5 Simple Ways to Stop Feeling Stuck – Step 3: Start Heatmapping

This is Part 3 in a Five Part series.

Read the Intro

Read Step 1: Identify and Attack Your Triggers

Read Step 2: Make a Bored List

One thing I’ve learned about myself over year years of failure and embarrassment is that I am not good at recognizing correlations in my life. You’ve probably heard the phrase “correlation does not equal causation” in regards to data. On a scientific level, this principle holds true, but I’ve found that, on a personal level, correlation often does equal causation.

Other people are often than the ones who point out possible causes of a problem I’m experiencing. Friends have noticed that I tend to fall asleep if I eat a lot of bread or that I touch my hair a lot and that might be why it gets greasy so fast. These sound like obvious culprit, but before they were pointed out to me I assumed I just couldn’t stay awake during movies and that it was impossible to clean my hair. Connecting emotions to tangible aspects of my life does not come naturally to me.

Hence, Heatmapping.

If I had to pick one tool that I’ve found to be the most essential getting unstuck it would be Heatmapping. No contest.

I first discovered Heatmapping in college and it quite literally changed my life. I was exhausted all the time (like, fall asleep at 8 p.m. on my birthday exhausted) and there was no reason for it. I was happy and getting plenty of sleep and it wasn’t Winter. It was infuriating. I couldn’t stay up past 9 and I was tired all the time, but there was no discernible cause.

I found out about Heatmapping from Susan Dennard (if you are a writer, Susan Dennard is the Yoda you need—her website is incredible). Dennard used Heatmapping to figure out when she was most productive and what elements factored into that increased productivity. By using this technique she was able to figure out her peak work times and how to stretch those times so she could get more writing done.

So. What’s Heatmapping?

Basically Heatmapping requires you to track your activity and mood every hour of the day (you can modify this to every half hour to be more specific). I take this one step farther and also track my activities so I can correlate them with my mood. By tracking mood and energy level on a daily basis you can identify patterns over time. Maybe you tend to feel gloomiest at 3 p.m. or are more productive on days you drink less than two cups of coffee.

In college, I filled a folder with a bunch of copies of a Heatmap, bought some colored markers, and went to town. Within a few weeks I had noticed a pattern: the more sleep I got the less energy I had the next day. I kept tracking my sleep and eventually figured out that I need to between 6.5-7.5 hours to be operate at my highest level. This was a total game changer for me. I’d always been told that more sleep was essential to feeling rested, but in my case the more I slept the more I wanted to sleep and the more exhausted I felt. Since then I’ve to manage my sleep to make sure I’m getting the right amount for my body.

So how can you start Heatmapping? It’s easy and involves coloring so get excited.

1. Choose your template

Traditional, productivity Heatmaps use a circular grid. I find this confusing, but if circles float your boat, you can find a template of this model template here and a detailed explanation of how to use it here.

If you prefer a more straight forward spreadsheet, you can create your own version in Excel. This is what I did in college, but  lately I’ve been using Google Sheets. I like Sheets because it’s on the internet so I can access it from anywhere.

I used to print out pages and fill them in physically. If that’s your style, go for it! Any excuse to color is acceptable in my book. Personally, I find that it’s easier for me to track things digitally.

Here’s an example of what my Heatmap looks like:

Heatmap

I prefer to break my day into half hour increments (as opposed to hour) because I have a short attention span and tend to rotate activities more than once an hour.

If you’d like more info on how I designed my personal Heatmap comment below or shoot me an email and I’ll do a post giving more details on it.

2. Choose your color scheme

Next you’ll want to figure out what color scheme you want to use.

Here’s mine:

Red = time wasted

Green = peak productivity

Pink = lightly wasted time

Orange = TV/entertainment

Purple = socializing

Blue = sleep

Grey = rest, recharge, introvert time

Yellow = necessary life tasks (cleaning, commuting, etc.)

I have this pasted at the bottom of my Heatmap Sheet so I can refer to it easily.

Here’s how Susan Dennard color codes her map:

  • blue= sleeping
  • purple= cooking, showering, dealing with the pets/husband
  • green= creative flow zone
  • yellow= I’m productive but distracted
  • orange=  ugggggggh, I’m barely accomplishing anything
  • red= watching TV, reading, chatting with husband/friends

You can find more on Susan’s Heatmapping method here. I cannot emphasize this enough: if you are a writer and this type of color coding organizational stuff appeals to you, go check out Susan’s website immediately. She is the Queen of charts/productivity/words.

For other ideas you can check out Productive Flourishing’s model, which focuses more on energy level and less on activity.

3. Set up your supplies

If you’re going old school, print 31 copies of your Heatmap and stick them in a folder or binder. Plan on carrying this with you everywhere for the next month. You’ll also want to buy some markers or coloring pencils. If you’re going the digital route, make sure you have access to your Heatmap on your phone and laptop.

4. Map away!

Now’s the fun part! Start coloring in your boxes. I think it’s better to do this throughout the day as opposed to all at once, but if you’re struggling to remember to update the map on an hourly basis, you can do it once a day.

Tips for effective Heatmapping:

  • Set reminders

In order to get the best results, it’s essential to fill in the map every day—and to fill it in on the day you’re recording. It’s not helpful if you spend Friday morning trying to remember your mood and activities on Thursday. To help me remember to fill mine in I have reminders set on my phone and computer.

  • Commit to Heatmapping for 31 days

To get a sense of your mood and energy patterns, you need at least a month’s worth of data. You can start looking for patterns earlier, but for best results, stick with it for an entire month.

  • Be honest

When we start paying attention to how we’re spending our time and how that makes us feel, it can be tempting to lie. You might want to downplay how much time you spend watching TV or how many hours a day you waste trolling the internet. Don’t. Being honest about your life is the only way you can hope to improve it.

I’m found that simply paying more attention to the way I’m spending my time often helps me get unstuck. And Heatmapping is the best way I know to force myself to pay attention. Have you tried Heatmapping or another time tracking method? Let me know in the comments below?

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