day. I stopped my spree at 50 days because my December month suddenly got out of hand. I plan to get into it again soon. But one change at a time. I’m in no rush.

Conclusions

I recommend everyone taking up a month like this. It’s scary, but very rewarding. You will raise your understanding of your own task-handling capabilities and limits, as well as hopefully discover your own best planning method.