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My “Oldest” Productivity Strategy

I recently posted a video about one of my oldest and most successful work strategies: fixed-schedule productivity. The idea is simple to describe:

  1. Choose a schedule of work hours that you think provides the ideal balance of effort and relaxation.
  2. Do whatever it takes to avoid violating this schedule.

These simple limits, however, can lead to complex productivity innovations. In my own life, the demands of fixed-schedule productivity helped me develop what became my time blocking and shutdown ritual strategies.

In my video, which is actually a clip taken from episode 193 of my podcast, I call this my “oldest” productivity strategy. I don’t think that’s literally true, but it is old. I went back and did some digging and discovered that I first wrote about this idea here on my blog back in 2008, meaning I had probably been deploying it for at least a couple years before then. In 2009, I wrote a more epic post on the topic for my friend Ramit Sethi’s blog which was subsequently featured on Boing Boing. Which is all to say, fixed-schedule productivity has been bouncing around for a while.

Anyway, watch the video if you want a more detailed discussion of the strategy, why it works, and how I’ve used it in my own life.

15 thoughts on “My “Oldest” Productivity Strategy”

  1. Cal – I think that the link for the “I first wrote about this idea” is incorrect, it leads to youtube instead of the original post.

  2. Thanks for talking about this again Cal. I am a senior researcher and have just finished my PhD in the UK and I am finding that my workload is increasing as I take on more and more things to help my cv and find that elusive permanent contract! I really have no other choice than to try something like this now, as I am utterly burnt out after a really intense period of work and PhD defence, so this is really great timing. I also just nuked my social media accounts. I keep being told I ‘should’ be on Twitter as an early career researcher, but my brain simply can’t cope with the deluge and I don’t feel that helping to publicise my work should really be down to me. I get paid to do research and write about it, not to zap my energy attempting to get people’s attention in an overcrowded and shouty arena.
    So next week I will put these tips in place and see how I get on! (As you know yourself, it isn’t easy saying no to things when you are trying to get a permanent contract/tenure).

    • For me, Twitter can be helpful to learn about some recent papers and events but most of the time it is so depressing! I have the feeling that everyone is successful, establishes a research group in a renowned research institute, gets grants, publishes in Nature, and obviously needs to tell the entire world about it. And I struggle with getting grants, publishing is slow and I am super happy when a single experiment works!
      I miss simpler times. I am going to delete my Twitter account for good!

    • You don’t Twitter followers, you need citations of your work. That’s ultimately the currency that matters in attempting to build an academic career, and the only way to get there is to publish the best possible results in the best possible venues (and perhaps give good talks at some relevant conferences). In other words, I support your decision to turn away from social media at this stage of your career.

      Another potentially relevant tidbit for you, when I was a postdoc, I artificially reduced my fixed scheduled length even further (by adding a 2-hour mid-day break), so I could train to still produce research once I became a professor and had many demands beyond what I had been used to up to that point.

  3. Unfortunately, the Boing Boing blog still directs to the Ramit Sethi post which no longer exists. That post was excellent, as was (and is) your post.

  4. This is really a simple but powerful hack!
    One question –> Isn’t it like time-blocking? You just block a certain amount and do what you’re supposed to do?

  5. Cal, you’re a genius. This video will go straight at my favorites list. I am from the Balkans and just finished my bachelors degree at the University of Prishtina( for Telecommunications Engineering and I feel so mad that I didn’t know about your strategies earlier, they would have made such a difference. Definitely gonna try these techniques for my masters degree.
    Keep it up!

  6. Cal, I have a question about the time block planner. I have been using it for a few months now and based on the fact that you don’t recommend time block planning one’s “leisure time,” why are there seven pages of time blocks in the planner?

    Thanks for all you do! I enjoy the podcast and your books.


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