The power of a flexible schedule
"With great power comes great responsibility." Voltaire
How often does one of your projects take way longer than it should?
When is the last time you told yourself, "if I just had x amount of uninterrupted time, I could get this done in no time!"
I've been there. When I was in the corporate world, my time was constantly compressed by meetings, client visits, quick deadlines and surprise projects.
Now, my flexible schedule is one of my favorite things about being an entrepreneur. Actually, you don't have to be an entrepreneur to have one.
Not only is it amazing because I can work and not work when I want (I've taken 26 trips in the last 2 years), it's also unbelievable for productivity.
I remember when I first left, the freedom was incredible. A little too incredible...
I didn't know how to structure my time to be most efficient, and I didn't understand the difference between trivial tasks and deep work.
I thought it was just all stuff that had to get done, equally weighted on my to-do list.
Through a lot of research and a ton of trial and error, I discovered the power of blocking time. This is where you schedule uninterrupted blocks of time (no emails, phone calls or meetings) during a portion of your day. Or for bigger projects, you can block off several full days.
Last week for example, we blocked off three full days to develop our new online learning platform for college and high school students. We scheduled this time several weeks beforehand.
Although we didn't completely finish, the progress we made was incredible.
We had put off developing this program for months, because it was such a big project we couldn't bring ourselves to get started.
Blocking time allowed us to break this cycle.
5 tips for blocking time on your schedule
For deep work and big projects, you have to give yourself time and space. You have to get in a rhythm and gain momentum. Many refer to this as your flow state.
Whether you're an entrepreneur, at a startup or in the corporate world, most of our weeks consist of some combination of meetings, email, phone calls, deep work and small tasks.
To give yourself more flexibility and increase your productivity, try these five tips that have worked really well for us.
1. Block off time every week for deep work/big projects
When you have a big project, a fast-approaching deadline, or something big you know you need to do but have been putting off, don't be afraid to block off full days.
I've found it extremely beneficial to think about your days in three categories:
- Work Days: Uninterrupted time for deep work and big projects
- Meeting Days: Dedicated days to meetings and phone calls
- Maintenance Days: A hybrid of smaller work, personal tasks and meetings
2. Only schedule meetings on specific days of the week
Even if you're a sales-heavy or frequent client-facing, pick at least one day where you don't schedule any meetings or phone calls.
3. Be disciplined about your email
The ideal frequency for me is 2x per day- only checking it during a dedicated period 2x per day, and responding to those emails during that period.
Then I close my email and have alerts turned off so I don't get interrupted.
If you feel like you have to check yours more frequently, schedule it for 15-20 minutes every 2-3 hours, or the last 5-10 minutes of every hour.
And during big projects or meetings, turn on an auto-response if you feel like the person emailing you needs a justification for not getting back to you at "text message" speed.
4. Minimize your to-do list
A few months ago, Joseph (brother/co-founder) and I went on our usual Monday morning strategy walk in Chicago and I told him, "I hate my to-do list this week."
It was because it was filled with small menial tasks that weren't going to move us closer to our goals. This happens every once in awhile and requires a to-do list cleanse.
The 80/20 rule is perfect for helping you do this: "Which 20% of activities, if completed, would make the other 80% irrelevant or unnecessary?"
Another approach that has helped us is looking at your to-do list through Southwestern Consulting's Focus Funnel™, pictured to the right.
5. Intentionally schedule personal time
Not just big events on the weekends. Schedule time to meet friends for coffee, lunch or drinks. Take days off in the middle of the week. Be consistent with your workouts. Invest time into you passions, whether that's volunteering, side projects or other hobbies.
The primary benefit of a flexible schedule is being able to do what you want, when you want.
No matter how "rigid" your schedule is, blocking time will give you more time for the things that truly matter to you.
"Time is the coin of your life. It is the only coin you have, and only you can determine how it will be spent. Be careful lest you let other people spend it for you." Carl Sandburg
Disrupt the Cycle
If work and life feel separate, if you get substantially more excited for life outside of work, it's time to make a change.
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