This is the semester to put my productivity to the test.
I will have a working, App Store-ready app, produce a fully polished manuscript for my thesis, do well in all of my classes, be a great Software Engineering TA, and finish all four series I currently have going on in the blog by the end of the semester. I’ll publish a post, go on a photoshoot, read for pleasure, and eat healthily every day. Every weekend, I’m going to travel to cool places, make great memories with my friends, and not worry about work.
I will to do all of this and still get at least seven hours of sleep a night. And I’m going to do it while keeping my stress levels at a minimum.
Just reading that probably stressed you out a little, didn’t it? It certainly intimidated me when I first wrote it down. Done right, however, all of these things are completely possible. I’ll even go so far as to say that doing everything listed above will make me less stressed.
Rising to the challenge
What the fuck? Am I out of my mind?
I promise you, it’s 5 AM and I’m not on any substances, not even caffeine. I truly believe that it’s completely possible for me, and for you, to accomplish a ridiculous amount of things in a day. It just requires us to be very strategic with our time.
We adapt to our settings and the duties expected of us. Knowing this, I’m designing and consciously putting myself in a working environment that makes it easy and enjoyable to get things done. This includes eliminating all distractions and low-level decisions such as what to wear or what to eat. Most importantly, I am not going to think of this schedule as stressful or too much — that’s setting myself up for burnout and failure from the get-go. This level of productivity will be my new normal.
The little things cause most of your stress: eliminate them
Remember how Steve Jobs, Barack Obama, and other people with jobs that require lots of high-level thinking/decision-making chose to stick to only one outfit and repeat it over and over like cartoon characters?
“The funny thing with decisions is that when you make them, you actually expend mental energy. If you make too many decisions in too short a time frame, you significantly reduce your decision-making ability. This is known as decision fatigue.”
– Mitchell Harper
I knew that I was wasting too much time picking outfits in the morning and devised two simple outfit algorithms, one for dresses and another for sweater weather (as a warm-weather dweller, these are the only two that really matter ?). I thought that the algorithms would eliminate my day-to-day stress, and they did — but they didn’t get rid of the decision fatigue I still experienced from other areas in my life.
This wasn’t clear to me until very recently. Last week, I started logging every single activity that I did in the Notes app on my iPhone. I wanted to make a schedule that worked for me based on my natural workflow (for example, I know that I like to go on photoshoots during the late mornings or early afternoons, and that I tend to eat late lunches). When I went back to analyze the data I’d collected, I was shocked to find that I still wasted a good amount of time on stupid little things, such as figuring out what/where to eat, where to shoot, and remembering the things I still had to do.
Not having food in the fridge made me have to sit down and think of where to go and eat, which would lead to a complex analysis of cost vs time. I’d wonder if I’d want to eat that specific food, or if I wanted to eat at all — which led to fifteen minutes going to waste and sometimes a skipped meal or two. With photoshoots, I was weighing the tradeoff between driving time and whether or not there would be too many randos there that day, or how windy it would be on location. That would eat up another fifteen minutes.
What eroded my productivity and ended up really stressing me out were small things like these, not the number of tasks I had to do. I realized that eliminating these small decisions would be the key to creating my optimal working environment.
Maximizing productivity through schedules and routines
The goal of the optimal working environment is to establish routines and habits, while automating as many low-level decisions as possible. Think of it as the General Rules 2.0. With the structure in place, there will be no more confusion about what to wear/post/eat, where to shoot, or how to spend my time. I won’t have to wonder about whether I should be doing something else. Everything has been thought out and planned ahead of time, so that execution will be smooth, streamlined, and stress-free. 
“Success is nothing more than a few simple disciplines, practiced every day.”
– Jim Rohn
When I do something, I’m able to be completely present and focus on the task at hand. I know the time frame I have to complete the task in, and what I’ll be doing afterward. No more forgetting, wondering, worrying — just deep work in the Zone. Ahhhhh.
What my calendar looks like
When it came to actually planning my own days out, I gave myself a time frame of now, February 9th, through May 4th, which is a week before the semester ends.
I focused on two things: What tasks I’d be doing, and when I would be doing them. For the what, I created an editorial calendar for the blog, a photoshoot location calendar, and a meal schedule. For the when, I set up morning and evening routines. And, of course, the general rules still apply 🙂
Here is my general weekly editorial calendar for my blogs, and the outlines of my morning and evening routines:
EDITORIAL CALENDAR: BLOG POSTS
Sunday – Misc
Monday – Data Structures & Algorithms
Tuesday – Misc
Wednesday – Get Swifty
Thursday – OS
Friday – Thesis Diaries
Saturday – Misc
5:00 AM – Wake up, get dressed and ready for the day
5:30 AM – Eat breakfast, log blog and social media stats from the day before into spreadsheet
5:40 AM – Start writing
7:40 AM – Finish first draft of post, stretch and take a break
8:00 AM – Proofread, edit, and publish post
9:00 AM – Advertise post to social media
9:00 PM – Write down schedule for the next day
9:10 PM – Tech cutoff (no more laptop/phone), take shower
9:30 PM – Read a book for fun
10:30 PM – Go to bed
CS blog post research
Other things to get done
Error margin (little things that pop up)
The schedule is a default, not a requirement
The midday and afternoon activities are vague on purpose — I concretely plan them out during my evening routine. I want to give myself flexibility and spontaneity within the overall structure.
The purpose of the schedule and the routines isn’t to box me in — rather, it’s to create default activities at specific times so that I’m never left guessing what I should do next. It’s a suggestion to keep me going at the pace I want to go at — I don’t have to stick to it if I don’t want to.
Clarity is a hidden benefit
I made my blog’s editorial calendar with the end goal of stopping all the series the week of May 4. This gave me (as of the time I made the schedule):
12 Data Structures & Algorithms posts
12 Get Swifty posts
13 Operating Systems posts
13 Thesis Diaries posts
Knowing exactly how many post slots I had forced me to cut my content plans down and focus only on the essentials, which gave me a lot more clarity. Rather than of stressing about how I’m going to finish everything, I know exactly what subtopic I’ll be writing about in each category on each day. Making the morning and evening routines also helped me budget my time correctly. For example, I know now that I’ll only be spending seven hours in bed, twenty minutes in the shower, and two hours on a non-series blog post. 
It took an evening to set up, but I am now able to do so much more with my time thanks to this structured environment. Saving five minutes of confusion with a set schedule is saving yourself five minutes of stressing out — and that shit adds up over time. This is such a departure from last semester, where I came up with stuff up on the fly, shoved waaaaaaayyyy too much content into each series, and was often forgetful or confused about what to do next.
You don’t have to be as strict with your time as I am with mine, but consider giving your day some more structure. With this work environment, I am no longer bogged down by unnecessary decisions or stress. I’m free to dedicate myself to what matters most: being productive, creative, and having as much fun as possible. ♚
 “Smooth, streamlined, and stress-free” totally sounds like the tagline for a tampon or lingerie commercial, but I’m rolling with it.
 The computer science series blog posts require a little more work in regards to research and prep, so I do most of the heavy work during midday/afternoon and polish the post in the mornings.