Maintaining an effective work schedule is essential to a proper “work-life” balance. I’m a firm believer that you can get your work done if you do it effectively, even if a lot remains on the table and you feel as if you accomplished nothing. The key here is continuous progress and self awareness.
Why this post?
Last weekend, I was talking to a neighbor and we began chatting around the topic of work. He asked me what is it that I do because he always sees me walking the dogs. I told him I enjoy life and in a nutshell my walk of life. He then mentioned that he currently has 14-16 hour work days.
I said, I’ve been there and done that, and asked him why he works so many hours and he simply said he had a lot to do. Then I asked him if he actually tracks his workday? What I told him was, THE actual time he works. He looked puzzled at me, and we spoke a bit about other topics regarding our community and off we went our separate ways for the day. He may be thinking, whats wrong with this dude 🙂
You see, when I asked him the question regarding time tracking – the purpose was to dig a bit deeper to see how he utilized his time over those 14-16 hours. Work to me is when I am crunching on the keyboard, solving problematic excels and analyzing data, etc. The coffees in-between or a brisk walk, meditating on the terrace, talking to colleagues, those all do not count towards my work day. The same was true in my former corporate environment. When I first started nearly a decade ago, I literally had no other life. I worked easy 15-16 hour days, got home, worked while getting/preparing food and then did the same thing again the next day. To be frank, it was a mix of a heavy workload. At that time when I left the office for extended weekends or so, I had three other colleagues that needed to cover me. But it was also connecting with people on our campus and via conferences and meetings – building relationships and getting to know others is part of life.
So I just wanted to take a moment and throw out a few pointers that have helped me over the years in regards to effective work scheduling, because whether your grinding the 9-5, are a freelancer working from home, or a hustling entrepreneur networking with investors, staying on track and focusing on what needs to get done can be difficult. Nonetheless, what’s key is to know yourself. These are just a few thoughts in regards to building a habitual work system that allows you to utilize your peak productivity hours, focus on daily commitments, and maintain a “work-life” balance that is reasonable.
Find out when your brain is in its optimal zone
All of us are different when it comes to our brains being at their best. Some of us wake up instantly in the morning ready to tackle the day, while others take hours on end to just “be” in the moment, sipping coffee after coffee. Personally, I’m at my best early mornings before anyone else is up and late at night. Those are my two peak blocks. I schedule my days so that everything inbetween those moments and my time for sleep is utilized best by doing “low-key, standard” work.
Now, it may be tough for you depending on your job, and Ive been there. I’ve had nonstop meetings throughout the day and afternoons, where at times Id rather just be running or feuling up on energy. However, we need to adust to those circumstances, BUT take note of a few key points below that relate to this one.
See if you understand and know when you work best, than you will be able to schedule and take advantage of all that natural energy and really put in some crunch time into emails, calls, meetings, discussions, work, teaching, mentoring, etc. An interesting read is this article over at FastCompany where they break down sleep expert Michael Breus’s analysis of how sleep and sleep type affect your so called “chronotype” (Your sleep habbits and energy patterns that have an overall effect on your productivity during the day.
If you had to classify yourself based on this article what would you be?
- The Bear
- The Lion
- The Wolf
- The Dolphin
From the four of these, Id have to go with the Lion, albeit the fact that I dont have a regular sleeping schedule. So find out when you work best and then utilize that to your advantage.
Carve Out Focus Blocks
This is key, especially in the corporate world. Everybody thinks that what they need to have done is what is the most urgent, most important task in the entire world. I know people who were on call (including myself) all the time. Whenever the boss rang up, off they went. Is that really the true importance of your work life? Heeding a call at anytime. No!
You are tasked with a variety of work. Take chunks out of your day, perhaps when you are mentally at your best, so that you have uninterrupted time to achieve A LOT without any distraction. When you block chunks of your day you relieve the stress and anxiety of needing to get something done because someone wants it done. You remain productive, on track, even when you have full days.
In the corporate environment, I did the same. I had full days nearly every day for many many years. However, I would block chunks of my calendar – typically 3 x 30mins to really work through my tasks without interruptions, only allowing myself to be bothered during that period if I deemed the contact or email or call more vital to overall business success then what I was doing. Utilize those chunks of time to do emails, research, brainstorm, think strategically and work on projects. Whatever it may be, you need to time to yourself and your tasks, otherwise, you’ll be running the hamster wheel all day long.
Figure out how you best prioritize
I wont go into what I think is best, however, I want to leave you with this thought on the topic. Find out what works best for you when it comes to prioritzing.
Some school of thoughts teach and preach that you should start the day with an easy task. Others say you should dive right into your top priorities early morning to get the hard work done and out of the way. Just google it, you’ll get a load of answers and life hacks on how to best tackle your to-do list, including a few posts here on my site.
What I want you to take away though is to try a few different techniques in regards to structuring your day and the items on your to-do list and see what works best for you. Reflect and repeat and create the system that works best and ultimately make it a habit for you.
Stop attending all those meetings
If there is one think I cant stand in the business world its pointless meetings. Meetings consume so much of the business world’s time, with a majority of them absolutely useless and the information or topics discussed often able to be tackled in much more effective ways.
I read an article in Harvard Business Review recently suggesting that top executives spend nearly 23 hours of a week in meetings. That is roughly 10 hours more than in the 1960’s. What I find odd is that we all know that meetings are often (not always – depends on the nature) unproductive, time consuming, leading to disengagement, most of the time your doing something else, especially if its via phone, however, we STILL ALL GO TO THEM.
Personally, there are so many ways to increase productivity without the need to attend or increase meetings. Yes, I get that verbal speech is always better AND faster (tone of voice, intonation, etc.) however there are so many tasks that could be done better over a platform or software like Slack, Google docs, etc. Teams could be so much more effective and productive. A meeting costs money. Lots of money. Think about that.
Personal example: if I was invited to a meeting and I believed that I didnt need to be in it, Id often ask the organizer the purpose of the meeting and what they expect me to bring to the table. Depending on the reply I would accept or politely decline. I think most of you simply cannot so no, for the fear of X. Whatever that may be. That is something that needs to be learned as well. It’s OKAY to say no and decline a meeting.
Now if you need to be in meetings, try to schedule them similiary to above point – in chunks. That way you get them done with, have your to-dos, can prioritze and now have time to reassess your schedule so as to be more effective.
In order to build an effective work schedule communicating how you work and adapting to your environment are vital. Communicate to your coworkers, your boss, your family, your friends, whomever it may be so that they know how you go about your time and perhaps spur some thought for them. Nonethless building an effective work schedule takes time, discpline, the right system and a bit of self-awareness. However in the long run it will pay off on your morale, productivity and overall success in whatever environment you may be. With that being said;
- Find our when you work best
- Chunk your time into blocks for uninterrupted work
- Learn how you best go about tackling tasks
- Dont waste time in useless meetings.
I know I did not touch on a few things in this post, however as mentioned in the beginning this was more to spur some thought from the discussion I had with my neighbor and personal experience in regards to effective work, especially in the corporate environment.
Your thoughts? Comment below!