I read Indistractable and realised just how distracted I really am. Here’s how I’m decluttering my schedule and re-building it with intention.
Welcome to Hello Rebecca Ray, our collective home for courage, growth and human to human connection. I’m your host, Dr. Rebecca Ray, human, clinical psychologist, author, and educator. I know only too well how fear, comparison, and self doubt can stifle your potential. This podcast is all about brave and meaningful living and how you can make your authentic contribution to the world today and every day.
Hi, lovely ones. Welcome to episode number 54. The four steps I’m taking to reclaim my time for productivity and values alignment. Because here’s the thing. I thought I was pretty good at being productive. I mean, I knew I could improve but I thought my baseline productivity was quite good. That was until I read Indistractible by Nir Eyal, and realised just how much of my time is sucked into a void of distraction. I was incredibly surprised. It’s not that I was kind of sitting on my high horse or soapbox going look at me, I am so incredibly productive. I knew I had areas that I could improve in. But when I read Indistractible, everything changed, because I’m not just talking about procrastination, I’m talking about being a slave to an always growing to do list, and the amount of time that I’ve been losing to simply being reactive to all sorts of interruptions in my day. Now, to be clear, I am absolutely someone who lives by a to do list, I have so much going on that a to-do list prior to now, a to-do list is actually made me feel really in control of my day, it’s made me feel very calm in that, at least if something’s on my to-do list, I’m not going to forget to do it. So in some ways, you could say that I’ve been using a to-do list as a memory aid. But the thing is, I can now see how ineffective it’s been for me using my time in an intentional way. Instead of me building a schedule that supports how I want to spend my time in order to make my 80 year old self proud, which is always what I’m trying to do. I’ve simply just kept a to-do list and then hope that I’d get everything done.
Okay, it’s it’s perhaps not as haphazard, as I’m just making it sound right now, I use Asana, which is a project management app. And free by the way, I do not pay for it, which is very exciting. I always love technology that’s free and works incredibly well. And for the most part, all my tasks are scheduled for a date of completion. So I put the task in underneath a specific project that I’m working on, and then I set a date for the completion. But that’s where I stop. And that’s exactly how I’ve been getting myself into trouble. Or the trouble that I now see now that I’ve read Indestractable. Because you see with the exception of meetings that involve other people, I’ve had no schedule as such. I sit down at my desk each morning and then do what Asana tells me, which I thought worked. So what’s in my calendar is essentially just meetings that I need to remember because other people are involved. They’re not meetings with myself. And so once I sit down at my desk, I’m simply going to my task list in Asana to see what it is that needs to be done that day. And the thing is, there are some clear signs that that didn’t work at all for me. And I’ve really reflected on this since reading Indistractible. So, I want to take you through what the signs were, that my way of being productive and getting things done in my life was actually being inefficient and ineffective.
Sometimes I would get to the end of the day, and all I’d done is put out fires or react to messages that I’d received either on message chat with my team or messages in my student groups or notifications on my phone. So I get to the end of the day, and I’ve done lots of little things, but no deep work had been completed. And by deep work, I mean, that focus time where you’re actually creating something or where you’re doing a lot of mental effort for the task, and it’s uninterrupted. So for me that’s things like writing. I have three books to write this year. Would you believe! I’m excited about them by the reason I’m getting clear on my time, thankfully, in February and not in November, is because these three books are going to take a lot of time and energy. And I need to make sure that I’ve got it available to do the best job that I can possibly do to create. So when I’m talking about deep work, I’m talking about those times where you dive in to create whatever it is that requires your full attention. So some days, the first time that, you know, my to do list wasn’t working is I might have had something significant on my to do list, like write the next chapter, and it wouldn’t get done. And yet, it’s not like I wasn’t busy, I was busy all day, but I wasn’t doing things that were helping me to move forward. And I noticed myself not starting deep work if I only had a couple of hours before a meeting, because it didn’t seem like enough time to get stuck into anything. You might say to yourself Beck a couple of hours is a lot of time. And I realise that but because there was so many interruptions that I allowed into my world. To get stuck into deep work plus deal with the interruptions, two hours didn’t seem enough, or a couple of hours didn’t seem enough. I also noticed that in my attempt to prioritise deep work, when I was able to, then my small tasks wouldn’t get done, it was like I had to choose between one or the other. So I might devote a day to writing. And let’s say that I sat there for five hours writing. Now, that’s a lie, I would never have sat down for five hours and written straight. That’s not how I roll. So I would have done chunks of writing in that five hour period. But if I was really focused in that time, during deep work, then I would get to the end of the day and be absolutely exhausted, and no social media would have been done, no checking in with my team would have been done. Everything would get behind in terms of those tiny tasks that just keep my business ticking over. So it was very much like I had to choose between one or the other in my schedule.
Now even though I have many tasks on my to do list that automatically repeat, like social media content creation and posting, the other sign that things weren’t working with my to do list is that I just constantly ended up behind, I would get to the week where I needed a podcast episode created. And it just wasn’t done. Because the week prior, I had been reactive and simply responding to the interruptions that were coming into my world rather than than actually doing the things that needed to be done. The same with social media. Sometimes, actually, not sometimes, a lot of the time, I would find myself getting to a day and go, oh my goodness, what am I going to post today, I need to find something to post and then it would feel overwhelming to have to create the post in terms of the image and then write the caption and then write the image description for the caption. And sometimes I just wouldn’t do it. Because the time to do that was just not available in a day as well as what I was asking myself to do. And then when it came to things that were important to my values, like exercise, and training my dogs, one in particular is very anxious jet, my setup and spending one on one time with my son and date time with my wife, those things were only fitted in at the last minute if there was room. I’m actually really ashamed to say this. I feel very exposed saying this, but I want to say it in case you’re the same. And I want you to understand that you’re not the only one. Honestly, if it was important in my world, like if you asked me what’s most important to me, that, they’re the things that are most important. I want my health to be most important because I’m want to live for a long time. And the people that I love are number one, including my dogs. But have I been treating them like that? No, no, I haven’t. And instead, I’ve just been spending time with them around my to-do list. They haven’t been factored into my schedule. It’s embarrassing to say that but that’s the facts. That’s how things got to and things like reading and creative thinking time. Well, those things seem like a huge indulgence and so I just rarely allowed myself the space.
So if we’re talking about that fact alone, me responding to a to-do list has got me into a state where the things that I truly value, I was treating like an afterthought. And I ended up experiencing so much frustration. And I’ve only just realised this since reading the book, that the level of my frustration around so many tasks that I do has been present because there’s been no space in my non existent schedule for them. And so I’ve ended up resenting them as a result. Business things like writing newsletters to my list and creating social media content across all the various pillars of topics and things that I have to promote. And then personal things like the general life admin of like a hair appointment, these things constantly felt like they were eating into my time, I would get so incredibly annoyed that I had to do those things, because I just never made space for them. So they always felt like they were left over things that I sometimes had to sorry, not sometimes, all the time had to find a space for in my weekly schedule. And because I didn’t schedule other than meetings, there was no space. And the other thing that I allowed to happen, which is clearly not workable. And yet, this is how I worked is I let other people set when meetings happened for the most part. There was certainly no distinct time in my schedule where I would put time aside for interviews, or I would put some time aside for paid sessions for my students, those types of things, unless it was in my schedule, as a meeting. And often that meeting time was offered to the other person first, which meant that no week was similar to the other week, and I just kind of approach meetings as well, I’m flexible, so as long as it’s before 3pm, when Bennett comes home, then we’re good, just fit it in. And that meant that other people’s schedules were more important than mine. And I’m not saying that they’re not important, I’m just saying that my schedule should be equally as important. But what it didn’t allow me to do is then to make sure that I wasn’t just giving my time away without considering what my own needs and demands were. So in short, I found myself doing a lot of things and being busy, but not the things that would help me progress forward more effectively and efficiently.
So like I said, I read Indistractible, and I’d heard of the book. But honestly, I just had some audible credits to use up. So I purchased it on a whim. And I started listening to it and I was hooked. And I should say to this, this is not being sponsored. I am not, I don’t know Nir, I’m not doing a whole promo episode just for this one particular book. But it has changed my entire schedule, simply just in a week of trying out the techniques. And so what I want to do is summarise my takeaways from the book and explain what I’ve implemented so far and how it’s going. In case this might be helpful for you too, in case you have been a slave to a to do list like I had, I want to show you what I’ve done.
So step number one is time blocking. Now I’d heard of time blocking before. And essentially, it’s just to take your schedule for the week and put blocks in blocks of time actually schedule in blocks of time for all the things that you’ve got to do. Now, have I done that before? No, actually, that’s a life, I had. I used to do it way, way back in my early 20s when I was at uni and late teens. So I would factor in time for study and things like that, but I have not done it in my business at all. And so I’ve always actually felt quite threatened by the idea of time blocking almost like, but what happens if something happens, and I then don’t have space and what happens if I don’t stick to it and those types of things, these mental blocks around it. And once I’d realised just how distracted I have been and how much of my time has been seeping through my fingers. Because I’ve not been controlling my schedule, I decided to give it a go. So, I downloaded simply just a weekly template. It’s a Google sheet and it schedules time in 15 minute intervals and I adjusted it into my waking hours. And I followed Nir’s advice. So basically, he uses time blocking so that you can build a schedule that’s based on your values, rather than simply be a slave to your to do list and hope that everything gets done. So I use a Google sheet and I have colour blocked different categories of how time is used. Now, that means that there’s actually time. This is, I sound amazed because I still am amazed. So I’ve literally only been using this for a week and it has so amazed me that I’m already doing a podcast episode on it. But it means that there’s time for life admin, like I’ve actually scheduled when I’m going to book appointments rather than appointments just because I know that they’re going to occur, it’s not like they’re not going to occur. But rather than scheduling them at, in a reactive way, when they absolutely have to be done, I can schedule in advance because I know when my life admin blocks are going to be I’ve got blocks for writing, I’ve got blocks for social media and emails, I’ve got blocks for reading, would you believe and I have read more in the last week than I perhaps have in the entire previous 12 months. Honestly, I’m also embarrassed to say that, but because I saw it is such an indulgence, I just haven’t done it. So I’ve got time for reading. I’ve got time for coaching, I’ve got time for exercise, and I’ve got one on one time scheduled with my wife and my son, which just feels amazing to know that that is special time, that is definitely going to happen because it’s in the schedule.
Now, in terms of how it’s working out, there are definitely some adjustments to be made. Things like I discovered it takes longer to mow the lawn than what I thought it did. I have outside maintenance time blocked into my schedule. And so what Nir suggests you do is that you build the schedule based on your values. So you take all the things that are incredibly important to you and you put blocks of those things into your schedule first. And then you add the things that you just need to do, like life admin in those types of things. And you make sure that that’s all scheduled, and also make sure that there’s a bit of whitespace in there, so that you’ve got time to simply just do whatever you feel like.
So there does need to be some refinement to this. And there’s been a couple of things that I’ve noticed get in the way in the past week, Bennett was sick on one day. So one day, when I was relying on him going to kindy, he was actually home and Nyssa had a client, my wife, and so I had him for three quarters of the day, and she had him for the other quarter. And that meant that what was supposed to be created during that time didn’t really get created parts of it did, but not really. And those things are going to happen. So I think what I need to do is I need to set up some wiggle room for times like that to then also make sure that I don’t then get behind in other areas. And I think that will be solved by making sure that there’s some blocks of just free time where I can just do whatever I want in that time. And my next step with this particular step one, time blocking, is to transfer my schedule onto the wall somewhere I haven’t actually put it’s on a Google sheet, but I haven’t put it up somewhere. And that’s a bit of a problem because I don’t remember it. So sometimes I’m thinking, oh I’m free, but when I look at my schedule, I’m not actually free. So before I learn it and while I’m refining it, I need to put it up so that I can see it. So that’s my next step.
Now step number two with reclaiming my time is to communicate that to the people, the stakeholders in my life and compare. So first and foremost, that’s with Nyssa. So she’s also taken my lead and is doing her own time blocking. And it’s really important that we communicate because obviously we share a child and I need to make sure that the time I schedule for her works for her as well. And then we need to communicate so that each of us has access to the other person’s schedule, simply just so that we know when we’re available and when we’re not. When we’re indistractible, when we’re not. And then the other thing I need to do is to communicate the schedule with my team. So, I have the best team in the world and they are incredibly flexible. But they also need to know what’s on my schedule. And when I’m indistractible and when I’m available. Otherwise, this isn’t going to work at all and they’ll end up scheduling things in for me in times that I’ve scheduled for other things. So, again, I’m just using the Google sheet and I’ll give my team access to the Google sheet. I think what will work best for Nyssa and I is we’ll print it out, and we’ll put our schedules somewhere where we can both see them. And I also want to communicate this also to my audience. So my next step in doing this as well as to adjust my email responder so that when I’m emailed people understand when they can get a response and when they might not get a response, depending on what I’m doing. So, they can, communicating and comparing is very closely related to the ongoing refining of the schedule. And Nyssa and I just had a conversation this morning about how some weeks just will be different, because we’ve got different things going on, different projects, people visiting that kind of thing. And so I’ve scheduled time at the end of each week to do prep for the following week. And one of those prep tasks will be that I actually look at the time blocking and account for what’s happening in the following week.
Now, one thing that I’ve noticed has gotten in the way is sometimes I get to a time block and I forget all the tasks that should be done in that time block. So, on the schedule, I’ve just got an overarching kind of heading for that time block. And I think an adjustment that I’ll make is to also add specific tasks into each time block to make sure that they get done.
Step number three is what Nir calls an effort pact. And essentially, it’s just making it harder to do the things that distract me. So, I have been highly distractible in the past. And making an effort pact is essentially, when there’s an unhelpful behaviour or habit that you want to limit. An effort pact is a step that you take to make it a little more difficult to do that behaviour, or the addition of a small but unwanted consequence to the behaviour. So essentially, that means that performing the unhelpful behaviour now requires more effort from you, then you make a pact usually, usually just with yourself about the consequence of your unhelpful behaviour in advance. Now, I really loved reading this because Nir uses an example that I also used prior to reading the book. When he’s writing, he uses an app called forest, which I also use, and forest is super cute app. I really love it. But it’s based on the Pomodoro Technique, which is essentially setting up your time in blocks of work and then a small break. So it defaults, the app defaults to 25 minutes work and then a five minute break. And during that time, when you start the app, it grows a tiny little virtual tree. And if you touch your phone during that time, you’ll get a warning that the tree will die if you open, if you close the app and therefore access your phone. And I’ve just found that incredibly helpful not only to remind me to take a break. But also because the greater mental effort of having to kill a little virtual tree is believe it or not actually motivating to not get distracted and to continue writing.
Nir also has his Wi Fi router to shut down at 10pm. And that means that if he really wants to browse the internet after 10, he has to go through the work of plugging it back in and setting it up. Which just creates a whole heap of effort that he’s not willing to do after that time. So that’s another option if you find yourself just scrolling in bed when it’s not helpful and not where you want to be directing your energy. The other thing is, as I mentioned, I have a tendency to prioritise my work on my to do list over my health. And so one of the things that I’ve done as an effort pact is, I now use an Apple Watch to help me prioritise exercise now for any of my students that are listening. I see you smirking because I am a PC user and have completely sworn off Apple products. And I’m now the owner of not just an iPhone, but also an Apple Watch. I know I’m judging myself too. But it’s actually really useful. So the effort pact occurs in the form of closing my circles. So the Apple Watch has circles which represent exercise time, movement time and standing time and not closing the circle. So there’s a visual reminder on the front of the watch all day. The mental effort of not closing the circles is actually really quite motivating to keep the health appointments with myself. And the other thing that I’m doing is I also remove my phone from the room. So one of the things I’ve noticed is it’s fine to time block but if my phone is sitting in front of me and it flashes with some kind of notification, I find that really difficult to resist. And so during deep work actually need to remove my phone from the room altogether. So it’s working out well, so far, my next step with this particular effort pact step of reclaiming my time is to do an effort pact for snacking after dinner. So that’s one of the things that I’ve, I need to overcome. And I’ll get back to you about how that works when I start testing out some things.
Now step number four is using technology as a tool and not a master. And, again, I’m ashamed to say that I have absolutely been a slave to technology. I’ve certainly gotten better in the past 12 months, but I could be much better than what I am. And so what I want to do is I want to be able to use technology for its benefits. But then what Nir calls hack back my time, from just responding to technology for all the times that attempts to steal my attention. So, so far, that means obviously, removing my phone from the room, turning off notifications on my phone, and my watch. So I go on aeroplane mode when I’m doing deep work. And I also use Audible for reading. So I kind of was one of these people that felt like listening to an audio book was almost like copping out like it’s not real unless I have to read the book. But Audible has just meant that I get so much more reading done in a day, which is amazing. I love it. So that’s what I’m doing in that way.
What I’ve noticed getting the way is that I think one of the things is, I still just don’t know my technology enough to know what it can do for me. So what’s next is I really want to understand the apps that can make my indestractible time even more seamless. So I want to go Nir has a whole heap of suggestions in his book. And I’m going to read the book, again to take on some of those suggestions. Because already these ones are working out so well. So as I said, all of this needs testing and refining. And I’m a curious scientist as it comes to this not a drill sergeant. So it’s very much about looking at what works and what doesn’t, and making those refinements along the way. And as I test out my values built schedule, and we’ll I’ll check back in with you in a future episode about updates to my results. So the steps that I’m using so far are step one time blocking, I highly recommend it, give it a go. Honestly, it has transformed my life just in one week. To communicate and compare with the stakeholders in my life like Nyssa and my team and of course my audience so that their expectations are accurate. Making effort packs, so that the things I don’t want to do are a bit harder. And the things that I want to do are also hard not to do or harder not to do. And finally step four, using technology as a tool and not as a master.
So I hope this episode has been really helpful and motivates you to try out some of these techniques. I’d love to know how they work for you. Please message me, I’d love, I love hearing about what your thoughts are of the episodes. So please don’t ever hesitate to reach out and message me what you’re thinking. In the meantime, I’ll just be over here being the boss of how my time is spent rather than giving that power away to my to do list. I’ll catch you very shortly for the next episode of Hello Rebecca Ray.
Lovely ones. Thank you so much for listening to Hello, Rebecca Ray. If you’ve got something meaningful from this episode, then the most meaningful thing you can do is jump on over to wherever you listen to your podcast episodes and leave a review. Because it’s those reviews that help this podcast stay here. Make sure to subscribe, and if you’re generous enough to share this episode, thank you so much. I love seeing your shares on social media. So please tag me, catch you next time.