Months ago, on one of our planning days, Katie and I started talking about the ways we could be more organized and productive with our time and energy during the working hours. We keep fairly regular work hours (9-5) even though we have the flexibility to work at different times. Even with those regular "work hours" I felt we could be more intentional with our time.
Prior to beginning the block schedule we were all over the place during our work day, mostly motivated by whatever was due or whatever I felt like working on at that time. When you work that way there's really not much time for intentional planning and I always felt like I was putting out fires. It might sound awesome to be able to pick and choose what to work on (and in so many ways it is) but it's also easy to lose sight of the bigger goals.
Here are some of the reasons I wanted to try implementing a block schedule:
- I wanted my evenings and weekends free. There have been times over the years when I've had really loose boundaries related to work. I think this might have a lot to do with the fact that the lines between work & life can be easily blurred around here (my life is a big part of my work and my work is a big part of my life). In order to get to the point where I could let go of working in the evenings and on the weekends I needed to make sure that I was finishing what I needed to finish during the hours I have already set aside for work. I also needed to simply decide that was what I was going to do and then follow-through. That in and of itself has been a process for me over time to let go of work-stuff when I should just be focused on living-stuff. Everyone around here benefits when I'm in alignment with that intention.
- I wanted to be more organized, intentional and focused with my tasks. I was doing way too many things last minute vs. planning ahead. I was also doing way too many things all at once and jumping from project to project without feeling like I was immersed in anything. The other end of that coin, which I also experienced, was a hyper-focus on one thing or another to the detriment of other things on my list.
- I wanted to be working on making stuff vs. wasting time living someone else's life on Pinterest or Facebook or where ever it was that I was clicking around. As many of you know and have experienced it's easy to get lost on the internet - finding cool stuff, daydreaming, ordering products, getting inspired (or frustrated), etc. And in reality some of those things are a part of my work life. My problem is that sometimes they begin to take over and I find myself doing way too much of that and not enough time creating my own content (whether that's developing new classes, products, etc).
- I wanted to have the next week of blog posts all planned out (and at least half of them all ready to go) by the time we leave the office on Friday. This plays into the evenings and weekends free portion of my goals. It's an awesome feeling going into the weekend knowing that I won't be asking myself what I'll have on my website for Monday morning on Sunday evening. I strongly dislike that feeling.
- I wanted to try something different. I've never created and/or maintained a structured work schedule like this and I was curious if it would make a difference for me in both the way I felt about my work day and my overall focus and productivity. There's already a lot of inherent discipline that goes into working from home (especially in a creative field) and I wanted to see how I would react to the added structure of a time-specific schedule.
With all those things in mind we moved forward with setting up a significantly more structured work day. Here's a look at that process:
STEP ONE | FIGURE OUT THE TASKS
The first step was to simply make a list of my main tasks/responsibilities. I wrote out a list that included everything I could think of that I generally do from week to week (knowing I'd probably forget something).
From there Katie and I talked about which things I really wanted to spend my time on (in an ideal world where I didn't have to consider income) and which things would be her responsibility. Getting those two things (generating an income + what I love to do most) into alignment is always the goal.
That discussion was super valuable and it's one that we will continue to have as we make adjustments and as my business evolves.
At the time we created this first block schedule my tasks included email/admin/social media, product design, class content creation, Project Life®, traditional layouts, video editing, post writing, unfinished projects, project planning, online inspiration, classroom maintenance, and a few other miscellaneous things.
STEP TWO | CREATE A SCHEDULE
After we had a main list of tasks I made a spreadsheet grid using Numbers (you could easily use Excel or other spreadsheet software) and outlined a Monday through Friday week from 9am to 5pm which are generally the hours we work.
I sat at the computer and we talked through some of the weekly deadlines we have and focused on placing those tasks in the schedule first. Doing this on the computer made the most sense as it was easy to move things around and color-code it all so I could see it right in front of me.
As we talked through creating the schedule we opted for bigger blocks of time (vs. doing one hour for this and one hour for that) to give ourselves some room to see how it went and to enable me to really get into something vs. just scratching the surface. We knew it was likely that other things would come up - either things I forgot or simply things that came up (new project opportunities, things that happen once a month, etc).
On the schedule we designated my job and Katie's job for any given time period. There were some places we left off her specific job as we anticipated that what she would be doing at those times was cleaning up loose ends and/or catching up on things from earlier in the week.
Here's what we came up with:
- 9AM - 10AM | We begin each day with Admin. We both answer emails, check classroom message boards, post to Facebook/Twitter/Google+ and outline our expectations for the day. Starting out this way across the board has helped us stay on track and adjust as we go before things get way too far off track.
- 10AM - 12:30PM | Monday : Digital Products // Tuesday : Digital Product Examples, Digital Product Post // Wednesday: Project Life (spreads not working on posts) // Thursday: Unfinished Projects // Friday: Post Planing
- 12:30PM - 1PM | Lunch.
- 1PM - 1:30PM | Online inspiration/Pinterest posting/browsing and/or prepare inspiration posts. We both thought it was important to actually carve out time for this because we believe there's value in spending time looking for inspiration and setting aside specific time for it vs. just doing it whenever we felt bored. This doesn't mean that we don't click over there at other times too (we both do) but again, it gives us a specific time each day that we know will come again the next day too.
- 1:30PM - 5PM | There's a few different blocks in this area that cover the following tasks: Digital Product Sample (Monday, 1:30-2:30PM), New Content Creation/New Class Creation (Monday, 2:30-5PM) // TBA (Tuesday, 1:30-5PM) - this is a catch-all afternoon that can be responsive to whatever the most important task might be such as a blog hop, design team projects, catch-up, etc) // Project Life post (Wednesday, 1-3PM), OLW/Blog Hop/Interviews, etc (Wednesday 3-5PM) // Unfinished Projects (Thursday, 1:30-2:30PM), Post Writing/Video Editing (Thursday 2:30-5pm) // Weekly Layout & Video (Friday, 1:30-5PM)
One thing we added in after the fact was a half-hour for me to work on financial stuff one day each week. This carves out a bit of time for payroll, paying bills, budgeting, reconciling and taking care of any other things along those lines.
STEP THREE | IMPLEMENT
After setting it up on paper we printed out a couple color copies and we put it into practice.
We stuck with it pretty consistently for about three weeks. It was enough time to see that it definitely worked (achieved the goals I was hoping to have happen) when we stuck with it. We both felt organized and motivated and we liked that it was super clear what we should be working on at any given time. Things were getting done and my personal focus increased.
I loved that I was forced to stop at a certain point and move on to something else.
I loved that I could let the other stuff go to focus on whatever is on the schedule (vs. feeling the pressure of all the things on the list because I know there will be time set aside to attack it later in the week). That was huge for me.
I loved that it really makes me think about other opportunities as they pop up. Do they really fit with my current goals? Is taking time away from one of my regular tasks on the schedule worth it to be able to do this other thing?
It was like a breath of fresh air was breathed into this space. Seriously.
And then Katie went on vacation and I did good on my own for a couple of days and then fell off the wagon and focused on whatever I was most interested in at the moment. Ha. It's really easy for me to fall back into my old semi-organized fly-by-the-seat-of-my-pants-distracted-ways. Which in reality is okay - the things that needed to get done still got done.
That said, we're back on it and we're making some adjustments once again to align it with my current goals. I think that's one of the things I liked most - it's a general structure. It helps keep me in line and gives me something to come back to when I get off task. It's also flexible and can be adjusted as needed.
STEP FOUR | EVALUATE
Now that time has passed since we started and from when we fell off the wagon it's obvious to both Katie and me that this is a great general structure for us to have.
Here's some additional observations:
- I've noticed that we stick with the schedule the best at the beginning of the week and/or in the morning and are most likely to fall off schedule in the second half of the week/second half of the day. This could have something to do with why I've not made a lot of progress on those unfinished projects. I should probably keep track of what I end up doing on those Thursday mornings instead of the unfinished projects - what's taking up that time?
- I've noticed that there really is time to get all the things done I have on my list if we follow the schedule. Less distraction = more productivity. I know it's kind of a "duh" concept, but it's true. And it feels good.
- I've noticed that I really like having someone keep me on task. It's awesome driving the ship but sometimes even the captain feels lost. I like having Katie here to help me stay on task and evaluate what really is the next most important thing.
- I've noticed that when I'm following the schedule it helps in other areas of my life too. Because I feel more productive during the work day I feel more free to spend my evening energy on other things without that running list of work to-do's in my head. Kids benefit. Garden benefits. My health benefits. Those are all definitely wins.
Looking at this original schedule now there's definitely some adjustments that need to be made as we move into the summer months and as project priorities shift.
I'm excited to be back on track. Not in a guilty-I-screwed-it-up-I'm-a-failure way - I simply now know how much the structure really does impact not only our productivity but how I feel about my working hours.
Go Ali & Katie go.
Check out a post Katie did on her blog about what a typical day is like around the office here. http://bit.ly/1kY0Nc1