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Productivity Experiment: Behavior During Unplanned Time


Jerry's Weekly Newsletter

August 29 · Issue #28 · View online

I'm Jerry, a software engineer, YouTuber, and blogger. Every weekend I write about some thoughts, life lessons, and interesting things I came by for the week. I'd love for you to join.

For all the amount of time I spent obsessing over becoming as efficient as possible with my time, every minute would have been wasted if I chose not to execute.
I’m a planner—I like to obsessively plan how I spend every half-hour. I like to fill up my day to the limit to maximize on the time I have. This works—sometimes. But other times, I just feel overwhelmed with all the stuff I have left for the day and just feel discouraged.
How An Unplanned Day Went
This Thursday, I was behind in my planning, and so I didn’t really schedule any of my activities. I thought this was going to be a failure of a day.
But to my surprise, it turned out to be one of my most efficient days! I spent over 2 hours just cleaning the house and clearing out my garage.
Mind you, I hate cleaning. Well, that’s not entirely accurate (I like washing dishes). I just almost never clean, even though I try to get myself excited to do it. I never cleaned when I planned to clean, but somehow this week when I didn’t plan to clean, I did.
Ironic, huh?
Productive Unplanned Time
Bouncing off of my unplanned Thursday, I tried to figure out how best to act during unscheduled time. What do I do with this 2-hour free time block?
That question is too overwhelming, so I tried breaking it down. What do I do with the first 30-minute free time block?
That was still overwhelming, because it comes with the expectation that something big gets done within 2 hours. Instead, I found a more effective question to ask myself: What’s something small that I can start right now, even if I don’t finish?
No more context of having 2 full hours. No more context of a 30-minute interval. Just anything small that I can do.
When I first thought this question, it drove the project-management side of me crazy. I could not bear to not know what to expect.
On the flip side, it was also incredibly liberating not to be held to a certain expectation so that I don’t need to fear failure.
Balance Is Key
Of course, you can’t just completely leave your entire day unplanned and expect miracles to happen. I guarantee that won’t end well.
I still do record my time by half-hour increments so I have a record of how the day went. It’s just that instead of filling each half-hour block during my nightly planning, I’ll leave parts of it open to give myself breathing room.
I still do have a general framework of doing some brief exercise in the morning and reviewing my day at night. Those are my guardrails.
But I realized that I micro-managed myself too much. I forget that I dislike it when my boss micro-manages me, so I as my own boss shouldn’t inflict such pain on myself either.
Those are my thoughts for the week. Tweaking the balance will be an ongoing journey, and I’ll continue to share any productivity breakthroughs I experience.
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