I schedule my work day based on the time and attention I have in a given week. I spend my mornings doing creative work, afternoons doing consulting work, and early evenings doing admin work. I call them my work areas of focus or work modes. To give you an idea of what each area looks like:
Creative Work involves:
- making (writing)
- learning (researching)
- thinking (diverging/ideating)
Consulting Work involves:
- client meetings
- value delivery
Admin Work involves:
- defining work
- scheduling work
- processing inboxes
- communication: emails/calls/skype
We have limited time and attention that we can devote to our work on any given day. And, our capacity to focus in terms of attention diminishes over the course of a given day. So, it’s best to schedule work based on the effort required. The work requiring the most effort and value should be done in the mornings, while that requiring the least effort and value should be done toward the end of a work day.
Doing Creative Work requires me to have the most attention on the work in terms of energy available. Otherwise, I might not do it justice. And because mornings are when I start my day with the most energy, nothing is more conducive than doing that creative work then.
Also, I can’t have things on my mind when I’m doing creative work. This is why I write Morning Pages before I get into the daily Creative Work. Writing Morning Pages also acts as a warm-up for me, along with doing a daily review in the morning.
Doing Admin work doesn’t require as much of my attention and energy/effort, which is why I’ve scheduled it toward the end of my work day.
There’re a few reasons why I work this way:
- By scheduling work based on effort required, I’m optimizing the best use of my attention, which diminishes over the course of a given day.
It’s important to me that I work on all three of my work areas every day, and working this way ensures that I do just that. And because I’ve scheduled them on my calendar, I know I’m going to get my work done in those areas every day. Working this way also removes the need to think of which area I’m going to work on and when, because I know when I’ll be doing them.
With this method, my work time is fully accounted for. I know exactly where my work time is going and how much time is going to what area. So, if I’m not getting the results I want, something needs to change somewhere.
When I know that I only have so much available work time during a given day and/or week, it helps me be realistic as to how much work I can get done in the course of a typical work day/week.
Part of that has to do with embracing those time constraints rather than resisting them. Having limited hours to work does not actually limit you; it liberates you. Only when you have defined your work hours can you become truly limitless in terms of what you can do within those boundaries when you show up to do the work. You don’t have to think about when to work; you just do the work. You embrace the constraints rather than squandering the extra time.
As a result, I end up getting only the right work done at the right time, on a regular basis.
Another benefit of using work modes is that you’re being proactive by doing the same things every day at the same time, such as checking (and processing) email, making/returning phone calls, etc. rather than constantly reacting to inputs throughout the day. This further removes the need for doing those things at a different time.
Working in terms of work modes also obviates the need for having “contexts” such as calls to make, emails to send, etc. because they fall under a single category of Admin work. And because you’ve designated time for doing that Admin work in your calendar, you don’t have to make separate lists for it. You could still make those lists for calls to make, emails to send, etc. and consolidate it under Admin if you want.
I would like to believe that I’m very disciplined in terms of following these work modes to a T, but to be honest, I don’t always make it work due to following my impulses rather than being present. Other times, I may be waiting for an important email or phone call in the times other than those allocated for it, and as a result, I’ll end up doing those things in the moment.
That said, when I do follow this daily framework, which is most of the time, I find myself getting more of the right things done without the thinking required as to when I’ll do what. It also helps structure my day and week better and helps me be realistic as to what (and how much) I’ll get done and when.
How can you practice this in your own work day? Well, the first step is to figure out your work hours. Let’s say you work 9-5. Then, determine your work areas of focus; let’s say for argument’s sake that they’re the same as mine. Then, figure out how much time you want to spend in each of those areas in terms of percentage. For instance, I spend 50% of my work time doing creative work. For you, that might be different.
Then, divide your work day based on how much time you think is appropriate for each of those areas. Once you determine those areas, set up calendars in your calendar application that correlate to those percentages. That way you’ll know where your work time is spent, and how much time you’re spending in each of those areas.
Similarly, create a list of categories in your list manager based on those areas. That way, when it’s time to do creative work, for instance, you know what’s next on your list. Then, it’s just a matter of doing that thing in the respective time allocated for that area of focus.
All of this sounds more complicated than it actually is. Once you set up the work modes in your trusted system using a calendar and a list manager, it’s just a matter of following your schedule in terms of showing up and doing the work. Once you’ve taken the time to figure out what’s truly important to you in your work, then it’s just a matter of doing your work effortlessly. Of course, you still have to define the work you want to do within those individual areas/work modes, but setting it up this way gives you a framework for getting the right work done efficiently. Because you’ve defined the work areas that you deem important, it’s just a matter of defining the work within those areas and showing up to do them.
This framework works well for me most of the time, but it might not work for you. That said, there are other ways of adapting this framework. For instance, you could structure some days of the week while leaving other work days unstructured. That would be a nice balance of thinking about your work versus doing it.
You could even set up your work days based on your areas of focus. So, for instance, if you’re working in an organization, Mondays could be for ideation, Tuesdays for marketing, Wednesdays for products, etc.
Here’re some challenges you might face in trying to follow this framework:
The biggest challenge for you will be having the discipline and the integrity to stick to your schedule. I overcame this challenge by being present. When you know what’s important for you, you’ll stop wasting time, and start using it more effectively.
When you don’t stick to your schedule, you’ll lower your self-trust. When you’re starting out with this habit, focus on showing up and doing the work. Then, evaluate your progress in a week’s time to see if anything needs changing. Wash, Rinse, Repeat.
Schedule times for thinking about your work, and then schedule time for doing that work. Don’t try to do both at the same time. I wrote about it in thinking and doing. For me, early mornings and early evenings are conducive to thinking about my work, defining it, and scheduling it, while the rest of the day is for doing the work.
There will be times when you’ll have ad hoc work that shows up unexpectedly, which is fine as long as you can keep it to a minimum.
When you design your day or week with this framework, you ensure that you’re covering all aspects of your work and that nothing is slipping through the cracks, along with the added benefit of knowing where your work time is being spent and how it’s being spent.