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Sunday, October 15, 2017

The Centuries-Old Strategy That Turbocharged My Productivity by Amy Carleton | The Cut - Science Of Us

It’s an old-school paper-planner system that requires a little micromanaging, but the payoff is worth it.

Photo: Nick David/Getty Images

A few years ago, I assigned Ben Franklin’s Autobiography as reading for the literature survey class I was teaching — and, well, to say my students didn’t relate very well might be putting it mildly. Among other things, Franklin’s memoir devotes a fair amount of space to explaining his daily strategy for maximum productivity, which includes a 5 a.m. wakeup, designated blocks of time for work, meals, and activities like “put[ting] things in their places”; there’s also time allotted for “diversion,” but no hour is without a designated purpose, a way of ensuring that as much time as possible is spent working toward a daily goal. In class, many of my students were vocal in their belief that his schedule was oppressive. A few of them wondered out loud why anyone would intentionally micromanage their day to such an extreme.

One possible answer: A timeline means accountability, something I learned earlier this year after resolving to get a handle on the messiness that ruled my life. Six months ago, my way of getting things done was last-minute and without a clearly defined work plan. This was especially true during periods when I had more flexibility in my schedule. Last winter break, for example, I had a solid five weeks of time that, in theory, should have been incredibly productive — I was largely freed from my daily duties of teaching, meetings, and grading, and made a long list of things that I hoped to accomplish with all my free time. Some were abstract (“Get in better shape”) and others more concrete (“Submit journal article”). I ended up accomplishing a few of them before the spring term started up, but for the most part, I just moved my goals from one to-do list to another.

A few weeks into the new semester, panic started to set in as I recognized some hard deadlines that were fast approaching. After an all-nighter grading papers that had me exhausted for days, I knew I needed to find a better way.  In a moment of desperation, I clicked on a Facebook ad for a paper planner that promised to help me “optimize my day, tackle my goals, and become happier.”

When the planner arrived at my door a few days later, I couldn’t help but be reminded of Franklin’s meticulous planning. Each page was broken down into 30-minute chunks of time, where I’d have to log everything — workouts, meals, Netflix watching. There was also space to enter a daily goal, along with the action items that would help me move closer to it.

As I sat with my pen in hand, mapping out my exact plan for the next day, I felt silly. Couldn’t I do this in Google Calendar? Was time-blocking really the thing that would push me to get things done, or did I just get duped into buying an expensive notebook? It did feel a little extreme, scribbling in the time of my spin class and writing down the exact length of an afternoon break — like I was prematurely sucking all the spontaneity, all the potential for inspiration, out of the day.

Source: The Cut