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How to Plan Your Day to Maximize Your Productivity

Breaking down the workday into specific time buckets helps you become more efficient and sane.

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A few years ago, I read a story about how everyone needs one "untouchable day" per week—a day without meetings or interruptions from coworkers or family, when you can double down on your work and mute out the rest of the world.

Although an untouchable day sounds nice, it's simply not practical for most people in today's world, especially given the monumental cultural shifts the pandemic and working/learning from home have brought. 

I'm an enormous advocate for blocking off time chunks throughout the day to drown out the outside world and focus on you. Still, in this digital and collaborative world, I can't see the efficiencies of an entire untouchable day.

Like most things in life, scheduling a workday isn't one-size-fits-all. Different industries, companies, roles, and personalities require various needs which impact their day-to-day. 

But across various industries and roles, I have found success breaking my days down into five types of time buckets: Do not disturb time, meeting time, cleaning time, other time, and break time.

Related: 15 Time Management Tips for Achieving Your Goals

DND Time 

Do Not Disturb time (or DND) is when you focus on your core work, biggest initiatives, and challenging problems. It can be simply 30-minutes or an hour—just make sure you maximize that time through intentionality.

When setting up your personal DND time, consider what hours of the day you are at your peak productive level and block those off on your calendar as DND. During this time, turn off all notifications, pings, and distractions to ensure your peak hours are being used effectively. 

Try adding DND time to your calendar just one day a week, but commit to it. The self-integrity you build by doing this will help you exponentially in all areas of your life. From there, you can add it to two days a week, three or even four days a week. I guarantee you'll find success in the process.

Meeting Time 

As much as you can, inject intentionality when scheduling your meetings. Make sure you are giving enough time before the meeting for preparation and time after to go over any notes and cross off any immediate action items.

For the structuring of meetings, set a standard agenda and cadence. Will each team member give a round-robin update first? Or will the manager? When is the correct time to bring up new ideas? By establishing these protocols ahead of time, you will create more organized and effective meetings. Employees will appreciate the consistency that allows them to know what to expect for each occurrence and prepare updates, needs, and questions ahead of time. 

It's also essential to know what to avoid. Don't hold a meeting for the sake of holding a meeting. If you have no new updates and all projects are on track, consider canceling the gathering and sharing any topline updates via a topline written communication.

Cleaning Time 

Organization is key to workplace success, just like a clean home or desk helps you focus also applies to business projects and items. 

When crafting your cleaning time objectives, create a list of items you need to check in each week or month and bake the necessary recurrence into your cleaning time. Work these check-ins into a calendar or project management tool to make sure you revisit the right things at the proper time. 

By setting a cadence to your organization, you will find efficiencies in eliminating confusion and chaos.

Other Time 

Other time is your standard work time. I use my other time to catch up on emails, make phone calls, have live working sessions with my teams, read industry news and updates, and more. 

For a manager or executive, other time is an excellent opportunity to have open office hours if employees have quick questions or needs. 

Break Time 

It's so important to take breaks throughout the day and week. Your mind needs time to daydream. 

Break time can come in many forms – a 10-minute walk between meetings, meditation each morning, lunch with a friend, working out, a long vacation. And it may range daily, but find what works for you. 

By taking time to decompress mentally, you'll likely find new energy and ideas for your return to work. You must disconnect to reconnect. 

As much as you can, stick to the purpose of each time. Don't let your other time creep into DND time, and make sure you don't use your break time for your cleaning time objectives. At the same time – understand that unexpected things may come up that will throw a wrench in your plans. These interruptions can be immediate business needs, family emergencies, sickness, and more. 

The unexpected changes to daily schedules can be highly frustrating and draining, but they are the reality of our world. First, accept these interruptions happen and work to resolve the issue as best as you can. From there, prioritize the rest of your day – what needs to be done? What can wait until tomorrow's DND time? The beauty of having these buckets of time throughout the week versus one day is that you can be flexible when life happens. 

Like most things, it's essential to test what works for you. Experiment by scheduling different time buckets at various times throughout the day – you may think your DND time is best before meetings, yet later find out it's best for after meetings. After each week, retroactively think: what did I learn, what did I accomplish, what did I not complete, how can I do better next week?

As a manager, it's also essential to test routines with the employees you oversee. If your team is struggling to maximize the use of an early morning meeting, consider switching the cadence. Your whole team may have different learning styles and ideal time schedules, but you can maximize your teams' workflows by keeping organization and intentionality the main focus.

By establishing a high-level routine that injects intentionality and cadence into your scheduling, you will maximize your productivity and output.