Planning Your Most Productive Day

Summary: If you scheduled your ideally productive day, what would it look like? Take some time and write it down. (Tweet This)

OctoMom

You want more hours in the day? I can’t do that. However, I can give you the next best thing. I can show you how to get more out of the hours you do have.

Better yet, I’m going to show you how to do it without burning out. Because, let’s face it, burn-out is not productive.

I’ve been working from home for a few years now. During that time I’ve learned there are a lot of temptations to take me away from work. Some of those temptations seem to eat minutes without me even realizing it. I was stuck at the end of the day thinking, “Where did my day go?” and “What did I really accomplish?”

It changed for me a few months ago when I implemented this trick. Even if you don’t work from home, perhaps it can work for you.

What’s the trick? I create my own perfect daily schedule. Here it is, with explanations on why I do what I do:

6:00AMWake-upGetting up early is often cited as a habit of very successful people
6:00-6:10Eat breakfast
6:10-7:00Work on my most difficult projectWorking for around 50 minutes at one time is scientifically ideal. Why the most difficult project? In the morning, you have the most willpower.
7:00-7:15Break from workDo some kind of household chore such as fold laundry or emptying the dishwasher. I listen to Pandora for a further change of pace
7:15-8:00Work
8:00-8:50KidsGet the kids up and dressed, driven, and checked into day care
8:50-9:30Work
9:30-10:00Walk the dogUse my smartphone quickly scan email and delete anything that it unimportant. Quickly check my stock portfolio to see how the market opened. (This isn’t ideal, but I’m human).
10:00-10:50WorkThis is usually a good time to catch up on email, the first check of the day.
10:50-11:10Lunch
11:10-12:00Work
12:00-12:20Break from workThe first 10 minutes might be some kind of physical work with music. The last 10 minutes might be reading something fun like a few stories about the New England Patriots or the latest technology news.
12:20-1:00Work
1:00-1:30Walk the dog
1:30-2:10WorkGraze on a snack such as a KIND Bar or air popped popcorn
2:10-2:30ShowerSometimes take a bath with a smartphone reading my RSS feeds via Feedly
2:30-3:15SiestaTime to replenish my willpower. I'm also looking into meditation for 15 minutes here and get back to work
3:15-4:00WorkSecond round of email
4:00-5:00Dog ParkSometimes replaced by another dog walk and more work.
5:00-5:40KidsPick up kids at day care
5:40-6:45DinnerIncludes time to prepare and eat it.
6:45-9:30Family timePlay with kids; watch Jeopardy/Wheel of Fortune; watch Red Sox; do something else that is entertaining and not necessarily “productive."
9:30-11:00Light WorkWife and kids go to sleep (she works very early most days). Usually, by this time I don’t have too much more “work” left in me. This is a good time for a third round of email. It’s also good for setting up my goals next day. And of course, there’s hitting those RSS feeds… reading gives me articles ideas.

What’s Wrong with the Above Schedule?

Did you notice that there’s no time for going to the gym. There’s no time for any weightlifting. While I can get walking and even running with my dog, I need to schedule time maintain and build muscle. This is why I get to the end of the day and say to myself, “I didn’t get a workout in today. There's always tomorrow.”

Tomorrow never comes. I need to schedule it in today. If I did 15-20 minutes of exercise that focuses on big muscle groups (squats and such) after lunch that would be an improvement. The new schedule looks something like:

10:50-11:10 - Lunch - Perhaps a burrito: high protein, good fiber (beans), some starchy carbs allowed.
11:10-11:30 - Weight-bearing workout
11:30-12:00 - Work

Layer Your Schedule

I layered several different goals through this schedule. In general, these are work, responsibilities, health, and rest, and happiness.

Work

I get 8 periods of work in, or about 6 hours. That’s not counting the last couple of hours at the end of the night.

Maybe some will say, "Ha! Only 6 hours! I work a lot more than that." If you do and that’s what you are interested in, that’s great. I've read enough studies that say that this balance is more productive overall. I'd simply encourage you to look at the balance you have and see whether it works. Some of my "work" comes with running a household, managing kids, dog, and dinner, etc.

In any case, the main point is to avoid the Peter Gibbons' 15 minutes of work a week.

Health

There’s a mix of diet of exercise scheduled into my day.

For exercise, I average around 13,000 steps on my Fitbit, most of that coming from the dog walks. With the tweak above, I get some strength-building in as well.

For diet, I try to keep some meals high protein and low carbohydrate. I also work in snacks that are low on the glycemic index, lots of fiber, and/or have very little sugar (KIND Bars).

In a future post, I'll detail a list of foods that I eat throughout the day. It could be called, "Planning your most nutritious day."

Rest

I have a number of breaks in there to keep my willpower strong throughout the day. I find this really helps make my work productive. Unlike the Office Space quote from Peter Gibbons above, I avoid “just sorta space out for about an hour.”

One thing to note is that many of rejuvenation breaks are simply different kinds of "work." Taking my dog for a walk is a "quadruple dip" of productivity. It gives me:

  1. Exercise
  2. Exposure to fresh air and sun (sounds silly, but when you work on a computer these are very good things)
  3. Necessary care for a dependent (if Jake doesn’t get his walk, he’ll let you know about it).
  4. The rejuvenating break from work

Happiness

I eliminated most of the entries from 6:00PM until 9:30PM. It is best summed up by calling “family time.” It can vary quite a bit, especially in the summer when there’s more time for outside activities.

Adapt the Principles to Your Schedule

I realize that few people work from home. Some people don’t have dogs. Some people may not like omelets or carrots.

This schedule isn’t meant to work for everyone. I’m sharing it in hopes that it will inspire some ideas (and hopefully some discussion below).

Take a few minutes and write down your schedule. I’ll wait. Done? I bet you didn’t do it, but we’ll continue on anyway. You can always write it down when you see where this is going.

Ask yourself some questions:

  • Am I eating the right kinds of foods? Am I eating them at the right times?
  • Am I getting enough exercise? Am I getting both aerobic and anaerobic exercise.
  • Am I getting enough accomplished in my professional life?
  • Am I taking the necessary breaks that allow me refocus and be more productive?
  • Am I putting time aside for the family and friends and the social ties that contribute so much to our happiness?

You Are Not a Robot (Robots: Please disregard this section)

While I put hard times to everything in the schedule, it isn’t meant to be rigid and inflexible. Life intervenes. We own real estate properties and sometimes work needs to be done on them. Sometimes the wife, kids, or dog gets sick. Sometimes I get sick. In March, some of my “work” has to be devoted to getting tax information together.

Setting a schedule isn’t an exact science. Even if it were possible to make it one, I don’t think I’d like that much. Doing the same things, day in and day out, can get boring and lead to burn-out on a long-term basis. That’s why it is important to be mindful to take vacations and work those into your plans.

Share!

I’ve opened up my life and what works for me. It would really help me (and others) if you could share with me what works for you in the comments.

Anything is open game. Do you find that you work longer or shorter? Do you have your own “quadruple dips” of productivity like the dog walking mentioned above? (Bonus tip: Mowing your own lawn is another one. Think about it.)

This post involves:

Planning, Productivity

... and focuses on:

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