Boost your productivity with my TLH system

Image from Carl Heyerdahl via unsplash

Hey Folks,

this time I want to talk about a system that I created to get my work done while being spending a lot of time with my little daughter. I call this system “TLH — think, low priority, high priority” and the basic idea is to split your (work)day into time slots depending on the possible focus in that slot. For me, using this system improved my concentration in focused tasks and lead to a lot of interesting ideas. Therefor I want to share it with you. If this sounds interesting for you, please keep going!

So at first, why did I need such a system. Well, the reason is quite simple: procrastination. Procrastination is the main reason for most of us for not getting things done, and it has two core causes:

  • We’re missing passion about what we’re doing (or at least for the specific task) and that stops us from starting it
  • The task is too big to deal with it, so we’re scared to get started
    As you may see, I’m talking about getting started, not finishing the task.

For me, I get into some kind of flow after a few minutes of working on a particular task (after removing these two causes for procrastination) and things are continuing. But getting started is the most difficult part. There is not one of those two bigger than the other in stopping us from starting and finishing our task, they are both essential. To remove these causes, it’s easier to get started with the second one by splitting the tasks into smaller, doable subtasks. If your task to work on for today is solvable in 2 hours instead of 2 days, then getting started is significantly easier. Furthermore, it reduces complexity of the task and makes it easier to start it. The first cause is not easy to avoid, but I managed to do it with the TLH system, but more on this later, let me first say a few words about me.

I’m Dad working at least 4/5 days a week from home with a small child (1 year and a few months). I’m working 40 hours a week and my wife also works a few hours, since we’re both not persons that can stay the whole day at home without doing some work. So we tried to arrange our time in a way that we could both work (with respect to full time and part time jobs) and can spend as much time as possible with our daughter. At the moment, we have a quite cool routine where we are running well in doing our work, but when I created the TLH system it was not that smooth. So I’ve had many days, where I worked in the mornings, some hours in the afternoon and some in the evening. The point with respect to the points I explained before: If you have problems getting started with tasks and you have such split work days, then you struggle not a single time to get started and into flow, but every time you had some space between two slots of working time. That’s why I thought about a system to better use my time and ended in my TLH system.

The core idea of the system evolved while looking at my available working time through the day: I’ve observed that in most days I have three different types of work time:

  • Think time (T): If I was waiting for something or had to do other tasks that didn’t require much focus, or time where I didn’t have the possibility to work on a PC.
  • Low focus time (L): Time between meetings, or small time blocks between other events or time where I expect to be disturbed.
  • High focus time (H): Larger time blocks > 1h where I could work without being disturbed

After discovering this distribution, I thought about how to better use my time and managed my tasks according to these:

  • Use the think time to collect ideas on how to solve particular problems, think about exact steps to do a task and to get passion to do these tasks.
  • In the low focus time, I work on all “not 100% concentration” tasks to free my high focus time.
  • Finally, all tasks that require 100% concentration and which benefit from getting into some kind of flow for a longer time are planned into high focus time.

After struggling a bit of assigning tasks to these categories, and to do the tasks in the think time (mostly I got distracted thinking about other things), it worked quite well. I used a calendar todo app (ticktick) to assign the categories in my day and to assign tasks to each category. In my thinking time, I could split complex tasks into smaller, doable ones in my head and create a view on the finished tasks to get passion, even if the tasks are sometimes not ones I really like to do. And the best of thinking time is, that your planner actually says you should think, and there is no need to feel bad because you’re not doing actual progress in e.g. coding or writing. In addition to getting more things done I was able to enjoy the high focus time and often got into flow, where I made a lot of process in e.g. coding or text writing. Furthermore, I could enjoy the low focus block with listening relaxing music, or browsing other resources for learning.

Finally, the TLH system may sound too easy and straight forward, but really helped me to use time more efficient and also to reduce stress. While getting more work done in high and low focus time, thinking slots lead to interesting ideas for current or upcoming projects. From my perspective, the best thing is to have a clear assignment for my time to think or to progress on tasks and that helps me to avoid procrastination. A simple example I often had was: I wanted to get an important task done, but I knew I now have 2 hours and then a break and later some hours to work on it, and in the first two hours I struggled to get started because I missed passion and the task was too big. So the first 2 hours no real progress and later it also went slowly. With TLH, I could spend some time before to split the task into smaller ones and managed to start directly in my focused time without procrastinating. So finally, for me, I got more productive overall while being less stressed, so I would recommend everyone to try it out, even if it may feel a bit weird in the beginning.

Best,
Marten

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Marten Gartner

I’m a dad, software developer and researcher on network performance. Writing about high-speed frontend-dev, neworking, productivity and homeoffice with kids.