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Timeslicing for Humans

Timeslicing for Humans

I’m wired wrong. I’ll be the first to admit it. To be in the Getting Things Done crowd, I’m supposed to blissfully work along on a project until I’ve completed all the next actions, pausing one might assume, for lunch and bathroom breaks. Not me. I can’t do it. I need chunking.

Computer processors can work on lots of things at a time by taking chunks of resources and throwing them at various requirements a little bit at a time, right? When you eat dinner, most of you eat a little of everything on the plate, not one category of food at a time. Why not approach your projects that way? There are some pitfalls to consider, and some adjustments that must be made. Here’s a method to consider.

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  • List the Projects Out Clearly– I’m into 3×5 cards right now. I take a Sharpie and write out the titles of the projects I’m working on, and then I line them up on my cork board in a nice row. Up there right now are: record ___ podcast, finish audio edit of interview, do Jean’s picture, edit Father’s Day movie, and a few more (14, sadly). Each one has a card. Each one has room to add another card for the next step.
  • List the next actions for all these projects– Be realistic. List a few hours’ worth on a separate card for each project. So, if you’ve got 14 cards with project names, take 14 more 3×5 cards and put on each one individually everything you COULD work on with regards to that project for the next two hours.
  • Get a timer– You can use a manual digital timer ($5 at most big box stores), or an online-style timer. Set it for 20 minutes.
  • Map your time– If you have two hours to get things done, map the following: 20 minutes for work, 5 minutes to switch. Get as many iterations of that into two hours. If I did my math right, that’s five iterations of 20 minutes, and four iterations of 5 minutes. Our minds take five minutes to switch and re-engage between tasks of any decent level of complexity. By building this into your plan, you properly account for it. Now, take another 10 minutes out for fidgeting, getting up to use the bathroom, etc. Make it four iterations of 20 minutes, and six iterations of 5. Now you’re good.
  • Plot the map– Write down what you’re doing in the 20 minute spots.

    20- record podcast
    20- edit Jean’s photo
    20- finish audio
    20- fix old podcast

  • Do your work– Now, just execute against those two hours that you’ve set aside to do work, realizing that you’ve got four projects you can tackle bits of in those 20 minutes, and start picking off those next actions.

The purpose of this exercise is to say that you don’t have to work on projects in the start-to-finish approach mindset. You can, instead, chunk things up in a way that matches the way your brain works. The optimum amount of time someone focuses on anything is between 25-30 minutes (I read that once with regards to giving presentations and training classes). To that end, give yourself breaks.

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Yes, it looks a little less productive on paper when I tell you that every 2 hours really only yields 80 minutes of work. But really, if you examine your own situation, isn’t that true of what you’re doing now? Even if you work on one project linearly, aren’t you giving it 20 minute or so bursts, and then getting up for a stretch and a cup of coffee? So, in either case, you now can better allot your time.

Appropriately estimating time is a Top 3 complaint with regards to project management “lessons learned” reviews. Get ahead in this game whether you’re a project manager or an individual contributor by realizing how people work optimally. If you’re the individual contributor, and if the projects aren’t even your day job, feel free to play around with the idea of slicing your attention between projects.

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The results might be surprising.

–Chris Brogan slices time all day long. Last night, he sliced up a new podcast entitled “Sounds of BarCamp Boston,” and you can listen to it at Grasshopper Factory. There are some new tips posted on minimizing web surfing over at [chrisbrogan.com]. Stop by.

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Published on July 17, 2018

How Productive People Compartmentalize Time to Get the Most Done

How Productive People Compartmentalize Time to Get the Most Done

I’ve never believed people are born productive or organized. Being organized and productive is a choice.

You choose to keep your stuff organized or you don’t. You choose to get on with your work and ignore distractions or you don’t.

But one skill very productive people appear to have that is not a choice is the ability to compartmentalize. And that takes skill and practice.

What is compartmentalization

To compartmentalize means you have the ability to shut out all distractions and other work except for the work in front of you. Nothing gets past your barriers.

In psychology, compartmentalization is a defence mechanism our brains use to shut out traumatic events. We close down all thoughts about the traumatic event. This can lead to serious mental-health problems such as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) if not dealt with properly.

However, compartmentalization can be used in positive ways to help us become more productive and allow us to focus on the things that are important to us.

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Robin Sharma, the renowned leadership coach, calls it his Tight Bubble of Total Focus Strategy. This is where he shuts out all distractions, turns off his phone and goes to a quiet place where no one will disturb him and does the work he wants to focus on. He allows nothing to come between himself and the work he is working on and prides himself on being almost uncontactable.

Others call it deep work. When I want to focus on a specific piece of work, I turn everything off, turn on my favourite music podcast The Anjunadeep Edition (soft, eclectic electronic music) and focus on the content I intend to work on. It works, and it allows me to get massive amounts of content produced every week.

The main point about compartmentalization is that no matter what else is going on in your life — you could be going through a difficult time in your relationships, your business could be sinking into bankruptcy or you just had a fight with your colleague; you can shut those things out of your mind and focus totally on the work that needs doing.

Your mind sees things as separate rooms with closable doors, so you can enter a mental room, close the door and have complete focus on whatever it is you want to focus on. Your mind does not wander.

Being able to achieve this state can seriously boost your productivity. You get a lot more quality work done and you find you have a lot more time to do the things you want to do. It is a skill worth mastering for the benefits it will bring you.

How to develop the skill of compartmentalization

The simplest way to develop this skill is to use your calendar.

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Your calendar is the most powerful tool you have in your productivity toolbox. It allows you to block time out, and it can focus you on the work that needs doing.

My calendar allows me to block time out so I can remove everything else out of my mind to focus on one thing. When I have scheduled time for writing, I know what I want to write about and I sit down and my mind completely focuses on the writing.

Nothing comes between me, my thoughts and the keyboard. I am in my writing compartment and that is where I want to be. Anything going on around me, such as a problem with a student, a difficulty with an area of my business or an argument with my wife is blocked out.

Understand that sometimes there’s nothing you can do about an issue

One of the ways to do this is to understand there are times when there is nothing you can do about an issue or an area of your life. For example, if I have a student with a problem, unless I am able to communicate with that student at that specific time, there is nothing I can do about it.

If I can help the student, I would schedule a meeting with the student to help them. But between now and the scheduled meeting there is nothing I can do. So, I block it out.

The meeting is scheduled on my calendar and I will be there. Until then, there is nothing I can do about it.

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Ask yourself the question “Is there anything I can do about it right now?”

This is a very powerful way to help you compartmentalize these issues.

If there is, focus all your attention on it to the exclusion of everything else until you have a workable solution. If not, then block it out, schedule time when you can do something about it and move on to the next piece of work you need to work on.

Being able to compartmentalize helps with productivity in another way. It reduces the amount of time you spend worrying.

Worrying about something is a huge waste of energy that never solves anything. Being able to block out issues you cannot deal with stops you from worrying about things and allows you to focus on the things you can do something about.

Reframe the problem as a question

Reframing the problem as a question such as “what do I have to do to solve this problem?” takes your mind away from a worried state into a solution state, where you begin searching for solutions.

One of the reasons David Allen’s Getting Things Done book has endured is because it focuses on contexts. This is a form of compartmentalization where you only do work you can work on.

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For instance, if a piece of work needs a computer, you would only look at the work when you were in front of a computer. If you were driving, you cannot do that work, so you would not be looking at it.

Choose one thing to focus on

To get better at compartmentalizing, look around your environment and seek out places where you can do specific types of work.

Taking your dog for a walk could be the time you focus solely on solving project problems, commuting to and from work could be the time you spend reading and developing your skills and the time between 10 am and 12 pm could be the time you spend on the phone sorting out client issues.

Once you make the decision about when and where you will do the different types of work, make it stick. Schedule it. Once it becomes a habit, you are well on your way to using the power of compartmentalization to become more productive.

Comparmentalization saves you stress

Compartmentalization is a skill that gives you time to deal with issues and work to the exclusion of all other distractions.

This means you get more work done in less time and this allows you to spend more time with the people you want to spend more time with, doing the things you want to spend more time doing.

Featured photo credit: Pexels via pexels.com

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