How do you structure your week to get the most out of it?
What does time spent meaningfully mean to you, and how do you guarantee an entire week full of meaningful work and leisure?
These questions have been on my mind a lot lately. In balancing blogging projects with a contract position that currently has me in an office three days out of the week, I have to stick to the work schedule I set for myself, otherwise projects fall through the cracks. For me, a week full of meaningful work and leisure entails producing my best work and meeting all of my professional goals and deadlines, then maintaining a social life, getting out for a run at least three days a week and making semi-regular trips to the yoga studio. All this is non-negotiable, which is why I’ve been especially interested in figuring out how I can continue to operate at this capacity without burning out.
So I began to experiment. And while I’m still learning as I go along, I can share what I know works:
1. Wake up earlier than necessary. If you’re anything like me, your morning sets the tone for the rest of your day. If I sleep in and wake up to a sense of urgency and disorganization, I carry that chaos with me all day. But if my morning is leisurely and productive, I’m unstoppable for the next 15 hours. I find it much easier to kick ass in numerous, impressive ways on days when I give myself enough time to 1) take pleasure in my morning and 2) knock something off my to-do list before 6:30 a.m.
If you’re wondering what exactly one does with mornings if not sleep in until the last possible second, I recommend any of the following:
- Get a quick work-out in. Half an hour is all you need to go for a run, lift weights, practice yoga, or see how many push ups you can do.
- Make an awesome breakfast. Even if all you can stomach at this hour is a cup of tea, sit down somewhere with it, slow down and savor.
- Plan your day: What business-related items are you going to accomplish today? What will you achieve in your personal life? How will you make the day meaningful?
- Write a to-do list and cross one item off of it in the early a.m.–before whatever hour you typically start making things happen.
- Gather inspiration: read, journal, check the news. Whatever gets you excited to start the day and tasks at hand.
2. Get enough sleep. I find this one the most challenging because it almost always involves sacrifice. It is the choice between staying out late with friends and waking up at 5 a.m. to run. While it’s tempting to prioritize both over sleep for one night, I’ve made this mistake enough times to know I’ll start falling behind on work the next day and may not catch up for days. It’s the threat of this pattern that gets me in bed with a book and a cup of tea at a reasonable hour, even when I feel capable of working well into the night.
3. Make time to work-out. I know I could work through a work-out or a yoga class I had planned for my day, but I rarely do unless I’m incredibly pressed for time. When I take time away from business and personal commitments to focus on my body and release built up tension I feel more energized, more motivated, and more capable. It is the next best thing to sleeping–sometimes even better than sleep–when I feel like I need to re-charge.
4. Set deadlines. Before I’d worked with any editors or found my first client, I was accountable to no one but myself for producing my work, which made it really difficult to get things done in a timely manner. Now, whenever I have a task that needs doing and affects no one but myself, I set a due date and put it in my calendar.
5. Go off the map. Unless the task at hand is marketing, I’ve started to make myself completely unreachable while I’m working: I turn my phone notifications off, log out of Facebook, Twitter and Gmail, and head somewhere I can’t even access the internet if I’m writing and know it won’t be necessary. Eliminating distraction is crucial with all the miscellaneous bits of life crowding around and threatening to spill into prime work hours. Yes, I would like to tweet a link to that article and then maybe do a load of laundry, but first I am going to work without distraction for a few hours.
6. Write out daily to-do lists. My relationship with lists goes far beyond grocery shopping; I think, dream and imagine by lists. I also work by them. If I’m seriously concerned about the likelihood of accomplishing a set of tasks in a day, I write them down in my little blue notebook and cross them off as I go. The commitment of pen on paper is like a sacred pact that I wouldn’t dare break.
7. Plan the next day ahead of time. Planning leads to getting more done. If I think about what I want to accomplish before jumping to action, I can structure my day so it’s easier to transition from one priority to the next. One of my favorite things to do is work in a bar or coffee shop and invite friends to join me for a drink after I’ve finished my projects for the day. Or, a friend will join me for work and together we’ll do instant happy hour.
8. Organize the day around peek times of productivity. I work best in the morning, and I know that if I put off writing until the afternoon it’s probably never going to happen. So mornings are for work. The dishes in the sink, the run to the dry cleaners, the sending of the weekend brunch plans email–all of that must wait until I’ve used up my prime concentration hours. I don’t need to be brilliant and focused to take the trash out.
What does a productive and meaningful work week look like for you, and how do you make it happen?