Let’s take a closer look at each phase.
Phase 1: Determine your average working time
We begin by determining the range of daily hours we’re willing to use for productivity.
For me, it’s from 5 am until 8 pm. 15 hours. Essentially the time I wake up until the time I theoretically should call it a day. Naturally, I’m doing all sorts of things during that time range — but the range defines the overall scope of where tasks can be accomplished.
Phase 2: Plan how you’ll use that time
Understand that within a time range every passing second results in less available time. So it’s important to plan how you’ll use your time. Not per minute — instead think in terms of the most important tasks. Tasks that measurably move the needle on the gauge that measures your goals.
You should only have a handful of daily tasks, ideally only three or so. Those are the tasks that matter and the ones you’ll visualize within the context of your daily available time.
Next, create a list of micro-tasks which will bring you closer to completing your three goals. The key here is to divide a larger task into smaller, more manageable chunks. Each micro-task should be something you can accomplish within 15 minutes of highly focused effort. See the links at the end of this post if you’re interested in why 15 minutes was chosen.
This phase should be done daily in the evening in prep for the next day. However, you might instead prefer to do it in the early morning in prep for the current day. Either way, you’ll take inventory of the micro-tasks you completed and how that affects your overall goals. Use that as an opportunity to course correct and create a new set of tasks.
Phase 3: Do
In Phase three we actually work on assigned micro-tasks. Again, the key here is to engage in highly focused work.
It’s fine if you don’t complete a micro-task in 15 minutes. Simply allocate another 15 minute time block to try again, immediately after — or at a later time.
Make sure to actually use a timer (stopwatch / alarm) during a micro-task — there are thousands of such apps for mobile phones and smart watches. However, for this hack I ended up creating a series of specialized clocks, called, Time Hacker Clocks —they’re freely available as open source projects. More about them later.
Phase 4: Visualize time
Visualizing time is about seeing the remaining time you have and how it shrinks over time. It’s important to actually visualize time as a diminishing quantity.
You can do this with pen and paper, by simply drawing a bar with as many segments as the number of hours you’ve allotted in your day. You can shade a segment with every passing hour.
The point here is that you don’t need fancy tools to do this. Pencil and paper will do.
As simple as this method seems, it’s likely that we’d simply forget to follow it as we go about our day. This is where an hourly chime is useful. You could set an hourly alert on your watch or mobile device in order to remind yourself to refocus and take inventory of how much time you have remaining for the day. Ideally, this reminder is an opportunity to glance at your time tracker (watch, journal etc…) and take a moment to visualize your remaining time. Ask yourself whether what you’re doing is in line with your goals for the day. It’s ok if it isn’t! The key here is that you’re considering how you’re using your time. This also allows you to consider your goals and whether you’ve created micro-tasks which are achievable and help move you further along.