How to build that work schedule

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After I shared my work schedule, a few people said they’d like to try something like it, but don’t know how to get started. Some suggested that it is easier to set up a regular schedule when you don’t have a job. Sure, having full control over my schedule makes it easier to set up a consistent schedule. Those with traditional jobs can still add more structure to their days. I’ll walk you through the process today.

Let’s start with a few assumptions:

  • You work 8 hours per day, at least on paper.
  • You’re productive for half of that at most.
  • You often stay longer because you felt unproductive.
  • You have a lot of meetings throughout the week.
  • It’s 2021, so you don’t have a commute.
  • You want to have more time for hobbies.
  • You want to sleep 8 hours a day.

We first frame our week by putting our sleep target and our morning and evening routines on the calendar.

A calendar with placeholders for sleep as well as morning and evening routines.
Sleep and routines naturally frame our week.

To give us something to anchor our work hours on, let’s add our meetings into the mix.

The calendar with added events for work meetings.
We’ll account for the irregular meeting schedule soon.

We’ll give ourselves an hour for lunch. To avoid too many short gaps, we’ll put lunch right before or after meetings close to lunchtime.

The previous schedule, now with daily lunch hours. They happen around the same time, but not necessarily at exactly the same time.
If we can be a bit flexible with our lunch hour, we can avoid having too much air in our calendar.

Many of the gaps we see are too short to “get in the zone”. Let’s schedule shallow work there, which doesn’t need a lot of deep focus. We’ll check our emails, do code reviews, and look after similar tasks in these blocks.

Small gaps in the calendar are filled with blocks reserved for shallow work.
The gaps we cannot avoid are best for shallow, easy work.

We want to find blocks of several hours to focus on difficult topics without distraction. Even the most productive people can do at most 4 hours of this kind of deep work per day. Let’s aim for less than that. We’ll also leave gaps to account for context switching.

Large blocks reserved for deep work added to the calendar.
We want to be able to focus on a single topic for a few hours without interruptions if possible.

We fill the rest of our 40 hour work week with more shallow work. Distractions during those blocks won’t hurt as much. We didn’t plan on working without interruptions anyways.

The work days are filled with shallow work until they total 40 hours per week.
Now that we have reserved time for deep work, we can do less intense tasks in the remaining hours.

That leaves the rest of the day for fun activities. That’s where you get to play games, read books, exercise, or watch television. By making time for these activities in your schedule, you’re saying that they are important to you.

The last remaining slots are fully taken up by recreational activities.
With work taken care of, the remaining hours are for entertainment.

You can add more focus by giving blocks specific tasks. Don’t constantly check your email during all shallow work blocks. Instead, make one of them your daily email block. That way, you know you’ll get to your emails during those blocks. You don’t have to worry about them all the time, removing one annoying and constant distraction.

You can add more categories and be more atomic as it makes sense to you. You might want to pick two evenings to exercise on, or reserve time for friends and family. If it’s important to you, put it on your calendar.

Some blocks are given specific names, like “email” or “exercise”. Some are broken up into smaller blocks that each get a dedicated focus.
Combine time block planning with the habits you want to establish.

You won’t have to stick to it exactly as you plan it once. It’s okay to switch things up if you need to react to something. You don’t have to break your schedule if you can instead adjust it based on what happened.

It’s still too early for me to give a definitive verdict, but so far I’m very happy with this approach. My schedule prompts me to take breaks and make time for the things I value in life. I no longer sit in my chair to force productivity when I know I have mentally checked out. It feels like a win after only a few days.

If you go through this exercise, I’d love to see what your schedule looks like. Take a screenshot and send it over!

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