Design A Productive, Meaningful Work Week: 8 Tips

Planning The Week

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?

 

On Business and Style: The Gentlewoman’s Code

woman in business suit

I love the idea of living by a code. A strong code defines the type of person you want to be and equips you with finite ways to live that life. To have a code is to stand for something. It is a plan for when there can be no plan–when life gets unpredictable and demanding and improvised badassery is the only option.

The modern gentlewoman is a feminist, a world traveler, a business owner, an artist, a boss, a lover, a risk-taker, a  pleasure seeker, a philanthropist, a leader, a teacher, a friend, a realist with big, ballsy plans. She’s got it together; she runs her life with practical authority, and she’s very good at getting what she wants.

Naturally, she has a code:

  • The gentlewoman is a warrior who charges through life with purpose. Proactive decision making and deliberate action are part of her daily battle strategy. She executes plans with intelligence and fierce determination. She calls bullshit when it happens and counterattacks with an instant grace that is as beautiful as it is lethal. She is always dressed for battle and her style is impeccable.
  • The gentlewoman isn’t concerned with pleasing others or seeking approval–it’s bad for business. She is kind and gracious in life, but she will not conceal her values just to keep a conversation agreeable. She never rushes to assure the person who ran into her because he wasn’t paying attention that “It’s okay.” She is not one to make a change for the sole purpose of gaining someone’s approval either. She demands what is hers and offers apology only when she is truly in the wrong.
  • She does what is necessary to get the job done. She knows that there are no rules but her own rules, and she’s no stranger to figuring things out on her own.
  • There is a forward-moving momentum to her life. She is never stagnant, always working toward the next goal. The gentlewoman sees the value in staying in on a Friday night to get ahead on work that is important to her. She works hard while she’s young so she can afford to work less later in life.
  • She appreciates a good, stiff drink. There’s nothing quite like relaxing with a tumbler of scotch after a long day of entrepreneurial badassery and creative revolution.
  • She deals in uncompromised honesty. She faces even the most painful truths head on because she knows lies and excuses shelter her only from being a greater, more evolved version of herself. Likewise, she’s loath to sugarcoat the truth for others. When a relationship–whether business or personal–isn’t working she ends it cleanly and definitively and moves on. She cuts ties with the sharpest blade and the gentlest truth.
  • A gentlewoman remembers a name when an introduction is made, and thenceforth uses it when speaking with her new acquaintance. There is power to be gained in remembering the name of everyone she meets.
  • She feels gratitude where others feel envy. The gentlewoman doesn’t resent other women for the things they have that she may lack–she’s too busy appreciating what she does have while she works to make the rest of her world better. She knows a woman with, for example, a prestigious job, or an abundance of lovers and admirers, is no more a woman to be envied than to be celebrated. She knows how to rejoice in the success of others while focusing on her own hard work and accomplishments.
  • She possesses the kind of self-assuredness combined with a love of risk taking that follows self-taught independence. She’s not afraid to strike out on her own and see the world at her own pace. She’s learned how to cook a nutritious meal, be on her own in a foreign country, change a light bulb and use a hammer because she understands what worth these skills have to her self-sufficiency.
  • She makes fitness a priority after a fulfilling career and social life. She takes care of her body with exercise and a healthy diet; she runs, swims, boxes or lifts weights for her health, and not as penance for the pizza she ate last night. She can enjoy an indulgent meal and skip a work-out to make a deadline with no hard feelings.
  • She is highly critical of how she spends her time and does not entertain distractions, including procrastination, perfection, uncertainty and jealousy. At any given moment she is either up to something highly productive, like revising her company’s marketing plan to drive up sales, or learning to code, or networking in a hotel bar; or she is doing something awesome, like skydiving, or reclining on the couch with a glass of champagne, a decadent dinner and the next “Game of Thrones” episode.
  • She is thoughtful before she speaks and chooses her words discerningly. She doesn’t complain about trivial inconveniences or toss out a remark  just to fill an uncomfortable silence. Her speech is precise; her words are weighted and measured to exact the greatest amount of control possible. She is not afraid to be bold, provocative or uncensored, but she determines when and where she is transparent. She is in control of her presentation, and therefore, the situation.
  • A gentlewoman holds her head high and her back straight. She could fill a room with her regal posture and dignified confidence.
  • She understands the importance of outward appearance and style. Wherever she is, she’s dressed with purpose. She has dedicated time to discovering a precise sense of style that works for her and she now wears her own version of class and sophistication. She evokes power in a pair of running shoes just as well as in a pair of expensive black pumps.
  • A gentlewoman is not perfect, and she does not strive to be perfect. She knows that to put perfection on a pedestal is to stunt her truth and creative edge. She knows that perfection is not an end result worth the effort it takes to achieve. She does not allow its pursuit to get in the way of her quest to make art, accept power and have fun.

photo credit: carbonated via photopin cc