I need three hours of focused time per day to complete — and feel proud of — my week’s work. It’s just how my brain works.
As a coach and facilitator, I’ve become convinced that everyone, regardless of their role, needs uninterrupted work time every day. Engineers need to write code without errors. People managers need to synthesize a day of one-on-one calls. Support and sales roles need to manage their pipeline after a day of context-switching between customers.
When my clients get this dedicated work time, they’re more motivated and focused. But uninterrupted calendar blocks are hard to design into your schedule. We balance meetings, messages, and family members who need our attention. Working for three focused hours per day might sound impossible to do — that means it’s worth trying. Here, I’ll share with you how I practice this skill.
Manage your expectations about what you can accomplish
I’m an introvert. I need time to recharge after working. On meeting-heavy days, I can’t effectively spend evening hours finishing my work. Most of us can’t sustainably do this and maintain our energy.
When I have a heavy meeting day, I can’t productively attend those meetings if I’m thinking about all the work I need to complete later. I need to focus on the meetings, and only the meetings, because these are topics and people I care about.
On these days full of meetings, I only handle urgent requests (instead of important tasks) that I’m capable of doing between meeting breaks.
- When I improperly estimate my workload, I reset expectations with folks about what I can accomplish that day.
- On lighter meeting days, I knock out my important list. This is when I get longer projects done that require more of my brainpower. I also analyze which tasks took longer than expected or that I need to discuss with stakeholders. This teaches me where I need to improve my time management skills.
Structure your work life to balance energy and goals
Meeting all your goals without burning out is a skill. A few things have helped me and my coaching clients:
- Know your internal clock. I honor my chronotype—this tells me how my personal circadian rhythm impacts my energy throughout the day. Morning meetings motivate me to start the day on time, so I schedule those from 9 a.m. – 12 p.m. My energy peaks after lunch, so that’s when I block my focused work to leverage my naturally-occurring best self. Evenings are reserved for my family and non-work passion projects. This also matches my work style: I’m a work separator, not an integrator.
- Bucket your time. When possible, I proactively bucket my meetings into chunks. For example, my schedulable coaching sessions are in the same three-hour block twice a week. An app called Clockwise helps me maintain this schedule: it arranges my calendar events so I have chunks of focused time to work. This helps me reach a state of flow when managing my to-do list outside of Zoom. Uninterrupted focus time = my most productive time.
- Go off the grid. I automatically set Slack to Do Not Disturb outside work hours, and I quit Slack when I do deep focus work.
- Rely on peers. If you’re an extroverted remote worker or like social accountability, use a virtual co-working tool like Focusmate. You can also ask your coworkers to hold you accountable without any tools.
- Reflect. At the end of each workday, I observe how I spent my time. Then I add events to my calendar to document a map of what I accomplished in each block of time. This helps refine my workload estimation skills and hold myself accountable to the work I said I’d do. You can set this to private in most calendar apps — you know, if you don’t want to share it with your entire organization.
Like anything, these skills are about balance. Priorities can shift in a dynamic workday. My team’s needs matter too. That’s why I prioritize their requests to chat if they need me, and I make myself available in the afternoon a few days per week to accommodate their time zones. The goal is to balance my work commitments, care for my team, and for myself.
Build systems for these skills
These steps require behavior shifts. Most importantly:
- Build a habit. Identify what you need to do to make this a reality. Practice those steps daily. Then ask your partner, manager, or a coach to hold you accountable.
- Communicate. Share your intention with your team and manager so they know when you’re available and why these steps ultimately help you all meet your goals. Then automatically update your Slack status during focused time.
- Assess your work environment. Your teammates have equally important energy management needs. Design your work to meet your role’s expectations and your colleagues’ expectations of you. From there, notice any parts of your work environment that don’t support your energy management. A human-first work environment recognizes we need control over our energy to produce quality work. If you’re in an environment that doesn’t match your needs, or if caregiving commitments prevent you from reserving three hours per day of focused time, identify a realistic end-state for you. Work backward to address what is in your control.
People make organizations successful. You’re a person, too. Treat yourself that way.
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