No matter if you’re used to working in a traditional office setting or from a home office, you may struggle to make the most of your work day. Your mind can easily fall prey to distraction, or simple tasks can become complicated. Before you know it, the day’s over and you feel you have accomplished nothing.
I spent some time researching how to break up work day hour by hour. Let’s explore how to work with your strengths rather than against them, set yourself up for success with a plan and reinvigorate yourself to feel more productive.
Let’s start with an hour-by-hour breakdown of a 9-5 work day. Then, I’ll offer some tips to help you refine and personalize your plan so it fits your work style, which is the most essential aspect of breaking up your work day.
Begin your morning looking over your plan or schedule (more on this later) so you know where and how to focus your energy. You may have a couple of morning phone calls to make or messages to check.
If you launched into heavy tasks during the first hour of the day, keep plugging along. Get some coffee, water or tea to stay hydrated and to stay focused.
Take a few minutes to come up for air during this hour of the day. If you work with colleagues, now is a good time to check in with them and see how everyone is doing.
For lunch, try to eat away from your desk. If you have time, get some fresh air and stretch your legs for a few minutes.
This is likely the time of day when your energy and focus start to decline. If you have time, indulge in a quick nap to help recharge your batteries.
Hopefully, you feel re-energized after lunch and a brief nap and ready to press on with your day. If you still have work-intensive tasks to finish, bring them to a close for the day. Make note of anything you have to finish so you know where to start the next morning.
3 pm onward
This is the hour where you likely feel your energy reserves puttering out. Now is an opportune time to knock out minor tasks. Respond to emails, get things in place for the next work day and tie up loose ends. Anything you can do without much thought or direction is best reserved for the later portion of the work day.
Start With a Plan
You must have a plan for what you need to do within a single work day. You can end the day by creating a plan for the next work day, or you can start the day sitting down to map out your plan. Try both to see which feels the most efficient for you.
I cannot overstate the importance of having a plan for each work day. With a plan, you have a visual of the tasks you want to accomplish in the work day, and there’s less chance of you forgetting something, which can lead to avoidable setbacks. You can use an app to draw up your plan, write it on paper or print it out and post it up in your workstation. Don’t be afraid to experiment with your planning method, as switching things up may become necessary to suit your needs from day to day.
Prioritize your plan, and try to figure out how much time each task takes so you know how much time to devote to each one. Use the plan to fuel your efficiency and focus so you can (hopefully) get a lot done in a short amount of time.
Include Proactive and Reactive Blocks of Time
While drafting your work day plan, leave room for proactive and reactive blocks of time. You focus on the most essential work day tasks that cannot go undone during proactive blocks of time. Reactive blocks of time are for when you have to attend a meeting, make a phone call or navigate your inbox.
What is the best way to know where to add reactive blocks of time in your work day? Stick to your plan, but notice when you experience interruptions throughout the day, even if you interrupt yourself.
For instance, you may receive a regular business call from a client at the same time every day or on a specific day. Or, you may prefer to respond to emails right after lunch so you can ease back into the second half of the day.
Whatever it may be, work with the interruptions and minutiae rather than fight against them. These minor tasks are necessary, so you may as well take care of them on your own terms on your own time.
Also, put a time limit on proactive and reactive blocks of time. Blocking out time rather than merely listing tasks on a to-do list helps you focus on accomplishing tasks with efficiency and concentration.
Do Not Be Afraid To Take Breaks
We live in a culture that prizes pushing through the work day without breaks, only stopping to eat lunch and for bathroom breaks. You may not realize it, but barreling through the work day non-stop could cause you to push your needs aside, which isn’t healthy.
It is critical to take time to breathe and revitalize your batteries throughout the day. Doing so allows you to recenter yourself so you can better produce high-quality work. Imagine working straight through the day and feeling proud of yourself only to look at the work you did and realizing it’s far from your best. This could cost you business if lackluster work upsets a client or customer, or it may mean you have more work to do to correct mistakes.
Every hour, take out 15 to 20 minutes to stand up, stretch, walk around your desk, meditate, take a catnap, do some breathing exercises or rest your eyes from looking at screens. You may have to set up an alarm to remind yourself to take breaks.
Be Kind to Yourself
Even if you map out your work day, do not feel pressured to remain productive every second, minute and hour of the day. Try to put more emphasis on the overall quality of work you do rather than the quantity. By doing so, you could discover more efficient methods of getting your work done, which can save time and give you more of a feeling of accomplishment than you had before.
Also, recognize that your productivity and concentration levels may shift daily. Rather than fight against these shifts, find ways to integrate them into your work day schedule or plan. For instance, you can try shuffling tasks around to match your energy levels.
Changing your work area to a space with different sounds and lighting can also perk you up a bit and help you focus. If your mind simply refuses to focus on work, take care of chores around the house. Stepping away from work to engage in something else can reset your brain.
Hopefully, you now feel excited about planning and breaking up your work day. Don’t forget to subscribe to this blog for more useful tips and insights on working from home.