Be more productive in the deep end of the pool.

Photograph AdS
Photograph AdS

This article by Eric Barker is my new time management guide. It is brilliant in its simplicity. I am not going to summarize it. It is a fast read and I highly recommend it.

We can all use tips and it is always interesting to see how others manage their time. So what did I take away from this article?

1: scheduling backwards is the way forwards

Check for a specific break in your day that repeats itself. For Barker, it is getting out of the office at 530 pm.  He schedules everything working back from 530 pm.

For example, every weekday you must attend physical therapy at 1 pm. That is your specific break. Now try to find out if your most productive time is before or after that break. Look at quietness to think, office hours, regularly scheduled meetings, etc.

If you are most productive before the break than that is the time you block for your deep end of the pool projects. After the break you work on shallow end projects, see below.

2: the deep end of the pool

The deep end of the pool is a metaphor for projects that have bigger value long-term. You may not immediately  see results and progress may be slow.  However, if you look at the project as a whole you know that this one matters. Take for example writing a book. You may not write 5000 words every day. On some days the plot layers just do not seem to work together. But every day that you work on your manuscript makes it better. A well-written manuscript has a better chance of being accepted for publication. That’s your deep end project.

3: the shallow end of the pool

The shallow end of the pool has all those activities that zap time and energy. They are useful, fun, but take away time from in our example, the manuscript. Examples of shallow end tasks are answering email, deleting spam, returning calls, keeping up social media accounts, etc. These activities can all be done in small parts (you can answer one email at a time, etc.) and though it is fun to see what everyone is doing on Twitter or YouTube, it takes time. If you save these tasks for the time period you are least productive you can pace yourself and still get things done. You may even feel better now about these chores because you do them in a designated time slot where they do not interfere with writing.

4: interact with your interruptions

You most likely have days when you always volunteer for a few hours or always have meetings. Those days are interrupted days. Why not use those days for small tasks to keep the rest of the week free for the deep end projects? For example, on the day that you always volunteer schedule that you also do the groceries and pick up the dry cleaning. Keep those errands away from days that you should be spending on the big projects such as writing your book. Mark your interrupted days in your calendar. Just highlight that day’s date. Should you then need to schedule a dentist appointment use those clearly marked already interrupted days. That leaves the rest of the week free for uninterrupted work in the deep end.

5: block some me time.

You need time just for you. Block an hour every morning to go to the gym or some time after lunch to paint, journal, or read. You need time to take a deep breath and be alone with your thoughts. Even if it is just for 10 min.

Let me know what you think of this article by Barker and if you have time management tips, please share them.

27 thoughts on “Be more productive in the deep end of the pool.

  1. Great suggestions for time management. I feel that I am like a robot, who has to wake up early, get ready, go to job, come back at 3, cook, eat, sleep. This is the routine, that I have to repeat everyday. It is hard to find time for myself. All the time, I feel like running to complete all tasks before going to bed.
    I will try to manage sometime for myself, I know, how important it is. Thank you for great tips.

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  2. Years ago when I was writing my dissertation, my kids were too young to drive. I wrote at home during the summer months, and many of their friends moms were working outside of their homes. I would hear, “Mom could just pick up Scott and drop of us at …” at first I complied then noticed I wasn’t getting too far with my writing. One day I decided to time all those little, “drop offs and pick ups” and found I was spending 3 hours in the car every day! I realized EVERYTHING we do takes time…even throwing in a load of laundry. Now I set a timer for each task, so I stay on top of time expenditure. It has worked for me. Now I find someone is making a killing with something very similar called, the Pomodoro method. The method uses a timer for your computer….so I wasn’t efficient enough to get on top of the money maker!

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  3. This is great and I can completely relate. If I get up in the morning and start working on the little things they will envelope me for the rest of the day and it’s almost impossible to break away. On the other hand if I get up and focus on a major task then I can focus. I will then go back and do the little stuff later. I know this but my days do not always work out that way 🙂

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  4. Boy, am I out of the groove, but then I’m retired, I’ll use that as an excuse. I get up early every morning, 5am or so, have my coffee, then check email and BHB, and take care of those things first. Then I’m ready to tackle whatever project – the deep end of the pool – and stay focused. If I have the small things – the shallow end – hanging around I keep wanting to return to them. (I just noticed, do people still use ‘groove?)

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    1. Groove? As in Earth, Wind and Fire’s “Let’s groove, tonight?” I think so. I do. But anyway, if your method works for you and that is great. And if it works, don’t fix it. I just noticed for myself that those little things took up precious time when my mind was at its most productive to write/blog for big projects. And after my break in the day, it was less productive but still good enough to do little tasks. Hence these tips. What works for me may not work for everyone and that is ok.

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  5. My approach has always been to try to get all of the little stuff done and out of the way in order to devote a block of time to the deep end of the pool. That only works sometimes. Problem is when the little stuff get bigger than you expect, like finding an email that is actually important and requires time to follow up appropriately.

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    1. I stopped doing that, Ken. I lived under the illusion that I could “quickly” scan email and social media. One posting always led to another, one email was always more time consuming, and afterwards I had to work through frustration over time loss before I could concentrate on a big project. No more! After my morning gym session, I dive into the deep end of the pool for two hours straight. It works wonders.

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  6. Interesting comment about email from Jacquie. After tending to the important, I can too easily get distracted with email. I find that getting a “chunk” of work accomplished before checking email enhances my productivity. Being involved in a big research project these days with hard copy material, I don’t even need to turn my computer on till the afternoon sometimes. Those days feel really great for me.

    Thanks for sharing such an interesting article, Alice.

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    1. Very welcome, I feel the same way. I block two hours in the morning for writing/blogging. After that, I check email, delete spam, check comments, etc. Than, I go back into the deep end.

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  7. I really like this article because it reinforces some of my current practices. I really look at the entire month first and then the activities of the week. My “shallow end of the pool” has been tough, but I have learned how to control those activities in order to work toward overall goals.

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  8. Such a great post and it said so much concisely. I particularly loved the Deep end of the pool metaphor. I’ve not come across it before, but it’s a keeper. I also liked that he mentioned writing a book (given that I’m an author), as we so often link time management with productivity in the office workplace. You have my attention:-)

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  9. A couple of unique ideas here – the scheduling backwards and in the article you shared with us, to-do lists are evil. I schedule everything I need to do and fill just 75% to 80% of my schedule to allow for interruptions.

    I think working part time has it’s advantages in that I’m not as concerned with such time management rigors as I used to be. My focus is even now is always on what he calls, the deep end of the pool.

    Thanks Alice.

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    1. Scheduling backwards made sense to me as I have that break in my day. So I remain in the deep end until that break. Working PT is best for me. There are days I am super productive and some where you need a little more me time.

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  10. Great time management tips. I like the metaphor of the deep end and the shallow end. It is so easy to allow the immediate short items to take up all of our time. I am currently working on developing the best schedule for me and I will use some of your tips.

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    1. Awesome, make sure that you split everything in deep and shallow. If you are not sure: shallow are things you can do one by one (one SM account after another) without messing up the big picture. I also block time in my days for the deeper projects such as writing and blogging. Glad this is of help!

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  11. I’m up around 5:00am every day. On days that I write, I give myself until 7:30 or 8:00am. Time management is a problem for all of us I think. The article was cool in that it really simplified the problem by offering workable solutions.

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  12. What a great article! For me, what works best is rising early and NOT looking at any email. I even turn off the signal. This affords me the quiet I need for focus. I also have always used that interrupt interaction. On days when I have appointments, I get all my errands done:) I figure as long as I’m out… Great post!

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