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This Terrifying Chart Helps Me Get Things Done

I read this article by Eric Olszewski and I found it interesting so I'm sharing it with you.

For as long as I can remember, I’ve been a procrastinator. Whereas a disciplined person’s workflow might look something like this:

Mine looked like this:

It’s not that I didn’t care about my work — most of the time, whatever I was supposed to be doing was on my mind the entire time I was supposed to be doing it. My struggle has always been that I just couldn’t get started. I’d sit down to accomplish something, and then — fully aware of what I was doing — start clicking through the deep abyss of the internet to read up on some obscure topic, such as radial engines or human behavioral economics. Time would fly by until panic set in, at which point I’d finally buckle down and do whatever it took to get through the assignment before me.

While this method filled my life with stress and anxiety, I always took it for granted as just the way I worked. And somehow, I always managed to get things done.

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That is, until about a year and a half ago, when I found myself aimless and struggling more than usual to stay on task. After looking at how I spent my time, I realized I was suffering from too much freedom — I was simply overwhelmed by the multitude of options in my life, and it was preventing me from doing much of anything.

It was clear that I needed more structure. So I went through my Google calendar and started doing some careful regimenting. I scheduled my day to the minute, entering specific tasks, like showering and “email 10 therapists in Texas.”

Here’s what a typical day looks like for me now. I make sure to leave a few gaps in there as buffer time.

Seeing my schedule at all times, and strictly adhering to it, helped me gain traction and direction, but I was missing one more element. While I was able to view my daily deadlines, I couldn’t see the big picture — my North Star, if you will. I needed a reminder of what I wanted to accomplish in life, not simply what I wanted to accomplish by bedtime that evening.

That led me to create another visual. Behold, the lifespan chart:

This image sits behind my desk. Each box corresponds to one week in an average 88-year lifespan, and every filled-in box is one that I’ve already lived.

Yes, it’s slightly terrifying, but seeing it on a daily basis reminds me how finite life is and helps me stay focused. It pushes me to take action on the work that’s really important to me.

If you’d like to download this grid for your own use, here is a fresh one. I’ve also created one that represents each day of the year. You can mark it with certain goals you’d like to accomplish by certain times. By working backwards from those goals, you can figure out what you should be doing each day.

The combination of these two visuals — my daily Google calendar and this lifespan chart — helps me deal with my procrastination. I’m clearly not perfect — I still put things off sometimes. But as I see more boxes turn black, I’m reminded that life is just one big deadline and every day counts.

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