What it Means to Live Intentionally (and How to Do It)

Over the past few years I’ve worked hard on living intentionally. I’m not sure what the actual phrase to describe it is, but if I had to take a poke at a definition it would be:

To maintain control over daily activities through use of priority and mindfulness.

As a web developer and entrepreneur, my day is filled with constant interruptions. I’m getting better about how I deal with them, but they’re still there. Working in tech generally means long hours, on-demand availability and blurry work-life boundaries.

Mind is a flexible mirror, adjust it, to see a better world.
Amit Ray

Through my mindfulness practice (and a few tools)  I’ve discovered when and how I’m most productive. Hint: it’s not 9-5 M-F.

Being an ‘information worker’, and one with a reasonably high level of self diagnosed ADHD, I’d become very prone to reddit / hackernews / (whatever) rabbitholes.

I installed Rescuetime and started logging basic information about how I work. It turns out that my most productive times are between 7am-10am and 9pm-12am. I’m far less efficient and concentrated outside of these hours. During ‘normal working hours’ I also tend to feel like I’m missing out on the things I want to do and my social relationships suffer as a result.

So how did I change things? I began working during those hours and filling the rest of the day in with the other stuff that I had on my priority lists. Reading books, playing video games, catching up with friends, etc.

It was really difficult to shake the feeling that I’m AWOL and being lazy. What are my colleagues going to think? The truth is that nobody needs to be available on-demand all day. Schedule periodic checkins for email and communication channels and become comfortable with saying ‘no’. In my opinion, one of the most effective things you can do for your career is to take care of yourself first.

The result:

  • My work output quality rose to an alltime high (as determined by me)
  • My stress / burnout load all but vanished
  • I immediately began to feel in control of my days

The idea of taking me time isn’t new or novel. The idea that me time has to be scheduled for the weekend or vacations needs to be updated though. For the average information worker, every day can be a you day without sacrificing productivity or success.

A major component leading to the feeling of control is the art of prioritization. I create a small list of must-dos every morning:

  • 1 ‘must do’ for work
  • 1 ‘must do’ for health
  • 1 ‘must do’ for myself
  • 1 thing for someone else (giving back is huge!)

I always end up doing more than that, but this helps me get the ball rolling and achieve goals across many parts of my life. Few things encourage sustained productivity like the snowball effect of finishing tasks.

At the end of the day, review your tasks and how you spent your time. Keep working and refining your priorities until the list is virtually indistinguishable from your ‘dream day’ list!