Over the last few years I’ve really been engaged in the process of enhancing my daily routine so I can get more done and have more fun while I’m at it. Even small optimizations can yield huge dividends in long-term results and have a noticeable impact on short-term quality. In trying to make optimizations I’ve noticed three general strategies for enhancement: squeezing, vacuuming and inserting.
Strategy One: Squeeze
Most tasks have a degree of time-flexibility. This means that they can stretch and shrink to fit into different amounts of time. One of the methods I’ve found helpful for enhancing my day is to squeeze routine tasks so that they don’t get a chance to eat up all my time. Taking ordinary tasks and squeezing them pushes out the inefficient parts to get the job done more easily.
The idea behind squeezing is to take a normal area of time, such as your regular eight hour work day, and force yourself to accomplish major tasks within a smaller time frame, say six hours. This type of squeeze can be a bit painful at first, because it forces you to deny participating in a lot of lower value activities. But after an initial adaption period, you soon can get most the value you originally got in less time.
It often isn’t enough to just want to be more efficient with your tasks, you need to actually compress the time frame and force yourself to dump parts of the work that aren’t necessary. To figure out how much to squeeze, I usually find it is a good idea to start by picking a value between your perfect work time and your current work time. If you normally get 4 hours of work done in your 8 hour day, try squeezing it down to 6 hours to see if you can gain any more productivity.
Strategy Two: Vacuum
Vacuuming is a strategy I employed a lot a year or two ago. The idea behind vacuuming is that if you suck out major time wasting activities you will be left with a vacuum that can be filled with more valuable activities. Giving up television, cutting down your internet usage or giving up computer games are all examples of vacuuming.
Vacuuming can be a good strategy if you find yourself spending a lot of time doing something that isn’t really valuable either to your enjoyment or your productivity. If you find yourself watching a lot of television without being entertained or you surf the web without being informed, cutting down or cutting them out can be a big boost to your productivity.
The best way to cut out an entire activity is to try a monthly trial. Commit to your plan of reduction or abstaining for thirty days and you can make it a habit. Check out my Habitual Mastery series for more information on changing habits.
I don’t do nearly as much vacuuming to enhance my day anymore because the gap created from removing a big chunk of time doesn’t always get filled with more productive tasks. But vacuuming in combination with squeezing and inserting can remove the larger inefficiencies completely and give you more time for things that really matter.
Strategy Three: Insert
The third strategy for enhancing your day and my personal favorite is insertion. Rather than create negative space, this strategy inserts new activities into your day to drive out less valuable ones. This could mean adding a new project to your to-do list, joining a new organization, taking up a new hobby or scheduling time to do something fun.
The best activities to insert are those that aren’t closely associated with your work. Simply piling up the workload is likely to result in burnout. I like to use insertion with tasks that although they may require energy, they don’t use it the same way as my regular work. Going to the gym, public speaking, writing blog articles and taking classes all require energy, but since they use different “muscles” they don’t overload each other.
Some people have asked me how I had time to take a full course load, write articles for this blog, work on my book, go to the gym every day, attend Toastmasters, take dance lessons and still have time for an active social life. The answer is that I made time. I inserted these tasks one by one into my day and it automatically optimized to fit.
Inserting tasks is a bit like the reverse of the game Jenga, where your goal is to remove wooden blocks from a tower without it collapsing. Trying to take all the blocks out at once will cause your tower to fall. But if you slowly remove each block you can have a stable tower with less blocks just like if you slowly insert tasks you can have an enhanced life.
Enhancement Through Force
Entropy applies to productivity systems as well as physical ones. If you leave your life without outside force, it will tend to become more disorganized and less efficient. You can enhance your daily routine by forcing it into a more efficient state. Squeezing, vacuuming and inserting push out impurities to leave only the good stuff.
Like all upheavals, forcing a new enhancement into your day is going to be hard for the first week or two. This is because you have changed an otherwise stable system for operating and your body is having to adapt. But this is only temporary and the benefits are long lasting.
Enhancing your day doesn’t just mean being a more productive robot, it means enjoying life more to. It means creating time to do all the things you want to do but don’t think you have time for. Productivity and enjoyment aren’t polar opposites, but can peacefully coexist when you remove the elements of your day that aren’t either.