Becoming a Time Lord: Theme Days

I no longer subscribe to the meticulous scheduling and monitoring of time in search of a vaguely pornographic idea of efficiency. However, you can’t just turn off that kind of obsession with productivity cold-turkey, nor would I want to. While there may be nothing wrong with just enjoying life in a miasma of yummy food and comic books, I still have the drive to accomplish something more. To paraphrase a friend of mine, living a life of beautiful excess is not the same as living an excessively beautiful life.

After several months of pretty tenacious scheduling (both in paper and on my calendar) as well as trying out a few different methodologies (Ink & Volt, for example) I’ve hit upon a technique that seemed promising to me.

Theme Days

It’s a version of the old “Maker/Manager Time” idea.

Right now there are three big projects that require my attention. One is a big conference I’m directing for Memorial Day Weekend; one is a series of Open Spaces I’m doing throughout North America in the next year; and one is building a non-profit organization designed to promote the practice and understanding of consent. My previous strategy had been to try and devote at least an hour (preferably two or three) to each every single day.

That was working, but only up to a point. I found myself, over and over again, getting into a groove only to have my schedule tell me it was time to change a task. Or, more often, Life would interrupt – someone dear to me needing a ride, or a household chore coming up, or some such. Sure, I could say “no” – and many productivity gurus hold that as the key to success – but to me that would be at the cost of the kind of life I want to lead – where I am available to spend time with loved ones, where I have the slack to handle the shocks that come up or to enjoy the unexpected beauty of any given moment.

Now I’m Trying Out Theme Days. The idea is that Tuesday through Thursday are each a “Theme” day, where the focus of the day will be each particular project. I don’t use the word “focus” as such, because I don’t want to be so hypervigilant on my task that I don’t notice the rest of life. What I’ve found, though, is that when you have the day devoted to a particular project, when interruptions happen it’s less disruptive – because there’s no question about what you’re going to come back to.

Certainly other projects come up and demand my attention – but I have a way to continue the arc back towards the Theme. For example, when I was working on the Consent project one day, the head of security for the big conference pinged me. He wanted a meeting, and by mentioning that I was trying to work on this other project he kept his questions short and concise. We were able to mutually meet the needs and I was able to dive right back into the project.

And the time! Oh, it’s luxurious. I don’t have to wonder if I can cram what needs to be done into an hour or two. I have the whole day. And I can keep the day on the Big stuff, and leave the little things to the other days.

Push Days

That’s the burning question, right? “If those three days are Theme days, what do you call the other days?” I was honestly struggling with this until a writer for Fast Company, David Finkel, wrote an article about his version of this time hack. He uses “Focus Days” (and is much more precise about not letting anything else interrupt them) but the other days he calls “Push Days”: “…where you just push your normal projects another step forward.”

That works for me: Mondays and Fridays are “Push Days”, when the task list can be long and tedious and it’s ok because the Big Stuff will be dealt with later. That “later” is important, though. This isn’t a spur-of-the-moment time hack: it requires planning.

It’s not just looking at your calendar and saying, “Okay, I’ll carve out two hours for myself tomorrow for sure”—because tomorrow is way too late. Something else will inevitably pop up to sideline your plan. Instead, you need to have a recurring, definite appointment with yourself, blocked out on your calendar, week after week. That way, it’s a lot harder to stand yourself up. – David Finkel

I began this particular time hack last week, combining it with another process that I’ll talk about in the next Life post. It’s hard at times – but I am catching the glimmer of a sea-change in the way I deal with time. There is a luxurious glee to divorcing yourself from the clock – there are moments when I no longer feel like my cherished projects are being slowly starved for time.

Then the anxiety comes back, of course. This is a process, not a destination. I’d love to hear how you carve out time for your projects. What do you sacrifice? What do you gain?

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