I talked yesterday about the importance of breaking off chunks of Projects into Tasks, and scheduling them along with all the other “urgent” but unimportant” Tasks in your life. I also talked about scheduling Fun, right along with everything else.
Why is Fun important? Because it’s your reward for doing your Tasks for the day. Lately, I’ve been scheduling fewer Tasks for myself–usually just 3 or 4, and limiting the time scheduled for them to 1 or 2 hours apiece. If I get “most” of those Tasks done in a day (say 3 out of 4), then the Fun is my reward.
You may be saying, “Whoa, Randy, are you only working 4 or 5 hours a day? How could you possibly get anything done?”
The answer is that I’m SCHEDULING about 6 hours per day. That doesn’t necessarily mean that I only WORK that much. (Oh how I wish!) The fact is that crap happens. Oops, spelling error there. I meant “crises happen.”
There was a crisis Monday and I had an extra task thrown on me that burned a couple of extra hours. I had to push aside one Task to the next day. In fact, the crisis persisted on through Tuesday, and I had to again reschedule a Task from yesterday to today because more time got siphoned away on something unexpected. And of course there were several other “small” interruptions — not crises, just little things — that burned up more hours.
If you think about it, that happens to you all the time too. I know it does to me. Crises happen often. Little things pop up all the time. When you’ve got 12 hours of work scheduled for the day, a 2-hour crisis plus 4 hours of interruptions are going to send you right over the top. But if you’ve got only 6 hours scheduled, then there’s room for the little interruptions and a normal, garden-variety crisis. And you still have time for a little Fun. (Despite the crisis on Monday, I still took 2 hours to watch a movie — TWISTER — which was Fun for me.)
All of this brings me to what I call “the 80% solution.” I used to do a lot of long-distance running when I was younger and fitter. And I learned that if you run all-out, you can maintain that pace for only about 100 yards — 10 to 15 seconds. After that, your capacity for anaerobic exercise is drained and you have to stop. However, if you slow down just a bit so that you’re exercising aerobically, you can run a lot longer. If you run at 90% of your top speed, you can last for a mile or so.
If you run at 80% of your top speed, you can go practically forever. (By which I mean you can run a full marathon.)
When I used to have a day job working for Bossbert, crises came up with annoying regularity. So we were “encouraged” to work 10 or 12 hours per day, routinely. I didn’t particularly care for that, especially since I wanted to write some too. It seemed like Bossbert wanted us all to sprint for a marathon. Can’t be done. People wear out. So I made it a point to ignore Bossbert’s request for routine sprints. Once in a while, there was a genuine crisis that called for an all-nighter. Guess who had gas in the tank when that happened? And guess who worked most efficiently during the normal times?
I’ll say it again. If you run at 80% of your top speed, you can go practically forever.
That’s my 80% solution. Schedule yourself to work at 80% of your capacity. When a real crisis happens, you’ll have gas in the tank.
Tomorrow, I’ll talk about longer-term planning — because a daily To Do List is tactical, not strategic. It’s short-term, and you really want a long-term plan for your big and important Projects.
Until then, have some Fun!
As a freelance writer, I work in extremes. Sometimes, I work for 9 to 10 hours (housework not included), and some days I can’t concentrate for 2 hours together. And I find it difficult to work for a particular number of hours daily. That’s why I couldn’t stick to a regular 8 hour job for more than 6 months.
Judith Robl says
Love your 80% solution!
At one time I worked for a man who was a total perfectionist. We are both of Swiss descent and had the tendency to expect 100% of ourselves 100% of the time.
Unfortunately, that expectation leads to great disappointment. I’ve learned that I can expect about 85% of myself (or anyone else) about 85% of the time.
When you build in that leeway, life is a lot more manageable–most of the time.
Thanks for the reminder.
80% – hmm good point.
I have experienced that if I push myself a little more over a period of time I can build the endurance to sustain myself through longer days. Eating properly and exercising regularly helps too. For the longest time I could not sustain the hours I work now because I would say “oh I’m too tired and I can’t afford to be tired with all the responsibilities I have.” Then I learned that I had numerous allergies and when I got my health under control I began to push myself a little further every day. I found a balance with my health and the hours I worked over the period of a year. Now I can exist on less sleep, be less cranky, and far more productive.
Now I just finished a “do nothing but sit around in lawn chairs camping vacation” and I am having to build that endurance again, but it will come as it did before. Especially when the kids start sleeping through the night again.
I am the sort of person that pushes myself to the extreme and I do need to pace myself better – the 80% idea is something I need to mull over. Right now in my life I’m not sure how that would work. The kids demand 100% of me, and then to balance husband and church and other responsibilities…. I guess I consider my writing fun (I’m usually refreshed afterwards), despite having to meet deadlines.
Karla Akins says
I completely agree with this. I used to be able to do all-nighters all the time in my 20’s and 30’s and live on four hours sleep every night of the week. But now in my 40’s it’s even more important to follow the 80% rule. Again, it’s as if you gave me permission to do so, even though I knew it was the right way to manage my life! I’m still learning to be balanced. It’s not easy, but your 80% idea sure sounds like balance to me. Thanks!
Randy, this is great advice. And not only for writers, obviously, but for anyone.
Like Shruti, I work in extremes. 73 things going at one time. Sort of selective OCD. Don’t know if it works for you, but makes me rather a mess of a human. Gave up trying to change this tendency and am trying to learn to work with it.
And unlike Karla, I’m a Forties who has yet to accept the fact that all nighters aren’t healthy (because to admit the need to be heatlthy is something I suspect is the first thing awaiting me at the end of the midlife crisis portal).
The 80% rule sounds like just the thing. Tracking my time (in all seriousness) is probably what I need to get a handle on. I’ll probably find I’ve been spending 120% energy on 8% actual output. Ouch.
Well, I’m in my 50’s and I let my cat do my all-nighters.
Carol F. says
Randy, your blog has given me two BIG Ah-Ha moments in the last week. Picture neon lights flashing in my mind.
Carol F. says
(Oops. I pushed the indent and it sent.)
1. Last week when you told us to go ahead and write the rough draft with backstory and all, then chop off anything in front of where the action really begins with the protagonist. The work of my heart is a fantasy trilogy I’ve been working on for 28 years, but I’ve never submitted it to any publisher because I knew the beginning wasn’t working. I chopped off two chapters and suddenly it’s so much stronger. Weaving in the essentials of what I chopped off will take a major revision, but I feel like I’m finally on the right track.
2. My WIP is a teachers’ guide to a new federal policy for helping struggling readers. I have a proposal in with my favorite publisher for such things and the initial response has been favorable. I am furiously trying to finish the manuscript before they ask for it. (Think positively!) But a major “crisis” has interrupted my progress. My son is getting married in two weeks. Most of the wedding planning has fallen on me because he lives in S. Korea and she’s from Russia. They arrive 4 days before the wedding. The frustration was mounting. Your clarity on breaking “projects” down into smaller “tasks” and scheduling them into my day has brought me some peace.
Thank you for sharing. God is using you to help me follow Him better.
Neva Andrews says
Randy, I’m nearly 82 and still trying to figure out how to manage my time. I like your 80% concept. Also the idea of breaking off chunks of a project and scheduling them with other tasks. I have self-published books I need to promote and sell, a completed manuscript to get published, besides my WIP. Getting it all done seems impossible, but breaking it into manageable chunks as you suggest, gives me hope. I’m going on vacation for two weeks and will try putting your ideas into practice when I return. I’m wondering, does feeding a horse in the middle of the afternoon each day count as a task?
ML Eqatin says
Good post, Randy. Take heed, ya’ll, before God finds a way to put on the brakes!
I used to run all-out until I dropped or got sick. Then my vision deteriorated until I needed a corneal transplant. It took a full year before the eye was back up to reading, drafting, hiking, driving — and in that time I could do very little but sit and listen to God. On occasion, the eye still decides to tear like mad and there is nothing to do but sit with my eyes closed, in the middle of whatever I was doing, for about twenty minutes until it passes.
Now I structure my time as follows: 1. Whatever God has in mind for me to do. This may mean being patient with a transportation breakdown, an elderly parent, or a screaming toddler. But its way better than not being able to see.
@. Getting enough shut-eye so the gift of somebody else’s cornea is cared for.
Any time I cross the line, He can always slow me down with a few mintues of eyes-don’t-work. It has taken a while, but I’m getting it.
Heed taken, ML, under advisement.
I remember how many years God let the children of Israel go on and on in their blatant disregard of him before finally dropping the boot, which could be seen coming for decades if they weren’t so busy partying with Baal.
Cassandra "D.I.V.A. of Dialog" Lee says
Thanks Randy for keeping it real when it comes to time management!
You are absolutely right – if we are constantly burning our energy at full steam ahead – there will be no energy left when we MUST truly go full steam ahead.
I appreciated your analogy which is a great reminder for me to stay true to the 80% solution.
Thanks for the insight!
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