Here’s what happened last time on ExcelShir in case you missed it:
The Ultimate Time Management Hack that Took Me 5 Years to Create – Part 1
And now, the conclusion…
4. Medium Focus Time (4MFT)
What is 4MFT?
I realize the word “medium” can be very subjective, so for me it means time in which I’m not quite as focused as I am in the morning, but I’ve still got some pep left in my step. The trick to keeping productivity and focus up during this time is to shift gears and work on something different than I did in the morning. What can I say? I crave variety.
Where does 4MFT usually take place?
This almost always takes place at home. Occasionally I’ll be out and about and have the ability to stay somewhat focused in a cafe or bookstore. This is the exception though, not the rule.
When does 4MFT typically occur?
After lunch and meditation (here’s why I meditate every day by the way), which is usually between 3-5 pm, give or take an hour. 4MFT usually doesn’t last for longer than 2 hours.
Which activities are good examples for 4MFT?
- Anything that I didn’t finish during my 1NET Time but the deadline is fast approaching… like blog editing for example. Ahem.
- Prospect list research. Not the rote work of finding company names, contact names and email addresses. I’m talking about crafting a customized email pitch for each of them specifically. More on that in a future post.
- Preparing for lessons with 1-on-1 Excel training clients.
- A more enjoyable work project (something that I’m excited about, like dashboards).
- If I have nothing pressing, than sometimes I’ll work on my own personal Excel projects during this time. Yes, I spend some of my free time with Excel. I’m hardcore like that.
5. High Focus Time (5HFT)
What is 5HFT?
Ah the moment you’ve all been waiting for. The Creme de la creme of productivity. To me, High Focus Time feels like the scene where Neo sees the matrix, or John Nash cracks the codes during “A Beautiful Mind.”
This may sound silly, but sometimes I actually feel superhuman. After all, I am experiencing “flow.” You know, the enchanted garden of productivity and full immersion where time seems to vanish. I learned about it through Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi’s work.
The sad thing is that most people only stumble upon this sweet nectar of productivity by accident. I on the other hand, engineer this “flow” 3-5 times per week. Usually for 90 minutes. I know this because I log my time using the OfficeTime App, and use the free online tool e.ggtimer (props to Tim Ferris for suggesting it). Anything worked past the initial 90 minutes is a pure bonus. If I’m on a roll, I’ll keep going. If not, I’ll stop there and won’t feel guilty. Sounds like a win-win scenario if there ever was one.
Where does 5HFT usually take place?
At home. Period. I have yet to experience this anywhere else. I’ve got my comfy chair, Pandora One, my bottle of water (gotta stay hydrated!), and natural light pouring into my room. There are no distractions, no need to chit chat with co-workers to be polite, and no emails to check. The only way to reach me is through a phone call or text. Even then I only check to see if it’s an emergency, and answer only if it is. In case you couldn’t tell, I am extremely vigilant about keeping this time undisturbed!
When does 5HFT typically occur?
After breakfast. Usually from about 12-2 pm. Some days I can go for longer than others. I have noticed that it is extremely rare for me to be able to focus as well at any other time of day.
Which activities are good examples for 5HFT?
All the super important, creative work gets done here. For example:
- Paid client work like dashboards, or one of my current projects such as Beyond Tells
- Client communications that involve sales concepts or strategic thinking on my part
- Curriculum development, filming, or pretty much any kind of work on my online Excel classes
- Important brainstorming of any kind
Basically I’ll go down my list of WIGs and work on those first during this time. This is another reason why it’s helpful to recite my WIGs out loud every day, right before starting High Focus Time.
Whew! You made it through all 5 time contexts. Congrats! 🙂
So what does classifying time into these 5 contexts actually DO for me?
Well, for starters I become very familiar with which type of work requires which type of time context. This enables me to make startlingly accurate predictions of how much I can accomplish per week. More importantly however, I’m able to optimize my productivity system and see where the weak points are. It helps me use the right tool for the right job, or in this case, work on tasks that are ideal for the time context that I am currently in.
How do I do that exactly?
It involves 2 completely separate processes:
- Assigning new tasks to the appropriate time context
- Choosing which task to work on, given a specific time context
The key to assigning new tasks is to always go for the lowest possible mentally challenging time. Here’s the algorithm I follow:
- Can this task be done in 1NET Time? If yes, assign it to 1NET.
- If not, can it be done in 2MCT? If yes, assign it to 2MCT.
- If not, can it be done in 3LFT? If yes, assign it to 3MCT.
- If not, can it be done in 4MFT? If yes, assign it to 4MFT.
- If not, can it be done in 5HFT? If yes, assign it to 5HFT.
- If not, re-evaluate your time classification system, and consider creating a new classification altogether.
In Excel, it would look like a Nested If formula:
In English, all I’m doing is striving for the minimum level of focus required for each task. Only the tasks that absolutely must have super creative focus should be attempted during 5HFT. Otherwise I am sub-optimizing my most valuable asset.
Think of it another way. When you are cooking a stew you don’t chop all the vegetables first and only then turn on the stove to boil the water.
Such a rookie mistake!
Instead, you heat up the water first, and THEN start chopping vegetables. That way, by the time you are done chopping, the water is already boiling.
Easy peasy, lemon squeezy.
As for deciding which task to work on, given a specific time context, here’s the algorithm that I use:
- 5HFT – Begin 5HFT tasks first. Only if all 5HFT tasks are complete move on to 4MFT.*
- 4MFT – Begin 4MFT tasks first. Only if all 4MFT tasks are complete move on to 3LFT.
- 3LFT – Begin 3LFT tasks first. If all 3LFT tasks are complete consider attempting 2MCT or 1NET, but most likely just take a break or stop doing work because you probably won’t be able to focus anyway.
- 2MCT – Begin 2MCT tasks first. Only if all 2MCT tasks are complete consider moving on to 4MFT or even 5HFT (depending on how focused you feel).
- 1NET – Begin 1NET first. Only if all 1NET tasks are complete consider moving on to 3LFT or possibly 4MFT if at a cafe or somewhere quiet.
*Note: When the thought of a particular 5HFT task makes me cringe and I don’t think I can do a good job of it, I move on to the next task immediately. It would be a fool’s errand to try and force it. Instead, I choose the next highest priority item that I DO feel like working on.
Pro Tip: Go easy on yourself
A prime example of this is to notice if and when you are slipping from High Focus Time (5HFT) into Medium Focus Time (4MFT), or even to Low Focus Time (3LFT).
In fact, several times while writing this blog post I stopped in the middle because I realized I was losing focus.
In the past, I used to get really angry and disappointed in myself. But now, thanks to my personal daily affirmations, I smile and move on to another task, or take a break altogether. I can’t even begin to tell you how beneficial this has been to my productivity, sanity, and overall happiness.
Remember that it’s not just you. Everyone experiences these fluctuations in mood and productivity. In fact, according to Pauline Kehm the brain can only stay focused for 90 minutes at a time. I learned that during her fantastic mind mapping class. More on Mind Mapping in a future post though.
Have I tickled your curiosity?
Do you want to create your own time classification system? Here are some questions to get you started:
- When are you most productive?
- Where are you most productive?
- How long can you stay focused on 1 task before getting distracted?
- What tasks can you get done during NET Time (No Extra Time)?
- Define your most productive time, medium productive time, and low productive time.
- Create a list of common tasks that would be best suited for each of those time slots. Think about your physical location/environment too.
Final words of wisdom
No system is perfect. I don’t always stick to the schedule, and you know what?
The point is to become more aware of your own habits and stop dilly dallying. Put another way: get more done, in less time, with less effort. Go with the flow of your own body and mind. Don’t swim upstream.
In other words…
“be like the tuna, not the salmon”
Thanks Jerry Seinfeld!
P.S. In the meantime, please enjoy a
Free 1-Page Cheat Sheet of All 5 Time Contexts