A 30 day time block scheduling challenge

Working from home has been good for my productivity. I am fitter and healthier than ever before, my work output has increased significantly, and I have been able to publish a daily blog. Work has moved on from the project-based approach used to manage to move a whole university online, and so the way I work needs to evolve too.

Removing the commute has given me an hour and a half of extra time each day, and working from home has given me more freedom around my working hours to focus on output rather than time in the office. I have used this time to train twice per day for the last year consistently; some cardio at 7 am each morning, some strength training or recovery work in the afternoon for 45 minutes to an hour between 16:00 and 18:00, and four-minute movement breaks where they fit throughout the day. The output so far has been a 1:35 half marathon, a 308w FTP on the bike, a 120kg Squat, a 100kg bench press, and a 142.5kg Deadlift, while weighing around 82kg and at 6ft tall.

I have written over 100 daily blog posts so far by finding around an hour each evening after dinner, between 19:00 and 20:00, to do some research, write, and publish it. I loosely aim to write somewhere in the region of 500 words to keep within the time and force myself to be concise. We consume so much content these days between articles on our phones, youtube videos, and reading for work, that I write about whatever I think about or consuming that day. I have found many of the posts useful for work; I have reused some of the content for work when the topic has been raised, sometimes weeks later.

My morning and evening routines outside of work are highly structured, but my working hours have to be more reactive. Universities have moved all, or most, of their teaching online, and so those of us in online learning has never been busier. This week I stopped my teams daily stand-ups. Our work is moving from project-based to a new normal, the daily meetings had become more social events than supporting productivity, so it is time to reassess how I use my working hours to have more of an impact. I want to be more deliberate with my time during work in a similar way to my strength and conditioning training and writing practice.

Time blocking

The first step of any productivity system is to spend five minutes writing a task list at the start of the day. Most people stop at this stage and then start with the first item or might prioritise the list and start with the most important. This approach presents two issues; the first is that tasks tend to expand to fill the time available, known as Parkinson’s law. The second is that we are not good at estimating the time something will take to block out space in our calendar. To solve these issues, we need to track how long tasks take consistently, and then we need to use this knowledge to block out that a suitable amount of time to complete the task efficiently.

Schedule every minute of your working day

For the next thirty days, I will follow a time blocking routine to be more deliberate in the use of my time and focus on the work that is going to impact students’ experience in the new academic year.

The practice:

  1. Write down what you want to do at the start of the day.
  2. Estimate how long each of these items will take.
  3. Schedule these blocks of time in 30-minute chunks around your existing commitments.
  4. Follow your schedule; at any point you deviate from it, update the plan for the rest of the day by moving the unfinished blocks as required.
  5. Make a note of how long each task took next to your estimate and assess why you were wrong – use this knowledge to help you schedule similar tasks in the future.

Let me know on Twitter if you want to try time blocking your workday too. A remember, the aim is to take control of your day and learn to plan your time better, not to be fixed to a schedule.

Taking control of my daily schedule

I have been working from home for seven months. Working in online learning in Higher Education, the period has been the busiest of my working life. Still, it has also allowed me to take control of my day in a way that the daily commute and traditional working day never allowed. I read more, I am healthier than ever, and my team and I have helped more the organisation we work in forwarding many years to deliver good quality blended learning under government social distancing guidelines. 

The Goals

At the start of the year, I wanted to achieve three big goals:

  • I want to be strong, healthy, and full of energy.
  • I want to master my specialism around learning, design, technology, and digital strategy
  • I want to build something the lasts and makes the world better. 

A modest home gym in the garage and some Dan John books have helped me to develop a strength routine. A commitment to run almost every day and reach a total of 2000 miles this year, with the help of Jon Albon, has forced me to leave the house for my state-approved daily exercise to get into the countryside and get some fresh air. A copy of the book Be fit or be damned has filled in the day with other times to stay engaged and healthy.

To master my area of Learning, Design, Technology, and digital strategy, I read a lot; online courses, books, articles, and newsletters. I have begun to read books on Kindle and almost everything else on the read later app Instapaper. These apps allow me to highlight key points and export these to Readwise. Readwise is a more recent addition to my tech stack; collating all my highlights and sending me spaced reminders in a daily email. My highlights sync to Roam research, where I collate and organise them into themes. I have started to write directly into Grammarly and will begin to publish on this daily blog. 

In May 2018, I started my current role leading the online and flexible learning at a large University. I was given a blank sheet of paper and asked to create a plan to move the organisation towards hyper flexibility. The groundwork before March 2020 and a growing team has allowed the University to change and adapt to the lockdowns and social distancing to deliver a significant proportion of all courses online. 

The schedule

A rough working day with timings is listed below. Most days I wake up at five when my wife gets up and go back to sleep, and might wake up at six or sometimes seven. Some days when I am tired or sore from the previous days training, I open my phone and cyberloafing, reducing my learning time or meaning I start work a little later. Sometimes my scheduled meetings or a hard deadline mean I do not follow this at all and work into the evening. Each day is different, but I am slowly finding ways to become less reactive and take control of my time. 

  • 6:00 -wake up
    • 10-100 sit-ups
    • 5-minute activity to wake up and get the heart rate going
    • weigh myself
  • 6:20 – Get a coffee and start learning
  • 8:20 – Shower etc. 
  • 9:30 – Team stand up
  • 12:00 – Running or a walk
  • 13:00 – Back to work
  • 17:00 weights or some tonic work (stretching or mobility)
  • 18:00 – Cook, eat, and spend time with my wife
  • 21:30 – Bedtime 
    • Clean the kitchen
    • 10-100 Sit-ups
    • Read in bed on the Kindle – running or mountaineering biographies
  • 22:00 – Sleep