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A Clean Fridge


I’m on Day Four of Using Time Blocks to Get Things Done and make headway on some of the never-ending things that need doing that can lurk on in the shadows of your mind. So far it’s going pretty well.

I had a couple of weak days: on Tuesday night Emma was out, so I took advantage of being solo to play a little The Chronicles of Riddick: Assault on Dark Athena. I usually only play an hour or two of XBox every 1-2 weeks, so it’s a well earned indulgence I think. Usually I play Halo 3 with my friends in Seattle, but lately I’ve been playing some Halo Wars and the new Riddick game, both of which are great. And last night we went out to the concert, leaving just after dinner.

However, tonight I tackled The Fridge! I wish I had a before picture. Honestly we’re clean people and our fridge wasn’t that scary. However, it was overly full, disorganized, and it wasn’t super clean. It was definitely time. So, after dinner I started my 30 minute timer on my iPhone and got to work. Cleaning a fridge isn’t much fun, there are a ton of things I’d rather be doing, but for 30 minutes I could handle it. Except when the 30 minutes ran out, all of the food was still out of the fridge. So I spun up another 30 minutes, and changed the music. When that 30 minutes ran out, I was almost done with the freezer, but knew I still had to take out the trash (which now had old no good food in it), and a few other things, so in the end I spent 90 minutes cleaning the fridge and freezer. And honestly I didn’t mind. Good music, and doing it in 30 minute blocks really helped out mentally. If I’d been thinking “Oh, it’ll take me all night to clean the stupid fridge” I would have put it off again. Now it’s done, it looks great, and I’m happy to have done it.

I’ve also made a slight change to how I mark the grid if I spend more than the allotted time on a task. Instead of just noting how long I spend, I’m marking down multiple ‘X’s. The overall number of ‘X’s on the paper when I’m done with the week will give me an indicator as to how productive I’ve been on these tasks.

Currently it looks like this:

Apr 20th Apr 21th Apr 22th Apr 23th Apr 24th Apr 25th Apr 26th
Exercise 30m X X
Clean House 30m X X X X X
Work on House 30m X
Write Blog Post 60m X X X
Finances/Bills 30m X X
Spark::red 30m X X X X X X X X

So I’m happy with the approach! Anyone tried it?

Getting Things Done Using Time Blocks

I’m always trying to improve my productivity, my focus, and my organization. I want to worry less and do more.

I’ve firmly adopted a loose GTD system via OmniFocus to manage my important tasks and todos, things like “Label circuit breakers” and “Book travel for New Orleans”. For my development tasks, like “add SMS notifications to monitoring applications”, I use Jira, which not only integrates perfectly with my development environment (Eclipse) but also manages attachments, notes, workflow, estimates, and integration with Subversion/Hudson/etc… I practice Inbox Zero (currently Inbox Two), and *try* to keep my desk clean.

However, there’s a whole category of things I want to do that don’t really fit in there. Things that I should do or at least make progress on, but that don’t really have a schedule or are on-going things that would overwhelm OmniFocus pretty quickly. Things like keeping the house clean, exercising, paying bills/organizing finances and investments, fixing up the house, and so on. I know I should exercise every day, or close to it, but I don’t need a persistent task showing up in OmniFocus that I can never close. Ditto with keeping the house clean. And as a first time home owner, I’ve discovered that there’s an infinite number of tasks that should get done to the house eventually. Anything really important or time critical, such as “replace hot water heater” would go into OmniFocus, but there’s literally a never ending stream of things that should get done at some point, such as “nail up that one piece of cedar siding in the back that slides out of place every month or so” and “re-hang the Iguana Crossing sign on the mailbox post”. I could probably come up with several hundred of this type of task, and writing them down would just be overwhelming. But I still need to work on them.

So I’ve created a simple table which I printed out. Along the top I have the dates of this week. Along the left side I have some meta-tasks with target amounts of time to spend. So my current week’s table looks like this:

Apr 20th Apr 21th Apr 22th Apr 23th Apr 24th Apr 25th Apr 26th
Exercise 30m X
Clean House 30m X (60m)
Work on House 30m X
Write Blog Post 60m X
Finances/Bills 30m
Spark::red 30m X (3h)

When I do something on the list for the minimum time, I put an “X” down. If I end up doing it substantially longer, I mark down roughly how long I spent at it, so I can look at how I spent my time over the week, and also know that I don’t have to feel too guilty if I don’t get to any Spark::red stuff for the next day or two.

There’s a few key points:

  1. If I miss a day (or two) it’s not a huge deal. Nothing here is time sensitive, although I can use these time blocks to work on important tasks that are in OmniFocus if I want. Just in general, these are the things that I should be doing on a regular basis, but a day missed here or there really isn’t a big deal.
  2. Often the things I’ll end up doing aren’t very fun. For instance I scrubbed out a toilet today. So it’s hard to get super motivated about it. However, that’s why I have the 30 minutes blocked out. Short of torture, or watching Heroes (which is the same thing, really…), I figure I can endure 30 minutes of just about anything, so once I’ve done my 30 minutes, I can stop if I want. It doesn’t matter if I’m done or not, I can just stop if I want, happy in the knowledge that I did 30 minutes more than I would have probably done otherwise. This makes it MUCH easier to get going on an unpleasant task. And often, once I’m going, I keep going until the tasks or tasks I had in mind when I started are done, hence my overages today in cleaning and Spark::red work. If 30 minutes is too much or too little for you, go ahead and use 10 minutes or an hour. Find the right balance point for you: short enough you don’t avoid unpleasant tasks, and long enough to actually accomplish things.
  3. While you’re in one of those blocks, you have to FOCUS on what you’re doing. That means no watching TV while you’re working on your blog post, no taking email breaks while you’re cleaning the kitchen, just focus on what you’re doing for 30 minutes, and crank stuff out.
  4. Don’t watch the clock. I use my iPhone as my timer. It is easy to set it for 30 minutes, and just slide it back in my pocket. I’m usually surprised at how quickly it goes off. Also, if I want to push on a bit more, I can give myself another 30 minute countdown with one click.

This is only the first day of the new system, so we’ll see how well it works after week 5, but so far it’s been great. I’ve gotten a ton accomplished today, and felt pretty good about the 30 minute blocks. If you try it or are doing something like it already, let me know!

Busy Times

This week has been pretty crazy, and the upcoming few weeks look at least as bad.  I’m working my regular full time job (and trying to figure out where that’s going), I’m working on another big development project after-hours, I’m working on a possible collaboration project, I’m developing a software project development methodology, and handling the usual other tasks on my schedule.  My wife has started working full time, but on an odd schedule.  She worked all weekend, but has today and tomorrow off.  So she’s been gone a lot, and tired a lot when she’s here.  This also means that more of the chores and errands fall to me, making me even busier:)

I’m flying to Ohio mid-week next week, to San Francisco that Friday, and to France the following week.  And I have to get my hair-cut, get my car serviced, return library books, and more.

On the upside, most, if not all, of the things keeping me busy are good things, and I feel productive.

I also just wrapped a week of a 1,000 calorie/day diet to recover from my New Mexico sopapilla gorging.  It totally worked.  I lost six pounds in 7 days.  But you really can’t do it for more than a week without messing up your metabolism and health, so now I’m back to normal, which feels great.  The diet makes me cranky.  It’s not as bad as the random rage that Atikins gave me, but I’m definitely easier to get frustrated and just cranky and stressed out when I’m limiting my food.  Which is no fun for my wife to be around.  I made it to the gym three times in that week, so that’s good.  Here are my nutritional averages for the past week:

But tonight, we’re getting Thai take-out for the first time in weeks:)  I can’t wait!