Several years ago, when I was in University, I wrote about productivity and how I needed to change the way I thought about prioritizing work inorder to find sustainable ways to get more done without sacrificing what I wanted to do outside study and work – like building things, exercising and eating healthy.
For the last few months I’ve been figuring out my best way to work. I’m optimizing for getting things done well, not getting burnt out and my overall enjoyment of work.
I’ve arrived at the following oversimplified framework: In a given work week I need two thinking days for every three typing days.
Let me explain.
Thinking days: time spent reading, watching and learning. Usually on Tuesdays and Fridays. These days have no success criteria besides learning. I allow myself to go down rabbitholes and freely learn things. Curiosity is heavily exercised.
When you’re building a startup, or anything that needs new ideas for that matter, a lot of success comes from consistently staying ahead of the curve. Knowing and understanding things, specially what others don’t, plays a critial role in this process.
A lot of my work is creative. Inorder to create, I need to understand. To understand things well, I have to consume a lot of information. So it makes sense to take it seriously.
Typing days: when the more tangible work happens. Where I write the code, draw the designs, write the articles, and focus on getting work done. The fuller my thinking tank, the easier the work flows.
Part of being a startup founder means taking responsibility for your own work. You need to decide what work to do, along with the when and how. The fact that startups typically tend to move much faster multiplies this plate of work. It makes sense why a lot of founders say things like: “I learned more doing a startup than doing X for Y years.” It’s the minimum effort required.
Before this framework I found myself working in sprints. Upwards of a week spent working towards specific goals, usually ending up burnt out to various degrees and then spending days letting my brain run free for a bit; consuming, learning and taking a break to recover and graduate to the next step. It worked for a while, I did that for almost a year before I found it to be too distruptive and realized I needed to find a better way.
In addition to making my productivity more consistent and repeatable, this way of work also helps me recharge. Thinking days switch my brain into neutral. When I’m consuming and learning I’m not in a hurry, not on a clock, and generally don’t have specific success criteria in mind. It creates space to think and work on new ideas.
Anyways, that’s what I’m optimizing for now. Maybe it’ll change in the future.
In going through this process I often asked myself if it’s really necessary to make a distinction between thinking and typing (working) time. Probably depends on the person, but I found that separating these activities by day improved my productivity and overall happiness with work by a lot! That generally happens for me under three conditions:
- I feel productive; knowing that I created some value or checked a bunch of things off a list
- Feeling inspired and energetic. The first sign of burnout for me is loosing my energy or not feeling the energy, this is usually when I try drop the work and take a break.
- Working towards something. I work the hardest when I can picture what I’m working towards. Being able to picture it helps me plot a path to it, whether it’s a programming problem or the next step in my career.