Day 8 of the 40-Day Challenge

In the name of Allah, most gracious and most merciful,

Thanks to Allah I have managed to succeed on the eighth day of the 40-day challenge. Although I faced a big problem with my time management, I tried to develop a better system to better use my time. In this post, I will share the challenge I faced, the proposed solution, the key takeaways from these things, and some useful information that I learned.

Today I was also in an online training session like yesterday. Definitely, I was still mostly disengaged because of the problem I mentioned in yesterday’s post. However, we did many labs today which was useful. Although I didn’t understand everything, I started to be more comfortable with using the technology.

1. The Challenge

I will talk about a different kind of challenge that has really kicked me off today especially when I realized how much preparation I should do for the exam. It is time management. Although I know many tips, and tricks in time management but my problem was really strange to me. I always wondered how could I find time to do all these things that I am currently involved in.

Let me be clearer with you. I work as a Natural Language Processing Engineer so my work involves heavy text preprocessing, and software engineering. Also, I am in attending a training which is preparing me for a great certificate in data science, and big data. In addition to this, I am learning with myself machine learning, and natural language processing (NLP). So here am I involved in three related but somehow different things that are very important to my career. Each of them, especially my work, needs a non-trivial amount of time to do and to learn them well. After taking the virtual training, and knowing that I should pay more attention to preparing for the exam things became worse. How will I do all this?

I know that in last week’s first post, I wrote about a system that I will follow in the next week which has ended yesterday. Today I was trying to come up with a better system to start implementing from tomorrow. I hope that this new system will help me to better manage my time.

2. The Proposed Solution (The New System)

2.1 Time Blocking and Operating Modes

Split my day into three big chunks or time blocks, and for each time block, I will be in a certain mode. The biggest time block is for work, another one for data science and big data, and the third one is for Machine Learning, and Natural Language Processing. It is like switching your mobile to night mode at night. Since each of these things although close to each other but are somehow different, I want to put my brain in different modes to be able to be highly effective and efficient while doing any of these things. I want to avoid context switching, and scattering my attention span on too many things in the same time span or time block.

2.2 Working and Learning Time

I will not set any restrictions on minimum working time like I did last week, because I think I could do better than that. I will just try to work in the allocated time block on the relevant tasks without putting restrictions on my mind that I should take a break after 25 minutes, or after one or two hours. I will just try to remove any distractions, focus, and do the work while trying to be as engaged as possible. If I found that my mind started to wander, and many things are coming into my head that may be a sign that I want to take a break, so I will take a break. It is that simple.

2.3 Break Time

I will try to have two kinds of breaks. Mini-breaks which are breaks within the same time block, and jumbo or big breaks which are between the time blocks after which I will shift to another new kind of tasks to do. I will try to set the mini-break limit to about 15 to 20 minutes, and the jumbo break may be in the range of 40 minutes to one hour. I won’t necessarily have breaks exactly in these time ranges so sometimes I may take a 5-minute break, other times I may take 30 minutes mini-break. So it depends. I don’t want my mind to keep thinking about how much time is left of the break. I think this will make my mind under constant pressure throughout the day during work, and during breaks which may not be the best thing. These are just guidelines I have in my brain for the sake of virtual organization, and not for the sake of strict restrictions because at the end of the day I want my mind to enjoy the break to come back to work energized, and refreshed.

Moreover, I intend to do certain useful enjoyable things in my breaks, but I won’t necessarily force my mind to do things according to priority as I did in the last week. I will try to enjoy myself in the break to recharge, and come with a fresher mind.

2.4 Eating Rules

I will specify my eating times of meals. Because I usually experience a drop in my energy level (crash) after eating any big meal so I will try to have my eating time around a certain time in the day where I already usually experience a low energy level in that time. So it is a win-win situation, eat and anyway I know that my energy level will be low at that time. It could be a big break time by the way to avoid working when my energy is low, or I could take a nap just after the meal. I don’t know if that will be healthy or not, but I could give it a try.

Someone might say. Man come one, why all this? Eat whenever you feel hungry and enjoy life. I could answer him that when we are hungry we aren’t necessarily truly hungry. From what I know, is that we become hungry at the times when we are used to eating. It is a habit to eat at that time. Didn’t you ever try to skip a meal, and a little bit after feeling hungry you feel that your hunger has gone away? So that’s it. If eating will make my energy crash, and if I don’t need to eat that much to be in a good health so why not only eat big meals when you truly need them so you benefit your body, and enjoy high energy levels throughout the day without unnecessary energy crashes especially from sugary, and sweet snacks?

In addition to this, I will decrease the number of unimportant decisions so my decision quota for the day will be consumed in good, and important decisions rather than trivial unimportant ones. Imagine that you will eat every time you enter the kitchen. What I will eat? Which plate I will choose? Bread or Rice? What toppings? and so on? Many unnecessary decisions. In addition to this, your body may not need to eat at all at that time. So what a waste of energy levels, and waste of decision quota you are doing in your life? And how much time, energy, and money you will save if you thought more critically about the most important decisions instead?

2.5 Emails and Social Media

I will try to only check my social media, and emails twice a day instead of three times away. I will try to put my phone away from me to even avoid the urge to check it. This will make me more concentrated on the task at hand, and even if I got bored I could do anything except for checking social media. Doing this will increase my ability to focus, and will make me less addicted to small dopamine hits that come from checking social media and thus will leave more space to my mind to be creative, and do other more useful and meaningful things.

I think if anyone wants an urgent thing from me, then he should call me on my phone instead if it is truly urgent. Otherwise, I think there is no problem if I replied to anyone 12 hours later. As long as I am within the 24-hour window response time to emails, and social media messages I think it will be okay, and acceptable. Even if some people will see this as rude, or non-caring, they will soon understand my way of dealing with social media, and with them. I think in the future they will respect my way of dealing with them, and they know that if something is urgent they will call me instead.

2.6 Sleeping Time

I will remove restrictions from my sleeping, and waking-up time. I will just try to wake up early and sleep early but I won’t put rules now because they put me under stress although they are really useful, I don’t think I will be able to abide by them in my current time period in life. I may break them from time to time, but generally, I will try to stick them because I know that they are very useful.

And that’s it. I have benefited from my last week’s system to develop a new more robust system for this week. Let us experiment, and see what will happen. I hope that you found this useful.

3. Key Takeaways

  • Engineer your life by developing systems, monitoring them to take feedback, and use that feedback to build even better systems.
  • When you are hungry that doesn’t mean that your body really wants food.
  • Continually checking social media, and always turning on the notifications is super distractive to your time. It may decrease your ability to focus, and do really great work.
  • Reserve your decisions for the truly important things and don’t consume them in trivial things like what to eat, what to wear, and so on. Didn’t you notice that Steve Jobs “Apple’s CEO”, and Mark Zuckerberg “Facebook’s CEO” usually wear the same cloth? They buy more than one piece of the same cloth to avoid thinking about what they will wear. They want to reserve their decision quotas for the truly important decisions.

4. Useful Pieces of Information

  • Put deadlines to yourself. Remember Parkinson’s Law “work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion”. By setting virtual deadlines to yourselves  you push yourself to think hard, focus, and remove the unnecessary things. Try to put deadlines for yourself earlier than those imposed by your boss, or your lecturer for assignments and projects and so on.
  • Notice what your mind thinking about or wandering about could be very useful to know what distracts you. Write them down in a list, and notice how you could decrease or mitigate those distractions.
  • Preserver your attention span for the truly important things, and don’t overload it. Productivity is not about doing too many things, but it is about doing the right and most important things, and doing them right. It is not about being busy, but it is about doing the small right things with great attention.
  • We need high quality focus for leaning, and retention.

Finally

Thank you. I hope this post has been beneficial to you. I would appreciate any comments if anyone needed more clarifications or if anyone has seen something wrong in what I have written in order to modify it, and I would also appreciate any possible enhancements or suggestions. We are humans, and errors are expected from us, but we could also minimize those errors by learning from our mistakes and by seeking to improve what we do.

Allah bless our master Muhammad and his family.

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