minimal time metastructure

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Initial explorations of mitime

Planning Midai

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Time structure is just one aspect of effective time/task management, but it’s important and often not treated in a robust manner that can be optimized. The concept of midai encompasses the direct application of structured mitime to the planning of tasks to achieve our goals.

Although I initially had a few broad ideas about how to structure midai, I knew that I had to test and refine these ideas in practice to allow the finer details to emerge.

Therefore, I began thinking at the mi level. And as anticipated by the simple midai planner, I have only planned down to the mihour level.

First, I needed to allow for the proper balance between two directly competing categories of tasks that I could spend mitime on:

  1. Maintenance. These include immediate personal care, such as eating and bathing, as well as things like household chores and errands. These are the things we have to do and they are a direct constraint upon productive time. Typically, maintenance tasks are not overtly goal oriented. Generally speaking, we want to minimize the time spent on maintenance, yet we need to allow adequate time for these tasks as they are obviously important to our well-being and therefore also support productive time. Optimal efficiency (including scope limiting) and proper prioritization are essential.

  2. Productive. This is time spent directly on achieving goals. Obviously, we want to maximize both the quantity and quality (focus) of this time category.

Clearly, to fully optimize productive time, maintenance time must also be optimized. Mitime’s low precision immediately exposed just how time was leaking throughout the day on maintenance tasks. It is easy to underestimate or even dismiss altogether this time, as it is an imposed constraint over which we have limited control, yet even small scoped chores can take longer than you may realize and can be very disruptive to the structure of your productive time.

Eating was one area that I just accepted as gaps in my day that happen at certain times, based largely on cultural cues. But when I considered how much time is involved in food procurement, preparation, actually eating and then cleanup, even a single meal takes a significant chunk out of your day for anything else. So this emerged quickly as a weakness in the structure of midai, and optimizing it took both careful consideration as well as experimentation. During this experimentation process, for the first time in my life, I began to appreciate how the timing of eating directly impacted the optimization of my productive time.

Reflecting upon my productive goals, they too fell into a few broad categories, and that categorization suggests possible optimization strategies:

  • Training, for both physical and spiritual development. I considered treating this as maintenance time, and although an argument could be made, I have very specific goals I want to achieve, and so, treating this as productive time seems more natural. I encourage anyone to set specific, concrete goals whenever possible (research SMART goals as a simple and effective approach to thinking about goals).
  • Learning/research. Aside from the obvious benefits, in my line of work, it is essential that I continuously learn in order to be effective in my work and make progress against my goals.
  • Building/creating. These are tasks most directly related to my “work” goals, or my mission in life. These are the most inherently valuable activities, the area I most want to focus on and optimize.

This categorization reveals that productive time on building/creating, although the most important aspect of my productive time, was but one area among several, and by itself did not account for as much of midai as I was culturally conditioned to believe. Here, I took a cue from the yogic tradition, in which the asanas (poses, postures) are practiced as preparation for spiritual work. I began to view everything that was not directly building/creating as indirectly, but closely, supporting those activities, as the foundation of building/creating activities. All other activities should be eliminated.

At this point, simpler, well understood time management tactics could start to be applied. Initially, I experimented with batching task categories to optimize focus. This was beneficial, although not something I adhere to slavishly. For example, I found I had significant dead time zones in my morning routine, and it was natural to fill those with small chores. An example would be beginning food preparations while making tea. To avoid disrupting midai by getting too involved in something else, I had to aggressively time box these kind of edge activities, deciding that I could only spend a maximum of one miminute on these, limiting what I could do.

Batching activities also made me more aware of my personal physical and mental energy fluctuations throughout the day, and the relative demand for that energy based on the activity. This is perhaps an obvious observation, but how often do we actually structure our day according to this? Instead, we typically allow external constraints to structure our time.

Again, I took my cue from the yogic tradition and sought to organize the areas of midai so they better support the other areas. Training is something that people tend to sacrifice quite easily, if they do it at all. It must be approached with a significant amount of both physical and mental energy, and it is easy to discount its importance relative to say, maintenance or building/creating, yet it is essential to success. So knowing that I could also fall into the trap of deprioritizing training to the point of ineffectiveness, I made the decision to prioritize it radically, doing it as early in midai as possible.

This took some getting used to, but was worth the effort. Notice that I take the approach of Jeff Cavalier and refer to this as “training” and not “exercise”. Exercise is a maintenance activity, training is goal oriented. This shift in attitude also helps mitigate issues of motivation and willpower.

I similarly did some task batching by deciding that I would have one main meal each day, where I would eat the bulk of my food and gain efficiencies by concentrating prep, cleaning, etc. in one concentrated time box. By positioning this between training and other physical activities, such as certain types of maintenance, on the one hand, and mental effort for building/creating on the other, I can implement two time tactics (that are admittedly controversial): fasted exercise and the anabolic window, while maximizing energy available for building/creating, which is the culmination of my other preparations including training.

These are a few of the initial strategies I have employed, and so, the default/baseline/typical structure of midai is emerging. Currently, each mi has a primary focus in one of the categories above, and high level tasks with specific, concrete deliverables are defined at the mihour level. I have not found a need to be much more specific than this, as at the miminute level, tasks are clear according to priorities and progress made.

Obviously, there are days when new constraints arise, and I have to reorganize mitime. For example food procurement (grocery shopping) is not something I do every day, so when I need to do it, I must make that adjustment. The fact that midai is structured in uniform blocks, allows me to reorganize my tasks much more easily and intuitively and in a way that localizes disruptions across the rest of midai. And notice the change in language and emphasis: we normally speak of reorganizing our time, but I think about reorganizing my tasks, which is directly informed by prioritization against my goals.