If I’ve said it once, I’ve said it a hundred times: principles you can apply to discrete areas of life are worth their weight in gold. Who would think that I could tie together defragmenting a hard drive and work-life balance? I do, that’s who.
I first ran into defragmentation when I noticed my Windows XP machine was running slow. So I decided to open my IE 6 browser, go to Google, and figure out what was wrong with my computer. One of the first result said that defragmentation can cause everything I do on my computer to slow down. So I followed the instructions, defragmented, and like magic everything was faster.
I learned in college the theory behind why fragmentation occurs and how defragmentation ameliorates the performance issues. When you write a file to the disk, it has to find enough free space to fit that file somewhere on it. It writes the data into blocks, which means there can be some leftover space if for instance a file only needs two and a half blocks. If you have a file that only takes up half a block, it would fit perfectly into the remaining space.
Theory in this case is very different than reality. What ends up happening is that there are a lot of left over pieces of blocks that can’t be used. Fragmentation can come into play when the file has to be written to the disk in blocks that are some distance apart. This is bad, slow, and can be mitigated with defragmentation. Some additional time can be taken to move things around on the disk so that contiguous free space is maximized. New files can then take advantage of close spatial locations to increase performance.
Technical talk aside, the idea of defragmentation is a powerful one. I see many people give advise that uses the principle of defragmentation without explicitly mentioning it. Nearly every article I read on how to boost your performance at work suggest becoming more focused by removing distractions like Twitter, Facebook, Reddit, etc. The human brain was built to focus on a single task. Multitaskers are the exception. For the majority of us, myself included, we work best when we attack one problem at a time.
I’ve found huge performance boosts by intentionally taking away distractions while I program. I make myself conscious of when I need to be programming and when I can take a break. By never mixing the two, I’ve noticed my programming is better with my breaks leaving me better refreshed. I perform better at my job by turning my work day into discrete fragments. I can focus on the task at hand without distracting myself.
In keeping with principle ubiquity, I apply defragmentation to nearly every aspect of my life. One of the most obvious is the hours I work. Through some self analysis, I found out that my most productive hours are in the morning. I think it’s because will power is naturally high in the morning, and decreases as the day goes on and more choices need to be made. By maximizing the hours I spend working at my peak time, my work has become noticeably better.
Defragmentation comes into play because of how I spend my time before and after work. If I had it my way, I would start working 10 to 15 minutes after I wake up in the morning. That’s enough time for a quick shower, breakfast, and anything else that comes up. The pre-work fragment is necessary, so there is no way I can cut it out. I normally start working an hour and 20 minutes after I wake up, which I’m still trying to minimize. My optimal work fragment is eight hours with a five minute lunch break.
With around 10 hours spent in the pre-work, work, and commute home phase, that leaves me 14 hours for everything else in my life. If I sleep for seven hours, that leaves a seven hour “Zach” fragment. If I wake up at 5 AM, start work at 6:20 AM, leave work at 2:30 PM, and get home at 3 PM, that means the time between 3 PM and 10 PM is mine. My “Zach” fragment is as large as it can possibly be given the constraints of my system. (i.e. my life)
I noticed a direct correlation between being cranky and starting work late or leaving work late. My body was telling me I needed a larger chunk of time, it just took my mind while to realize my schedule needed defragmentation. Since I switched to this new schedule, I noticed that my work and my overall mood has improved. I have more energy than I did before even while getting slightly less sleep. By allowing myself to move from one fragment to another with as little overlap and mixing as possible, my life has become defragmented and overall better.