The Trouble With Banking on Large Chunks of Time for Productivity

I should know better by now. Actually, I do know better, but sometimes my actions don’t line up with my thoughts.

I had the morning all blocked out in order to devote some uninterrupted time to writing my book. I had justified cutting previous writing sessions a bit short by pointing to the uninterrupted block of time I had set aside for today. “I can stop 10 minutes early now because I have three hours set aside on Tuesday morning,” I said to myself the other day. Yep, I should know better by now.

Ah, it was all going to work out perfectly. I dropped the kids off at school, and I was looking forward to brainstorming, outlining and writing until noon. But the door at my daughter’s preschool wasn’t working properly. The batteries for the alarm needed to be replaced. “No worries,” I told the preschool director as I was about to leave. “I’ll fix it for you.” The instructions were straightforward, but I didn’t have the right allen wrench. “No worries,” I told myself, and I walked home, knowing exactly where I had the tool I needed. While I was home, I figured I’d make myself a cup of coffee to take back with me. This meant I had to refill the water reservoir, which required cleaning the dirty dishes in the sink first. So, 15 minutes later, I was walking back to the preschool, which is only a five minute walk from the house.

Well, the allen wrench didn’t work, so I pulled up a video on YouTube to make sure I was going about the project correctly. It turns out, there’s an easier way to open the battery cover, but this required a screwdriver after first taking off the panels that covered the screws. At this point, the instructions informed me that I would have one minute to replace the batteries for the alarm before the system would reset, thus requiring a re-program. So I decided to first go get new batteries, because, of course, there were no batteries at the school. So I drove over to the hardware store, which was only two miles away, but they were out of those batteries, naturally. Next I drove another half mile over to CVS, and after five minutes of searching the store, I found the batteries I needed.

So back to the preschool I went. No worries. No stress because I’ve got the whole morning blocked out already! I replaced the batteries and put everything back together pretty quickly, and it felt good to help my friend and daytime caregiver to my only daughter. I looked at my watch and realized that it was almost 10am. Wait a second…what the hell happened to my huge block of morning time?! Now I had less than two hours instead of the more than three full hours I was expecting to have! This changed my entire mindset. Disappointment at not having three full hours overrode the gratitude I should have felt for having two full hours. I got to work and made some good progress, but I couldn’t let go of the time I “lost out” on.

And then it hit me. A smile came to my face as I had once again taught myself the lesson that I thought I had already learned: Consistency is the key. If I can have the mindset that enables me to consistently put one hour of work toward a project every day, instead of hoping and planning for a big block of time two or three days each week, I’m going to get so much more done.

There are a few things at play here. First, I’m not able to work on one project for three straight hours anyway, so why in the hell did I think that this was a good idea? I’m reading a great book called¬†The Power of Full Engagement¬†right now, and it’s all about the natural cycles and rhythms our bodies go through while awake and while asleep. The truth is there’s a bit of “law of diminishing return” after about 90 minutes working on one thing. We need to step away and work on something else for a while, and then rejuvenate for a bit in order to get back to being productive on our original task. Banking on multiple hours of uninterrupted time to make significant progress on one task is not smart.

Second, life doesn’t allow parents/husbands to have three hours of uninterrupted time to work on anything! I received about 10 texts during that time frame, the mailman knocked on my door, and hunger drew me into the kitchen twice. I should know better by now.

So the moral of the story is this: Don’t count on or try to carve out big chunks of time to work on important, fulfilling projects. Instead, incorporate consistent, shorter chunks of time aimed at making incremental progress/taking one step forward every day. In other words, don’t make the same mistake I made today.