Let the old fable of rocks, pebbles and sand guide us through this simple framework for scheduling.
Rock it with Deep Work
You see, the purpose of total scheduling is to not to fill up every minute of your day, but rather to free up good chunk of your day for the most meaningful and fulfilling work of your life. What is it for you? Raising your kids? Helping people in your community? Making a dent in the universe with your creations? You can achieve any and all of your dreams, if only you would work on them every. single. day. In your waking 16 hours a day, do you think you can have 3-4 chunks each 2 hours long – to do things that are most important to you? I’m sure you can, and here is how: you take the glass of your daily schedule when it’s still empty, and place these rocks of Deep Undistracted Work sessions in there. Done. And you still have at least 8 hours a day left.
Pebbles of recovery
Pebbles, beach… The thing about these arch-important Deep Work hours is that they require your full presence and attention. And attention is limited resource. Good news is that it is also a renewable one. So, to ensure peak performance, stick a few recovery activities in between. It might be a healthy meal (you know, the one that doesn’t put you into food coma), or a trip to gym (that might be a Rock itself – an example of how you can kill two birds with one Rock :), or play with your kids (another likely Rock), or just a walk around the block (or to the cooler). No, checking your Facebook feed is not a good recovery technique – it actually drains your attention reservoir. And don’t forget about THE recovery activity – sleep. But how you possibly could – it already blocks 8 hours out of 24, right? By now, we have ensured that we have both time AND energy to move the proverbial needle every day, even if little by little.
Sand of Shallow Work
Guess what? There is still time left in the day! You can spend this time however you want, completely guilt-free. Checking your email, or your site stats, or chit-chatting with a friend, or whatever gives you the kick of immediate variable reward (or the kind of reward you prefer). And even these can be scheduled strategically, for checking off a bunch of little things can give you a) momentum and b) peace of mind. In other words, it can make you feel productive (feeling is good thing, as long as you don’t confuse it with actually being productive), and it curbs the temptation to do these when you are trying to focus on work that really matters. For these reasons, you can even do some shallow work before (gasp!) deep work, just don’t let it eat into the deep work time. And again, beware of the little things that shatter your ability to focus. But hey, sand on beach feels so good.
Be water, my friend
In the extended version of the fable, a student takes the turn and demonstrates the wise professor that the glass full of rocks, pebbles and sand can still take in a surprising amount of liquid (vodka or beer, depending on the origins of the fable-teller). And in our framework, water play an important role too. “Be water” is Bruce Lee’s way of saying “go with and not against the nature”, and our way of saying “the best schedule is schedule that works for YOU”. Water moves everything in the river for the optimal flow. Likewise, experiment and find the exact placement of Rocks, Pebbles and Sand that keeps you in the Flow.
Curious how that works?
Download my actual workday schedule to see this framework in action!