Increase Productivity By Clustering

Have you ever had the sense that your day was just one long, undefined run-on sentence?

This is a common complaint from those who do creative work, because its multi-tasking and iterative nature can make it challenging to look back on a day and see what you’ve really accomplished.

What’s the solution? Try scheduling time for specific types of activities throughout your day. I refer to this in The Accidental Creative as the practice of clustering, and it can be an effective way to ensure that your most important “mind work” isn’t getting squeezed out by urgency.

We say we waste time, but that is impossible. We waste ourselves. – Alice Bloch

Here are a few blocks of time you might want to block off on your calendar:

Groove time. This is your “I’m focused on doing my work, and I’m non-negotiably uninterruptible” time. It takes a bit of time to get deeply into the groove of our work, and if we perpetually allow others to interrupt us – even for a few seconds – we can quickly lose our mojo. Schedule an appointment on your calendar with the name of the project as the title, then dedicate that time to focusing deeply on your work. Turn off potential distractions like your phone or e-mail. Put on headphones. Create a sign that says “Do Not Disturb”. If necessary (and possible), relocate to someplace where you’re less likely to get the “Hey…while I’m here…” drop-in. Get – and stay – in the groove at least one time each day.

Grunt time. Rather than allowing grunt work (invoicing, time tracking, calls, e-mail, etc.) to eat away at your day a few minutes at a time, dedicate blocks of your calendar to managing them. While these activities don’t take a lot of dedicated focus, typically, they do require intentional and consistent effort. Set aside fifteen to thirty minute blocks throughout your day for this kind of grunt work. It will (1) help you feel at ease when you’re doing your most important work, because there’s time set aside for the more urgent matters, (2) provide frequent touch points to help re-prioritize your day, and (3) create a sense of consistency of response with your co-workers and clients.

You have to leave the city of your comfort and go into the wilderness of your intuition. What you’ll discover will be wonderful. What you’ll discover is yourself. – Alan Alda

Dream time. This is typically the first thing to go when things get busy, which means that we’re often not doing the most important work of a creative: thinking deeply. It’s important to have time on our schedule for exploring ideas and thinking big. It’s often in the context of dream time that work becomes re-framed or we start seeing more systemic connections in our world. We may miss these connections if we’re not being purposeful about structuring time to explore them.

Lost time is never found again. – Benjamin Franklin

All of this is about learning to be more effective with how we spend our time rather than obsessing with efficiency. We need to plug the slow leaks and create meaningful moments throughout our day. A tremendous amount of great work can be accomplished in a short period of focused, dedicated time, but we must develop our capacity for it through regular practice. 

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