I was recently perusing Tim Ferriss’ archives — aka the man who really jump-started this journey of self-experimentation and the quest for optimization for me.
The post I was reading was an example of his schedule from 2008, in which he wrote a specific time block that stuck out to me:
1-5pm* — write piece for The Economist (I’m not writing this whole time, but I block out this period)
I find this fascinating for a many reasons.
Firstly, it goes against the title of 4-Hour Workweek as he’s slated to invest that amount of time in just one day. But if you know anything about his intentions for the book, the goal was not inaction; to do nothing. The goal is to optimize your life and 10x your output so that you can do more of what you want and less of what you don’t, working as little or as much as you want. This shares a very similar intention to my performance consulting as well.
Secondly, he blocked out the time. Nothing else is happening during it, only writing.
Thirdly, I don’t know if he did this then, but I’ve since learned an amazing approach to work sessions from Neil Gaiman (ironically from an episode of the Tim Ferriss Show in 2019), which we’ll call the Neil Gaiman boring technique. Block out time for your work with an end time. Now, you don’t have to actually work, but you can’t do anything interesting (ie. social media, listening to music, reading a book, etc.). You can lay on the couch, you can stare up at the sky (absolutely love doing these 2 things simultaneously by the way, lol). Eventually, you get “bored” enough that the work — by contrast — becomes interesting. This is how you could treat a block like this to make it that much more effective.
Fourthly, having a general block allows him to break accordingly. There’s this myth in the world that you don’t need breaks, which makes virtually no sense to me. I’m convinced that everyone who preaches that “breaks are optional” is either:
- not effective enough during the time they’re working so they don’t require the breaks
- taking breaks but aren’t self-aware or honest enough with themselves to realize it
- straight-up lying to you to fuel their false sense of superiority
- on drugs
- or so spiritually evolved that they might not need to take breaks anymore
I’ve found that truly effective people naturally work in a flow similar to Pomodoro (25 minutes of work, 5 minutes of break, repeated with a 25-minute break after 4 sessions), or 1 hour and 20 minutes of work with a 20-minute break. Whether they take it in this exact cycle or not, is the benefit here because you can break whenever with this format. You don’t need to schedule your breaks on your calendar, but when you feel it’s genuinely time — not you quitting early on yourself because it’s too hard or it gets too uncomfortable, but because it’s time for you to take a breather, let your subconscious work in the background and recharge briefly before returning to action.
Personally, I like this more relaxed and general approach to time-blocking for a lot of reasons. While I’m not actively engaging in time blocking as of this writing as I’m finding value in keeping my posts more, I’ve been guilty of having countless shorter blocks and breaks booked in my calendar, only for one thing to go not according to plan and all the breaks and blocks were rendered meaningless and I ended up going back to naturally flowing with breaks anyways.
Now, these points are all my interpretations from just one sentence in his schedule, so there are strategies and mindsets that I mentioned he might not have done in 2008 or might not do now. But regardless, I hope this gave you some valuable strategies and mindsets to get that much more out of your time.
If there’s one thing I hope you get from this post, it’s this: if something is important enough but it’s not getting done, put it in your calendar with a start time and end time, then hold yourself accountable to it. Keep the block general enough to do it, then don’t let yourself do anything interesting. Get to the point where boredom makes the work seem interesting by contrast (and hopefully you’re just interested in your work enough that this happens naturally). Then don’t micro-manage your breaks, but break accordingly when you need it. This is a marathon, not a sprint.