Farm your time better

Look, back in the olden days before there were clocks and deadlines, time was this vague, huge thing with little more than the seasons to mark its passing. Compare that to now when we can know time to the minute and we use it to the second: we have cultivated time.

If that’s true then I think it follows that we have to tend and farm time. There is a point when we sow and a point when we harvest.

And if I went even a pixel further I think I would break this analogy so I’ll shut up. But I’ve thought about this far more than it can seem here, certainly far more than is healthy, and the useful thing I’ve taken away from it is that we need breaks.

That without a break, over-worked soil will cease to be able to grow anything.

Take a break even in the worst times

A break isn’t something you win for having finished, it is a necessary tool to get things done. The site 99U has a lot to say about this and a lot of quotes from psychologists and business types.

If you start with the notion that having a quick sandwich at your lunch is productive in the sense that it takes less time, that’s true,” the author says. “But we don’t want a hard and fast rule—we want a functional rule.” The desk-lunch efficiency might not be worth it, he says, if you could gain more from stepping away.

Extreme Productivity author Robert Pozen quoted in 6 Ways to Quickly Restore Sanity to your Day – Sasha VanHoven, 99U (undated)

It even includes an acronym. I hate acronyms.

Stop what you are doing, move to a place where this state or emotion is not dominating you and THEN make a decision:

H: When you are hungry, your mind and metabolism do not work well.
A: When you are angry, your mind is reactive, clouded with irrational emotions.
L: When you are lonely, you are needy and vulnerable.
T: When you are tired, everything doesn’t work well – often coupled with hungry

All of these variables can interconnect to create a danger zone for capable decision making.

Read the full piece for this plus five more tips for remaining sane or regaining sanity in busy times.

Tea breaks

I take a lot of these tea breaks and I’ve been spending those three-minute aeons while the kettle boils by reading RSS news. But then isn’t a good tea break more than three minutes plus fifteen seconds hunting for biscuits? I’m trying a new thing now where I do come back to my desk and I do drink the tea as usual, but hey, I kick back for a spell while I’m doing it.

And I check out my OmniFocus list for short, quick things I can do before I have to concentrate on the next big job.

That’s it. Take your full tea break, get your mind fully away from the current job, but use the time to meander through your list and seeing what you can bat out of the way quickly.

Just an idea.

Exactly how long you should work every day

Twenty-four hours.

Sorry? Sleep what?

Recently, the Draugiem Group, a social networking company, added to this growing body of research. Using the time-tracking productivity app DeskTime, they conducted an experiment to see what habits set their most productive employees apart. What they found was that the 10% of employees with the highest productivity surprisingly didn’t put in longer hours than anyone else. In fact, they didn’t even work full eight-hour days. What they did do was take regular breaks. Specifically, they took 17-minute breaks for every 52 minutes of work.

“Turns out, the secret to retaining the highest level of productivity over the span of a workday is not working longer–but working smarter with frequent breaks,” wrote Julia Gifford in The Muse when she posted the study’s results. Employees with the highest levels of productivity worked for 52 minutes with intense purpose, then rested up, allowing their brains time to rejuvenate and prepare for the next work period.

The Exact Amount of Time You Should Work Every Day – Lisa Evans, Fast Company (15 September 2014)

Madness. But okay, maybe persuasive madness. Read Evans’s full feature for more – and particularly on what those most productive 17-minute skivers do during their breaks.

The Sudoku approach

My wife Angela Gallagher taught me how to play Sudoku. She did it during one of our hospital visits when she was being treated for breast cancer. Not the happiest of times for either of us, really, yet there were moments. We would routinely spend five or six hours waiting, never knowing how long it would be, and she would play Sudoku on her iPhone. I can picture the seat I was in when she explained the rules and since that day I have played thousands upon thousands of games.

I still associate it with those times, even years later and when her treatment has been a success, but along the way I promise you that I have also learnt some productivity lessons. From a game. From a game Angela taught me in order to burn up some time waiting.

There is something to how you make decisions in this game where you don’t know where a certain number goes but you can make conclusions about it anyway. It’s got to be in one of these two spots, you’ll tell yourself, and that’s no use in that square but it does block out a line. Without knowing where it will go exactly, you do exactly know its impact on the rest of the game.

I think I’ve learnt from this that you don’t have to wait until you have a definite final answer, that sometimes you can draw enough of a conclusion that you can get on with something else.

But without doubt, this is the one thing I have really learned from playing Sudoku:

Walk away and come back later

I have struggled with a Sudoku puzzle, struggled and then when forced to go away to do something else, I’ve regularly come back and immediately seen the answer.

I have been of the school that says you work at something until it is done. But sometimes it’s better to stop, do something else, and then come back.

By the way, I’ve only ever played two Sudoku apps and the first one, the one Angela taught me on, is  no longer available in the App Store. But this one is for iPad, this one I’ve taken the screen grab from, that’s Sue Doku which is a just preposterously cheap 69p UK, 99c US. I’ve played this for hundreds of hours now, I can’t believe the pleasure and the productivity lessons I’ve got from a whole 69 pence.