Life–your life–surely will have lots of things going on that the moment. Some of us are busy with work, trying to keep a family/relationship together, or even fighting our own battles. As you grow older there’s just even much more things you have to be responsible for. This doesn’t even take into account yet the things you want to do and the things the make you happy. Life takes time…~literally, it consumes time.
While this is totally natural and understandable, we still have to constantly keep up with the times. That can be advancing your professional skill, improving/maintaining personal health and fitness, or entertaining personal and professional endeavours like travelling or pursuing a business. So you see what I’m trying to get at here right. Each of these paragraph takes the same resource: time. So you have unlimited things to do with limited time. How do you do it Dan?!
I’m a coder and I’ve been experiencing life (both in good and bad ways). I also like creating passion projects and attempting to make things take off the ground. Even that takes time. Life’s busy and stressful already enough for me during day time so do I really want to come home, look at the computer for hours again and code code code.
I love coding, but damn…That’s no way to live life. That’s been done during my uni life. So it loops back to my intro paragraph: I wanna live life but I also want to be productive, so how can one do that?
Initially I would just plan in advance: “Tomorrow I know I am free, I will then schedule myself to do X, Y, Z by then”. But then tomorrow comes and you feel the fatigue and energy-drainage of tomorrow and you just can’t deal. I then postpone it for tomorrow since I know I don’t have anything the following day. After doing it for probably 52 weeks, it’s probably safe to assume this isn’t working.
During the day you’re working, once you check out, you’re trying to live your life. So when? Weekends? Well, that’s in the life category. Weeknights? That’s in the work/life(necessity) side of things. Honestly, my conclusion was, I really don’t have much spare time apart from the “dead times” or useless times. You know, like when you’re in between meetings and have a break in between: you can’t start a new task since it doesn’t give you much time, at the same time you can’t just sit and kill time because it’s longer than usual, so you’re stuck in between. One part of my life that contains this is the “cooking” part!
Introducing the “Chicken Burger” Sprint!
I would go home and there was this stretch of period where I was buying bags of frozen chicken burgers (hey, don’t judge :P). I didn’t have much time to leisurely cook during those times so I picked those. It’s frozen, so just dump it in the oven, wait, then done. After that, continue to work on other things of my life (NOT work, or passion project related). That’s where my dilemma was. Sure I want to do productive stuff but I know there’s the more important aspect of self-care, mental stability, and just…living life! It could be anything! Sometimes I’d be engaging in social/athletic endeavours after work. Sometimes it’s just really just about hitting the stop button, unwinding, and kicking back. You should realize by now that in life both of these are equally important and impactful in your life.
Anyways, going back, I just thought of just utilizing that baking time for my “productive time”. At first I was reluctant since it’s too short but of course I realized, if I can’t do minutes, how can I do hours right? And so I give it a shot, and it works! The deal is, when that oven dings, it’s over. Hands off the keyboard, stop working! Hold on, remember this is not the kicker to the entire thing yet.
I have this box oven and so I’d need to preheat it first. It probably requires 5-7mins then it ticks. After that, this chicken burger says it needs 20-25mins of baking time for it to be ready. So in combination, that’s around 25-30 minutes of “dead” time I can use.
After realizing that, “done! challenge accepted!”. Initially I was using this time for coding and web development. Eventually I did some HIIT training/even just some light workouts, use to scout what stocks to invest tomorrow come market opening, do some thought experiments on a business idea, or simply learn a new thing by reading or youtube.
Again, what I’m primarily using this for web development and business(possibilities). Neither of these categories can be solved in minutes so it’s guaranteed that I’ll have to be doing this continuously over time.
After feeling the success of the first few tries, it slowly became part of my habit. So it was funny race on several days. I don’t do it each and every day btw. Literally just imagine me putting food in the oven, slamming the lid, then
giggling and laughing, running to my desk so I can type away.
Here’s the Real Kicker (the most valuable thing to take away from this)
The time management part is not the A-ha moment here (although I hope that helped you and gave you an idea) but rather the takeaway here is: “You have to realize that whatever you accomplish after that 20-30min sprint, is a big achievement”. Celebrate it accordingly. Take it as a big deal that it is!
It took me a while to get to that mindset. Before I was failing to even start because you get that analysis paralysis and you end up doing squat. You will probably do a good job discouraging yourself too: “it’s only a couple of minutes per day. What can you accomplish with that?”. You have to realize though that whatever task you’re trying to tackle during this time is big / a big deal / a big deal for you. That can be passion projects or even just working out (I know, workout then chicken burger right? lol. Better than “I’ll-start-working-out-hardcore-tomorrow though) or anything for you! They are all equally valid and important. Big things take time so you have to realize and start thinking differently. You have to stop thinking of the short time as a limitation. One can’t finish a web app in 20mins. You can’t be shredded like Thor (post-End Game yea), or have deep meaningful connections with someone within 20mins. You have to start realizing and thinking that the 20m breaks are not meant to solve the entire problem in one go, but rather complete a step so you get to the end result eventually.
Enjoy the Process
That said, enjoy the small time commitment. Enjoy the process. Think about it if you’re trying to work on a passion project. If you could have free 4 hours magically generated for you, do you really want to code again for 4 hours (even if you could)? That small timeframe is a benefit in itself.
Apply this to anything: work on a passion project, exercise, do a chore or two, connect with people, yoga/meditate, write a blog (he), etc.
Once the bell rings, again, celebrate it for the big achievement that it is. I’m not talking about confettis and surprises, but at least treat it as a big achievement mentally. You know that it is. You wouldn’t have done squat if you didn’t try this out.
What Not to Do
- This approach for anything productive. Don’t use this time to unwind/relax. Don’t do it the other way around (e.g.: give yourself only 20m to relax then the rest of the night you’ll be working). You know you don’t want to do it that way. That’s not fun nor healthy and even if you can pull it off it won’t be sustainable. Either you’ll screw your life or you’ll just give up (and waste the cause) eventually.
- Do not make exceptions. Respect the time. When you queue in your food, dash to your desk. Zone in. No facebook. Equally important is that when the bell dings, DO NOT do the “oh wait wait, I just have this quick thing” (even if you want to or you’re in the zone). Actually it’s fine if you are but I’ve learned that there’s more lasting, positive effects if you respect the time even when it’s going good. Maybe an exception is writing down a note for when you pick it up next. You don’t want to spend 20m everyday just trying to figure out where you left off.
Does It Have to Be Chicken Burgers? lol
No, that’s just coincidental for me and the time range is perfect. Pick whatever food you want. The food affects your duration though, so just adjust it accordingly. E.g.: You can’t wait for pasta to boil, that’s only around 7-10mins al dente. Might not be enough time. You can’t do a slow-cooking dish and have yourself work hours too though (plus would you really wait that long for dinner?).
The first obvious effect here is that you get to move forward with a productive thing you have in your list, all without any compromise to your day commitments or personal time/well-being!
Another is that once you respect the time (on both ends) you start to behave long-term. You realize that what you’re working on is for long-term so your habits and approaches to finishing things are also for long-term.
For example for me I was working on Helno, a tourist density app. I’ll give a technical example first. For the first few tries, it was really just raw, mucky code. The goal is to build proof-of-concept and see if things are feasible. It was a good decision because after I’ve gotten those PoC, I feel successful and I was very direct at it. Once I knew that this, this, and this are working though, I realized I need to be more sustainable. I can’t just leave everything to memory and struggle to prioritize every day so I got a project management software (Gitlab Issue Board is enough for this). I need a backup system and collab tool for scalability later (again, Gitlab). Also, I need a process (chuck in all the compiling/build process there), I don’t want to be fixing a code here and breaking something there (start considering automated testing) etc.
Even before I touched code, I spent sprints just reading business books, then another for filling up a business model canvas. This approach can be for anything.
Lastly, you have something to show. Something was done. Something materialized. That’s the greatest truth you can have in your endeavour.