COVID taught us one important lesson other than the importance of an emergency fund.
It taught us more time may have not been the solution to our problems.
When we get caught up in the daily grind, it’s easy to tell ourselves we don’t have time to do things.
It goes something like this:
“I’ll clean out the garage when I have time, but I’m so busy right now.”
“I’ll start writing my book, or working on my music, or start building that side business… when I have the time.”
“I need to get the house cleaned up, but I just don’t have time right now. If I can ever get some time off, I’ll get started.”
Lies. Calm down. I’m talking to myself here, not you. But I could be talking to you too if you’re guilty of this like I have been before.
We always tell ourselves we need more time, but usually it’s more of a motivation or an action issue than a time issue.
COVID made a lot of us feel like failures, because we had all kinds of time all of a sudden (not all of us, but a lot of us). Many people spent weeks at home. And many of us still spent weeks not doing all the things we needed to do around the house or the projects we wanted to work on.
The first month of quarantine was like that for us. We were home for 45 days and we didn’t do any of the important stuff we needed to get done for the first 30.
It’s ironic, because I had already written about this in my first book. So I had no excuse. I knew time wasn’t the problem and I still felt like a failure after 30 days of not getting much done.
Too Much Time Failed Me
When I first moved to Italy in 2016, I knew I would be busy. As a War Planner at possibly the busiest fighter base in the Air Force, there was no doubt.
My first year in Italy was extremely stressful when it came to work, yet I had so much I wanted to do outside of work. Other than traveling, I wanted to write a lot and work on some side projects (one of which was building this blog).
Then I had the time. Similar to when COVID hit, I had about a month alone, with the freedom to do whatever I wanted — distraction-free! I was looking forward to it. I was planning on making so much progress and using my time wisely.
The time came and went.
By the end of it, I was barely ahead of where I was before the month.
What was that all about? Well, it wasn’t about time. That’s for sure.
I was so busy at work that I thought all I needed was more time.
The month of lacking productivity proved that to be a lie.
I needed to be more disciplined in my daily routine, stop procrastinating, and stop waiting for some special time block to do everything.
I was procrastinating even more knowing that month was coming up… thinking I would “just get everything done then.”
That’s how I discovered The Procrastination Cycle. That’s what I call it, anyway.
The Procrastination Cycle
Our perception and our reality don’t always match.
Often, we would rather wait until we had a huge block of time on the weekend, instead of spending 10 or 20 minutes doing what needs to be done today.
We also tend to think our future self is going to be more motivated than our present self.
That’s usually not true. It’s procrastination.
This is where the cycle starts.
We tell ourselves we are doing great, managing our time and scheduling our week, but we’re really just being unrealistic. Because when the weekend gets here, we don’t really want to do all of those things we “scheduled.”
This kills our progress.
It’s not about time. It’s about discipline. Simple, daily discipline.
Daily Habits vs. Unrealistic Batch Tasking
I’m using my failures as a way for you to learn from my mistakes.
In that first year in Italy, I had a month to get all kinds of work done and I didn’t. fast-forward to 2020, and I did the same thing again through COVID.
A month off work (i.e. a sabbatical) makes sense because you’re getting away and unplugging, but trying to cram work into one month, like I did, doesn’t work for most people. It didn’t work for me.
Take writing for example, most of the famous writers like Stephen King and Jack London have used a daily word-count discipline to write all of their books. Occasionally you’ll hear of writers like Elizabeth Gilbert, who takes long, concentrated periods of time to write her books, and doesn’t generally keep a daily writing habit, but that’s the exception. Most writers use a daily habit to achieve their goals.
If you took an entire month, working 40 hours a week on your side hustle, you still wouldn’t put in as many hours as you can put in working 30 minutes a day for a year.
But that doesn’t mean batch tasking doesn’t work.
Small Batches & Daily Rituals
Batch tasking simply means grouping similar tasks together and using set blocks of time to work on said tasks. It’s a form of what Cal Newport refers to as “deep work.”
It’s a great way to stay focused by single-tasking, as opposed to multitasking, which is technically impossible.1
That’s why spending a solid hour each day (or more if you have it) works wonders to accomplish huge projects. Let’s go back to the writing example. If you want to write a book and you stay focused for an hour a day, most people could write at least 500 good words (most people could write more than 500 words, but 500 good ones). Most books are around 90,000 words. That means you could write a book in six months.
That’s just an example, but it shows how powerful batch tasking and deep work can be in small increments. And that’s just with writing… just one task.
You could incorporate related tasks to truly get the benefits of batch tasking. Things like:
- Bible study
You could even include exercise. This is the concept behind Hal Elrod’s book, The Miracle Morning. And all of this is possible by using just one hour a day. If you don’t have one hour a day, you could start with five or ten minutes a day and try to increase the time until you were spending an hour or more doing a deep-work routine like this.
Knowing we’d be moving soon, I recorded, edited, and scheduled out all of my YouTube videos for the next six months by using one hour each morning for a little over a month… while in the process of getting ready to move across the world.
We usually don’t need an extra week or month to get all this stuff done, we just need a schedule. Devoting too much time to stuff like this will fail you. It’s overwhelming to have a month to work like I had. Or to have many months to work like COVID gave a lot of us.
You Need a Daily Ritual
The word “routine” is boring, so I prefer “ritual.” I know it sounds mystic, but it really just means an intentional time block.
So if you have some free minutes in the morning—even if that means waking up earlier—use those minutes to build a ritual. If you somehow get a free week or month, approach it with caution and don’t try to do too much.
You can do everything you want to do with small, daily habits. These daily habits will compound quickly. This is what Darren Hardy calls “The Compound Effect.” I know I keep referencing books, but I read a lot. It’s only natural! Don’t hate me because I’m a nerd.
You may surprise yourself with what you accomplish after a few months of intentional, daily rituals. You have time in your life to do what you want, but it requires planning and discipline.
When I got to my duty station in Italy and started working crazy hours, I realized I would have to “find” time to do all of the things I wanted to do. I found that time by waking up at 3:00am every morning. I built my entire side income with this strategy, while simultaneously reading 50+ books, exercising daily, finally sticking with a meditation habit, reading my bible, and writing two books.
And that was just in one year!
While I was also working full-time, going to school full-time, parenting five kids, and dating my wife. I’m not saying this to brag. I’m saying I used to fail in almost all of those areas, until I got serious about my daily morning ritual. I’m also not saying a daily ritual is the key to all happiness and success. But it’s a step toward it.
I’m not going to list out my entire morning ritual, but if you’re interesting in my ritual and daily habits as a framework for your own ritual, let me know and I will write about it.
Further Book Reading
- Kubu & Machado. (2017, June 1). The Science is Clear: Why Multitasking Doesn’t Work. Cleveland Clinic.