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Time Striping: A Different Approach to Time Management

Time Striping: A Different Approach to Time Management

Time Striping

    As a university instructor, I often have weeks-long stretches of unscheduled time in between sessions, which I need to use to catch up on all the projects I’ve let slide during the hectic second half of the semester. As a freelance writer, I always have a stack of little projects as well as ongoing commitments (like my thrice-weekly posts here at Lifehack) that need to get done.

    The Trouble with MIT’s and Contexts

    While I like the idea of “Most Important Tasks” (MITs) — where you write down the three or four things you absolutely must get done each day, and work on those first, leaving everything else for whatever time is left over at the end — the fact is that a lot of my commitments can’t be handled that way. I’ve got more than three ongoing commitments, each of which needs at least a little attention every day.

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    I also find that contexts in the GTD sense don’t really work for me — yes, all of these tasks might be alike in that they happen at my computer, but they require different mindsets. I try to batch things like phone calls and emails, when I can, but for the rest of my work, that doesn’t really work. To finish a writing task, for example, I might need to sit and read a little, write notes and thoughts by hand on paper for a while, and then sit at the computer and work — before heading back to the sofa for some more reading.

    Time Striping: Like Time Blocking, But Stripier

    What works for me is a variation on time blocking that I’m calling “time striping”. In time blocking, you schedule uninterrupted “blocks” of time for different projects across your schedule. Since a) many of my projects are ongoing, and b) some projects emerge rather suddenly, I need a little more flexibility than that.

    So what I’ve done is created a loose schedule where each hour is dedicated to a generic project, i.e. “Project #1”, “Project #2”, etc. As I finish a project, I slot a new project into its timeslot; if Project #5 only takes an hour, then tomorrow it will be something different. It’s conceivable that a particular time block will be used for 5 different projects over the course of the week.

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    Each slot, then, creates a “stripe” of time from Monday to Friday. In some cases, where I know I need more than 1 hour for a project, I’ll block off two hours or more and flow the rest of my projects around it. For instance, every other Thursday morning I record Lifehack Live, and I need two hours to prepare, record, and write up my notes. So that’s a block, instead of a stripe.

    The Time Striping Form (with variations)

    If you’re wondering what this all looks like, I’ve thrown together a generic version of the form that I use, which you can download. The first is a PDF you can print out using Adobe Reader or any other PDF reader; the second is an RTF file that you should be able to open and edit with almost any word processor (although in my tests, the formatting differs greatly from app to app; I got good results from Word 2007 and WordPad, and terrible results from OpenOffice.org 2). Here are the files:

    At the top is space to put any fixed commitments for the week. The bottom table is your key, with space to define up to 10 projects; as you finish a project, cross it off and fill in the next box with the new project for that space. The middle is an hour-by-hour schedule for the week, with one-hour slots from 9-6. (You can change the working hours or start the calendar on Monday by editing the RTF.) Generally, you’ll put “Project #1” in at 9-10am and draw a line all the way across (or fill it in on each day); if you need two hours, just repeat “Project #1” in the 10-11am slot.

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    Here’s how my schedule looks (click for a larger view):

    time-striping-screenshot

      Since I’m a slow waker, I’ve set aside the first three hours to check my email, look at feeds, check my site stats, have breakfast, and get dressed for the day. At 9, my workday starts — Project #1 is Lifehack, so I’ll work on posts, brainstorm ideas, do site maintenance, and whatever else I need to do. At 10, I move onto my next project, which at the moment is editing an e-book I’m going to release this summer. When I finish that, I’ll replace Project #2 with something else. Project #3 is preparing an online course I’m teaching this summer. And so on.

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      You’ll note that around Thursday it breaks up; I need two hours for Lifehack Live, so I take that time from Project #2; on Friday, I’ve scheduled time to do laundry and other housework, and my weekly review. At the start of the week, then, I was careful to assign slots that wouldn’t get 5 hours to smaller projects.

      Notice, too, that I’ve added three email times per day. Let to my own devices, I’d check email constantly throughout the day; this is my way of reminding myself to stick to the task at hand and check email right before I break for lunch and at the very end of my working day before I go to make dinner.

      The benefit of all this is that I can see at a glance how much time I’ve set aside for each project over the course of the week. If something new comes up, I can easily replace a project slot (or more, if necessary) with it and re-allot time as necessary. I’ve only got 8 projects on there; the last two are for family projects and would go in the weekend or evening time slots; at the moment, I don’t have any.

      Maybe This Will Work for You?

      Time striping won’t seem all that new to people who are already practicing time blocking — the only difference is that I try to keep the same projects at the same time every day, and the flexibility of having slots dedicated to generic projects instead of particular ones. That’s what works for me, and I think it might work well for some of you out there who are having a hard time getting a grip on your schedule. 

      Let me know if this is helpful, or if you have your own slightly off-beat way of working through your various projects.

      More by this author

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      Last Updated on February 13, 2020

      What Is Speed Reading and How to Successfully Learn It

      What Is Speed Reading and How to Successfully Learn It

      Too much to read, too little time! Don’t you wish you could read faster without compromising your knowledge intake? This is where a valuable learning technique comes to the rescue: speed reading.

      Speed reading is the top skill to learn in 2020. Read on to find out all about this amazing technique!

      What Is Speed Reading?

      On average, an adult can read somewhere between 200 to 300 words per minute. With speed reading, you can read around 1500 words per minute.[1] Yes, that sounds impossible, but it is true.

      In order to understand how this skill works, you first need to know how the reading process works inside a human’s brain.

      The Reading Process

      The first step is for the eyes to look at a word. This “fixation” on every word takes around 0.25 seconds.

      Next, the eye moves on to the following word. It takes 0.1 seconds for the brain to move from one word to the next. This is called “saccade.”

      Usually, a person reads 4 to 5 words or a sentence at once. After all the fixations and saccades, the brain goes over the entire phrase again in order to process the meaning. This takes around half a second.

      All in all, this allows the average person to read 200 to 300 words in a minute.

      Speeding up the Process

      The concept of speed reading is to speed up this process at least 5 times. Since the saccade period cannot be shortened any further, speed reading emphasizes quicker fixations.

      To accomplish this, scientists recommend that the reader skips the subvocalization: when the readers actually say the word in their mind, even when reading silently.

      Basically, speed reading is the technique of only seeing the words instead of speaking them silently.

      Do not confuse this with skimming. When a reader skims through a text, they skip the parts that their brain considers to be unnecessary.

      You may skip important information in this process. Moreover, skimming does not allow the brain to retain what has been read.

      Why Speed Read?

      Speed reading is not just quick, but also effective. This skill saves a lot of of time without sacrificing information.

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      Also, it has been proven to improve memory. The brain’s performance improves during speed reading, which allows the reader to remember more information than before.

      Since speed reading stabilizes the brain, the information is processed faster and more efficiently.

      Believe it or not, this technique leads to improved focus, too. As the brain receives a lot of information during speed reading, there is far less chance of distraction. The brain focuses solely on the job at hand.

      Since the brain is, after all, a muscle, the process of speed reading acts as an exercise. Just like the rest of your muscles, your brain needs exercise to grow stronger, too.

      A focused brain means improved logical thinking. As your brain gets used to receiving and organizing so much information so quickly, your thinking process will become faster.

      As soon as a problem is thrown at you, your brain will quickly put two and two together. You will be able to retrieve stored information, figure out correlations, and come up with new solutions, all within seconds!

      Still not convinced? Read 10 Reasons Why You Should Learn Speed Reading

      Greater Benefits

      With a healthier brain, you can expect better things in other parts of your life, too. A boost in self-esteem is just one of them.

      As you begin to understand information at a faster pace, you will also begin to figure out more opportunities all around you.

      With the ability to deeply understand information in a shorter period of time, your confidence levels will quickly grow higher.

      Moreover, all the aforementioned benefits will relieve you of stress. You will manage your readings in lesser time, your brain will be healthier, and you will feel so much better about yourself.

      With all these advantages, your emotional well-being will be healthier than ever. You’ll feel less stress since your brain will learn to tackle problems efficiently. Speed reading will lead to a relaxed, tension-free lifestyle!

      How to Learn to Speed Read

      Speed reading is a superpower. Fortunately, unlike other superpowers, this one can be learned!

      There are different techniques that can be used to master this skill. Opt for the one that best suits your learning style.

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      1. The Pointer Method

      The person who is credited for popularizing speed reading, Evelyn Wood, came up with the pointer method. It is a simple technique in which the reader uses their index finger to slide across the text that they’re reading.

      As the finger moves, the brain coherently moves along with it. It is an effective technique to keep the eyes focused where the finger goes without causing any distraction.

      Readers have a tendency to back-skip. The pointer method prevents this from happening, thereby saving at least half the reading time.

      2. The Scanning Method

      In this technique, the reader’s eyes move along one part of the page only. This can be the left or right side of the text but is usually the center since that is the most convenient.

      Instead of pacing through the entire text from left to right, the vision shifts from top to bottom.

      This method involves fixation on keywords such as names, figures, or other specific terms. By doing so, the saccade time is minimized.

      3. Perceptual Expansion

      Generally, a reader focuses on one word at a time. This technique, on the other hand, encourages the brain to read a chunk of words together. In doing so, this method increases the reader’s peripheral vision.

      Here’s the thing: even though the fixation time remains the same with perceptual expansion, the number of words that the eyes fixate on increases.

      So basically, the brain receives 5 times more information within the same amount of time.

      This technique is the hardest to master and takes the most time to learn. You’ll need help from speed reading tools in order to practice the perceptual expansion method.

      However, once you master it, this technique will offer you the fastest reading pace with the maximum knowledge intake.

      The Best Speed Reading Apps

      The easiest tool to aid any process in any part of life these days is your smartphone.

      You can use mobile applications to learn speed reading on the go. It has been proven that regularly practicing speed reading is the fastest way to learn this skill. [2]

      Here are a few great options to look into:

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      1. Reedy

      If you own an Android smartphone, you can download Reedy to your mobile. Otherwise, get the chrome extension on your laptop to enjoy speed reading with Reedy.

      This app trains readers to read faster by displaying words one by one on the screen. Instead of having to go through lines or long texts, Reedy prepares the user to focus on one word at a time.

      Although this isn’t an effective method to learn speed reading long texts, it is a great way to start.

      Once your brain gets used to the idea, you can shift to another app to train speed reading sentences or longer texts.

      2. ReadMe!

      Whether you’re an android or iOS user, you can take advantage of the ReadMe! application. This app even comes with some e-book options to practice speed reading on.

      Start by choosing your desired font size, color, layout, etc. Other than that, there are different reading modes for the user to choose from.

      If you want to practice reading sentence by sentence or in short paragraphs, you can choose the focused reading mode.

      The beeline reader mode changes the color of the text to guide the eye to read from the beginning to the end at a certain pace.

      Lastly, there is the spritz mode in which the app focuses on chunks of words at once. This controls the reader’s peripheral vision. However, this mode is not fully available in the free version of the app.

      3. Spreeder

      Spreeder is available on both iOS and Android. However, users may also gain benefits from Spreeder’s website. This application lets the reader paste in any text that they would like to speed read.

      Starting off at a rather low speed, the app flashes words one by one. Gradually, as the user becomes more comfortable, the speed increases.

      Slowly, the user is trained to speed read without having to skip any words.

      This app is different from the rest because it tracks the user’s reading improvements, recording the overall reading time and speed.

      The progress and improvement are tracked in order to motivate the user to perform even better.

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      Adjustable settings, such as the speed of the text, background color, etc. are in the control of the user.

      The Controversy Surrounding Speed Reading

      Truthfully, speed reading does sound too good to be true. It’s hard to believe that it is humanly possible to attain such a fast pace in reading without compromising the quality of information you receive.

      Perhaps as a result, there are people who do not trust the process of speed reading. They believe that when you read through a text at such a high speed, you cannot comprehend the information successfully.

      According to these people, your brain is unable to process information at the speed that you’re reading, and so, they regard speed reading as problematic.

      It is true that speed reading will be of no use if you do not understand the text you’re reading, no matter how quickly you did it.

      Similarly, if you were to read slowly and still not retain or understand the information you read, that would be useless, too.

      However, there a few factors to consider here. When reading at a normal pace, there is enough time in between every step of the process for the brain to get distracted.

      Conversely, speed reading leaves behind no time for the brain to focus on something else. It is unlike skimming. No part of the text is skipped, which means that the brain receives every single bit of information.

      Conclusion

      Keeping all of this in mind, speed reading cannot be labeled a hoax or a failure. Science has backed up this technique, and numerous readers have been using this skill to improve their learning ability.

      At the end of the day, it is your decision whether or not you want to trust this process.

      However, if you decide to take advantage of the opportunities speed reading provides, you will find a world of possibilities opening up to you.

      We live in a fast-paced world. Consuming information faster will help you keep up with that pace and find further success.

      Speed Read Like a Pro!

      Featured photo credit: Blaz Photo via unsplash.com

      Reference

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