At work leadership has oft repeated “You are in charge of your calendar.” Yet, I hear laments about people scheduling over blocked off time.
So, for the month of , my colleague and I will be running an experiment.
We’re riffing off of Cal Newport’s A World without Email
We are going to block off and structure each working day as follows:
- Focused Work
- Open for Meetings
- Focused Work and Prep for Tomorrow
We haven’t discussed if we can schedule meetings with each other during the Focused Work. Not all meetings are bad; we want to leave space for collaborative decision-making and high-bandwidth clarification.
Avoid Morning Distractions
I plan to leave my phone at my desk. In other words, no waking up and checking Twitter or Reddit or Mastodon.
Instead, I’ll make breakfast and coffee, play Frisbee with the dogs, go for a walk, and maybe read something from a book or magazine. I found the ritual of reading morning poetry very rewarding. And only in writing this did I remember that ritual.
Then, when I get to my desk, I’ll consult my task list, and get to work. Part of my afternoon routine will be to generate the task list.
It would be easiest if my work were software development, as I’m used to cranking on that for hours. But it will be some research, writing, and software development. The more varied the tasks, the more that checklist matters.
The goal during this chunk of time is to reduce the frequency of focus changes.
Mid-Workday Meetings, Emails, and Slack
These are my office hours. I’ll re-engage with the hyper-active hivemind.
The first order of business will be to check Slack then email. I suspect that some of those will need to work their way onto the to-do list for the afternoon.
I’m uncertain what to expect regarding meetings; My hope is to begin creating friction for people scheduling meetings. I would like people to reflexively ask: Does this need to be a meeting? If not, what was I trying to accomplish with this meeting?
I’m planning to approach the afternoons as though they were my mornings. I suspect it will be useful to write up a to-do list for my afternoon effort.
In other words, I’ll use the first half hour or so to play with the dogs and reset my brain for the last leg of work. Someone on Twitter reminded me that when you’re working, it’s not really a break to hop on Twitter. Get up and stretch your legs.
I’m conceding that this time will be less “productive”; I suspect that the most important thing I can do in the afternoon is ensure that I have all of the next day’s to-do list assembled. In other words, leave the work bench ready to do the next days work.
First, I’m framing this as an experiment.
I’m remembering back to when I started working in an office. We didn’t have a lot of meetings; The ones I participated in were database diagramming and workflow modeling.
I would work on a project, I’d have high-level features identified, and I’d work out the details of delivering those features. I regularly found Flow state. And I again found flow state when I focused on delivering Sipity, a lovely Ruby on Rails application that is a to-do list and collaborative workflow.
When I went to schedule for my first experiment, I looked at the calendars and saw many 1 hour chunks of time. I assume most of them were meetings.
And those schedules didn’t look conducive for flow.
Second, I want to bring a bit more structure to my work day. I think much of the mental fatigue I experience is because I’m jumping from meeting to meeting, or concept to concept. I’ve let distractions drive attention.
I hope this experiment will help course correct that.
Third, I went with a month based on a person I follow on Twitter. They said they’ve done both one month social media fasts and two week fasts. They found the two weeks were just long enough to break away from social media, but it wasn’t until week three they felt the benefits.
So I’m committing to this structure to see how it plays out.
Fourth, I’m most concerned with guarding that morning time. Everything else is in service to those few hours.
Look to all the people that get up early to do the thing they love. Why? Because they have energy. And by the end of the work day, they don’t have energy. My goal is to end the day with energy, and see if I can work “smarter not harder.”
Fifth, limiting meetings to a three hour band, I need to be judicious about what I accept.
Let’s re-frame this. I have a maximum budget of two hour long meetings and one half-hour meeting each day; I need 10 minutes between each meeting to make sure I’ve moved from one to the other.
What am I doing such that I would need more than 3 meetings per day? What is anyone doing that would need more than that?
I haven’t even begun to gaze into the abyss that is emails and Slack. But I’m structuring my day to account for those as well.
If all goes well, I will have something to report sometime in .