Notes on productivity and happiness

This is a summary of my afternoon effort tying to pick up my productivity for everything. Recently, I am in a little bit of a productivity slump and I am trying to figure out what has been impacting my productivity and satisfaction of life. I surveyed a few TED videos, notes for PhD students and Quora posts.

Recently, I feel like I can’t focus on my research and feel stressed and unhappiness start to creep in. I am trying to reflect on my experiences, readings and lectures available.

The first thing I tried is reorganize my schedule. I had a terrible Saturday afternoon trying to play games and it turned out exhausted all my energy and optimism. I was thoroughly disappointed in my experience. I did go into a flow experience, but the flow experience destroyed my schedule and structure in a sense. I realized that it is not always a good thing to go into a flow. Our mind is usually chaotic and responsive to immediate threats for a reason. When you go into a flow state, you lose track of other things. Thus, to really take advantage of the flow state, we need careful planning and setting the priorities and schedules. This realization motivated me to go into my exploration of a new schedule.

This task of reorganizing is very important right now because the semester is about to start and I think I can improve my productivity compared to last semester.

The first thing I did is trimming through my schedule. I found that I can work productively for at most 9 hours every week day, excluding the time I browse internets, have dinner. On Saturday, I can work for 4 hours and Sunday for 6 hours. This schedule gives me about 55 hours per week. Taking into consideration that I am taking a break on Friday nights, I think it is critical to maintain 50 hrs of good, productive hours every week. Realistically, 50 hrs has been the experience I have over how long I can work without stressing myself out. Going beyond this number will make me very unhappy and unproductive. It is critical for me to realize that I need to get things done within this time span.

Following up, the question is how do I spend the 50 hours. From my experience, it is unproductive if I try to spend all 50 hours on research.  I think the motivation really decreases after I focus entirely on one problem. Therefore, it is important to have a few things that I can focus on interchangeably to keep myself motivated. I estimate that I can spend at most 35-40 hrs on one project (say my current research project) every week. I need to find something that can engage my mind for about 10- 15 hrs every week. It is easy during the semester as the classes can easily take 20+ hrs per week. But during the break, this is critical.

How many free hours do I have. I have 1 hour for lunch every weekday, 2 hrs for dinner and a potential exercise every day. 4 hrs for exercise Saturday afternoon. 4 hrs for events Friday night, that leaves a guaranteed 23 hrs every week for fun.

To find this task, it is important to rank the priorities of things that I want to spend my time. I divide these things into three categories

  1. Computer Science related
    1. Current project on CNN
    2. Learn more about performance engineering
    3. Learn more about distributed systems (prepare for classes)
    4. Learn more about machine learning (research + career)
  2. Social + Outdoor activities
    1. Regular Exercises
    2. Basketball + badminton
    3. Ski + Skating
    4. Lunch and Dinners with friends
  3. Reading
    1. Boos on Christianity, it is important for me to understand more
    2. History
    3. Psychology
    4. Fiction

May be I can cut out 1-2 hrs on Monday night to go to the small group. During the break, I think it is possible for us  to spend a few extra hours to have dinner with friends. Flexibility is important.

Once I have a good sense of how many hours are available to me, I want to make sure I assign tasks to the different time slots according to their priority. At the same time, I want to make sure there is a healthy diversity among the tasks. In this stage in my research, it is important to assign some time to reading papers and certain books that help me hone my skills and have a better sense of the community. The papers published in the top community are like conversations between members of the community. Reading papers is also a good way to cultivate insight in a certain area.

The new principles of organizing a healthy schedule

  1. Spend more time planning
    1. Allocate Saturday morning exclusively for planning what needs to be done for the next week
    2. Need some flexibility, give 30 hrs for compulsory work, but leaves 10 hrs for things that might come up
    3. Need to make the goals as clear as possible. If I can decompose my goals into smaller goals, then I can work better and get more feedback. This is the key to going into a flow state.
    4. It is very important to meet the conditions that charge myself into the flow state. (TED talk: Flow, the secret to happiness)
    5. Steps of Planning
      1. List the things that i need to accomplish this week
      2. List a map of the things that I need to accomplish, their order, which day should I carry them out, as detailed as possible.
      3. Spend 1-2 hrs planning, write them down in a structured format
  2. Stay positive (following general ideas outlined in www.ted.com/talks/shawn_achor_the_happy_secret_to_better_work)
    1. We need to stay positive
    2. Exercise
      1. Go back to my old schedule of play basketball every Saturday afternoon
      2. Try to do one more badminton session
    3. Be grateful about the my life
      1. May be try list three things that I am grateful everyday
    4. Write more
    5. Random acts of kindnes?
    6. Need to do a bit more socializing, not sure ow
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