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How you do one thing is how you do everything

For the past few weeks, I've been working on several topics in parallel at work (about 7-10 different areas). In addition, I've consistently been reading books, articles and podcasts, writing blog posts (short and long) and writing a novel.

Since I work with weekly goals, I try to make progress on each of the areas at least a little bit every week. When I sit down to plan my week, I set aside the time I need to do what I intend to accomplish over the week.

The nature of my involvement in all these topics has meant that my schedule during the week is dominated by short bursts of work on individual topics (20 - 40 minutes) while my weekends have been dedicated for longer bouts of work (2 - 3 hours) focusing on a specific topic - like reading a book or writing the novel.

However, I've been finding it increasingly difficult to keep my focus on the task at hand for longer than 40 - 60 minutes at a stretch, which has been resulting in my falling behind on the plan when I plan to work on something for a longer period for 2 - 3 hours. My productivity levels see a big dip beyond the 40-minute mark and continue to deteriorate from there until I take a break or focus on something else for a while and come back to what I had been doing.

But this wasn't always the case. For most of last year and the year before that, I would regularly put in focused 2-hour efforts on a single topic at least twice a day without facing a dip in productivity. This would be during the week as well as on the weekends.

The experience of the past few weeks has emphasized to me the fact that "how you do one thing is how you do everything".

When I spend most of the week putting in 20 to 40-minute bursts of high productivity followed by a switch in context, I'm setting up my mind and body to work in that fashion. I'm training my mind and body to get accustomed to that kind of working. When the weekend rolls around and I try to put in 2-hour or 3-hour bursts of productive work, I put my mind and body in an unfamiliar situation that it hasn't been training for.

What I've been doing is the equivalent of asking a sprinter to run a marathon occasionally. So, it's no wonder that I've been failing.

What I've realised is that I can train myself to work in short bursts of productivity (20 - 40 minutes at a time) or in longer bursts of productivity (2 to 3 hours at a time). But, I can't do them both at the same time.

So, this past week, I've moved to a way of scheduling my week that brings in consistency in the amount of time I put in at a stretch on any given task during the week. If my week is dominated by 20 - 40 minute slots, then my weekend will be scheduled in the same manner. If it means I read or write shorter amounts at a single stretch, that's fine as the overall output for the week is better.

Once my weeks go back to being dominated by one or two longer slots a day, then I will return to the way I used to do things.

If you find that you are unable to stay productive beyond a certain time while doing some tasks, observe how your profile of tasks over the week is and adjust the time you put in on any single task to bring in consistency and you'll see a sharp rise in productivity. 

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