While we can’t all be the CEO of our own companies, we can at the very least be the bosses of our time in some capacity or another.
Based on a trick we picked up from Jack Dorsey, we challenged ourselves last week to give each day a theme to help stay on track. According to Dorsey, this habit allowed him to quickly recall and refocus on the day’s task once a distraction was out of the way, and we hoped to reap similar rewards.
After a week of knowing in advance what kinds of things we would work on each day, we learned that a theme a day can help us manage our time in more ways than one.
Here’s what happened:
“There is interruption all the time, but I can quickly deal with an interruption and then know that it’s Tuesday, I have product meetings, and I need to focus on product stuff,” Dorsey said of his themed days.
Some of us were just as successful at structuring our time by devoting full days to each theme. Kate Swann, chief operating officer at Blue State Digital, for example, devoted her Friday to her direct reports and performance reviews and her Sunday to reading and planning the week ahead.
“There are times when things get canceled or meetings end early, and the themes allowed me to immediately regain focus,” she said.
Others like myself, Co.Design news editor Adrian Covert, and staff editor Maccabee Montandon, devoted portions of our day to the challenge, which we all agreed still led to success.
“If even half your day is focused that is a big win,” Swann said.
For my part, I have the same list of duties that I have to accomplish on a daily basis: Schedule posts to LinkedIn, edit stories, go through contributor pitches, send out our daily newsletter, etc. This time is already accounted for.
Instead I used the themes to determine what I would do with the time left over. For example, I wanted to get ahead on reviewing contributor pitches, since this is a task that can very easily get away from me–so that was my theme for Tuesday.
Covert structured his time similarly, devoting the time in the afternoon after handling his normal slate of daily tasks to different themes.
“I tend to be absent-minded, so if I get interrupted, I can forget about something until someone brings it up again,” he said. “But with this idea of focusing days, the themes acted as a trigger to help me remember the things I wanted to get done each day.”
And Montandon found themes promising in creating a three-day approach to work for a new, ongoing video project: Day 1: Generate ideas and pick the best one. Day 2: Storyboard winning idea. Day 3: Produce the video based on storyboard.
As the COO of a digital strategy company with numerous employees, Swann often has meetings back-to-back all day, which can make it difficult to switch between meeting topics so frequently.
But structuring her days around certain themes last week meant meant Swann could also structure her meetings around themes.
“Dealing with back-to-back meetings was probably the best part of this challenge,” she said. “The fact that each meeting was related to an adjacent one meant my focus and attention was much better. I could take the thinking from one and expand on it in the next.”
Covert similarly found not switching between different work tasks every 20 minutes and instead doing the same type of work for a sustained period of time helped him create an efficient working rhythm.
One of the wonderful things I experienced with this challenge was being able to catch up on projects that had fallen behind, and it seems like “Stuff I Have Been Avoiding” was a pretty popular theme for many of us.
I think that oftentimes I put things off because, while I know they’re important, there are other, more pressing matters on my to-do list, and I almost feel guilty allotting my time to them. Having a theme this week almost made me more accountable for these other tasks.
Covert compared this to going to the doctor and getting shots. “Setting aside a day, or block of time, to handle these things lets you psyche yourself up mentally and get it all over with at once,” he said. “And then it doesn’t weigh on you quite as much in the moments when you’re not dealing with those tasks.”
For the complete discussion, take a look at the transcript from our live chat last Friday. And don’t forget to check out this week’s challenge, optimizing sleep for more creative thinking.