Thoughts on How to Schedule Your Day

It may not seem much in line with GTD, but I believe in having a general framework from which you approach your day. In other words, a basic schedule of sorts that gives some behind-the-scenes guidance for how to slot things in your day. This template is not something you literally put on your calendar, but is more of a mindset.

The Four Things You Need to Do Each Day

My thoughts on this are continuing to emerge, but it seems to me that there are four types of things you need to carve out time for in any given day:

  1. Routines
  2. Releases
  3. Projects
  4. People

Definitions

Routines means your daily workflow routines, such as processing email and your physical inbox.

Releases are small actions that are not project related. GTD has you put these on your next actions list. I found that doing so actually ruined my next action list because I would always end up with six trillion mosquito tasks staring at me all day long. I’d want to do things just to get them off my list, and not because it was the most strategic use of time.

So now I group all of these mosquito tasks together into a project of their own, which I keep outside of my next action list. My “next action” on them is then “work through releases.”

Projects are any unique initiatives you are working on which have a beginning and an end.

People means interaction, networking, general management stuff, meetings, stuff on your calendar, and so forth. Obviously much of this is also involved in projects as well.

Dividing Up Your Project Time

Within your projects each week, I’m thinking that it might be best to divide up time in this way:

  1. 70% on core projects: Things that execute and improve those things that are right at the heart of your business / ministry / nonprofit model.
  2. 20% on progress projects: Things that will generate entirely new growth and approaches that did not exist before. This is akin to the concept “20% time” at Google or 15% time that 3M began back in the 50s and such. The principle behind designating time to both core projects and progressive projects is: “preserve the core, stimulate progress” (Jim Collins). Be doing both.
  3. 10% on learning projects: Developing your skills and knowledge. Do this “on the clock,” so to speak. It’s too important to only leave to evenings and free time.

How Much To Spend on Each Area

This section really should have come before the above section on dividing up your project time. But dividing up your project time is of greater importance, so I put that first.

Anyway, let’s talk now about how much time these four overall areas should be given each day. This will vary for everyone. And it’s not rigid (except for, as much as possible at least, the first: getting your routines out of the way immediately). Again, it’s more of a lose agenda I keep in my head that is very adaptable; it’s not some firm structure.

Here are some initial thoughts:

Routines: 1 hour or less. Do these right away. Take that very seriously. Get in to work early and hammer out your email, review your RSS feeds, plan your day, and do any other daily routines. Get these out of the way in one batch early on so that you don’t have to keep trying to find time to finish them up throughout the day. They will only get in your way if you don’t nail them out immediately.

Releases: 1 hour or so. After doing your routines, take maybe 30 minutes to an hour to clear out non-project actions. These are basically the “next actions” in the GTD system. If you clear some out every day, you can keep up. Again, knock these out in a concentrated batch early in the day, before the phone starts to ring and new email starts to come in.

Projects: 2 hours or more. After your routines and releases are out of the way, turn to concentrated time on your priority projects. By this time it might be 9:00 or 9:30, so interruptions are going to start. That’s fine. Try to avoid getting interrupted, but if you got your routines and some releases out of the way, you’ll be able to handle interruptions better without getting too side-tracked. You can’t isolate yourself, anyway.

The amount of time spent concentrating on projects will vary with your job. For some people it might be a lot more than 2 hours a day. For others it may be much less.

People: I don’t have a time recommendation here. This could be the rest of your day, depending on the nature of your job. As long as you got in time to get rid of your routines and some standard action items, along with some concentrated focus on projects, you’re doing well and should be able to focus the way you ought in regard to meetings and interacting over your work.

Free: The core principle behind my above thoughts is to get in early and get routine stuff out of the way right way, and then make some progress on your next actions (releases). Then you can work in more releases as desired in between meetings and project work and be more discretionary in how you use your time.

In other words, be disciplined so that you can be spontaneous. If you aren’t keeping up with at least some baseline of progress at the very beginning of each day, the spontaneous time will never feel like it comes. You will always be trying to “keep up.”

What if your job is to do routine things? For example, processing insurance claims. That would go in the project time, except you would be doing operations (ongoing things that involve more than one step) rather than projects (initiatives that come to an end and involve more than one step). You’d still have daily workflow routines to clear out right away, such as email and your physical inbox and stuff, releases that may not pertain to your ongoing operational stuff, and some projects.

These are some loose, initial thoughts. The main aim driving my thinking here has been: If you want to be able to spend 70% of your project time on core projects and 30% of your time on advancement and learning projects, you need to be able to group your work into some type of “categories.” If you don’t, it will be harder to single out your project time from other time.

Simply doing projects, and even next actions, “whenever they work during the day” has never worked for me. In order to have the “whenever it works” time, I need to also have some designated time for them as well.

January 8, 2009 | Filed Under Productivity | 6 Comments 

Comments

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  • http://www.theinvisibleGod.com Chris

    There is really a lot here to apply to the things I need to do each day. I have been trying to work out a good schedule for my day for a few years.

    I have been trying to juggle:
    1. all the things I need to do as a homemaker, which I always wanted to be my main role.

    2. homeschooling (both kids in high school right now), which I thought would go pretty well with homemaking, but it is a LOT more than I thought it would be. I love it, but it’s hard to do well.

    3. running a part time piano studio out of our home, which is a delightful job, but I have always found it hard to work and keep the priorities in line of God first, then family, then work. Maybe I was a single girl too long, or maybe it is just the nature of teaching to spill over into everything–although I know many people who run a tight teaching ship and home, as well.

    4. a few church related volunteer responsibilities.

    Sometimes I think that I have just taken on too much, yet at other times I think it could all work if I had a better plan.

    Thank you for sharing these scheduling possibilities…

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  • http://neverhootalone.com Mike Tong

    So helpful, I will give this a try. Thanks, Matt.

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