Noisy Deadlines


In Gloria Mark’s book “Attention Span” she delves into the fascinating world of attention management.  We usually fall along a continuum for how we like to work:

  • Monochronic: we prefer to finish one task to completion before beginning another task. We thrive on focused, sequential work.
  • Polychronic: we prefer to juggle multiple tasks at once. We are comfortable with interruptions and context-switching.

Interestingly, Mark identifies a rare breed: the “supertaskers”. These exceptional individuals can seamlessly shift between tasks without sacrificing focus. However, most of us fall somewhere in the middle, balancing monochronic and polychronic tendencies.

While I was reading this, I felt represented in the more monochronic preference scale. And that explained a lot about the feelings of overwhelm I experience so often in my work life:

“As you might imagine, monochronic types are the ones who tend to experience role overload, and yet they are stuck switching among multiple tasks, trying to keep up. This is consistent with the many people in our studies who report feeling overwhelmed in their work.” — Gloria Mark, “Attention Span”, Chapter 4

I’m not a supertasker, but it seems there is this expectation from companies (and managers) that all office workers are natural multitaskers. The demands of our modern workplace are mixed with continuous real-time electronic communication, and that is exhausting!

The author points out that switching attention away from a challenging task can be beneficial at times. Moving to a new activity can refresh our cognitive resources. Incubating a hard problem can help us figure out a solution later.

“On the other hand, too much task-switching at a fast rate, where you are continually forcing yourself to refocus your attention, is often detrimental because of time and performance decrements, and it leads to stress.” — Gloria Mark, “Attention Span”, Chapter 4

Sometimes I feel bad because I can’t get to focus on something important and I wonder what’s wrong with my brain. But I’ve been learning that the problem isn’t my brain per se. The environment I work in does not foster focus. And then I might feel stressed and overwhelmed at the end of day. It’s fascinating how our personal preferences impact our work experience and vice-versa.

Anyway, this book is an interesting read and I hope the author will explore strategies to navigate this delicate balance between attention and productivity.

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By Noisy Deadlines Minimalist in progress, nerdy, introvert, skeptic. I don't leave without my e-reader.

I couldn't do almost any of my work tasks I had planned for today in the weekly review I did Friday!

I looked at the Nirvana Focus list today and my brain was like:

“Nah, too many things! And look! They are all boring. Can I have my snack now? Let’s grab some tea! ” 🙄

So today was a day I drowned in boredom. I did some quick and easy tasks that showed up on my email inbox. But I couldn't start any of the projects related tasks I had on my Focus list. And I couldn’t revise the list either. I just wanted to wander a little bit. I journaled. I organized some stuff. I read some RSS feeds. I asked myself questions:

  • Did my to-do app (Nirvana) seem overwhelming? => Maybe, I looked at it and I thought “Oh, how boring! And…I don’t know where to start”.
  • Did I have too many tasks on my focus list? => I had 6 tasks listed there, with an estimated duration of 5 hours total.
  • Were the tasks too daunting? => One of them required a lot of focus and energy. And it would probably take me 1-2 hours to complete (maybe more).
  • Were any of the tasks in a tight deadline? => Not really, there were no hard deadlines to complete them today.

So, what's going on?

To be honest, I'm not 100% sure.

But I think it's a combination of the Monday effect with me feeling tired and no pressure from deadlines.

Although I did my work weekly review on Friday, I failed to do my personal weekly review on Sunday. I had a conference call with my family on Saturday night that finished later than I wanted, so I woke up later on the Sunday and that derailed my Sunday routine a little bit. I felt like I was playing catch-up and when I got to work this morning, I still had unfinished thoughts about my personal stuff.

I got a little bit off track. So I woke up already feeling exhausted this morning.

But this whole day of boredom got me thinking about my tasks system:

  • What do I wish my system to do to support me?
  • Where and when do I want to see my system?
  • Do I want my system to remind me of things? How?
  • Do I feel like there's friction in using my system?
  • Does looking at my lists repel me?
  • When is the best time to do my personal weekly review?

I don't have all the answers to those questions, but I feel like today’s experience has brought some things to my attention that I will reflect more on this week and see what happens.


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By Noisy Deadlines Minimalist in progress, nerdy, introvert, skeptic. I don't leave without my e-reader.

For the first time in years, I did plan the next week on a Friday!

I'm finding that the best time to do a Work Weekly Review is Friday afternoon, after 3pm. Now that things at work are at a more manageable pace, I can really appreciate this time for reflection.

I set up a recurring event in my calendar for Fridays at 3:30pm to start my Work Weekly Review. The total duration is 1 hour followed by my usual daily Shutdown Routine of 30min before I leave. That means I have plenty of time to:

  • process my inboxes
  • review my calendar
  • check off completed tasks
  • process my notes
  • update project notes
  • jot down some notes about what is coming up next week (that I will use to make my Weekly Plan)

But today I actually managed to start my Weekly Plan in advance! I usually work on it on Monday mornings, but this time I was able to put it all in there, ready for when I get back to work next week 🥳.

So, I’m calling this my Friday Afternoon Work Ritual and I will try to protect this time as much as I can this year.

This is how I'd like my work to be: manageable workload, clear deadlines, no rush, no emergencies, plenty of time for reflection / reviews. I know it's not going to be like this forever, so I better enjoy it while I can!

Have a great weekend!

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By Noisy Deadlines Minimalist in progress, nerdy, introvert, skeptic. I don't leave without my e-reader.

I've had some interesting days this week at work. Without even realizing it, I tested out 3 scenarios in terms of productivity and organization.

Scenario 1: Crazy Mondays

Monday was Monday. It was a little bit confusing and my brain was not up to speed yet: the usual Monday overwhelm situation. I did my Time Blocking later in the morning. But things changed, meetings got moved around. I tried to update my time blocking, but things were happening too fast, so I let go. I didn't follow any of the blocks I pre-planned. But I also took some time to plan the next month. I used my Outlook Calendar to plot out some deadlines, deliverables and project durations. And I printed it out, so now I have it on my board.

Scenario 2: Out of control

Tuesday was weird. I had some emails to reply, emails with information I needed to process, budgets to review and update and phone calls to make. Those took the whole morning. I didn't do Time Blocking at all! It was an empty page! I had a meeting at 2pm, which I only remembered to attend because my colleague sent me a chat message that it was starting (and they wanted my input). That being said, I realized that I didn't have any awareness of the upcoming meetings because I didn't do my Time Blocking. I had a major headache by the end of the day and I felt totally drained.

Scenario 3: A Balanced Day

Wednesday was a more balanced day. I did my Time Blocking, but I only wrote down the meetings and the goals for the day. I didn't time block for emails or calls. I just went with the flow and used my intuition. I made the phone calls I needed to make and worked on the budgets I needed to update. Things were clearer. It was still a very busy day, but I felt more relaxed among the chaos.


I reflected on these 3 scenarios while I went for a long walk after work:

  1. Minute-by-minute Time Blocking doesn't work for my line of work or my work environment. Things always happen too quickly, I have to handle with back and forth communication all the time, my team relies on real-time interactions ad-hoc. It's just the way it is. Construction is a chaotic world, and I rarely have the privilege of taking 3 hours of deep work to focus on one thing only, by myself.

  2. The act of Time Blocking in the morning is useful when I focus on delineating the big picture of my day. What are the meetings happening today? Are there any deadlines? What are the Top 3 things I'll be working on? Even though I have that information on my digital calendar, writing it down by hand on my planner gives me awareness and I feel more prepared about the day.

  3. Having an Inbox and a Next Action list is crucial for my day-to-day work. I need a trusted space where I can dump things to be processed later and where I can store all my next actions and be certain that list will be there the next day. Just for one of the four big projects I'm working on right now, I have 17 next actions this week. I've already logged 48 actions that I've completed since August 10th. It is a lot to handle, and GTD gives me a way to tackle all of this with less stress.

  4. At the end of the day: taking a look at all the items on my next actions for a specific project I'm focusing on gives me peace of mind. It works as a trigger for me to add tasks that have been rolling in my head throughout the day, making sure my capture is complete. It's a good Shutdown routine ritual. I'll keep doing that.

  5. Mondays will always be Mondays. I’m never at my best form on Mondays, so I’m just acknowledging that, and I’ll be more forgiving of myself. It’s a day to prepare me for the rest of the week, so I know I won’t be super productive on Mondays. And that’s okay.

Final conclusion

I like Scenario 3. It's becoming clear to me that I can't really follow a strict Time Blocking routine. The nature of my work is too fluid most days. But I can use time blocking as a planning tool to guide my day. It gives me direction. There will be days when strict time blocking for focused work will work. But my typical day is not that structured, and I'm learning to live with that. So, I'll be having a more balanced approach to Time Blocking from now on.

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By Noisy Deadlines Minimalist in progress, nerdy, introvert, skeptic. I don't leave without my e-reader.

In our weekly team meetings at work we always start with a Safety Moment. I work in construction so there is serious concern about safety. One of these days it was my turn to do the Safety Moment. I decided to talk about mental health, since it is something the company is starting to pay more attention to, and they were promoting a “Mental Health Awareness Week”.

The construction industry is a tough place and there is lots of stigma around mental health. In one of the company’s newsletters, it was mentioned that managing workload and stress were ways to support mental health. But it didn’t really explain HOW to do it! It mentioned work-life balance and balanced workload as if it was a no-brainer.

I shared 4 points that I think can help managing our workloads:

1) Focus: it’s important to manage our attention. A good strategy is to use time blocking so that we focus on one thing at a time. We can have blocks for checking emails, blocks for doing deep work (like doing quantity take-offs or reading specifications), blocks for communication (phone calls) and blocks for planning or organizing information. Multitasking is an illusion: if we keep jumping from one thing to the next back and forth, we can never actually work deeply on something. Also, take breaks!

2) Plan the day: We usually underestimate the time we will take to complete something, so take some time to plan your time blocks and what is going to be the focus of the day.

3) Capturing and organizing: it’s important to have a trusted system to capture notes, write things down and organize everything. It can be done using paper or a task manager app. The key is to record our to-do’s somewhere out of our minds (I didn’t go into the whole GTD thing, since I wouldn’t have time to expand on that).

4) Shutdown Routine: it’s beneficial to do a brain dump at the end of the workday, capturing all loose and unfinished tasks to prepare for the next day. It helps preventing overwhelm and supports a healthy transition to our personal responsibilities.

I was very nervous to talk about this topic in front of my whole team. I felt vulnerable and kept wondering if I was the only one who was worried about mental health. It was terrifying because people in construction don’t usually talk about these things.

But in the end, it was well received, and people made agreeing comments. After the meeting some colleagues came to ask me about my system and how I was implementing taking notes, organizing tasks and doing the shutdown routine.


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By Noisy Deadlines Minimalist in progress, nerdy, introvert, skeptic. I don't leave without my e-reader.

Work is a huge source of stress and anxiety to me. That's why I have all sorts of coping mechanisms and tools to help me feel less overwhelmed.

There is one habit described by Cal Newport that has been extremely useful to me: the Shutdown Ritual. It is also described in more detail in his book “Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World”.

I block off 30 minutes on my Calendar at the end of the day to focus on this ritual. Sometimes it takes me 10 minutes, sometimes it takes me half an hour. The idea is to have something to nudge me into doing it, even if I do it partially. This is my recurring Calendar event:

Calendar event for my Shutdown Routine

I have the following recurring action in my to-do app (Nirvana):

Shutdown Routine Checklist

So this action shows up in my Focus list everyday, and I always move it to the bottom of my Focus list, so I'll get to it last. It goes like this:

==> End of Day: Shutdown Routine ☄

  1. Process Meeting Notes from the day: I have a paper notebook that I carry with me wherever I go around the office, especially in meetings. I take notes, as much as I can. At the end of the day I look at the notes and check if there are any actions I need to add to my Nirvana Inbox or notes I want to add to my projects notes.

  2. Capture: Then I do a quick mind-sweep of tasks I failed to capture and add them to the my Nirvana Inbox. If I have enough time I will process and organize them. If not, I leave them to be processed during my morning start-up routine the next day.

  3. Check off any completed tasks: sometimes I can only find the time to mark a task as completed at the end of the day, and it feels good! 👍

  4. Review my Calendar for tomorrow: I ask myself “Do I need to prepare anything?”. It gives me an idea of what lies ahead.

  5. Finally I ask myself “What things do I want to achieve tomorrow?” I flag those next actions to the ⭐Focus list in Nirvana.

  6. Say 'Shutdown Complete'! : this is Cal Newport's suggestion. I don't actually say it out loud, but I say it in my head.

If I don't have time to do the complete routine, I will prioritize doing only Step #2: CaptureThat's the most important step!

Doing a quick mind sweep can make all the difference! I can leave work and transition to my evenings feeling less stressed and confident that whatever I have to solve at work will be there patiently waiting for me the next day. There's no reason to loose sleep over it. By taking a few moments to sweep through my thoughts and jot down any lingering tasks or ideas, I'm able to mentally detach from work and fully engage in my personal time.

Regularly doing the complete shutdown routine brings powerful results. As I review my day's accomplishments and outline tomorrow's objectives, I feel more organized and I also find myself approaching challenges with a clearer mindset.

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By Noisy Deadlines Minimalist in progress, nerdy, introvert, skeptic. I don't leave without my e-reader.

I got a new Daily Planner that replaced my old one. I was using Cal Newport's Time-Block Planner which is great, but I always thought it was too heavy and bulky. Mine was the first version so it didn't lay open flat on my desk.

Last month I got a simpler planner, much more compact, in spiral biding and cheaper. It has 100 non-dated pages. I have the view of an entire day in one page. There is a space for the Top 3 most important things for the day, the day schedule from 6am to 9pm, a space for to-do's, meals, water intake and notes.

I'm using the Top 3 space everyday. It's such a simple thing, but it is helping me to make the decision first thing in the morning of what is my focus for the day.

I start by putting the date at the top, then I use a ruler to add some vertical lines to the Schedule (creating an additional column if my schedule changes, inspired by Cal Newport). I think about my Top 3 things and write them down. Then I look at my digital Calendar and start blocking out all the meetings, appointments, lunch break and my end of the day shutdown routine block.

Then I look at my Top 3 and decide what will be my focus for the morning and block the times. I also look at Nirvana to see which tasks are in my Focus list. I try to block by theme or project, and use Nirvana to guide me through specific next actions. Sometimes I add a next action to the To-Do section of the planner, as a way of reminding myself I need to work on those ASAP.

I can never time block the whole day at once. I prefer to plan the morning, then after lunch I regroup and block the afternoon based on what happened throughout the day.

I’m using the Meals section of the planner to note the snacks I eat during the day. I’ve been trying to cut down on snacks as I noticed I’ve been snacking out of anxiety. Writing it down makes me aware of this behaviour.

On the left: An early morning plan – On the right: a complete day plan

I’m using this Planner as an auxiliary tool to help me plan my day. I could do that by using my digital calendar, but there’s something about writing things down that makes the plan more real, more palpable. It’s an exercise in looking ahead and facing the productivity dragon.

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By Noisy Deadlines Minimalist in progress, nerdy, introvert, skeptic. I don't leave without my e-reader.

Today was less chaotic than usual. I started with a planning block and after some hesitation, I planned the whole day!

One meeting was cancelled, so I regrouped by 11am to do some email processing. Right after lunch, I reorganized my schedule in my “Clarifying/Organizing” block and the afternoon went as planned.

I focused on 3 important tasks and felt less overwhelmed. I finished task #2 earlier than expected, so I started with task #3 in that same work block. I shut down my email for the afternoon work blocks. When I got to my break, I checked my emails and surprisingly, there were no new messages!

One advantage of having this time blocking routine is that it helps me avoid those moments in the day when I’m thinking: “What am I going to do next?”. In these moments I usually get distracted or anxious and suffer from decision paralysis.

So far, I’m enjoying time blocking! It gives structure to my day.

Here is a snapshot of today’s plan:

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By Noisy Deadlines Minimalist in progress, nerdy, introvert, skeptic. I don't leave without my e-reader.

I didn’t plan all my blocks first thing in the morning today. There was an urgent request from my manager when I arrived, so I spent the first 1h30min dealing with this task.

After that, I looked at my notes from yesterday and I noted that I still needed to finish clarifying and organizing a bunch of new inputs I got this week. So I blocked that off, then I had an appointment with my therapist. And that was basically my morning.

But I had a nice conversation with my therapist about attention and focus, and how to best use time blocking.

One of the discussion points was: “Why do I avoid planning my whole day at the beginning of the day?”

One of the reasons is that I’m afraid of the commitment, and I’m afraid to fail. That damn perfectionist tendency!

And it will take practice for me to get used to failing. In these 3 days, I changed my plan at least 4 times each day. And that’s okay ( I keep telling myself).

Another good insight was the use of time blocks that represent different mental modes, and different types of focus. For example:

  • Emails: to check and process emails. Instead of having emails open all the time, schedule dedicated time blocks to act on them.
  • Planning: to plan the day, clarify and organize. The end-of-day shutdown routine is included here.
  • Work block: blocks to focus on my tasks. In this mode, no checking of emails or messages is allowed. The choice of tasks to work on will come from my next action lists. Time to use the Pomodoro technique here!
  • Snack/Breaks/Lunch: using in conjunction with the Pomodoro technique. Plan for some short and long breaks. Lunch break is mandatory!
  • Meetings/Appointments: those are already in my Calendar, I just need to acknowledge them and show up when the time comes. They can impact how many “work” blocks I can have in a day.
  • Calls: a block to deal with the calls I have to make, pulling from the @calls context on my next action list. I won’t have this block every day, it depends on my project’s timeline.
  • Admin/Misc tasks: a block to deal with quick/easy wins and miscellaneous tasks. I don’t need to have it every day, my therapist suggested I choose one day of the week for it, maybe two.

Looking at these “mental modes” it became clearer to me the advantages of time blocking. I’ve had many days when I was constantly switching back and forth between these modes, but I was never focusing on one at a time. That resulted in a stressful day, with my attention scattered everywhere and no accomplishments.

A snapshot of today’s plan:

Day 03 – It was going to start with some Planning & Organizing, but I had to put out a fire early in the day. I had to readjust, and some tasks had to be moved to the next day.

I will think more about those modes, and try to come up with a “skeleton time block” structure for my week. What is my typical week? How many “work” and “emails” blocks I want or need every day? Then I just adjust week by week and day by day depending on the reality of that week.

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By Noisy Deadlines Minimalist in progress, nerdy, introvert, skeptic. I don't leave without my e-reader.

I have been struggling with scattered focus during my work hours, constantly changing contexts, checking emails, and feeling overwhelmed. And I know it’s because there’s a lot going on right now. I find it difficult to decide what to do next when I look at my to-do lists.

I’ve used the Pomodoro technique with great success in the past. It’s basically a way to train attention, where you set up a timer for 25 minutes of focused work. It needs to be total focus, for the full 25 minutes: no checking email, no answering the phone, no talking to anybody. And then you take 5 minutes of rest. You do 4 cycles, then you rest for 15 minutes (long rest). I love this technique! It works really well for my brain.

However, now I'm having trouble DECIDING what to do and STARTING!

So, I'm trying out Time Blocking, using the suggestions from Cal Newport's book “Deep Work.” At some point during the pandemic, I even purchased his Time Block Planner: a paper planner customized with the way he recommends doing time blocking. At the time I used it for a week, but I thought it was too bulky to use.

But now, I’m really into doing some things using pen and paper. I feel like I can focus better, specially if I’m planning something or brainstorming ideas. So I got my Time Block Planner from the shelf and started using it again this week.

The Weekly and Daily Plans

This Time Block Planner is organized in weeks, so at the start of the week you have 2 blank pages to do some weekly planning. It’s a way to look at your commitments for the week, evaluate the amount of meetings, and do some high level planning of which projects or activities to focus on every day. It is not supposed to be detailed, it’s more like a direction for the week.

Then at the start of the work day, you make a daily plan, giving every minute of the day a job. You use the weekly plan as a guide. But you also review your calendar and look at your next actions list to decide what to focus on.

The interesting thing about Cal Newport’s planner is that you have space to renegotiate your plan in case of changes. Things will blow up, meetings will be rescheduled, and you are encouraged to rethink your daily plan and adjust it.

How it’s been so far

I started yesterday, a Monday after a long weekend. Mondays are the worst for me. I always feel overwhelmed and tired. I can never achieve anything I thought I would achieve.

The first hurdle I encountered was the decision paralysis. I couldn’t decide what to do in the morning. I scheduled half an hour first thing to make my plan. It wasn’t enough time. It didn’t help that I had 2 back to back meetings after that, and two more in the afternoon. I didn’t finish my plan, I basically updated it as I went, so it was not really planning in advance. It wasn’t a great day for deep work anyway, but I managed to complete 2 shorter tasks with the time I had in between meetings.

Today, I’m half a day in, and I planned the morning, which already changed 3 times. Then by noon I planned the afternoon. It was scary to write it down, like I wasn’t sure I could make it.

I’m discovering that I have difficulty planning ahead. For me, the future seems a homogeneous haze. I know it’s there, but I can’t really put a date to it. I am discovering that I have difficulty planning ahead in the immediate timeframe. Long-term, high-level planning is easier for me.

I will continue practicing with the Time Block Planner. It is giving me a better sense of time, and I am realizing that tasks take longer to complete than I initially thought. Sometimes I will mark 10 actions as my focus for the day, but realistically, I can only complete 1 or 2. Time blocking is helping me slow down, and slowing down is key for processing information and planning.

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By Noisy Deadlines Minimalist in progress, nerdy, introvert, skeptic. I don't leave without my e-reader.