In my last post, I talked a bit about how I organize my day-to-day activities. We also went deeper on the flexible approach I use to decide how much time I have to devote to my passions per week.
In this post, I’m going to outline my complete, day-to-day tracking method. I use this method to tie together my quarterly goals and long-term values with the real passions I’m committing to every day. This also helps me stay motivated. I don’t overextending myself to anyone passion or fall into a malaise of not doing anything.
My process has roots in the agile software development method. For those of you who don’t know about agile, the basic idea is to rope off a small window of time to create some outcome. In software development, this normally means you have 2 weeks to build a piece of functionality in a software tool.
In the method, people call these short time periods “sprints.”
The idea is that over the course of several sprints, you develop a great deal of work while also staying “agile” enough to pivot if something better or unexpected pops up.
A good way to think about the benefit of this system is to consider the alternative. Let’s image you’ve outlined a big project. For example, let’s consider writing a book. You know exactly how this book will unfold over the next 2 weeks, 2 months, and 2 years down the line. You know by the end of the first week you’ll have an outline, by the end of the quarter you’ll have chapter 1 done, and by the end of the year, the book is done.
Well, what happens if you get halfway through chapter 2 and realize that this story works better as screen play? Maybe you decide it would be better from a different perspective? Maybe you fundamentally change a plot point or major scene that changes everything?
This causes all sorts of psychological trouble. You might decide it’s not worth it to change the plan and you end up dissatisfied with the end product at the end of the year. Worse yet, you might decide you need to make the change, but the effort involved is such a problem when you look at your big plan that you decide to just give up!
Alternatively, agile is all about flexibility. This gives you a psychological buffer when things change. So if ideas, plans or even problems emerge, you have a way to deal with them immediately. You’ve already built flexibility into the process of creation. Changes aren’t viewed as stepping back, they’re part of the entire construction process.
Timing your Passions
I use this same agile method to partition the use of my TIME across 2 weeks sprints.
But before we get too deep into the sprints, I’d like to talk about how I decide how much time I have to play with inside of these 2 weeks.
In the example at the end of my last post, I landed on 56.5 available hours available per week once you get rid of working, sleeping, commuting, etc.
From that, I said I would commit 12-17% of that time towards my passions.
For this example, let’s use 12%. So, 12% of 56.5 hours is about 6 hours and 45 minutes per week. Converted to minutes (easier units) it’s 405. To make the math easy let’s drop that 5 minutes off, giving us an even 400 minutes per week to work (6 hours and 40 minutes).
So I’ve got 400 minutes. What to do with it? Well, I said I run 2-week sprints, so let’s double it, giving me 800 minutes per 2 weeks to slice and dice across various projects and passions.
Organizing your passions by goals
What am I doing? Why am I doing it?
Probably the two most critical questions you can ever ask yourself.
If you read my earlier post on Values, Passions, and Goals, you know that I like to organize my life around short-term, mid-term, and long-term goals, which I call Passions, Goals, and Values. A lot of what we’re talking about here is tying together these 3 concepts in our daily lives.
How I do it
Let’s consider my life now to understand how this process comes together in the sprint.
My current values or those hobbies/passions that I’m committing to over the next few years are as follows:
- Explore music creatively
- Write often
- Work at my blog
- Work on learning languages
- Meditate and keep up a healthy mind
- Read often
There’s a couple more, but that’ll do for now.
My goals represent how I want to develop some of these values in real outcomes in the current quarter.
So for this quarter, I have written:
- Write 3 songs that I will be ready to record next quarter
- Write 7 blog posts
- Build out a plugin for my blog
- Read at least 1300 pages
It’s pretty clear how these goals correspond to my values.
Apart from these, sometimes I want to spend time on some of my Values that don’t have a stated quarterly goal. These normally are more about self-improvement. For example, I like to study Spanish. I also want to make sure I’m meditating regularly. I could capture these in quarterly goals, but I’m not as committed to them, and I want to keep the sprint flexible.
Understanding this top-down picture is critical to accurately allotting time in the current sprint. It’s how I can make sure I reach the outcomes I want to reach.
Knowing what I know about my goals and values, it’s time to break my time up for the current sprint.
Like we talked about before, I have 800 minutes to work with.
Considering my goals, I’d like to stretch those 800 minutes across the following activities/passions
- Song Writing
- Language Learning
How I stretch my time across these really depend on what I have going on, where I’m at with my goals, and what I’m feeling like prioritizing. For this sprint, I’m running consistently week-over-week across my goals, so I went for an even break out of tasks. I devote 200 minutes for the first 3 bullet points. For the bottom 2, language learning and meditation, I don’t really have a strong goal, so I let them share the last 200 minutes.
This leaves me with:
- Song Writing – 200 minutes
- Blogging – 200 minutes
- Reading – 200 pages (I call 1 page a minute, whatever)
- Language Learning – 120 minutes
- Meditation – 80 minutes
This brings us to the Grid!
The grid is the visual representation of the sprint across 2 weeks. It helps me keep stats on my progress and forces me to prioritize tasks day in and day out without being so rigid that I can’t work on what I want to in the moment.
Here’s what my Grid looks like for this 2 week period.
(Behold the power of Excel)
Once you have you’re in the sprint, it’s about addressing what you want to get done today.
I have 2 basic rules that I abide by while in a sprint. These rules keep me rooted in and make sure that I’m on track to finish my 800 minutes of work.
Here they are:
- I must complete all my time within each respected area. No slacking. This is just 12% of my entire available time. There’s really no reason I shouldn’t be able to complete these tasks if they’re important to me.
- Once I use up my time in one area, I’m not allowed to work in that area until I’ve completed all the rest of my time across all areas. For example, if I knock out my blog 200 minutes, I can’t spend any free time working on the blog until I’ve completed all my other time commitments.
Do I always follow these rules? Of course not. Sometimes I get ambitious and schedule out too much time and miss the mark. Sometimes I read 300 pages without ever touching my songs. It’s not great, and I do what I can to stay honest, but I don’t beat myself up about it.
Instead, as I’m scheduling out my next sprint, I’ll consider what went wrong, why it did, and how I could restructure my time in the next sprint to account for these happenstance. Maybe I need more time allotted for a task? Maybe I need to cut back on my hours?
Being able to respond to this real feedback is what makes this system so easy to sustain, and in doing so, sustain your goals and values over time.
I’ve tried a lot of methods to stay motivated in my passions over time, and this one has worked the best. Does it take self-discipline? Sure. There are no easy roads in this world. But it also gives me the dexterity and agility to pivot and shift as all those other pressures push on me.
Give it a try for yourself and let me know what you find!