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Lately, I’ve been focused on arranging my schedule and splitting my work into chunks so that I can be productive for longer periods of time, while still having some flexibility in my schedule for the other things that I enjoy doing. One of the big benefits of being a consultant is that I can rearrange my schedule to do something fun, or to accomplish an activity by taking advantage of off-times. Working out is a good example. By scheduling my workouts during off-times, when the gym isn’t as crowded, I can get them done more more quickly. This week, my Mom is in town, and I have been able to arrange my work into some defined chunks so that I can spend more time with her while still getting my work completed.
I have a couple of specific techniques that have been working really well for me.
Meetings: I schedule all of my weekly client meetings on Monday, after 10am whenever possible. Meetings are very disruptive for me, since they interrupt my flow and make it difficult for me to fit work into the smaller spaces between meetings. By putting as many meetings as possible on one day, the rest of the week will have larger blocks of time available for work. However, I am now questioning the wisdom of using Monday for my meeting day. While starting my week by checking in with my clients helps to make sure that the work for the rest of the week is on track, Mondays are a big day for holidays. As I scrambled to move all of my meetings because of the Labor Day holiday, I’m thinking that if I had to do this over again, I might pick Tuesday.
Get up early (or stay up late): I have started getting up by 6am every day and starting work right away. This has resulted in huge gains in productivity for me, since I can work with fewer disruptions from meetings, incoming email, IM or other distractions. Specifically, I try to reserve 6am-10am every day for focused work, which means that I can get a huge pile of work done and have half of my day completed before many other people have started work.
Take advantage of off-hour chunks: After getting four hours of work completed before 10am, I feel better about taking a break before lunch to work out at a time when the gym isn’t as crowded. Think about those tasks that seem to take forever because of the crowds of people (groceries, errands, etc.) and find a time to fit those in when you can complete those tasks more quickly. Make sure that you can fit them together into a chunk of non-work if possible. For me, I tend to work out, shower, and eat lunch all in the same chunk of time, which reduces the switching time between work and non-work activities. By taking this little break in the middle of the day, I can start the afternoon feeling refreshed and ready to get back to work.
Chunky work blocks: I also batch my client work and other tasks into similar chunks. I save my tasks for a specific client and work on them all at once, which helps me stay focused on that client for a period of time and helps to avoid getting projects confused by jumping too quickly between clients. I also put my other work into chunks of similar tasks. Right now as I write this post, I am in a writing chunk, and this is the third of four pieces of content that I am hoping to finish before my next meeting. I also chunk some of my routine daily tasks together to keep up with email, feeds, Twitter and similar activities while not letting myself get distracted by those tasks while I do my client work.
Be Flexible: Let’s face it; reality and theoretical best practices do not always make a perfect pair. While I try to get my work to fit into these nice little boxes, there are plenty of days when everything falls apart for any number of reasons: client or personal emergencies, holidays, meeting schedules, etc. When my first choice doesn’t work, I have to be flexible and move things around to accommodate other people’s schedules. I still try to re-establish the chunks after moving activities; however, with this type of work, you need to be prepared for flexibility.
What are your tips and tricks for working in chunks?