“Time is the most valuable coin in your life. You and you alone will determine how that coin will be spent. Be careful that you do not let other people spend it for you.”
― Carl Sandburg
There are many productivity hacks. Few of those hacks ensure that you are being productive with things that truly matter. Reclaim productivity, flow, and what matters with a master weekly schedule.
You are likely to benefit from a Master Themed-Weekly Schedule if:
· You have asked yourself, “What should I be doing right now?”
· You have wondered if you are using your time well.
· You begin to work on one task only to find yourself switching back and forth between three different tasks.
· You have felt that you worked on many things but accomplished little and actually feel more behind than when you started to work.
· You spend most of your time on tasks that have little to do with your vision and goals as well as the progress you desire to see.
Imagine having a guide that informs you how to use each day and each section of the day, in a way that keeps everything progressing. Imagine all the energy you would save by not constantly second-guessing yourself. Each time to make decisions regarding what would should be working on, you contribute to decision fatigue. The more energy and time you spend on making small decisions the more you deplete your precious reserves of cognitive ability, decision-making, creativity, problem-solving prowess, and energy.
Getting in Flow for Productivity
Themed-days are your key to peaceful productivity because they allow you to get in a “flow.” Mihály Csikszentmihalyi defined flow as “the mental state of operation in which a person performing an activity is fully immersed in a feeling of energized focus, full involvement, and enjoyment in the process of the activity. In essence, flow is characterized by complete absorption in what one does.”
I treasure those times when I am in a state of flow with my relationships, with my work, with a creative endeavour. After a flow session, I feel that I have truly accomplished something and used my day well. I can see that I made progress in the things that matter most to me.
Staying out of Spotlights
However, the busy-ness of life can cause us to be less in a state of flow and more in a state of “spotlights.” In neuroscience, an activity that is manifested sporadically and briefly throughout the brain has been coined by some researchers as “spotlight”. When you are in a state of “spotlights” you are making your brain frantically switch between several activities including eating, writing emails, texting, talking, doing paperwork, tending to children, and redirecting the dog, all at the same time (That sentence just created anxiety in my chest. Moreover, that is how I operate more often than I would like to acknowledge when I do not have a clear plan). A brain scan during this type of multitasking would show-up as “spotlights” on the brain.
In a state of flow, the brain is much more efficient. A brain in a state of flow maximizes energy and can distinguish between what matters and what does not matter. In other words, a brain in a state of flow is highly-focused.
So how do we step out of “spotlights” and move into flow to have peaceful productivity? Well, there are several things that you can do. However, the first suggestion that I have, is to encourage you to give your days a theme and create a master schedule. These will help you have peaceful productivity. You can give an entire day a theme. Alternatively, you can divide your day into two or three themes.
Do What Matters When You Have Little Control
An immediate objection might come to mind. Specifically, there might be some of you in fields or leadership positions in which your days can easily be usurped by others. You may conclude that you may not be able to stick to a theme. I challenge you to give this a try.
Even if you feel that you can’t control your days with themes related to your work, you can choose portions of your day with themes such as: Critical, Progress, and Maintenance. Critical Tasks must be taken care of. Progress Tasks are those that move you forward on your goals and vision. And Maintenance Tasks help things keep moving smoothly without falling through the cracks. No matter what you do, you will deal with tasks and activities that align with those categories.
Furthermore, research indicates that you would do well to know and work with your chronotype. Daniel Pink explains more about chronotypes on a podcast produced at Art of Manliness. My chronotype, and that of most people would have us working on Progress Tasks in the morning, these tasks tend to be creative, require high- cognitive demand, and move our goals and vision forward. In the afternoon, we would work on Critical Tasks which include tasks that are important, require our attention, but may not require high-cognitive and energetic stamina. Many times, Critical Task have little to do with advancing vision and goals and are usually externally imposed. Then, in the late afternoon and evening, we do well to work on Maintenance Tasks or routine tasks. By completing these tasks, we will not get behind and things will not fall through the cracks.
Possible Themes for the Master Weekly Schedule
Here are some examples of themes for various roles, to give you some ideas.
Applying Themes to Meetings
If you want to start small, how about establishing themes for your meetings? Instead of trying to tackle sundry issues at each meeting, use themed-weeks for your meetings. Here as some examples:
Week 1 – Meetings related to Cost
Week 2 – Meetings related to Safety
Week 3 – Meetings related to Delivery/Quality
Week 4 – Meetings related to People Development
A Gift for You – Master Weekly Schedule Template
Now it is your turn. I made an excel sheet that you can use as a template to create themes based on your roles and responsibilities. You can batch your day based on Critical, Progress, and Maintenance tasks. Or you can do both. The goal is not that you will hit this perfectly every single day, but imagine what it would feel like to have a successfully planned and executed day 50%, 70% or 80% of the time.
I have had a few inquiries from individuals wanting more support with customizing the Excel template. So I created this video.
What Would You Add?
Second, let us learn from you. What other theme ideas do you have? Please share in the comments section of this blogpost to help inspire others.
Csikszentmihalyi, M. (1998). Finding flow: The psychology of engagement with everyday life. New York, NY: Basic Books.
Kahn Academy. (n.d.) The spotlight model of attention and our ability to multitask. Retrieved from https://www.khanacademy.org/test-prep/mcat/processing-the-environment/attention-language/v/the-spotlight-model-of-attention-and-our-ability-to-multitask