I ditched productivity hacks and it worked, but I'm still going back. Here's what it taught me about organizing my workweek.
- Anna Codrea-Rado intensely schedules her working week as a freelance
- She experimented by ditching every
productivityhack she typically used to see what would happen.
Some people do things for the 'gram. I do things for the to-do list.
I'll add something I've already done just so that I can immediately tick it off. I used to think this was a harmless quirk, but lately, it's raised an uncomfortable question. Are my
I started this year with a resolution to change my unhealthy relationship with work as a freelance writer. I vowed to try a "do-less year," a commitment to decreasing my work in the hopes of resetting my relationship with productivity.
Before, my typical week involved a morning routine, a lot of calendar blocking, time batching, and Pomodoro Techniques. In the spirit of drastic action, I went cold turkey on all of that. Here's what happened.
Monday started with a headfirst dive into the deep end of anti-productivity. I didn't follow the usual routine of spending the first half of the day planning my week with a detailed to-do list and slotting each of those items into my calendar.
I'd then usually plan the week's meals and get the shopping done. But I figured that a deoptimized week would also apply to the stuff I do outside of work, so I ditched the plan, and I just randomly bought stuff. One point already for this experiment: My grocery bill was lower than usual.
I ended my day checking my emails in bed. I try to keep my phone in another room at night to avoid the temptation to do exactly what I ended up doing here: going back and forth at 10:30 p.m. about booking a call for Friday.
This was when I really leaned into the chaos. I turned off my permanent email auto-responder, which I'd started using after reading about email boundaries. I also kept both my inbox and WhatsApp open in browser tabs while working. I inevitably spent all day texting the group chat about the "vibe shift" article and had to work into the evening to catch up.
The open inbox, while super distracting, did lead to my seeing an email come in from an old colleague with an interesting work lead. I'd usually organize that for a future date, but I took it there and then. Not only did I end up with a good gig, but I also reconnected with an old friend.
I woke up at 7:30 a.m. and didn't know what to do with myself. I'm usually trying to optimize my time so I can make the best use of the first hours of the day. But without a schedule, I was rudderless. So I painted my nails — something I'd never normally do first thing in the morning. It made me realize how little time I make for myself.
By 11 a.m., I still hadn't really started my day, and I felt anxious it was slipping away from me. Wednesdays are my "creative days," when I don't schedule client work. The thought of losing that time was stressful.
I didn't want to hash out a detailed schedule, but I did scribble a skeleton of a plan onto a bit of paper.
It was loose enough to give me a vague sense of direction, and I ended up making good headway with a project I'd been stuck on.
I think this was because I gave myself enough focus by writing down what I wanted to achieve, but I didn't stifle my creativity by being too prescriptive about how to do it.
I went to bed feeling pleased.
I woke up super early. I got through a load of client work, so I decided at the last minute to go to a 9 a.m. yoga class I'd been meaning to try and then work from the library next door.
I almost exclusively work from home, but I thought I should mix that up this week. While I was in the library, I found a copy of my book on the shelf. It was a thrill to see the fruits of my daily grind out in the real world.
I had a late lunch back at home. My partner saw me eating in front of my computer while I was working — multitasking to maximize my efficiency — and asked why, when productivity wasn't my focus for the week.
It was a good reminder of how personal working habits can be – what I find natural, someone else finds to be a lot of effort to go to in the name of efficiency.
My decision to not batch-cook my meals for the week on Monday came back around to bite me. By Friday I just couldn't be bothered to take the extra time to make healthy meal choices — the whole reason I plan them out — so I ate a snack bar for breakfast and microwave waffles for dinner.
Past inefficient Anna did something else that came back to haunt me. After that email back-and-forth on Monday night, I didn't confirm in my usual way by sending a calendar invite and managed to mess up the timings. So I had to start my weekend with a long call at 7 p.m. on a Friday.
I was surprised that, on the whole, my week did work
Despite the calendar flubs, on the whole, I got a lot of stuff done and, more importantly, felt positive about my accomplishments.
Like any self-respecting productivity nerd, I have data.
I track my time so I was able to see that I had clocked more hours than usual. Not only that but, according to my rough calculations, I did 50% less admin and 10% more deep work. I deoptimized my week and ended up spending more time on the important work and less time on the boring stuff.
To state the obvious, this data is unreliable. For one thing, I was consciously making an effort to clock my hours. And the fact that I was going to write about it was a permission slip not to feel guilty about what I wasn't doing.
That doesn't diminish the most important revelation: that I'd trapped myself in a paradox of efficiency. In trying to plan my days to maximize efficiency, I was hamstrung by my own routine. My to-do list was a stick to beat myself with, and planning became exactly the sort of procrastination it was meant to overcome.
That's not to mention that confronting the lengths I usually go to in the name of efficiency was, frankly, embarrassing.
I won't keep working in this way though
It didn't feel sustainable, and it showed me that some of my old habits really do work for me. For instance, anything that involves making decisions in one go (like meal planning) is how I'm able to stick to healthier habits.
Similarly, keeping my calendar up-to-date is my air-traffic-control unit, and without it, things slip through the net and I feel on edge.
But I do want to honor my biggest takeaway: that a truly optimized schedule needs to have enough breathing room for spontaneity, an inherently inefficient but necessary part of meaningful work.
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