How To Schedule Your Day For Peak Creative Performance

Are you a certified organizational ninja? It's okay, nobody is—so steal this idea from career kickstarter Amber Rae, who shares her "Work, Play, Fit, Push" framework for getting things done while staying inspired.

About four years ago I started working for myself. I wanted the freedom and flexibility to own my schedule and the space to bring my ideas to life.

One of the biggest challenges was structuring my time so I was fully experiencing the benefits of working for myself while also being as creative and productive as possible. At first, the idea of systems and planning made me cringe. I felt like they would hold back my creative potential. Eventually, organization and effectiveness challenges pilled up and I decided to give structure a try.

I wondered:

How do I balance client service with working on my own ideas?

How do I avoid interruptions that mess with my creative flow?

How do I stop putting off the stuff I hate but still have to do?

In my first attempt, I mapped out my day hour by hour, squeezing in all the elements of what I defined as an "ideal day." After a few weeks, I ended up feeling like a robot and the predictability was anything but inspiring.

That's when I decided to zoom out and think more about the categories of an ideal day and how I can batch my time to be most effective.

My problem became more clear: How do I make sure I'm getting stuff done, taking care of myself, making time from for play, and actively pushing myself outside my comfort zone?

That's when I developed a framework called "Work, Play, Fit, Push." Hanging from my wall, it looks like:

Here's how it works:

1. Set priorities on Sunday.
Every Sunday, I sit down and map out my week. Instead of defining the hour-by-hour of each day, I outline my weekly priorities and what I want to have accomplished by the following Sunday.

2. Map out work, play, fit, and push.
Work: For each day, I outline my "Top 3," meaning the three most important things I will have accomplished by the end of the day. Sometimes I'll map out the entire week on Sunday because my priorities are super clear. Other times, I'll decide on my Top 3 on a day-by-day basis.

Play: I've found that play enables me to self-express, reflect, and give my ideas space, which shows up positively in my work. Making time to create art, get into nature, go on photo walks, read poetry, skip down sidewalks and the like puts me in a constant state of curiosity and flow.

Fit: Movement keeps ideas moving forward so I aim to move my body for at least 30 minutes each day.

Push: Since learning and growth is important to me, I do something that scares me (almost) every day. This may be asking someone whom I deeply respect for an interview or writing about a topic that makes me feel vulnerable.

3. Batch your days.
Batching actions into specific days and creating time for creativity has been a huge gamechanger for me. Here's how I break down my schedule.

CREATE on Monday/Wednesday/Friday: I create holes in my schedule for thinking and creating. On these days, instead of thinking about how to spend my time in advance, I pay attention to my body and take breaks as needed.

CALLS and MEETINGS on Tuesday/Thursday: When possible, I avoid phone calls and meetings because I find them typically unproductive and often easy to solve via email. I set aside three hours on Tuesday and Thursday for meetings, and once these spots are filled, I say no. There are, of course, occasional exceptions.

"Hate you but have to do you" is saved for Wednesday morning: Things like paying bills, clearing out my email inbox, and the like, take up just one morning.

SPONTANEOUS Saturday: With so much structure, I make room for spontaneity. On Saturday, I let go and go where the day takes me. Balancing structure with a day of free-spiritedness makes me feel whole.

INTENTIONAL Sunday: Plan for the week ahead.

Above all, when it comes to reaching peak creative performance, it's all about experimenting to figure out what works best for you.

How do you get to peak creative performance? Tell me about it in the comments below.

[Image: Flickr user Rodrigo Soldon]

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  • giselle.classen

    Loved this and will definitely be creating my "WORK,PLAY,FIT,PUSH"structure! Thank you!

  • Elizabeth Bae

    right after i read this, i just made up my "WORK,PLAY,FIT,PUSH"structure. i will use this for next few weeks. thanks. BTW, i didnt understand "this may be asking someone whom i deeply respect for an interview or writing about a topic..." i want to know more about 'Push'section. can you give me an example ?

  • Justin Sanders

    Awesome introspect I will definitely add these tool to my box thanks for the layout and blueprints too...Much #respect.

  • Shahine Ardeshir

    I absolutely love this idea, thank you so much. Been struggling with the same issues as you mentioned, and while I may change the categories, I sense this could really help - thanks!!!

  • stay focused on task at at hand. when it's time to do somethung get it do instead of putting it off.

  • Brian A McCracken

    How much time do you dedicate to each chunk on any given day? 2 hours? Do you play it by ear?

  • deandra

    Well, I use pretty much a mental version of this. I call it the Short week. I even have the short day. I use this because it allows me to focus on whats important to me and to regulate my time so that others know that my time is valuable.\

  • Zonifika

    I truly appreciate this article. I am a mother and will implement my version of this marvelous idea. I'm very creative and not being organized is an energy drainer. Thank you again. 

  • J.A.V.R.

    I'm sorry Ms. Amber Rae, but that schedule looks "good" for someone who has no friends, mate or children. I get what you're trying to say and accomplish, but for someone social, I don't see how it can work.

  • Lisa Mallis

    Great idea - a wonderful blend of structure and space.  As a time strategy visionary that also works from home, I find that adding a "begin work" and "end work" routine into my day helps me keep the boundaries between work and home clear.  I start with a short meditation and mind movie - then move into my prioritized tasks.  When finishing for the day, I end with a "end work" playlist on my iPod while setting my priorities for the next day.

  • Valerie Hess

    What of this article is available for sharing with others? I don't want to use the chart but I would love to create a hand-out using many of your other points (with full acknowledgment of your work, of course). Is that possible?

  • Catherine

    Thanks Amber! Over the last couple of months I've been trying the "define the 3 top priorities for the day" idea, but this takes it one step further, and also makes it more visually appealing (to those of us who prefer visual) than the standard to-do list. I think I will also try mine with colours (which seems to work better in my case).

    The great thing about this system is it could be adapted slightly to fit individual circumstances. For those asking/commenting about family time/commitments - a row could always be added for that. Some other things might come up during the week, but at least you will have a reminder of the things that were defined as important on the Sunday, and you can make the determination if you need to move something out.

    I'm going to try it this week. I like the idea of writing it out on paper on Sunday, and i am going to try combining it with an electronic solution for carrying around during the week. I have a couple of ideas up my sleeve and will see how they go over the next few weeks.

    This is great - thanks again!

  • erinmadore

    Incredible article. Thank you so much for sharing! This is going up on my wall for inspiration as I just started working from home and have been struggling finding a workflow that is balanced and allows room for creativity and play. Thank you!!

  • red sonja

    This is a great idea.  I'm trying to get a routine after years and years (and years) of reacting rather than acting and after getting bogged down in blocking out time (where I ask?  paper, google calendar, work calendar synced to google calendar, paper calendar arrrrrrgh) this really sang to me.  Structure but fluidity.

    And to the comment about the author having no is this relevant?