Three Tools for Balancing Work, Life, and Side Projects

If you’re like me, you can get easily excited by new and novel projects. It can feel like there’s so much to do, and if you only had a few more hours a day you can fit a new project into it. If your day job is also full of projects you have to take on, then that’s just more head space that will get filled. On one hand, having so much to do can feel great, it means you have tons of ideas and energy, but on the other hand you risk a major trade off: you are at risk of burnout, a sensation of being overwhelmed and unable to prioritize properly, neglecting other important aspects of life such as loved ones, your health, and your sleep, and finally spreading yourself too thin can lead to mediocre performance on all tasks.

These are all problems that people with busy work lives, or side-project-a-holics like myself will encounter. There are no one sized fit all solutions, but I will be covering a few techniques that can be used to help you manage your time and projects better.

Tool #1: Cutting the Nonessential

In his book, Essentialism, Greg McKeown argues that it is not what you say yes to that matters, but what you say no too that can make the biggest difference of all in work and life. The ability to say no and cutting out nonessential tasks and projects clears up your calendar, and head space to fit more room and energy towards things that matter.

Essentialism is all about your goals and priorities. If a project seems fun, like say starting a movie review podcast, but you’re working over forty hours a week on other projects that you have to do for work, and you have a relationship you want to maintain, then starting that podcast might not be the best option.

Tool #2: Prioritizing & Scheduling

Ranking and scheduling ahead of time is another great way to work on that project balance. On your list of projects, especially ones you can eliminate, rank them on their importance. How you weight that importance is up to you. Next setting premeditated time aside ahead of time for only the tasks associated with it a la time blocking will allow you to “bucket” up those tasks to dedicated hours. Time blocking is a powerful tool, especially for busy people with many projects to focus on.

Tool #3: Offloading

Some projects might be accomplished through offloading tasks to others, especially remedial tasks. Perhaps you can afford to have somebody come by and clean your place while you’re at work, sign up for grocery services like InstaCart or Blue Apron. For side projects hiring small freelancers will take the load off the most stressful parts of the project. As fun as it is to be the creator, it is just as important to know when to step back and become a manager.

Conclusion

There is no one size fit all solution to project management, however there are proven techniques when it comes to knowing what to do and what to cut (or hand off). Using tools like knowing when to say no, time and task management, and task delegation will help you manage yourself better and free up that head space to work on what matters.

What techniques do you use to manage your projects and your time?

The Attention Ecosystem

Inside your phone is a lies an garden of apps, an ecosystem curated to you by you, but an ecosystem that has one singular source of nourishment: you. Your time, your engagement, your information are all valuable resources for each and every one of those apps, without you they wouldn’t exist.

Like the sun shining down and providing the energy needed to sustain life on Earth, your face is a beacon of light and primary energy source for each of these apps. However, unlike the sun, your time with them is limited and can mostly be used on a one by one basis, and sometimes neglected all together when you’re spending time away from the screen. In short, unlike the sun, you are a scarce resource, and whenever an ecosystem can only survive on a singular scarce resource competition is inevitable.

Through competition these apps are forced to evolve and develop new tactics to hold your attention as long as possible. Each and every single one of them must adapt or perish, creating an arms race. Maybe the app begins filling your phone with notifications to remind you of a new status update, or by consolidating all your communications to one messenger, or create reward systems via refreshing the page to show you new things that you’re guaranteed to like. Like biology each one has developed a means to survive in a an every growing ecosystem.

Think of the apps on your phone, which ones take most of your time? Are they necessary? And if so are they needed to the extent of which you use them? Do you enjoy using the ones that aren’t necessary? How often do you use them? Apps are like food, you can eat whatever you want but it’s great to keep your diet well balanced.

Think of your phone as a garden and you are the gardener, you have complete control over what you plant in it and what you decide to eat. It is your job to maintain a healthy information diet, and I don’t doubt that you do, however at times it can be easy to over indulge in less healthy meals. They taste good, that’s fine, but like sweets if you consume too much you might be happy in the moment, but not in the long run. So maintain your garden and your meals to support a more balance diet. Perhaps you set up apps like BlockSite or Cold Turkey to prevent yourself from accidentally indulging during pre-determined hours, or maybe you only access one service through the web browser only instead of providing a space in your garden for it to grow. Maybe you see your indulgence might be getting out of hand and it’s time for a fast or diet plan.

Your phone is a wonderful ecosystem of amazing apps developed by brilliant people to give you the experience you want. However, like all ecosystems competition is inevitable, especially when given a singular scarce resource like your own attention. Be the gardener of your own ecosystem, but beware that if you don’t attempt to take control of it, your garden will become overrun and taking you with it.

We only have so much time in the day, make sure you’re the one deciding how you want to spend it.

This essay was inspired by CGP Grey’s video essay “Thinking About Attention”, Hello Internet Episode 108 “Project Cyclops.” If you are interested in ways to tend to your garden in a healthy manner, or are worried you’re over indulging on certain apps, I highly recommend you check out Time Well Spent. Time Well Spent is an ongoing project to promote human centered design and make your phone work for you in a symbiotic relationship, instead of competing for you.


Day 17

Word Count: 629

Cost per Post: $9.17

Meal Prepping: Saving Time in Bulk

I’ve written about the importance of weekly planning and why time tracking is important, now I want to write about something that combines the philosophy of those two: meal prepping. Meal prepping sits at the cross section of planning and time saving, the entire philosophy behind the action of meal prepping is that you plan out your meals for the upcoming week, and instead of cooking them individually each day, you cook it all at once, add it into some handy Tupperware containers then refrigerate and reheat when ready to eat.

As you can save by buying in bulk, you save time by cooking in bulk. No longer is it needed to cook every night after a long day of work, or give into the temptation of fast food when you’re too exhausted to cook a meal on the grill. All it takes is an hour or two in the kitchen every Sunday and you’re set until the upcoming weekend.

A common practice of meal prepping is to cook in bulk and eat the same meal over and over again throughout the week. This saves you in time (less clean up between meals) and money (you buy in bulk instead of five different sets of ingredients). If eating the same thing over and over again doesn’t appeal to you, it is possible to prepare each meal individually, at the cost of a more expensive bill and more time in the kitchen, but at the very least you will have your meals done and ready to do by the time you’re ready to eat.

If you’re interested in meal prepping I highly recommend you checking out the subreddit /r/MealPrepSunday. Meal Prep Sunday is a community of people who love the practice of meal prepping and is full of terrific recipes, and tips.

So if the idea of cooking in bulk to save time during the work week, or save you money form giving into fast food temptations, I highly cannot recommend meal prepping enough.


Day 16

Word Count: 333

Cost per Post: $9.74

There Are No Solutions, Only Tools

If you’re a productivity junkie like myself it’s easy to get overwhelmed in the world of tips, tricks, and hacks to make it easier to get things done. From Tim Ferris to books from small time bloggers, each telling you that if you were to do this one simple thing your life would get so much better and you can reach your goals better.

The next thing you know your morning routine consists of reading for ten minutes before leaving bed, a three mile run, a twenty minute meditation, a five minute ice shower, three minutes of gratitude journaling, cooking your own meal, and then leaving for work. Every day at work you use five planners with different methods to keep your day and notes organize, you take long lunch breaks to exercise again, and only eat keto. At night before bed you meditate again, journal about your favorite parts of the day, fill in spreadsheets about your daily performance. By the time you realize it it’s midnight and you have to be up at 5am to begin your day again. Living a life with taking the advice from every productivity guru out there is overwhelming and unsustainable.

Now what I am not saying is that you should just abandon everything, or that all productivity gurus are wrong. What I’m saying is that you shouldn’t let these tips and tricks cloud your judgement and take away your time. You only have so many hours in the day, you should use them the best way you can. I once spiralled down into a hole of productivity systems that ate too much into my mornings and evenings that everything felt more like a chore that I had to get off my checklist, or else! The example above is pretty damn close to what I went through, until one day it hit me. I was doing this all wrong. These habits and routines weren’t the solutions to my problems, they were only tools to be used as a means to solve my problems and attain my goals. So I went back to the drawing board and reflected on what I wanted.

The mindset of there are no solutions, only tools freed up so much mental space. Things were now in my control. Sure I still experiment around with different task manager and habits, but I don’t incorporate them in my life full time unless it helps me fulfill a goal. After all, there are no solutions, only tools.


Day 12

Word Count: 415

Cost per Post: $12.99

Progress is Progress

Progress is progress, that’s all what matters. Incremental or substantial, up or down then back up again, it doesn’t matter how much progress you make as long as you keep on pushing forwards. Every day we all try to make our situations a little better, but we can’t win every day.

Sometimes you just have days that push back on you so hard that it is impossible to fight back. Maybe it’s a big bill you have to pay, maybe it’s a heartbreaking end of a long term relationship, we each have our own hurdles in life. But it’s not that setbacks that matter, it’s how you deal with them and how you work yourself out of the hole you’re in. You have to make progress, because in the end progress is the only thing that matters.

Progress is progress doesn’t just apply to loses, it applies to victories as well. If you’re life is going well don’t settle for stagnation, find ways to grow yourself and goals to aspire towards. Read every morning, hit the gym during your lunch breaks, write every day for a month. Sometimes you’ll have days with small wins, others with substantial and sometimes life changing wins.

Progress is progress, that is all that matters. If you’re feeling defeated or stagnant you can always grow from there. Keep yourself growing every day. Make every day a building block to a better future and more fulfilling life, and build yourself into the human you can become. Progress is progress.


Day 11

Word Count: 253

Cost per Post: $14.17

All the Time Tracking in the World

“Time is a valuable thing
Watch it fly by as the pendulum swings
Watch it count down to the end of the day
The clock ticks life away”

— “In The End” Linkin Park

Time, we all have it but sometimes it feels like we never have enough. Sometimes time just flies by, and other times it feels as if it dilates turning seconds into minutes and minutes into hours. With our brain’s fluctuating perception of time it is impossible to really tell how much we spend it on different tasks or activities, and how much we really have. Enter time tracking.

Time tracking is exactly what it says it is, it’s a means to track your time and how you spend it. It sounds tedious, but in reality it’s a very passive way measure your life. With accurate data you can figure out exactly how you want to spend your time and what really eats up your daily life.

I’ve been an advocate for time tracking since I gave it a hardcore whirle roughly a year ago using the app Toggl. Toggl is made for freelance workers out there who charge by the hour to their clients, but can be easily altered to measure your day to day life. Originally I began using Toggl as a means to build my “score” at the end of the day, the score being how much time I put towards creative or productive tasks. I realized with the data that if I want to feel satisfied with my day at the very least I should put forth a minimum of four hours of productive or creative time.

Now as time as gone on I’ve decided to add more to my time tracking. Now I not only track productive time, but also break time. It occurred to me a few months ago that my breaks might be longer than I thought, so I gave it a week of time tracking and oh man were they worse than I thought. Sure I still had productive days, but with half hour long Twitch breaks.

Time tracking is like looking into a temporal mirror. It forces us to look at how we spend our time, sometimes the results aren’t pretty. But without a mirror we will never know exactly what we look like. Time is a valuable thing, and time tracking is a great way to see it.


Day 10

Word Count: 367

Cost per Post: $15.59

Weekly Planning Tools

Weekly planning is a past-time for me. I love sitting down at the beginning of my week and just evaluating what my future entails and how I can make the week fulfill my goals the best ways possible. My usual routine involves looking at three necessary apps: Google Calendar for specific time and dates, Notion for general task and goal planning, and Todoist for specific tasks and subtasks.

Google Calendar is the greatest free webapp every invented next to gmail. Google Calendar is terrific at scheduling and displaying events, along with their locations and people you’ve personally invited. I personally break my calendar down into four main sub calendars:

  • “Events” for things like concerts or birthday parties.

  • “Meetings” for personal meetings that fulfill my goals in some way or another, like a podcasters meetup or an interview for a project.

  • “Appointments” for things that I have to do but are more routine or maintenance like car repairs or the dentist.

  • “Flights & Travel” for everything regarding trip plans

I also have a few small calendars for bill due dates, and miscellaneous reoccurring events like my weekly goal of only listening to new bands I’ve never heard of every Friday, dubbed “New Music Friday 🎧.”

Next up we have Notion, Notion is my new favorite note taking app since Evernote. Notion is by far the most flexible note taking platform I’ve ever used. I plan on writing a full post in the future on its many benefits compared to other note apps like OneNote, Google Keep, and Evernote. As for today, I’ll stick with how I use it in my weekly planning. Notion is used for listing out all the goals and tasks I want to complete that week, depending on what’s happening on my Google Calendar determines which of those I choose to work on. I make a short list every Sunday of everything I want to see done, from financial planning to more aspirational goals like writing every day. I check in on my goal list every morning and see if I can fit any of them within my day, and check off completed ones.

Finally there’s Todoist. Oh Todoist, do I love you. Todoist is the most effective task manager I have gotten my hands on. It natural language input system, and Google Calendar integration makes it a very flexible and human centric task manger. In my weekly planning routine Todoist is used to layout all the specific parts of my week, from iterative tasks I need to do to tasks and subtasks within projects at home and work. Todoist has been amazing at keeping my life organized. I love the app so much I even wrote an entire blog post on it here, check it out if you want to learn more about its functionality.

Without these three tools it would be impossible to fulfill all the tasks I need to do in the week, and complete my goals. Between Google Calendar, Notion, and Todoist my life is so much easier to manage. What apps or methods do you use to plan out your week?


Day 9

Word Count: 518

Cost per Post: $17.32

Todoist: A Task Manager for Those Who Have to Get to Zero

I love checklists, there’s something so rewarding about marking things off and seeing the number of tasks go down to zero. This love of checklists stemmed out of my discovery of the bullet journal method when I was on a quest to organize my life back in 2014. Bullet journalling was a lifesaver, and I used it for over three years straight. However it wasn’t without its faults: the notebooks I used were small but still bulky, organization could be tricky, and I had a really bad habit of never looking at the previous week’s pages which caused me to miss overdue tasks. But that all changed when I discovered Todoist.

Todoist is a task manager for people who love getting to inbox zero. There is nothing more rewarding than seeing ten tasks to do in the morning, and by the end of the day having that number brought down to zero.

 I love seeing this... I love seeing this…  ... being brought to this. … being brought to this.

On top of its inbox zero way of task management, todoist has a terrific natural language system that allows you to write down tasks like you would in your daily planners. Unlike other apps where you usually have to fill in multiple boxes for task title, task category, and due dates, Todoist lets you write it all out in plain old English, with using hashes to quickly assign a task to a project. It’s literally as simple as sending a Tweet.

 Adding a task is as simple as sending a tweet. Adding a task is as simple as sending a tweet.

Todoist does lack in having a proper calendar tool, and they are aware of this. Instead the team at Todoist opted in for a clever way to integrate Google Calendar. By allowing Todoist permission to use your Google Calendar you can set tasks way in advanced and review them at will just be selecting the Todoist calendar. Even better this calendar has two-way integration, which means if you make a change to a task in Todoist the calendar will update, and if you change the due date for a task in Google Calendar Todoist will catch that and change it accordingly.

 The back and forth communication between Google Calendar and Todoist might be the most clever use of Google Calendar I have seen. The back and forth communication between Google Calendar and Todoist might be the most clever use of Google Calendar I have seen.

Finally my favorite feature – that I am ashamed to admit I just recently discovered after months of use – is the filtering system. Todoist’s default view displays all your tasks for the day, which can be overwhelming, especially when it’s a mix of work, side projects, and personal tasks. But the filtering system changes everything! Todoist allows you to set custom filters, that will only display the tasks you want to see at the moment. With really simple setup and a quick tap of a button you can easily swap between what tasks you do and don’t want to see.

 Todoist filters

Todoist a wonderfully intuitive and smooth task manager that simplifies and streamlines a lot of issues found I have faced with other apps. As much as I loved my bullet journal, Todoist has become my primary app for getting things over the past few months. If you are the kind of person who has to bring your inbox down to zero, Todoist the right app for you.

What’s your favorite task manager and what do you love about it?


Day 4

Word Count: 541

Cost per Post: $38.97

Five Useful Subreddits for Productivity

Reddit is a wonderful place,  a place where anybody can build a community around whatever topic they’re interested in. From Star Wars, to women’s issues, to even Tim & Eric like content and funny short videos, reddit is a wonderful resource for finding people with similar interest of yours and building a community around it.

Reddit can be a powerful tool, sometimes too powerful for its own good and can easily become a time sink of distractions and procrastination. However its unique community building also allows communities of productivity junkies like myself to contribute and take tips from. Below is a list of my favorite self improvement and productivity based subreddits and what they focus on.

/r/Productivity – Exactly what it says on the tin. This subreddit is great for reading up on useful tips of keeping tasks in order and getting things done, along with asking the community for advice about troubles you’re facing in your systems.

/r/GetDisciplined – Get Disciplined is all about how you can build healthy and strong habits to live the life you want to live. It is the sister subreddit to /r/GetMotivated, where Get Motivated focuses on inspiration and igniting the spark of action, Get Disciplined focuses on the habits required to sustain that motivation and turning it into habits you don’t need to think twice about.

/r/Entrepreneur – You don’t have to be building a business to browse here. Entrepreneurship requires so many things to launch a project, from self discipline to personal and team management, finances and more. The entrepreneur subreddit is a perfect place to learn from those bringing their projects to life and to learn from their lessons and experiences in getting things done.

/r/GiveMe40Days – A bulletin board for you to post your next big goal. Give me 40 days is a great subreddit for making your goals public and holding yourself accountable.

/r/PersonalFinance – Although not a productivity subreddit perse, knowing how to manage and grow your money can make or break how you spend your time. Having a strong focus on money management is key to keeping your life in order, and knowing how to focus your time. A strong knowledge of your expenses relieve stress, allowing your mind to focus on things that matter to you.

I have a long list of subreddits I find useful for learning new ways to improve myself, those are just a few that I think can help anyone looking to improve their life and get things done.

What are your favorite subreddits for fulling your goals?


Day 3

Word Count: 427

Cost per Post: $51.96

Moring Muses

There’s something ethereal and serene about the silence of mornings. If you wake up early enough in the morning you see a world different than the one during the day. The silence and darkness feels as if the world is still asleep, and you are the only one awake with the exception of a few cars passing in the distance. A few months ago I made a significant change to my daily routine, instead of waking up with everybody else I decided to wake up before everybody else, and since then I have made a few observations about not only me, but the world around me. I would like to share some of those with you today.

One: Time

My morning routine usually consist of: showering, meditating for 10 minutes, gratitude journaling, cooking a small breakfast, then writing/ editing/ or learning something new. It’s very time consuming.

I used to wake up around 6am to 7am every day, and with work starting between 8 or 8:30 a full routine like one would be impossible. Once I began waking up at 5am I suddenly found myself with plenty of time to do what I wanted to do in the mornings, I was now working on my time, not my employer’s time. Another advantage of having more time is that I am able to get some chores out of the way, like laundry or dishes, which are way more easier to muster up the willpower to do when you are freshly awake than after returning home from work.

Two: Work

For many people work is the first thing you do after you give yourself time to wake up. Your sleep schedule is built around your work hours, your alarm goes off just in time to get you to work without being late. At least that’s how my life used to be, yet with waking up early I’ve noticed a huge perspective shift about work: rising early makes work a part of my day, not the day itself.

Before I even set off to work I have already been awake for three hours. Three hours of my own time that I can do whatever I want during them. When I get to work I’m already fully awake and alert that I hardly feel any mental resistance, and since I like to work on my own side projects in the morning I’m already feeling pretty accomplished before I sit down at my desk. Making work a part of my day, and no longer having my sleep schedule built around my hours has been the most liberating choice to my daily routine.

Three: Silence

Living with roommates can be tough in the morning, especially when all three of you are trying to get out of the door as quickly as possible. If you’re not first into the shower then you can find yourself without any hot water. Not to mention there’s plenty of dancing around each other in the kitchen between coffee machine, stove and pantry. The world outside of the apartment isn’t much different either: motorist are rushing down the highway, lines are filling up at Starbucks, and parking lots are filling up. The silence of the morning, even if you just wake up an hour before the rush, is like a small haven of peace before the world begins moving.

Within the silence the world feels empty, and at rest. Outside my window the only audible noises I can hear are the light chirping of the birds, and the occasional hum of a car traveling down the freeway. The sensation of silence in a busy city feels like you’re awoken in a different, more peaceful, world.

***

Mornings are precious. The time they give you to allow you to awake and get things out of the way is worth it on its own, you can use this time to get personal or professional work out of the way as well. But the real perk of rising early to being able to see a silent world. If you have roommates or a family those extra hours of silence is nothing but cathartic, and the sleeping world outside is just quiet enough for you to appreciate the city or town in which you live.

Of course there are dozens of different ways mornings are great, many of which I didn’t cover like cooler air for running or biking, and breakfast food, but to me these three reasons are why mornings work so well with me. What do you like about mornings? Please feel free to share your thoughts in the comments!