Let’s face it – you need a daily schedule.
As much as we might hate to admit it, staying on track when working from home can be a tall order some days. It’s hard to feel motivated when your day doesn’t have the same structure it did when you were working in an office. While there is no way to truly replicate the feeling of working in an office while working from home, creating a schedule for yourself is the best way to start. This will help you stay on track, and also give your days a little more structure.
Playing it by ear can be productive, but we all need a framework for our days sometimes. This “perfect schedule” will look different for everyone, but here are some ideas that will help you get the ball rolling and give you some tips on how to create your ideal daily schedule.
Visualize Your Perfect Day
Starting from the top, we can’t plan an ideal daily schedule until we know what you’re hoping to get out of your day. Are you someone who enjoys breaking up the day with lots of breaks, or do you need long interrupted blocks to focus? Do you need a run to get your head right before work or do you roll out of bed, hope for the best, and enjoy burning the midnight oil? What would you like to get out of your day?
Your ideal daily schedule has to start with a vision for how you’d like your day to go. The best place to start is by putting things into boxes. How many hours do you work? What would you like to get done in those hours. What responsibilities do you have outside of work and what else would you like to do with your day? This all sounds pretty elementary, but sitting down and writing it out is different than just “knowing” it. Writing it down, and in particular putting it onto your calendar, allows you to see it in black and white and start figuring out how it will fit into your day. Getting everything onto your calendar (including fun and recreational activities, like Noah Kagan would tell you to) allows you to start moving the time blocks around and tinker with different options for your schedule.
I’ve alluded to this already, and it might feel like it goes without saying, but when you’re putting together your schedule, you should always be thinking about what will be most productive for you. For example, let’s say it takes you a little while to get warmed up in the morning, and you’re more of an afternoon person. If that’s the case, it wouldn’t make sense for you to plan to work on your most important tasks in the morning – leave those for the afternoon when you’re fully energized. Or if you know frequent short breaks can derail your momentum, maybe try scheduling a couple longer breaks instead.
This will be different for everyone – everybody has their own specific needs and workflows that will make some schedules work better than others. So when you start to create your daily schedules, don’t worry too much about what your coworkers are doing. Make sure your schedule will work for you before anything else.
Understand your responsibilities
As with most remote work strategies, the most important factor to consider is your workload. This will probably change week to week (or even day to day), so at the start of the week, or the end of the previous one, have a look at the projects on your desk and use that to begin making your schedule. For example, if you have two big projects that will require input from your coworkers/managers, it might be helpful to schedule work for that project in the morning so you can still get feedback from others before the day is basically over. For those of us morning people who tend to get a bit burned out as the day goes on, it’s good to try to schedule less important projects for the afternoon, and more important ones for the morning when you’re still feeling your best.
With that said, your workload is also bound to affect how intense your schedule is. Let’s say you have three big projects that need to be finished by the end of the week that will take a lot of time. For that week, you should probably schedule less break time and give yourself bigger (or multiple) blocks of time to work on those projects. If you have a lighter workload in a particular week, you can schedule slightly longer breaks or more time to check in with your coworkers, and shorter time blocks to help keep things interesting. This will be different for everybody, and will certainly change week to week, but it’s still important to consider your workload – and your working style – when making your schedule. After all, work is the biggest chunk of the day for most of us.
Use a modern scheduling tool
“Here comes the pitch,” you’re probably thinking. Just a short one! Some people can simply come up with a schedule in their head and stick to it without writing anything down, but most of us are not that lucky. You need something concrete in front of you to make all of this visual, and that means it’s time to get a great scheduling tool. What a coincidence, it just so happens we’ve got the best one, and it’s free to try it out.
If you’re on your smartphone a lot during the day, (and let’s be honest, who isn’t?) a mobile friendly tool like Woven’s mobile app is easy to whip out of your pocket to add new events, reminders, or just check on what you have coming up next. Most scheduling tools (but especially Woven) are designed for easy use by groups as well, which is perfect if you work closely with a number of other people.
But the important thing here is to memorialize your plans on a calendar, instead of just trying to go it alone and hope for the best. If you’re just dipping your toes in, Google Calendar is easy to use and fairly universal, so that could be a good option if you just need something simple to block out time, and is a perfect base for syncing your email and Woven. If you want to make your ideal schedule a reality, you’re going to need a little help. As long as you have some kind of scheduling tool, it’ll be much easier to create and stick to a good daily schedule.
Be flexible with your Daily Schedule
If there’s one thing that 2020 has reminded us, it’s that the best laid plans are often just a guess. This is especially true when it comes to creating your daily schedules for the week. Something is bound to go wrong, and as a result, flexibility is key. You should go into the week with the expectation that your schedule will probably change a bit over the course of the week. It’s inevitable: certain projects will take more time than you expect, coworkers will need your help and input on their projects, and as much as we like to deny it, your breaks will probably run a little long sometimes. That’s fine! There’s no way to avoid it entirely, especially when working remotely in times like this.
What you can control is how prepared you are for disruptions, and how you cultivate your ability to adjust. Being able to roll with the punches and make changes to your schedule on the fly is the key to being productive no matter what happens, while preserving what you can of your schedule. It’s worthwhile to build in a bit of extra time in your schedule to account for this; it might not necessarily be an hour long block of time, but if you think a certain task will take an hour and a half, for instance, it might be a good idea to allot two hours to do it. That way, you won’t be pressured to rush through your work (never a good thing) and you might end up with some extra time at the end of the day to get ahead on your to-do list. There’s never a shortage of things, but planning that flexibility will make sure the important things get done no matter what comes up.
It’s important to remember, though, that there is such a thing as overworking yourself. We certainly all want to be as productive as we possibly can be, and tend to set our schedules accordingly, but there are limits, whether you like them or not. Even if your mind wants to keep going, your body is going to pump the brakes at some point, and it’s extremely important to build breaks and down time into your schedule instead of pretending you can just keep grinding indefinitely.
Planning intentional, limited breaks can even help you be more productive than you might be otherwise. A quick 15 minutes every few hours won’t be the difference between finishing your most important tasks or not, but keeping your mind and body feeling good can be the difference between a productive day and crashing mid-afternoon. If you don’t plan on giving yourself a little time to get refreshed and re-energized, even the easiest tasks can turn into a slog. If you coordinate breaks with your team, this can be a great time to check in on one another as well. Not only will this help keep spirits high, but it can lead to serendipity and brainstorming that will help you with your projects too. You never know when an offhand comment can be the missing puzzle piece for a problem someone else is trying to solve. It may seem counterintuitive, but taking breaks will make you more productive in the long run. Just make sure you keep an eye on the clock!
Ask your coworkers
On a similar note, your team members can be a huge help when it comes to planning out your days. It can be hard to know if your schedule is “right,” for lack of a better word, but your coworkers can really help you get on the right track if you need a jump start. After all, nobody knows the ins and outs of your workload as well as them, so it might not be a bad idea to run your schedule by your coworkers. That way, they can tell you if you’re setting aside too much time for a project, taking too many breaks, as well as when they might interrupt. This goes both ways: you’re in a unique position to help your team members put together a schedule that makes sense for their workload too.
In addition to being a resource for refining your respective schedules, this kind of communication is even more helpful when so many of us are working remotely. If you and your coworkers are in communication about your plans for the week, you’ll be much more aware of both how much work they have to do and when they plan on doing it. This is obviously important information that you can’t help but gather when working in an office with someone, but when you’re all working remotely, you need to go out of your way to get to know your coworkers’ schedules. This will make you all better equipped to help one another and hold each other accountable, but remember that this is just input – your ideal schedule still needs to be based around what’s most productive for you.
Your Perfect Daily Schedule: Wrapping Up
Scheduling can sometimes be a bit of a headache but it’s key to staying productive, and happy, especially when you’re working from home. A well-made schedule will give your day a much-needed sense of structure that is critical in order to get any meaningful work done and still enjoy your days. While everybody’s schedule will look different, these tips should give you a head start when you’re thinking about how to create your ideal daily schedule. Good luck out there!
Photo by Estee Janssens on Unsplash
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