👩🏼‍🔬 Using GTD to Write a Novel in a Month

This is a strange first experiment for a blog, because it is basically about preparing to take a break from the blog. Mostly this is happening because National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) is next month, but the lessons learned here will hopefully carry through to the blogging practice as well.

Question: What Can I Do to Finish NaNoWriMo This Year?

The first step in this journey has been to try and analyze my prior attempts and reasons I failed. I’ve narrowed down to a few

Hypothesis: Enforcing Deep Work and GTD Will Help Me Focus on My Goals

Getting Things Done

Deep Work

Proposed Experiment: Deeeeeep Work

 

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My Experiment With Hyper-Scheduling (Time Blocking)

Managing time is by far one of the most critical, and stressful, things that we all know we need to do. One strategy that I stumbled across on MacSparky is called Hyper Scheduling.

The basic premise is that you lean heavily on your calendar to block off chunks of time so you know what you’re doing when. In theory, this could be helpful for folks like me who might create a task list but then fail at deciding what to do through the day.

My hope is that by using these calendar events as triggers I’ll be able to keep myself more organized on next actions throughout the day. I’m going to try this for at least a month to see how it goes.

Create Calendars

The first step is to set up our initial calendars. Preferably keeping fewer will make things much simpler to manage.

I’m personally using three calendars:

  • Schedule: this calendar is just designed to show the general boundaries of your everyday life. Separating this out will help during scheduling while allowing you to turn it off during the Dayton keep things uncluttered.
  • Personal: this is all the time bocks and events that have nothing to do with my family.
  • Family: this calendar has anything on it that I’d want my wife to be aware of.

Create Hard Blocks

Next step is creating the immovable reoccurring events. Some will show up directly on the calendar being used to track tasks/events, and others will show up on the schedule calendar to just help with general planning.

Schedule Calendar:

  • Sleep 9:30 pm – 5:00 am, I don’t want to see this during the day but it’s a nice reminder when scheduling.
  • Commute to work (weekdays) 7:00 – 7:30 am
  • Day Job 7:30 – 3:30 pm (weekdays), I put this on schedule because I just need to mark off where I can mark time on my personal calendar.
  • Commute to work (weekdays) 7:00 – 7:30 am

Personal Calendar:

  • Workout + Shower (Mon, Wed, Fri) 5:00 – 6:30 am, for a lot of people this could be a soft block, but getting this exercise is really important part of managing my ADHD and mood.
  • Meditate and prep for Day 6:00 – 6:30 am
  • Prep for bed + next day 8:30 – 9:30 pm, this includes getting my food for tomorrow ready, journalling, and prepping my tasks and time blocks.

Implementation

Now we have to actually dig in and follow our system. We’ll be scheduling our calendar once a week, and then at the end of each day.

Weekly Scheduling

If you’re like me, your job doesn’t 100% allow you to time block. Working as a legacy programmer a majority of my work is just an ancient code base sneak attacking me with work. Similarly, being a parent of a young child means that it’s not easy to nail down in advance exactly when I’ll be able to get stuff done.

You’ll have to determine how heavily you can pre-block time for yourself, but if your schedule is similar to mine you might want to avoid heavily pre-scheduling. I’ll try and limit my pre-scheduling to only date specific tasks, and times I’m confident I’ll have uninterrupted.

Instead of nailing down all my time blocks ahead of time, I’ll be looking at the guaranteed times I have and seeing what projects fit into those days. Another thing I’ll do is see what types of tasks (like checking email) I could push off to days where I have limited or no solid blocks of time.

Because I’ve done the work of hashing out my normal schedule I know roughly what time I can usually depend on. This isn’t the point where I’m

My open slots usually look something like this:

Off Week

  • Mon, Tue, Wed (1 Hour 15 Minutes guaranteed time)
    • x15 minute blocks during the work day (2 breaks and half my lunch). I don’t take walks during break and lunch on days I work out in the morning.
    • 4:00-4:30, the time between when I get home and my wife does.
  • Thu (2 Hour 15 Minutes guaranteed time)
    • 3×15 minute blocks during the work day
    • 4-5:30 pm, my wife comes home late these days
  • Fri (my wife has a pass day)
    • x15 minute blocks during the work day (2 breaks and half my lunch). I don’t take walks during break and lunch on days I work out in the morning.
  • Sat, Sun
    • These are family days and aside from anything I get done before my family wakes up I don’t plan any blocks of “work”
    • The only guaranteed things I get done are meal planning and weekly planning.

On Week

These are weeks where Mon-Wed my wife comes home (2 Hour 15 Minutes guaranteed time), and Thu-Fri are normal days (1 Hour 15 Minutes guaranteed time).

Daily Scheduling

Nose to the grindstone every night and divvy up your tasks. We’ll look at the tasks that we want to try and get done and create blocks of time on the calendar based on a few criteria.

  1. What are my next actions in my projects?
  2. Which projects are the highest priority?
  3. Which highest priority next actions can I fit in the slots I have open tomorrow?

After we know our time slots, and the tasks we want to work on, we can create calendar events for our tasks on our calendar. We also want to use calendar alerts to help keep on track during the day knowing when to switch between tasks.

Operating During Each Day

During the day it’s super important to stay on task during our time blocked out (particularly for those with a bunch of responsibilities), and then just be thoughtful of what we do in the between time. Just because we aren’t filling 100% of our time doesn’t mean that moments of free time won’t just appear during the day.

In the moment we need to decide whether to take some time to relax (maybe scroll Instagram, or read a book) or to see if there are any tasks on our to-do lists we can knock out. When we find these moments we just have to judge our energy levels, and what we even have the ability to accomplish.

What Next

One of the things that this experiment has already taught me is that I really need to not just prioritize my time, but the projects I choose to give my time to. Over a 2 week period if I’m working within the guaranteed time frames I can allot myself that means I’ve got an average of 1.18 hours a day to devote to what ever I want. I’ll definitely be posting more specifically about how just setting up the hyper scheduling experiment has drastically affected what I’m currently working on.

I also plan to keep people posted with my weekly hyper scheduling progress in my Monday Missives newsletter. Sign up to follow along with me, participate yourself, or just make sure you know when the next post comes out!

💌 Monday Missives 💌

You can sign up for the free Monthly Missives newsletter and get a more personal weekly updates on what I'm working on and thinking about, as well as interesting things that other interesting people are working on. Because I am not tremendously active on social media, replying back to me by email is the most sure fire way to personally reach out to me.