Over the last couple of years I’ve been trying to figure out a good schedule for my days that I can stick to. Some influences here have been the Focused and Nested Folders podcasts and the Start Finishing book. I’ve been trying to block out time on my calendar for work/exercise/leisure so that everything has a place and my life stays balanced. I’ve often thought that it would be nice to somehow beemind sticking to the schedules that I create but could never quite figure out how to do that until I read:
This made me realise I could ask myself a few questions after each “block” on my schedule to assess how closely I adhered to the schedule. And whilst I find random popup reminders through the day annoying, a reminder asking me how I’ve done at the thing I’ve just been doing and perhaps hinting that it’s time to stop before I get tired of it is welcome. The questions I came up with were…
Were you doing X at the beginning?
- Yes! (34)
- 1 minute late (22)
- 15 minutes late (11)
- Later (0)
Were you still busy when the block ended?
- Yes (33)
- Finished less than 15 minutes ago (22)
- Finished more than 15 minutes ago (11)
- Gave up ages ago (0)
And in between?
- Didn’t stop! (33)
- Reasonably focused (22)
- Wandered off a bit (11)
- Er, what was I supposed to be doing? (0)
…and the numbers there are designed to sum to give a 0-100 score. I didn’t spend more than a few minutes coming up with these questions and whilst I might refine them a bit in the future I don’t want to make the questions or scores overly complicated. I want them to be answers I can dash off in a few seconds without having to stop and think.
So the obvious thing to do (to me at least) was to make an iOS shortcut that I could use to quickly answer these questions and send the score to a Beeminder goal.
Focus Calculator iOS shortcut This shortcut asks for a quick text description of what kind of thing you’ve been doing, asks the questions, adds the score up and sends it on a
stayfocused goal at Beeminder. (And yay for the iOS app now making it really easy to share Beeminder shortcuts without having to mess about with API keys etc.)
And then I wanted to add reminders to popup to tell me when I should be finished with a block of my schedule.
Focus Checker iOS shortcut This looks at all my calendars for the next 12 hours and if the title of the event contains “Block” (e.g. “Focus Block”, “Walk Block”, “Leisure Block” which means it’s some time I’ve scheduled to do something, rather than an external appointment) then it adds a reminder to pop up at the beginning and end of that block.
- I sort of don’t want the reminders at the beginning of the blocks. I feel like I ought to be ready to do things on schedule just because. But I think they are a good idea at the moment while I get used to the system. And I could equally well use calendar alerts for the Block event starting, but this was easiest way to make it quickly consistent.
- The magic bit was when I realised I could add urls to the end of block reminders that would make it easy to trigger the Focus Calculator shortcut. Unfortunately you can’t get the shortcut to open automatically but you can use a URL in the reminder in the format
shortcuts://run-shortcut?name=Focus%20Calculator&input=text&text=Walk%20Blockwhich then makes it one click to open the shortcut when you get the reminder, plus the description is ready filled in for you from your Block description.
- I have this automated to run at 08:00 each day, which means I can change my schedule for the day at any point up to then and I’m considering it set in stone at that point. That gives me time to adjust blocks for each day to match external events like other people and the weather forecast.
- Only looking at the next 12 hours seemed right to me, I didn’t think I’d be scheduling anything to start much after 19:30.
Focus Hour Counter iOS shortcut I realised that it would be simple to cheat the schedule by making it very minimal so I added another automation to count the number of hours blocked out each day and send the total to a
focushours goal. I currently have that set to 3 hours/day while I figure out what the sweet spot is.
- I’m not giving myself any leeway to take into account ‘why’ when I’m answering the questions. The point is to figure out the bits of my days when I can focus on things that are (pretty much) just for me. It makes no difference if the reason I didn’t focus on something was ‘needed to make lunch’, ‘teen wanted to talk’, ‘rain would not stop’ or ‘could not be bothered’. That makes it easier to answer the questions without judging myself.
- Most of my Blocks are set up as weekly recurring calendar events, and across different calendars so using the “Block” in the title was the easiest way for me to grab them. Having one calendar for scheduling would have worked too.
- I do move the events around for the day at any time up to 08:00 to account for whatever else needs doing as well. Trying to come up with a realistic schedule for each day rather than an ideal one. Some days just admitting that I’m not going to be able to focus on things very long is the right move.
- I think scheduling is as much about the white spaces in between the blocks as the blocks themselves. E.g. I’m writing this in white space rather than a schedule block because it’s something I can drop when the supermarket delivery turns up and I haven’t scheduled my first focused work block for today until after the delivery will definitely have arrived as I don’t want to be disturbed in that block.
- Although I thought it would be easy to cheat by making short blocks it’s actually much harder to hit a smaller target. It’s easier to get some points for a 2 hour block of work than a half hour walk simply because one is longer.
- I’m not yet sure how to deal with holidays and other unscheduled kinds of days. Breaks are the obvious answer but I quite like scheduling fun things at the weekends so I don’t feel like I want to put breaks in for every non-work day but also it’s harder to hit the target on a day with more free time as well. I might introduce something to designate some blocks as being more flexible. Maybe if I’ve said I’m going for an hour long bike ride from 10-11 on Sunday I’ll give myself credit if that hour happens any time between 9 and 12. Or something. I’m going to see how it goes before adding anything like this that might be a slippery slope though.
I’m quite pleased with the system after the first week of using it. I had no idea what kind of score to aim for as an average but after the first few days it looked like 65 was a decent target for me, low enough that I can build up a safety buffer, high enough that I need to pay attention or I won’t hit it. My actual scores are all over the place, though I haven’t yet got down to zero.
I accidentally ratcheted away too much buffer when changing the slope of the graph and needed to hit high scores for the rest of the day which really concentrated my mind! But I’m happier now I have a bit of safetly buffer.
Definitely interested in feedback on this. Let me know if you’ve tried something similar, are interested in trying something like this, if anything doesn’t make sense or if you can spot any loopholes!