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90-minute slotted Bag and Chips Scheme

Schema du jour

This is what I'm currently aspiring to do on a daily basis. I'm not a billionaire; I'm not an award-winning anything; there's no compelling reason for you to know who I am. All I can say in advocacy of the underwritten is that I credit this regimen with keeping my general life satisfaction in the 7- or 8-out-of-10 range when my natural default score hovers around a 3. It's not perfect, and neither am I, and neither are you. That's why it's in an ever-mutable text form and not etched in stone. It works pretty good as is, though.

The base structure

The waking day is broken into 10 x 90-minute slots with 6-minute transitions between each slot for a total of very nearly 16 hours, leaving 8 hours for sleep.

90 minutes is a solid chunk of time in which to make meaningful progress on just about anything. That length of time permits energy to ebb and flow naturally but isn't so long as to require stamina to stay focused. Your mileage may vary, of course, and sometimes things take more or less time than that. 90 minutes is a good guideline, though.

The Bag and Chip scheme is a cool deal I discuss in a podcast.

I have tried unsuccessfully to operate at peak on less than 8 hours of sleep a night for many years and I’m literally tired of fighting against it. If you haven’t had a full night’s rest in a while, I would recommend giving it a shot for a week. A lot of people believe they can get away with 6 or even 4 and function properly. Research suggests that nearly everyone who does this is reducing their productivity and well-being both in the moment and in aggregate over the day. Enjoy 16 rested, focused hours instead of pushing your way through 18 or 20 lethargic ones. Do yourself a favor and go to bed earlier. And nap I you need to too (10 to 15 minutes is outstanding for focus)! Sleep is pretty awesome.

If you complete the relevant tasks in a section or hit a natural conclusion to some work earlier than 90 minutes (or finish a transition in less than 6), just move to the next slot. You will always find something to spend saved time on later in the day (like sleep!).

Slot 1
Waking up

  • The first thing
    • Determined the night before to compel getting out of bed. Preferably productive, but any rousing activity will do.
  • Workout
    • You can sweat, but don't hurt yourself. The key is get all the fluids in your body back out of stasis, not to burn through your resting energy supply. Activities involving bouncing (jogging, rolling, literally jumping up and down) tend to work very well for this.
  • Contrast shower
    • Alternate between warm and cold at intervals (at least 15 seconds). This wakes you up, improves your mood, suppresses hunger, et cetera. Trust me: this one does a tremendous amount of good for how little it requires of you besides the nerve to turn the temperature down.
  • Passing thoughts
    • Jot down anything on your mind. Put any good ideas in the Checkboxes for further exploration.
  • Check the calendar and incorporate tasks as necessary.
  • Meditate
    • Meditation is any activity that breaks the stream of thoughts ordinarily cluttering your head for a sustained period. Resources abound for how to do this but the general idea is to give the present moment your full attention. Beverage sipping is acceptable, but if you're going to drink make sure the action and sensation have your full attention when you do it. I personally find 10 minutes to be sufficient.
  • Take Bags off the Shelf
    • What do you want to work on today? Put 4 productive bags from your shelf of bags into slots 2 through 5. Put 2 leisurely bags or other planned activities into slots 8 and 9.

Slots 2 to 5
Munch those chips

This is the meat of the day. Spend the transition time between slots to clear off your desk/desktop, bring out any documentation or materials related to the bag you're about to engage, then determine the smallest task you can perform to move that bag closer to completion (the chip). The chip shouldn't be a keystone to the whole apparatus: the chip's job is to trick you into getting started. Once you've completed this first little task, odds are good another objective will present itself. Follow that trail until you're done.

The only multitasking you're allowed to do while munching is to have other people or systems do things for you. There is neurologically no such thing as doing two things at the same time: switching your attention back and forth will not make whole the residual loss in willpower, focus, and creativity.

Stick to the crumb trail. Even stepping back to evaluate where you're going doesn't tend to be a great idea because you'll use the window to distract yourself. Let your subconscious mind evaluate the grander objectives and correct course naturally between work sessions. When you're only working 90 minutes at a time, you can afford to run off the road occasionally (to say nothing of the lessons you might learn while doing so).

At the beginning of each chip, set a 15 minute timer. If you don't complete the chip or fail to make progress within that time, you might not have the most atomic version of the task in hand. Try to break the chip into even smaller pieces and complete one of those. All the chip needs to do is break the inertial barrier and get you moving. Anything that moves you forward, regardless of its magnitude, will break this barrier. Reread the last thing you wrote; sharpen a tool; sketch the next stage; talk to someone who knows something about what you're doing.

If the 90 minutes are up and you're still deeply focused on a useful task, keep going. This schema is designed to get you to this state, so stopping now would be silly. Just work until you hit a natural conclusion. If this causes you to miss or shorten another activity during the day, that's okay: just slate that missed task for tomorrow. So long as the work you're completing is worthwhile, there is no reason to be frustrated by this kind of shuffling.

Any time you have a good idea or thought unrelated to the task at hand, write it down in the Checkboxes for future investigation.

Slot 6
The checkboxes

This is a list of things you want to think about or deal with, obligatory or otherwise, accrued throughout the day. Economy is the key to these items; stuffing all the little things into one timeframe allows you to sort them by type and timing so you can knock them out in rapid succession or even simultaneously. Don't feel the need to clear this list out every day and spend as little time as possible on each item. Sometimes, if enough stuff hasn't built up, it can be better to wait until you've got a larger set of tasks to crunch on.

I find myself crossing off 50% of these items taking no action at all. These items are vital: they are stray thoughts that would have derailed me from more important things (and not just productive things either). The Checkboxes defer these thoughts until I can weigh their relevance properly. Seeing a dozen items of varying importance bundled together makes it much easier to peg their true value.

Slot 7
The evening ritual

  • Daydream
    • Any amorphous activity you prefer (drawing, walking, lying facedown in a pile of laundry). Do what you can to keep explicit sexual content out of the thought bubble: it tends to crowd out the other meeker thoughts this exercise is designed to expose (might just be me?). Right on the heels of a load of serious work, unwinding in an unstructured way is therapeutic and also a good way to conjure new ideas (write them down).
  • Read
    • Doesn't have to be a book but, if it's going to be internet content, pick longform content. Read a chapter's worth of a comic rather than skipping between a bunch of different comics. Scan down rather than across, and you'll more than make up the difference in recency with depth. If you find that this makes your social life harder because you're behind by a week on something, please re-assess your entire life before it's too late.
  • Assess the Bags
    • Give each Bag a long stare. If you don't feel an automatic affinity with the stated goal, figure out why. It might just be a wording problem but if you have feelings of obligation or resentment toward a Bag, contemplate if there is an underlying motive the Bag is longer addressing. If so, change the Bag to align better with that motivation or consider dropping the Bag entirely. The Bag might not be a good thing to pursue now and that might just be a matter of timing. Don't spend time working toward ends you don't want. I have a Shelf I keep dropped Bags on for reference if ever want to take them on again or find patterns in them. Alternately, if you think you've got the mental and temporal space for it, throw a new Bag into the mix.
  • Talk to somebody
    • Pick someone and engage them in conversation. Doesn't have to be in person; doesn't have to be a deep discussion. Just keep in touch.
  • Eat
    • In case you were wondering when this was supposed to happen. The human body isn't built to have undigested food inside it 24 hours a day. If you limit stuffing your face to the evening hours, your body can spend the daylight hours in relative peace and quiet performing maintenance routines and you can essentially gorge yourself from now until you go to bed without running a (serious) risk of getting fat because there's simply not enough time for you to get a problematic number of calories and carcinogens in your body.

Slots 8 & 9
The pasture

Do as you please. By this point in the day, you've worked out, journaled, meditated, made progress on a number of long term goals, completed a bunch of things you needed to get done, read something remembering, and made social contact with another human being. By any sane definition, you've lived a full day.

Slot 10
The night ritual

  • Tidy up
    • 15 minutes getting things ready for lights out. Mail, dishes, clothes, locks, trash, dust, hair, nails, teeth...the little stuff that's quick to keep in order. 15 minutes is intentionally less time than you'd need to do a thorough job. You don't need to do a thorough job with all this stuff. You aren't hosting an open house: you're just making sure nothing is getting out of hand so it doesn't bug you tomorrow morning when you should be concentrating on the day ahead.
  • Blow-by-blow
    • List what happened today, how it went, and how it could have gone better, all as succinctly as you can.
  • Designate tomorrow's first thing
  • Shower (if needed)
  • Read until sleepy
  • Sleep

2-hour Bag and Chips scheme

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