Personal Growth

How I’m changing my schedule to create a more focused life

I am a list person – always have been.

I write grocery lists, daily and weekly to-do lists, bucket lists, lists of upcoming birthday gifts to buy. Pretty much any category you can think of to write a list about, I’ve written it. I’ve even been known on more than one occasion to write a to-do list of things I’ve already done, just so I can check them off the list.

A natural progression of lists, I also am very much a scheduler. I plan dates, trips, outings with friends, and more. I’ve had both a daily and weekly schedule ever since I left for college.

In college it was great, because it helped keep me on top of all of my various classes and activities. I never missed a single class in college (not even by choice), never turned in an assignment late, never missed a work or organizational deadline.

Lately, however, my schedule has not been nearly as helpful. It’s broken up into awkward chunks, either too large or too small to be useful. I find myself constantly pulled into different directions, too distracted by tomorrow to focus on today. It doesn’t help that my life has been punctuated by many unexpected and unplanned circumstances. Nevertheless, I have not done a great job of taking control of my time and focus in the years since I graduated from college.

Inspired by Cal Newport’s book Deep Work, I’ve decided to make some big changes. Here are four of the biggest:

  1. I’m putting my quiet time first thing in the morning.

    I used to jump right into work when I woke up, trying to squeeze in a time of quiet and meditation later in the day whenever I had time. But the thing is, I never had time, and so I consistently lost those sweet moments of stillness that I so badly need. By not allowing myself to do any work before my quiet time, I’m able to actually enjoy that before the hustle of the day starts.

  2. I’m having a smoothie for breakfast every morning.

    What to eat for breakfast has been a never-ending struggle for me. I don’t like to spend a lot of time on cooking in the morning, so I usually end up eating nothing, sugary cold cereal, or whatever leftovers are in the fridge. A smoothie is quick and very nutritious if I’m careful about what I put in it, so I’m able to get my day started off on the right foot with minimal time investment. Plus, by deciding in advance that I’m always going to have a smoothie, I reduce my daily decision fatigue.

  3. I’m breaking up my deep work periods into morning and afternoon chunks.

    When I first heard the concept of Deep Work, I was all in. I naively adjusted my schedule to have huge, 4-hour blocks of time in the afternoon every day to just focus on the hard questions I was solving in my work. The problem with that is two-fold. First, afternoons are my low-energy point. And second, I’m not skilled enough in the art of focused concentration to be able to do 4 stretches at a time, especially during the time of day when I’m already dragging. So I’m breaking my schedule up into 2-hour periods in both the mornings and afternoons. This should reduce the strain on my brain considerably. I’m hoping it will also give my subconscious time to mull over the problem, making the afternoons even more productive!

  4. I’m making every day as similar as possible.

    Before, every day was different. Sometimes I worked out in the morning, sometimes afternoon. Deep work periods were scattered wherever I could squeeze them in. It was chaos. I wasted so much mental energy trying to remember what I was supposed to be doing and when, that by the time I got there I was already shot. Now, although the specific activities may vary day-to-day, the general time slots (for things like exercising, working, making necessary phone calls, etc) are always the same. Now my brain can take a break from the trivial and focus on important things!

I’m sharing this with you not as a “rah, rah!” moment for myself, but to be transparent about the things I struggle with.

My hope is that you will connect with something I’ve talked about here. That my explanation of how I’m fighting some of my challenges will help you with some of your own.

These changes are brand-new. I have no idea how effective I will be at implementing them or how well they will work. Tune in next week to see how it’s going in practice!

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