When I ask people to consider reengineering their workdays with the intention to help make their time work better and provide more quality time to do deep work, I often hear the rebuttal, “But I have to do certain things at certain times in my day, per my boss.” To that I reply … pish posh!
You and only you know when you are at a peak moment or a low moment. I can guarantee that if you match your task to your energy, your boss will be much more satisfied with your output as an employee. People aren’t robots. We are humans with all kinds of complexities behind the selves that we bring to work (i.e.: hearts, emotions, family issues, tangled relationships, kids, mounting project lists at home, etc.).
So, with all that in mind, let’s revisit the request, but with better questions: Who decides the rhythm of your day? When are you at your best, and when do you drag? Seth Godin posed these questions in a recent email post, then went on to say these brilliant words:
In the old days, when we worked on the assembly line or even in sync at the office or at school, there were good reasons to adopt the timing that was assigned to us.
But I think it makes way more sense to take control and listen and notice and work with our patterns, not against them.
One example of the benefits of optimizing scheduled activities to maximize performance was demonstrated in a recent study of more than 25,000 students. Study participants were asked about their typical bedtimes and wakeup times on both weekdays and weekends, the quality of their sleep, and their daytime sleepiness and energy levels.
The participating high schools then delayed the start of their class times by 70 minutes. The study compared findings from before and after this change in schedule.
With the school day starting later, the students were able to get an extra 3.8 hours of sleep a week. They also reported that they were sleeping better and experiencing less daytime sleepiness. As a bonus, the students didn’t need as much “catch-up” sleep on the weekends, which means they got up earlier.
Overall, the high school students clearly performed better with a later start time.
So, let’s organize potential changes around a similar strategy of examining our patterns. Here are a couple of examples:
- If a workout at noon makes your afternoon more effective, it’s hard to see why you need to do it at 5 a.m. in a world that’s digital and more asynchronous than ever before.
- If your day starts off better when your first interactions are positive ones, why not organize a quick morning huddle with peers or team members to help set the tone and get everyone on the same page?
Even if your schedule isn’t completely up to you, you might get to decide when to tackle mindless chores and when to dive into creative projects, or when to read blog posts versus when to write them. You may get decide when to have meetings that challenge your intellect versus those that require patience. The examples are many. You get the point!
Consider these five questions to help reengineer your day:
- When is my energy highest in my day? Lowest?
- When is the best 75-minute period in my day to deep-dive into deep work? (i.e.: turning off email and phone — yes, you can!)
- What is my ideal start/stop time in my day?
- What would I need to change in order to start my day with “eating my frog” (i.e.: working on my highest-level task)?
- What is one thing I can shift immediately that would have the biggest impact on my daily routine? (This may be something you need to start doing or something you need to stop doing.)
As with many time-management strategies, the starting point is to step back, examine what we’re already doing well, where we need improvement, and what we need to do to optimize our performance. Don’t let the clock or old habits dictate your day. Only you know what will work best for you. Reengineering your day to accomplish more and maximize your efforts will be a win for everyone involved.
Sara Caputo transforms how individuals, teams, and small businesses navigate workflow and increase workplace efficiency. Her work has been featured in Working Women, Success, and Forbes, as well as other national and regional publications. She can be reached at email@example.com.