Setting up your day to be productive is the sort of thing that should be straightforward, but isn’t always. I think there are 3 key ingredients to be aware of.

  • Knowing yourself – your energy levels, and your tendencies to procrastinate.
  • Knowing how to gatekeep, and stop yourself getting interrupted.
  • Having a goal in mind the day before.

If you can set this part up, then you’re giving yourself a much better chance to get things done effectively.

Knowing your energy levels

This enlightening article from the Todoist blog makes some interesting points on energy levels, and indeed I was aware of Daniel Pink’s work in his book ‘When‘. If I know when my peak brain power is present, I should preserve that time for my hardest work, right?

The chart below looks exactly like me – great!

Graphic from “How to Craft the Perfect Daily Schedule

As it happens, I’m already in this habit. I try and ‘get in first’ with my time and set the work day on my terms, assuming there aren’t team meetings I have to attend.

Claiming your day

So today’s calendar (which I promise hasn’t been altered for this article) happens to be on keeping with the recommended practices. I’ll walk you through my rationale.

Upskill time at 09:00

Each morning I try and do just a little bit of work to get better. At the moment, I’m spending time doing Kotlin Koans. Since my team stand-up is at 09:45 to 10:15 and often overruns, I want to get my important work (upskilling) in beforehand.

Stand up at 09:45

This is a break in my (personal) productive time, there’s nothing I can do about that. But in any case, the most important things can come out these team meetings, so I have learned to slow down a bit and realise that these are important meetings too, rather than racing to get back to my own work.

Estimates prep at 11:00

We have a refinement and estimating meeting tomorrow but I have found that they are a waste without doing a little research beforehand. By actually taking the time to understand what we’re being asked to estimate the day before, I can get answers to the questions I need well in advance. The result? A really short meeting tomorrow, with a far more beneficial outcome (more accurate estimates).

Design of test bed at 13:00

A test bed (a demo environment for companies/individuals who want to integrate with us) is quite a cognitively demanding bit of design, and needs focused, uninterrupted time. I blocked out 2 hours in the calendar for this task, and knowing my tendency to procrastinate on hard tasks, would be using the Pomodoro Technique extensively during this time.

My calendar is blocked out so others don’t get a chance to spam me with meeting requests.

Planning your day

All of this sounds great, but how to get your time freed up before someone else gets there? And what if your day has already been ‘taken?

The answer to the first question is – the night before. I work out what my priorities are for tomorrow, and time gets allocated into my calendar for them. I try my best to push back on meetings around my best times where possible. I accept that there’s some give and take with people’s availability – that’s why I try and always take my best times in the calendar, and then ‘give back’ when it is needed. In other words, I always try and claim the 13:00 – 15:00 slot and the 10:30 -12:00 slots and then only agree to meeting around those times where necessary.

What do I do if my day is already taken? Since I have a productivity system (GTD) – I can just pick off ‘shallow’ work in those awkward gaps between meetings. Whatever project I’m working on, I can fire off a few emails, approve a few easy pull requests, review my next steps – all the stuff that doesn’t require extensive brainpower, or contiguous blocks of time.

Hope this has helped. Now, what systems, do you currently have to keep control of your day?