Fixed-schedule productivity: The art of doing less
There are a dozen of productivity 'hacks' and 'tricks' and probably hundreds if not thousands of blog posts written on them. If I had to just write about the ones that I've experimented with myself, that alone would probably take up to 20+ posts.
So let's not do that today.
Instead, let's talk about a productivity philosophy I came across recently that helped me prevent burnout. Surprisingly enough, it did not have the effect of hindering my work output but somehow helped me improve on it. More on it later.
The idea, fixed-schedule productivity, is one that I first came across in Ali Abdaal's Deep Dive Podcast episode with Oliver Burkeman, which I later found its name in Cal Newport's blog post 'My "Oldest" Productivity Strategy'.
In a nutshell:
1 - Choose a schedule of work hours that you think provides the ideal balance of effort and relaxation.
2 - Do whatever it takes to avoid violating this schedule.
Most productivity beginners try to figure out how to create more motivation to help them do what they want. But once you got over that novice stage you realise the real challenge lies in how to stop that motivation from creeping into your personal life and making you miserable and screwing up your work-life balance.
It is natural: when time is up and you still feel like working the natural thing to do is just to keep working because you feel energetic, right?
Here are a few problems with this approach:
- Work tasks creep into your personal life. Pretty self-explanatory.
- The optimal time to stop working is when you still feel rather energetic and positive about the work. If you only ever stop working when you feel stressed out it will backfire on you in the long run.
- You risk raising the bar for how much you think you 'should' be able to work. Say that you plan to work for 30 minutes today but ended up feeling great and worked for an hour instead. From now on you might start expecting yourself to have the same energy to work for an hour each session. The high bar you have set for yourself makes the seemingly inevitable time when you fail even scarier. So then you procrastinate.
Fixed-schedule productivity fixes (...no pun intended) these problems:
- It clearly separates your work and personal hours. The 'clear-headed you' decide the schedule before you started working as opposed to leaving the job of drawing the line to the 'super productivity & work driven you' which leads to the exact scenario of you working late into your personal hours.
- You retain that positive and energetic feeling associated with work. Creates a positive feedback loop. You won't feel daunted or stressed when you think of work. Ultimately helps you create a more healthy and sustainable relationship with your work.
- You keep the bar low. Like James Clear said in Atomic Habits, making an action as easy and as frictionless as possible is one of the best ways to build a habit & take action consistently and sustainably.
Furthermore, here are a few additional benefits that fixed-schedule productivity gives:
- You are forced to prioritise and ruthlessly eliminate useless tasks. Being busy does not equal being effective, as pointed out by Tim Ferris in The 4-Hour Work Week. And as one of the famous (maybe inaccurate attributed) Bruce Lee saying goes:
“One does not accumulate but eliminate. It is not daily increase but daily decrease."
- You simply free up more hours in your day to pursue other aspects of your life. Being productive shouldn't be an 'end' itself. Leaves your work desk, there's a lot more out there.
Try this for yourself and let me know how it goes. Hopefully, it frees up more of your time and gives you a more balanced life.
Have a good week x