138: Hyper-Scheduling Revisited

I’ve implemented a light version of block scheduling with a little analog step.

I write down my major tasks of the day. If I think they’ll take more than 15 min, I add that in parenthesis afterwards with a space to write what they actually took. So…

  • Do Project A (60 / )

Once I do the task I write how many minutes it took me. So…

  • Do Project A (60 / 75 )

It’s a bit of accountability and a fun sort of game to see if I can hit my guesstimated times for projects. Hope that makes sense. It’s a small little brain hack, but it’s been helpful.

9 Likes

Nice episode, especially the differences between you two near the end! I’m more like Mike in that I need to see the blocks as a bit immovable if I’m going to take them seriously. Paper works best for me, though I do like Fantastical quite a bit and can see how easily dragging blocks helps keep the schedule flexible when the weather’s nice, the piano is calling, etc.

3 Likes

Block scheduling doesn’t just keep me focused to get more important things done, but is also important to saving my mental health. So much less stress!

Pre-covid, my system was much like Mike’s: fancy-pants fountain pen with a fancy-pants custom disc-bound notebook. But instead of starting from blank each day, I used a pre-printed version of David Seah’s Emergent Task Planner. His designs make paper tools a joy to use.

Post-covid, I have now gone mostly digital: shortcuts and drafts control calendar and text files to keep me on track. Unlike Sparky I do have routine stuff on preset recurring appointments. Many of them are set to recur on Sunday when I do my planning. Then I drag them to wherever on the week I need them. Yes, it means an extra click to move them around (occasionally I screw it up), but I can customize their info (duration, notes, location, etc.) which is worth the tradeoff. All routine stuff has “#routine” in the note field so I can quickly sort them with shortcuts.

My task list (Obsidian/Kanban) consists of “This Week” “This Month” and “Someday.” In my weekly review, I decide what do I want to try to accomplish this week, (and what don’t I) then schedule it and work off my calendar each day not my task list. For bigger projects, my plan is often just to chip away for a specified length of time (eg an hour), then stop.

The amount of stress not having a daily task list removes is astonishing and yet I still get everything done! What about emergencies that popup during the day/week? Surprisingly, the unexpected ones don’t really happen that often once you have this mindset.

What I don’t do, but probably should, is keep track of how long something actually took. (I used to do a bit of this when I was analog)

5 Likes

Hello all! Long time MPU and Focused listener, first time joining the discussion.

I have… some kind of challenge for y’all. Ready for a long read?

I’ve tried Hyper-scheduling in the past, and after about 3 months I stopped because I actually felt it was making me less productive. I ended up ignoring my schedule and just going ahead with whatever I had to do that day, not checking the blocks anymore. I’m not sure if I was doing it wrong or it’s not compatible with my kind of work, so here’s some history about my experience with it and the problems I found. Is there a way to get it to work?

I work as a researcher in biology. My job has me change between completely different focus modes throughout the day. I can divide my work in mainly four different areas of responsibility. I have to:

  • Do the research itself. That is, doing the experiments, which have set dates and strictly scheduled protocols (Hands-on work)
  • Data analysis (Computer work)
  • Read articles (“Student” hat)
  • Write grants and articles (“Creator” hat)

All these happen throughout the week in varying ratios.

The main problem is that the experiments themselves have “set in stone” steps I have to follow and they tend to take most of my day. However, these protocols have small breaks that I can use for my other areas, such as 15 min for some email work, 30 min for some reading, and so on. Those breaks are too small to split into a separate block in the calendar, but that’s usually the only time I have during the day to do the computer work (data analysis) and the reading/writing. Some days I can book whole blocks for data analysis or writing if needed, but that of course reduces the time I have to perform the experiments. And the problem is that many experiments can’t be deferred, as the biological samples won’t wait until the only free block I have on, let’s say, Thursday afternoon.

What I found is that when I was block scheduling, my mental work (data analysis and reading) were hurt as the blocks I used for the experiments were not leaving much room for them. Writing grants and articles have always priority over the experiments, of course, as those are a) how I get money for research and b) the main output from my job. Data analysis and reading though, are what would fall in the typical quadrant 2 work (Important but not critical), so they were constantly “under-scheduled” than the experiments or writing. After three months I found my work output was lower than before block scheduling, where I had the “flexibility” to change hats quickly during an experiment to either read a bit or do some computer work.

So here’s the challenge. I’m pretty sure block scheduling would work if done right for me, but: how would I do it? Shall I reduce the experimental part and block times for computer work and be less flexible so that I make sure I can focus on those? Or use the experimental blocks as some “loose” time blocks where I can also squeeze some of the reading and computer work? I feel that if I block the experiments in the calendar and I use that time for reading too, then I’m not really doing time-blocking, as I’m just doing something else during those experiment blocks.

To wrap up, my current productivity system. What I’ve been doing is: instead of time-scheduling, I task-schedule. That is, I write on Sunday what has to be done next week and then I split the tasks between the 5 days of the week. First I schedule the experiments that need to be done on a certain day, as those are more similar to calendar events that can’t be moved. Then I add to each day the rest of the tasks, organized in a way I consider I’ve given them enough room to be done that day. I more or less know how long each of those tasks will take and how much room the experiments leave me to do them, so I get a good overview of how my week looks like and if I can manage to do everything (considering my week doesn’t go to hell due to unplanned events). I don’t block in the calendar to the hour anymore and I found that this kind of planning works better for me.

Now, why so much insisting on hyper-scheduling? Well… I really miss seeing at a glance in Fantastical what I had planned for the day, and block scheduling worked really great when I had less experimental work and more computer time. It really helped me focus on what I had to do and block away distractions. Is it possible that block scheduling is mostly good for freelancers, content creators, and people doing focused work (such as Macsparky’s legal work)?

Well… If you got this far and have some input, I’d love to see your take on my scheduling dilemma. Thank you all and have a great week!

Maybe rather than scheduling when, schedule how much. Make a list of items for the day, and how much total time you want to devote to each. This will allow you to do some task in 15min chunks while you’re waiting for your columns. E.g. you list 2 chromatography sessions that take an hour each, and four email chunks of 15min each that can be done concurrently as the agonizingly slow columns drip.
Maybe you have writing time on your list too, but that requires 20 min to context switch into, and 10 min to leave breadcrumbs for yourself, so you list 90min. You know that during that time, you’ll be single-tasking only.

6 Likes

That’s an interesting take; I like it. I normally list everything I have to do during the week, so adding some time to each task might help me estimate if I’m trying to overachieve or I’m being realistic. Maybe I’ve been trying too hard to make hyper-scheduling work for me when another system like the one you suggested might adapt better to my requirements.

I know if I’ll have a lot of mental work in the coming week, blocking time slots helps me reserve the required amount of time I need to focus on it, but then I could just block-schedule the weeks I know I’ll be focusing on writing or analyzing, and only list tasks/time on regular weeks.

1 Like

I’m in a similar scenario in that my work routine is a mix of disparate things. I’m a construction Safety Manager so my primary roles are (strategic stuff-low volume top of the importance pyramid & repeatable enough to be checklist driven).
Operational stuff- bigger volume relatively speaking & middle of the importance pyramid).
Communication stuff- large volume & usually bottom of the importance pyramid).

To push my Pyramid analogy to breaking point :joy: I also have to react to incidents/enforcement body visits/disciplinary issues (unannounced stuff- I liken it to a sand storm that just has to be dealt with and will erode the pyramid, so the quicker it’s dealt with the better).

My approach is to block time a week at a time. Top of the pyramid elements first (I read as your experiments) knowing that the further I go down the pyramid generally the easier it is to block general categories of work that don’t need detailed explanation- but do need a defined period in which to happen. The bottom of the pyramid stuff I just adopt a best endeavours approach so put reoccurring time-blocks in- knowing there will always be more of this availabile than time to do it.

If any sandstorm stuff comes up I drop 99.99% of things to get this dealt with asap. I then pretty much time shift everything forward and continue on with life.

Hyper scheduling wise:
If it’s a site based day it will be a full day block with no detail needed- I just need to know where I’m going for the day.

If it’s an office day I have a blueprint time-block creation shortcut of 3x30mins email/comms blocks (final one is also the shutdown block), an AM focus block of 3 hours & a PM focus block of 3 hours with an hours lunch break. The time-blocks are created using @MacSparky’s Shortcuts Field guide template approach. I assign tasks on a weekly basis which are refined or split down further if required- but it gives me a great starting point.

I draw together what specifics need to be dealt with for the current month (based on multiple shared responsibility schedules) in GoodNotes- which helps to dictate what some of the AM/PM time-blocks I need to cover.

I use Omnifocus as my task manager but I don’t work out of there- just use it to assign my “discretionary” time-blocks

The final bit is a Daily notes/call record in GoodNotes again. I use a colour in the squares type tracker for uninterrupted half-hours progress towards the AM & PM time-blocks.

Sounds mighty complex when I write it out but it works great and helps me to funnel multiple streams of input into one trusted place for me to look at.

It’s probably not canonical Hyper scheduling- but it works for me. Hope that helps :+1:

1 Like

Just remember there is nothing in the productivity racket that is canonical. We all have to cobble it together in a way that works for us.

6 Likes

the timing on this was perfect for me. I just started jumping back in. I used to do it in on paper in a field notes book. However I am finding I am moving around so much - retail store, client office space, and home - that I am wanting to try digital again. I had tried laying out the times in a repeating way - but as mentioned it kind of just blew up and wasn’t so helpful. So I’m going to jump into Sorted3 and try that for a while.

As a single dad the conversation about moving stuff and not being too rigid about it really hit home too. At least once a week my kid needs something that takes a chunk of my week away. So working how to roll with that is really the biggest challenge.

1 Like

Hm. I guess I need to listen to the episode.
I thought hyper-scheduling was setting aside rigid time blocks during the day for certain tasks or projects.
Sorted3 (which looks interesting) seems to emphasize flexibility.

Enjoyed this episode and it’s prompted me to revisit this.

How do others do timeblocking? Do you print out a blank daily grid and write in your tasks? Add the tasks directly into your calendar? Something else?

To keep it simple, I’ve just pulled this together in Numbers. I’ll try it for a week and see if something more complex is needed.

I used to do GTD style planning. First using Omnifocus and more recently using Things. I got a lot of good work done, but realized that I could get a lot of tasks done in a day, but leave some of the most important ones unfinished because they required larger blocks of time to finish.

Listening to Cal Newport’s podcast as well as Focused convinced me to give time block planning a try. I’m glad I did. Instead of counting up the tasks ticked off in Things at the end of the day, I now think a day is productive if I worked on most of my time blocks.

I still use Things as my capture tool, but use it mainly to plan out my time blocks for the next day.

3 Likes

So I installed Sorted3 and have been going at this way of blocking. Today I really felt the groove of it. My work was laid out and it really helped me stay on target. Depsite a few things trying to pull me off target. the alarms on Sorted reminded me and I spent little time off track.

It helps my kids did not disrupt anything today. That is the challenge i expect - how to roll with the demands of parenting.

Anyway - thanks for this episode - it has been super helpful.

2 Likes

The key for me with Sorted and hyper scheduling in general is building in margin. Easy for me to use sorted to fill every time block. But then disruptions mess up the schedule and I’m frustrated. Because sorted makes it so easy to select a series of tasks and just push them out 10 or 30 or whatever minutes after a disruption, it encourages me to build in margin. If I don’t have disruptions and get done early, easy enough to check my list of next actions and choose something additional.

1 Like

Thanks. I am trying to do a 50 minute hour instead of a full one. To leave space for overflow. t

1 Like

I like the guesstimates approach. I do this quite frequently. Especially on high activity days and if some anxiety kicks in. Kind of gamifies the tasks. Helps me focus and I can review the day to see how much actual work was there. Often it is less than I imagined.

2 Likes

I’ve been thinking about implementing Hyper-Scheduling again. Tried it in the past but using repetitive blocks just got me to ignore the blocks.

I actually have a cool idea related to @MacSparky context-driven productivity philosophy that I will try to implement. In short, it’s based on @Kourosh approaches to productivity in OmniFocus and utilizing the perspectives. Then combining that with hyper scheduling and gluing it all together with a bit of automation to set up an optimal work environment that takes me directly into the tasks that are available for that session of work. Will most definitely share with you guys the results. If anyone wants to collab on this, feel free to reach out.

2 Likes