Pixelated Purpose

I started a new stress and time management initiative called “Pixelated Purpose” about 4 weeks ago.

Every 30 minute slot of time is a “pixel” and I colour each pixel based on what I’ve been doing or plan to do in that time:

  • Blue is structured work.
  • Yellow is unstructured downtime e.g. mealtimes or watching TV.
  • Red is structured downtime e.g. a specific hobby like gaming.
  • Purple is people time e.g. time spent with Caroline, my family or friends or even work colleagues in a more social setting.
  • Grey is sleep.
  • Orange is unfocused or otherwise stressful time (unfocused bitty tasks, unanticipated interruptions) or time lost through conditions like headaches.
  • Green is time spent on important life tasks e.g. accounting, washing up or ironing.

I switch between tasks from one pixel to the next but I aim to stay focused on one activity for an entire pixel. I don’t punish myself or shade pixels differently if I fail to stay focused for the entire time as long as I make good progress on something. However, I will change the description to match what I ended up doing.

I started pixelating purpose because lack of progress on longer term goals has really started to stress me out and I couldn’t easily work out where all my work time was going day-to-day.

Using RescueTime – an automated system to track and report on activities on the computer – wasn’t proving insightful enough. For instance, it can tell you how long you’ve spent on Skype or using e-mail, but it can’t tell you why you were doing that e.g. what tasks you were trying to accomplish at the time.

Beyond understanding where time was going, I was also concerned that I was putting off big tasks until I found a large enough window of time to deal with them in one hit. Such a window would rarely occur and when it did, I would often lose chunks of the time through interruptions or task switching. End result: the task still wasn’t finished and I’d have to try find another window of opportunity to tackle it.

Committing to 30 minutes of focus felt like a way forward, along the lines of the 15 minute slots that “Get Things Done” techniques suggest. The basic structure of a pixel is:

  • Up to 5 minutes context switching.
  • 20+ minutes highly focused work.
  • A few minutes to stretch your legs or get a drink as a reward for a job well done.

I was initially concerned that this structure wouldn’t be productive but:

  • Context switching generally takes less than 5 minutes.
  • The more you practice this technique, the more you accustom yourself to leaving tasks in a state that allows faster context switches upon return.
  • It’s surprising how much you can achieve in a focused 20+ minute slot.
  • Often once you’re in the zone, you can push on through adjacent pixels with clear focus and complete large tasks with minimal context switching.
  • Feeling confident that you can make progress on any task – large or small – in a free 30 minute slot between meetings provides a great sense of empowerment to get things done.

The times when you burn pixels in spur of the moment conversations or a highly distracted state of mind come into sharp focus once you’ve been operating this scheme for a while.

I track pixels 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. That’s 48 pixels per day, 336 pixels per week and 17,472 pixels a year. I track them in Google Calendar. I take a snapshot of the calendar at the end of each week as a permanent record.

Almost 4 weeks of pixelated purpose.

Almost 4 weeks of pixelated purpose.

Tracking pixels 24×7 brings the added benefit of showing where my personal time goes. I’m conscious of the amount of sleep I get, how much quality time I spend with Caroline, how much time I spend Gaming and how much time I burn just browsing forums or surfing the web. It helps me remain conscious of how I’m spending the precious minutes god gave me to live on this planet and thus achieve some balance between
commitments.

Pixel is a geeky name for the time slots but I’ve yet to think of something better and I’m not trying to market the idea so, for now, Pixel it is! 🙂

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