Colin Devroe started a series of “My Typical Day” posts. He tagged Dan Mall (and others) and Dan tagged me (and others). So here’s mine.
A couple of years ago I shared what my typical day looks like in the 20th issue of Offscreen mag. Looking back, I realize that some of it has changed, and much of it hasn’t. Before I share what a typical day looks like, I think it’s first worth mentioning how I approach time management in general.
I think of day and time management in terms of blocks. Or, chunks of time, so to speak. I divide my day into “activity blocks” that are then distributed to occupy different time slots across the day. Instead of organizing my activities according to the hours of the day, I organize the hours of the day in accordance with my activities… if that makes sense.
For example, I have a “Exercise/Wellbeing” block which is normally around 90-minutes long. How these blocks are distribued and allocated on any given day is subject to different factors. On most days, the Exercise block occupies an early morning time slot. On occasions, it shifts to the afternoon.
I have two kinds of blocks: Professional and Personal/Life. A professional block is a block of time during which I do work-related activities. This includes development work, meetings, workshop and talk preparation, etc. I shift these blocks around depending on what takes priority on any given day. For example, if, on any given day, there is an important family event happening, that event is what I arrange and shift the rest of the blocks around. If I have a few conferences lined up back-to-back, I tend to make so that I don’t have a lot of client work around those dates, so I have more time during the day for talk creation.
My blocks are arranged around prayer times (which change as the Earth’s movement around the sun changes around the year. 😆)
Generally, I divide my day into three 5 main parts as follows. Each part spans about 3 hours of the day:
I fill up the slots with activity blocks such as:
Every single one of these blocks is flexible, and is really just a way for me to say “I will focus on this one main thing for the next X amount of time”. A block may move around the schedule on any given day. It may also be longer on any given day than the other.
So, while the following schedule represents what a day could like, it more accurately represents just one variation of a day.
Also, the precise times change on any given day during the year as the prayer times change, as well as during Ramadan, when the entire day’s schedule changes, for example.
Needless to say, the schedule also changes during holidays and weekends.
As I mentioned earlier, the blocks shift around a lot. Sometimes if I get into the flow of work in the early morning, the creative/meaningful work session extends well beyond 7:30am, pushing the Exercise block into the late morning. In that case, I might end up Exercising, having late breakfast, and then doing a Personal block in the early afternoon, followed by a lighter work block in the late afternoon before I call it a (productive) day. And if I get into a really deep flow in the morning, I might end up working from 5:50am till noon, in which case I take the rest of the day off, and only do the meetings in the late afternoon if I have any. It’s very flexible, as you see.
I think of my schedule as being fluid — adapting to my needs on any given day.
This is a bird’s eye’s view of my schedule. But there’s a little more happening in each block as I work to maintain a healthy work-life balance…
I know this post isn’t about work-life balance, but I think it’s worth adding a note about it given how I went about this post so far.
Shifting blocks of work around the day and alternating between work and life sessions has worked pretty well and has helped me manage my time better and achieve better work-life balance.
I’ve come to this way of managing my time after burning out 3 times in the last few years. Having the flexibility to shift around activities on any day in accordance to how I’m doing (physically and mentally) on that day, while also keeping my personal life in check is of utmost importance to me.
Typically, my intense work sessions are divided into smaller blocks of time, separated by even smaller chunks of time where I walk away from the screen, go grab a snack, make tea, chat with friends and family, help out around the house, make a smoothie, make food (I don’t just eat it, lol)… Instead of one long block of work interrupted by lunch mid-day, it’s multiple blocks of work interrupted by even smaller blocks of “life”.
Also, quite often if I’m feeling like a change in scenery but also have a lot of work to get done, I’ll grab my laptop and head out to get work done in my car in a nice place with a nice view. I might pass by some shops and buy things on the way. I might visit a friend for a super short visit during an outside work break…
As Harry Roberts says in his Webstock talk: it’s “life and work” not “life vs. work”.
Thinking in terms of blocks, I am able to say “this week’s work needs X hours to be finished” and I am able to distribute those hours across the week and schedule them across each day in a way that is disciplined enough to get work done, all the while being flexible enough to maintain a healthy balance and avoid burnout.
I know routines are important. Setting one up is probably the most frequent piece of advice I come across everywhere. I haven’t been able to successfully implement a routine for all the reasons mentioned above. So the schedule on any given day is not as rigid as it could be. But I like that. It works for me.
Check out Dan Mall’s Typical Day.
I’m tagging Cassie Evans, Taylor Dunham, Anton Sten, Matthias Ott, and Ethan Marcotte.