How to Theme Your Work Days to Optimize Productivity
Most of us have a never ending stream of tasks and activities we perform at work and struggle to get ahead on our to do lists. If you are jumping from task to task blindly you are wasting precious time and mental energy. Although some of our work may be varied, I bet that you have some repetitive tasks or projects that could be managed so that you get more work done in less time and help you do better work or produce higher results. No, I’m not talking about batching your work, although I a way that this part of todays topic. I’m talking about theming your workdays. Having a plan for each day of your work week to tackle similar items or spend dedicated blocks of time on important projects without interruption so you have the breathing room to do your best work. As you may already know from watching my Work Week Vlogs, I have been theming my work days since I went full time for my business, but this was a practice I also regularly employed in previous positions that helped me do excellent work, beat my deadlines and demonstrate myself as a capable employee who was able to take on bigger and better positions. So, let me teach you a simple process you can use to create a themed work week with virtually any job position!
What Does it Mean to Theme Your Work Days and Why is it More Productive?
If this is a new concept to you, theming your work days means that you are designating a specific day of the week to complete a specific task or project. For example, in my themed work week Monday is dedicated to writing blog posts. Now, writing blog posts won’t be ALL I do on a Monday, but it’s my focus for the day so that I am batching this work. When we batch work, we know that we save time because we are doing a specific activity repetitively and not jumping from different types of tasks which causes a time lapse when we need to stop doing one thing and change mental direction and focus to start another thing.
Think about a production plant where workers down a line are each doing one specific task over and over. It’s more efficient to work this way from a productivity standpoint because the worker remains focused on one thing, and it almost becomes an automated process for the worker. One summer I worked in a data processing facility and spent eight hours (with breaks of course) at a computer typing information from paper forms into a computer program that gathered and tracked the data. I’d start the day with a stack of forms and as I completed my work new stacks would be delivered to my work station. I did one series of tasks over and over robotically, in a room with many other data entry workers and we processed a lot of information very efficiently! Although some of us may have a job like this where we do one specific task or series of tasks over and over all day, most of us have more varied positions that give us the flexibility to choose what we will work on from various tasks we have been assigned. Because there is this strong element of choice and self determination, jobs like this make us feel less like a robot, but also trigger some of our most basic human flaws.
Our inability to prioritize can cause issues with deadlines, the lack of structure can cause us to waste time thinking about what to do next, and fear of failure can cause us to procrastinate on certain tasks. All of these basic human flaws waste both time and mental energy because we are jumping from task to task without focus. In addition to that, when we work without focus, not only are we wasting time and mental energy, but the quality of our work falls. Focus is an important part of productivity and finding a way to create structure in your work both inside and outside of the office can lead you to do more work in less time and truly work smarter, not harder!
How to Theme Your Work Days (even if you think you can’t)
If you are thinking that theming your work days sounds like a nice idea but that your job is different and can’t fit into a themed week, consider these steps.
Step 1: Keep a list of all the tasks and projects you complete each day and compile them for a week or two. The list doesn’t need to be detailed and it can be kept on a separate sheet, your computer or in your planner, but just make sure to make a quick note of all the work you do each day and the general time frame for when you worked on it.
Step 2: Review your list at the end of the tracked time period with a pile of sticky notes and a pen. Review your list first for tasks related to dedicated projects and write down the project on a sticky note with a few bullets underneath for different related tasks and mark down the number of days and total estimated hours you worked on that project. For example, if you worked on a presentation for an upcoming meeting and you ran some reports, sent some emails to get information, built a slide deck and created handouts your sticky note may read:
- Slide deck
- (3 Days, 4 Hours)
Step 3: Review your list for tasks you did more than once and write the task on a sticky note with the number of times you completed it and total estimated hours spent. These tasks do not necessary need to be identical, but the same general task. For example, if you ran multiple reports in the week that is one item, but the fact that the reports may have varied in terms of parameters doesn’t necessarily matter. The idea is that you were doing a task that could be batched. Make sure to cross out tasks from your list as you make a sticky note so you don’t duplicate.
Step 4: Create a hierarchy in your sticky notes by laying them out on your desk or on a wall so you can get a sense of your work. Layout all your projects together, and then the additional non project related reoccurring tasks can be ordered by frequency so you can see what work you did over and over.
Step 5: Make a sticky note for each day you work (example, Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday etc) and stick them in a row to act as a header to a column. If you work 5 days a week, you should have 5 labeled columns. Looking at your work from step 4 think about how you could have mapped out your work from the previous week(s) more efficiently if you had assigned tasks to specific days. Start transferring tasks and projects from the hierarchy to the new daily column system, placing tasks and projects under the days they would have best fit. This is your chance to go back to the past and rework how things should have been done now that your week is over and you know what was accomplished and what perhaps wasn’t. Consider your reorganized week and determine if you can structure any of your days according to an optimized theme.
Not every task will fit perfectly into this map, but that isn’t the point. The point of the exercise is to visualize your work to see if patterns emerge for any days once you reviewed and laid out your week optimally now that it’s over. You may see that Monday would be a great day for you to run all your reports because optimally once they were out of your way, you could immediately move into completing other subsequent tasks or projects. You may also see that you can push certain work off to the end of the week because other tasks have priority.
Keep in mind through this activity that theming your work days doesn’t mean that all you can do on a certain day is a certain task. Remember when I said that Monday I write blog posts but that won’t be all the work I do? That’s because inevitably I need to reply to emails, place orders, make calls, and perhaps even tie up loose ends on a project as well. By setting blogging as my theme for Monday, however, I am providing myself a structure and telling myself that I will block out time in my schedule for my blog posts to be completed. Depending on your week, you may be able to dedicate a block of two hours on Monday to reports, and then spend the rest of your day doing your work as you normally would. You don’t need to have every moment of the day planned, but having some structure in place for when you will perform certain tasks can help you automate your work day and optimize it productively!
I would love to know if this concept of theming your work days is something you are interested in trying or have tried in the past. Let me know your experience and feel free to provide additional insight in the comments of this post so we can all learn from each other!