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On Designing My Time

The question I was originally asked focused on how I prioritize time to read so many books. Along with a few more specific questions which have also popped up from them and others like…

What is your process around reading books? I usually read work related or educational books in the morning and lighter books (Memoirs, Novels, etc.) in the evening when I’m winding down. I love spending the evening getting lost in a good story. But it’s always a mix of books. I highly recommend following Shane Parrish’s Farnam Street for methods on the best ways to read. You can start with his guide to reading better.

Do you do anything special to retain information you get from them, like take notes or highlight, etc? I literally just purchased a kindle so I plan to read more on there, resulting in highlights digitally which are rad lol. However, in traditional paperback books, I jot down notes before hand around what I know about the topic already and what I’m hoping to learn. When reading, I’m jotting notes in the column or underlining or bookmarking it with a sticky. See the above link for process though!

In 2019, I read 13 books which I included in last week’s newsletter. By many folks standards, that’s not a lot. But I think in order to answer that, I need to cover the more important question here, which is how I prioritize my time. I think they call that a “TWO-FER”? No?

The down low

To put it simply, I have terrible anxiety which I struggled a lot with up until this last year when I finally learned how to manage it. And not in a “I’m keeping it at bay” but got to the root. I had one mini-anxiety attack in 2019, and considering all of the things that came together when they did, I think anyone would have had one, to be honest. So I was patting myself on the back.

For me, the anxiety happens in the same way it does for most people. When things compound too closely together, I feel like I don’t have control of the outcomes. But all in all, I’ve done a lot of work to get that under control over the years and happy I’m at a place where I can say “I barely even think about it now”.

What’s the recipe? A mix of:

  1. Therapy at one point

  2. Lots of educating myself on the root cause, my mind, and my gut

  3. The magic of time design.

I’ve spent the last ~4 years refining my time design in order to become more productive, overall healthy, and not have work negatively impact my life.

And after years of revising, there have been major changes which have drastically impacted my life and those around me for the better. So I figured I’d take the opportunity to share not just what changed since the time design, but how I took action.

So what did I do?

Well, I wish there were a really cool algorithm or query or something really nifty that I could tell you I did like track my phone and then IFTTT it to an Airtable. But alas, I did not. Time design is something that a tool can assist with, but certainly cannot solve for you.

What I did though was start with myself, followed by my trusted calendar app. I took the time to work on and pay attention—what was happening to me, when it was happening, immediate triggers, etc. In doing so, I noticed a few things:

  1. Every morning after dropping Emma off at school, my heart rate notched up a tad as I thought about all of the things on my to-do list that needed to be tackled.

  2. I had a laundry list of tasks, and it felt never-ending. Which is true. So long as I have a company or a job, there will be a to-do list that doesn’t end. This is a good thing, tbh.

  3. Even when work ended for the day at 3pm (yes, 3pm) I was thinking about all of the things I needed to do. I wasn’t fully detaching, and in turn wasn’t present elsewhere when I needed to be.

  4. I was painfully tired. And not just the “hey i need to sleep better tonight” (but that too) but my whole self felt tired.

  5. I felt unhealthy.

And I made changes

Redirecting focus

If coming home from dropping Emma off at school was triggering a lot of anxiety as I began to get into work mode, I needed to shift focus and not reinforce that behavior by giving my brain what it wanted. Instead, after drop-off my days of the week are split between going to the gym and/or reading for 30 min once I get home (on days not at the gym—on those days, I read in the PM). 

It gives my brain something else to focus on, and gets it ready to actually tackle my to-do list in a structured and calm way. Figuring out the best way to kick off not only your week and day determines how the rest plays out.

Back to normal (actual) productive hours

I work from 8:30-3pm. Yes, again, I repeat 3pm. You’ll occasionally see I’m working in the evening (and realistically sometimes things need to be done) but overall and most of the time, it can wait until morning. 

In turn, it’s been key to my productivity. I can do significantly more in a drastically less amount of time—which is also a byproduct of me being a parent that at one point had a kiddo home (when she wasn’t in Pre-K), in turn having me be a SAH (Stay-at-home) Mom and Full-Time Founder. But working late hours multiple nights per week had me toast, and if I’m toast I’m not performing, and if I can’t perform at my best am I really going to be able to show up in my roles at home and work? The answer is and will always be no.

So how do I power through my work in that small time frame? I have a very basic structure to my week and my to-do list.

  • Tuesdays and Thursdays are for calls—allowing me to get into deep work Monday, Wednesday, and Friday.

  • I have 3-5 core things for work and personal stuff that I need to get done for the day. I never deviate from that number, and it’s almost always 3 rather than 5. At that point, I set myself up for success, but if they’re quick tasks, I’ll notch to 5.

  • The rest of the tasks are extra, and I’ll go down the list once I finish my main tasks.

Realistically, you can look at the time I’m working, and think “Oh my God, that’s nothing.” But let’s face it friends, you working for 12 hours has you actually not working for most of it. This isn’t my assumption, it’s based on data. We know the majority of people don’t spend their entire day actually working—which is why part of the remote work conversation is so alluring for folks. They can actually work. But typically? You’re either working, procrastinating, or in meetings.

Working from home plus our team at Stark barely having meetings (unless necessary) means I ensure I can set myself up for success and get as much as possible done in that window.

Prioritizing health

TL;DR: I sleep better, eat better, and workout. Changing what I put into my gut, coupled with exercising multiple times per week (rowing for cardio + strength training), and getting at least 7 hours of sleep consistently has changed my life. It’s also important to note that all of this in conjunction with structuring my day / week properly has ensured my physical and mental health improved ten-fold. A few recommended reads on that are:

Always be revising

I never had a fancy process for this. Just a lot of simple trial and error by digging into the root, educating myself, and prioritizing me. I realize that my time design it’s something I’ll continually have to revise, solely because it’s contingent on things happening in your life (which are sometimes out of my control), But if one this is for certain, I at least get to control my time design.

Small tweaks to start can make such a drastic difference and have ripple effects toward much more grand ones. Change in general starts small, but the return on investment is arguably one of the best you can give yourself. Remember, your time is the one form of currency you can’t get back. I highly recommend you put a value on it, and in turn prioritize how you spend it. 

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I appreciate you. And until next time…