Blocks and Strands: How to Guarantee the Right Work Gets Done

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When you have a whole lot of different jobs that need doing, or are doing a whole lot of projects at once, you need dedicated time blocks to do the deep work. I think we know this much. I haven’t been doing that recently, or at least not as much as I’d like, and I came up with the combined idea of dedicated time blocks of work, but with an extra way of making sure it is the right work.

I’m basically stealing the ideas of Tim Ferriss and Cal Newport with this one, but there are no truly original ideas, just rehashes of old ones, and this one I’m combining with Paul Nation’s Four Strands.

Establish a certain number of time periods of a certain length each day. These are entirely up to you. Bullet round 30 minute slots, hours of power, two hour ‘zone’ training, whatever suits your schedule, needs, and wants in the moment. This much is straight out of the books Four Hour Workweek and Deep Work.

The next part is the interesting one. Paul Nation’s four strands are in my opinion the easiest and best way to guarantee language acquisition.

The four strands are the four absolutely necessary components of language acquisition; Meaning-Focused Input, Meaning-Focused Output, Language-Focused Learning, and Fluency development. Over the course of a language class, a term, or a year of language learning, equal amounts of each strand should be practiced (Japan fails quite severely with sufficient use of the second and fourth strands).

My idea is to take these four strands and replace them with say four things that absolutely must get done. Maybe four projects that you’re working on, or four parts of a project that you’re working on, or three, or six. For language learning four just seems to be the number that works, but you might find you have more or less tasks that need doing over a certain period of time.

The equal emphasis I think can also be adjusted to the importance of the task. For language learning, these four really are important. However you might have a side project that you’re working on, this one you might want to dedicate 10% of your time towards. That’s also fine.

Think of everything that you have going on in the moment, and what you want to get done. Then, in percentages, weigh up the importance of each so it adds up to 100. Here it might be an idea to also put some form of rest or escape, such as a mountain hike or something similar. Up to you.

Then it is all a matter of divvying up the projects over your blocks in a way that gives the emphasis necessary, and applying this to your calendar.

Full disclaimer, I haven’t tried this. And to be honest, it sounds like it might be a bit of a chore, but I have been lacking discipline in recent weeks, and I’m willing to give it a try. Maybe not for a full day, maybe only part of the day. We’ll see, but I think it’s worth trying at least.

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