A little backstory
At the end of February 2020, I have left Germany where I lived and worked for the past 2.5 years and moved to Spain. Unfortunately, my Spanish stay didn't last that long. The pandemic happened and my insurance company has evacuated me to the only country where I still held residence – the Republic of Moldova. Yes, it's where I was born and where I didn't plan to come back any time soon.
I've rented an Airbnb apartment, locked myself for a mandatory 2-week quarantine, and tried to process the new reality – I came back to where I started, with no stable job, no clients, closed borders, and highly unpredictable future.
Getting back in the game
The first month was difficult. I couldn't find any motivation, my energy levels dropped to the minimum and my daily schedule felt like chaos. Additionally, I was constantly drowning in all the Corona-related news. Every time I tried to start working, I'd jump from one activity to another, and none was related to work. I realized that I can't focus. At all.
Not sure whether Twitter algorithms can read people's minds yet but pretty soon I've stumbled upon this article in my feed, where Ali Mese explained how he trained his brain to focus. The idea was pretty simple – I had to log the time of every session when I wanted to fully concentrate on a task. Full concentration meant no distractions at all: no phone calls, no message replies, no unrelated internet browsing, etc. Every time I'd pick up the phone or reply to someone, it meant that my focused session was over and I had to log the time. So, I decided to give it a try.
To track the time I've created a table in Notion where I'd manually add the beginning and the end of every session.
My main goal for the first month was to get back into freelancing and start earning at least some money so I could financially support myself. And those focused sessions were supposed to help me achieve that. I also wanted the data to reflect my lifestyle at that time, so I decided not to change a thing and continue living with a chaotic daily schedule, paired with an imperfect diet.
Diving into data
The most important value to track was the length of these focused sessions. As I wrote before, my main problem was that I couldn't stay focused at all and I was curious about how I'd perform in that matter. Well, I couldn't express my surprise enough!
In total, I've done 78 focused sessions in the first month with a 53 minutes session length on average. I couldn't believe that eliminating all the common distractions could instantly lead to such a great result! In total, I managed to focus for 69 hours that month.
And the best part? Those sessions helped me find my first clients and earn enough money to cover all the costs for the upcoming weeks. Of course, it still was far away from my regular productivity levels, so I started to dig deeper into the data to get a better picture of my daily performance.
On average I'd log only 3.25 sessions per day and this number was truly disappointing.
Another performance indicator that surprised me was the time of the day when I'd start my first session. To put it simply – at what time did I start working each day? Truth hurt. On average my working day started at 1:31 PM, compared to the past 2.5 years when it always started no later than 10 AM.
Still, I was missing something. If I performed 3.25 sessions per day that on average lasted only 53 minutes each, why did I have the feeling that I've been sitting in front of the computer all day long? That was the moment when I decided to take a look at the amount of time in between sessions... and boom!
Almost 2 hours in between sessions spent on the news, tv shows, messaging with friends, doing random stuff around the house instead of working towards my goals! No surprise my progress was so slow and overall mood and productivity suffered. The worst part is that I wasn't even noticing how time was slipping away.
To make sure that all the data that I got in the first month was representative, I decided not to tweak my lifestyle in any way and just continue logging everything for the next two months. That's how tracking sessions became a routine.
The second month ended up with 57 focused sessions and 52 minutes average session length.
The number of sessions per day slightly dropped from 3.25 in the previous month to 3.16 in the second month.
The time of the day when I'd start working slightly improved. On average I logged my first session at 12:48 PM – almost 1 hour earlier, compared to the previous month but still not enough to make me proud of my productivity.
When it came to the time in between sessions – 90 minutes was still a huge amount, though a bit smaller than in the previous month.
The third month didn't differ much from the previous two, that's why I won't bother you with any additional charts. Most importantly, it proved that I would always get more or less the same results every time unless I'd introduce changes to my lifestyle.
Truth is, I'd be happy to work more but I just didn't have enough energy for it. And I guess the reason for that was my day-to-day behavior.
Fortunately, I don't smoke, drink alcohol, or eat added sugars. I also don't play video games at all.
Below is a list of things that I assume are destroying my energy levels and holding me back from being truly productive:
- No alarm clocks;
- No plan for the day/week/month;
- Coffee after 7 PM;
- Eating late;
- Too much news and social media;
- Hanging out during working hours;
- Messaging with friends right before sleep;
- Going to bed after 3 AM;
- Lots of cheese, bread, and meat in the diet;
- No fish or seafood on my plate;
- No proper physical activity/workouts;
- Not meditating;
- Sedentary lifestyle;
- Spending little time in nature.
So, what's the next step? Well, I will do my best to change as many things listed above as possible, while still keeping track of my ability to focus. I'm really curious to find out how it will affect my energy levels and overall productivity.