How To Plan Time So I Can Stay Highly Productive

I have learned that not all time is the same quality. In times when I am very alert, rested, focused and efficient, I can be three to five times as productive as other times. My goal is to have more of these highly productive hours.

This harkens back to Stephen Covey’s Seventh rule of Highly Effective People – sharpening the saw. The vignette is of a wood cutter who is desperately sawing at a huge tree. A passerby asks the woodcutter why he does not sharpen the saw so he can cut more easily and quickly. The woodcutter replies, I don’t have the time, I have to cut the tree down.

Lately my life has been like that of the wood cutter. I have spent too much time sawing and not enough time sharpening the saw.

So my exercise today is to figure out what things sharpen the saw for me and plan to put those in my days and weeks first. Then allow the wood cutting to take the other time as opposed to the other way around. I call this Reverse Planning. Rather than planning what I have on my to do list and trying to get that done, I plan my down time and deliberately work to get that done.

This exercise is particularly good for highly driven people. Highly driven people tend to feel guilty if they are not working. So good things to put on the list are things that make you feel a bit guilty. Most of what I put on my list are things that I like to do a lot and if left unchecked would likely do too much.

For me, I think the following are my ways of sharpening my saw:

1 – Sleep. I tend not oversleep. I have pushed myself so hard for so long, I am not really sure how much sleep might help me be more productive. I am going to schedule 6-7 hours per night to see if that helps productivity.

2 – Exercise. I become resentful when I push so hard that I do not have time to work out. I will schedule one hour workouts 5 days per week and 2-3 hours once per week. For me this is also tied to sleep. If I push too hard, I end up choosing between sleep and working out. Not good.

3 – I will allow time for a 15-20 minute walk each evening. I find this clears my head.

4 – Tidying and Organizing. I know I like my environment more and am more productive if things are neat. I will schedule an hour per week plus 10 minutes per day on that.

5 – Social time. I will schedule a couple of evenings per week of social time.

6 – Intellectual challenge. I will play bridge, chess or sudoko 5 hours per week. (this tends to be guilt time for me as I enjoy it too much)

7 – Reading for pleasure. I will schedule a few hours to read for pleasure.

My list is not yet complete. I am still working on it. My challenge now is to stick to my reverse time plan and not allow myself to get caught up by the usual daily volume.