HDE Advent Calendar Day 7: Hacking my Schedule

Hello, I'm David, I work as a Software Engineer at HDE.
I struggle a lot to manage my time, in this blog post I share what I learned about myself and time management. What I mention here might not work for you, but I hope this post inspires you to hack your schedule/habits.

From 2014 until early 2016 I took a lot of wrong choices when it came to  managing my spare time. By  incorrectly managing my time, I put my health in risk and became less productive at work, and ultimately felt less happy in general.

Saying "Yes" to Too many people

It was 2014, I had a bunch of free time, things were getting exciting at work, and I got caught up in some open source projects, open source contributions led to people knocking on my door asking me for help, I said "yes", hackathon on the weekend ?  "count me in!!",  an extra job on the weekend?: "why not"

Two years down the road, I was exhausted, I burnt out, not only I felt I was really inefficient in all tasks I was trying to accomplish, but I felt no fun in carrying them out either.

In Tech many of us take pride on Open Source contributions, we also take pride in playing with technologies on our free time. I think that's ok, because we feel excited when a new "toy" is out. Nonetheless this has to be taken with care, burning out is a real disease in our industry.

Lessons learnt:

Learning to say "No" is a steep learning curve. If something is easy to code in 2-3 hours, it will take 4-6 hours. And even if the code is perfect, beats the baseline and sometimes wins the "game", the background reading, paper writing, editing, formatting is going to take 36-48 hours.

I realized the best way for me to be productive is: Take some time off, have some hobbies, do some exercise, have some time to be lazy,  and allocate some time for hacking and learning.


Assuming you know your goals, it boils down to a schedule, right?

Building your Schedule with Legos

End of year resolutions, we have all been there:

- "Oh this is the year, I will finally join a gym, healthy life here I go!",
- "Starting January 1st I'm going to quit X"

If you are like me then those are very likely false promises to yourself, unless you fit them in your calendar none of them will really happen.


Going back to my story, I wanted to re-organise my time in a better manner.
I tried a few things here and there, I soon realized that after knowing what I wanted to do,  the problem was making and maintaining a schedule. 


I grabbed google calendar multiple times, and created many different calendars, I could easily deviate from them.  My schedules were unrealistic, and most importantly I did not make them fun.

Making a schedule became a hard task, much later I came across some people using legos to organise their time. For some reason there is something to "touching" your schedule. It makes it less abstract, you can stack it, classify them by colour,  I can't explain it, it sounds silly but I invite you to give it a try.

Let me explain:




Those lego blocks are your week:
- Every segment is a day
- Every lego unit is an hour
- Everyday is made of 24 lego units (6 x 4).

The first segment is Monday, second is Tuesday..etc.


Sleeping time

First of all you really want to sleep a reasonable amount of time, let's say 8 hours.

Let's take 8 units (hours) a day  from our week.


(these are lego block representation of your sleeping time) 


this leaves your week looking like: 


(your weekly time after subtracting sleeping time)


Working time

Let's assume you work 8 hours a day from Monday to Friday, then that time would look like:


(these are lego block representation of your working time)  


Then your week might look like:


(your weekly time after subtracting working time)


Eating time

Let's say you use one more hour to eat during your working week



This leaves your week looking like:



If you keep adding:

- 4 weekly hours of exercise
- ~5/4 hours in transportation your remaining time might look like:




These are roughly ~59 hours a week you are left with (after getting good sleep and exercise).


Here are some relevant questions:
- How are you allocating those units?
- Are you aware that you might be taking 12 of those blocks into a single activity?
- Is checking facebook taking 8 of those valuable blocks?


How about allocating 4 units for the language you have always wanted to learn, the books you have always wanted to read, or the blog posts you have always wanted to write.

How about ensuring you give at least 10 units to your Family/Partner.

Sticking to my plans

As for the beginning of this year I finally managed to stick to my exercise schedule, far from perfect but I managed to stick to it most of the time.


Here is what helped me sticking to my schedule:


Specifying my goals: Knowing what I want to do, not keeping it vague or foggy. Instead of "Doing exercise", I would rephrase my goal as: "Running 3 times a week, for 20 mins". Now It is much easier to know when I fail to meet my goal. 


My schedule is not a prison: Let's not tyrannize myself, I had to learn to negotiate with myself.

- Reasonably what is the best day I could possibly have? how would it look like?
- How is the ratio of responsibility to reward?. For example: 1 hour learning 6 hours playing?

Let me give you an example: doing [Activity A -> Activity B -> Playing] sounds wrong for me. I already know that  doing [1 hour of Activity A -> 15 mins playing -> Activity B] sounds better.

 Don't be so harsh on yourself, did you only stick with 10% accuracy to your schedule? that's great, now aim at 11%.


Particularly for running

It is early in the morning, the day is cold, my quilts are warm, the alarm is ringing, I want to stay in bed. what I found effective for me is: 

- Thinking about the positive effects: "If I run I will be healthier, I can more things, etc.."
- Even more powerful, thinking about the negative effects: "Diabetes is awaiting for me if I postpone this run", this seriously puts me off bed in no time.



After a few months my schedule took some inertia, if I don't go running my body will ask for it. At evenings taking my japanese grammar book feels like a natural thing to do after dinner.

It is not easy but it is worth experimenting on how to make the most of our time in doing what really matters.


So I hope by the beginning of 2018 you  will consider hacking some of your habits :), there is a lot of literature about it, I went through some of it and what I wrote here is what worked for me.


Happy Holidays!