With work picking up on The Meteor Chef, I’ve had to start thinking more carefully about how I organize my day. I still split my time with freelance work, so it’s important that my time is used as effectively as possible. Beyond work, too, I also have to consider when I can comfortably fit in some downtime—a spot of TV can be incredibly cathartic for an overworked mind—versus when I have to really focus and tune out the world.

A system that’s organically formed as of late is the practice of thinking in silos: breaking tasks, mindset, and energy into separate piles. For each piece of work I have to do, I consider what specifically I have to do, what sort of mindset I need to be in, and how much energy it will take to complete those tasks. This is helpful because it means that more gets accomplished on a more consistent level without me feeling like crap.

Silos take shape around a few questions:

  1. How difficult is this? Do I really need to focus on this or can I be a little bit foggy and still get it done?
  2. How important is this? Is it simply an urgent matter (needs attention but not right now), or a priority (must get done on a fixed timeline).
  3. How do I feel? Am I in a good mood and is my head clear, or am I pissed off about something else or otherwise mentally distracted?
  4. How much energy do I have? Am I tired? Does this task require a lot of alertness?

Based on these questions, then, I break my work up accordingly.

Tasks that require a clear state of mind like programming or writing are put earlier in the day. I’ve found that these tasks are easiest to accomplish when I’m fresh out of bed, on my first cup of coffee, and it’s early enough that being a ghost/not responding to messages isn’t unexpected.

Toward the afternoon, I think about things that still require focus, but don’t benefit from being completed in one continuous stream. Lately this has been things like responding to email and chat messages, or planning for the rest of the week. I don’t have to be terribly alert, so I can kind of fuzz out and get stuff done in chunks. For example, this is when I’ll make a cup of coffee or take a walk around the block in-between tasks.

Later in the day, I usually do consumption-style tasks. Reading, watching, listening. Little effort is required to do this and I’ve found that it gives your brain a chance to numb out a bit. I used to do tasks like this early in the day and found that it threw my whole day off balance.

The point here isn’t necessarily what happens at what time—beyond your personal preferences—just that you consider your effectiveness at different parts of the day. Siloing isn’t just about putting stuff into piles, it’s also about considering what you need to ignore to get the work done. Chatting with folks is fun, but doing it early in the day and using up energy and clarity of mind that’s better suited for more complicated work isn’t wise. Sometimes I feel guilty for not responding to messages for a few hours, but have learned that not doing that puts me in an even worse spot later.

There isn’t much science behind this, just personal observation. The results have been clear enough, though: getting more done, worrying less, and generally being in a better mood. Because siloing allows me to temporarily forget about other work completely (this takes work to get right), I don’t panic about everything I have to get done. Instead, I just finish a pile and then move on to the next; everything gets completed because I’m not wasting time worrying about stuff not getting done.