As remote and hybrid work models continue to grow in popularity, more and more employers are also implementing policies that allow employees to complete their work whenever in the day works best for them.
For years, employees’ schedules were set by their supervisors, but times are changing, and professionals in all industries are now getting the chance to give flexible work schedules a try.
The benefits of these arrangements are plentiful: in addition to allowing time for appointments and other outings even during the workweek, professionals can now adapt their schedules to work when they’re most productive and truly maximize their time both in and out of the home office. But with so much freedom, how do you figure out what schedule works best for you?
Some of us work better in the mornings, some at night. Some prefer to work in two-hour bursts throughout the day, while can others sit behind a desk for eight hours straight. Whatever the case may be for you, follow these steps to design an optimal schedule that takes advantage of flexible work options and ensures you can fulfill both your personal and professional responsibilities:
1. Establish Your Priorities
Before you can actually start planning your day, you need to identify exactly what needs to be done. By determining and scheduling your top daily, weekly, and monthly priorities in both your work and home lives, you can ensure you allocate the time necessary for your most important activities.
Work-related priorities could include:
- Recurring tasks. What needs to be completed every week? Every month? Whether it’s submitting a weekly progress report or sending in a record of monthly expenses, you’ll want to set aside time for these activities that must be completed on a regular and periodic basis.
- Meetings. What regularly scheduled meetings are required to attend? You’ll want to etch those in, too.
- Office hours. This might refer to time spent in the physical office, if you are working on a hybrid schedule, or it may refer to time made available for collaborating with colleagues, clients, and management, either via an open-door policy or even an open video call “room” that others can pop in and out of.
- Focused work time. How much time do you need to set aside each day or week to fully focus on the task at hand? When thinking about this, you may also want to consider when you can afford to close your home office door and enter do-not-disturb mode. Do you get the house to yourself on Monday afternoons? Are your kids in daycare during all or part of your workday?
- Career goals. You may also want to dedicate time each day, week, or month to work on your own personal career goals, perhaps in the form of an online training course or outside project.
Meanwhile, personal priorities might include family, social, and household obligations like:
- Time with family and friends. Many professionals take advantage of their flexible schedules to sneak in some extra time with friends and family. Perhaps your new work arrangement will give you the chance to volunteer at your child’s school or meet up with a friend at a coffee shop once each week.
- Errands. Errands include tasks like picking up your kids from school, doctor and dentist appointments, and meetings with your lawyer or accountant. Thanks to your flexible schedule, you don’t have to schedule after-hours appointments, anymore.
- Cleaning. The more time you spend at home, the more time you’ll have to create clutter—and the more time you’ll have to spend staring at it. Give yourself a break by including time in your day to complete household tasks like laundry and vacuuming.
- Self-care. It’s important to take care of yourself. Whether you prefer daily walks, meditation sessions, or outings at the spa, a little pampering can go a long way in keeping you feeling fresh and enthusiastic.
- Personal goals. We know that setting goals can help us keep moving forward in our careers, but working toward something can also give you newfound satisfaction in your personal life. You may want to learn a second language, train for a half-marathon, or practice cooking a new recipe, for instance. Feed your curiosity!
2. Don’t Be Afraid to Mix Business and Pleasure
As you work to discern your priorities both at work and at home, it’s important to keep in mind that the best way to ensure a healthy balance between your personal and professional lives is to think about your day holistically. There may be days when a personal obligation or emergency derails your productivity; by contrast, you may find there are times when you’re on a deadline at work and need to stay at your desk a little later than usual. Situations like these make it difficult to maintain a strict balance between work and home.
This is why many professionals are turning instead to practicing work-life integration, where both personal and professional tasks are thought of as part of a whole, rather than separate parts of the day. Using this strategy, rather than trying to juggle multiple schedules and to-do lists, can help ensure you’re putting the most important things first while allowing for maximum flexibility when needed. Using just one schedule to manage both your work and home lives also helps you avoid double-booking yourself or failing to allow enough time between activities for breaks and transitions.
3. Develop An Energizing Morning Routine
Once you have a rough idea of what needs to be done each day both at work and at home, you can begin building your schedule to align with your needs and priorities—and that starts the minute you wake up.
Get your morning off to a good start by creating a morning routine that wakes you up and gets you energized for the day ahead. For best results, focus on including tasks that you know motivate you. For example, if you’re an introvert, you may enjoy more solitary activities like meditation. But if you’re an extrovert, you might prefer to start your day with a social activity like a coffee break with friends.
Examples of healthy and uplifting morning activities could include:
- Going for a walk
- Visiting the gym
- Drinking coffee on the porch
- Having breakfast with friends
- Playing with your kids
- Spending quality time with your spouse
4. Follow Your Own Rhythm
As you decide how to set up your schedule for the rest of the day, you’ll be better prepared for success if you take into account your personal rhythm—your circadian rhythm, that is! Circadian rhythm refers to your body’s internal clock that regulates how your energy levels rise and fall through the day. According to a report from Harvard Business Review, the majority of people reach peak alertness in the late morning hours, before experiencing a low around 3 p.m. Energy levels peak again around 6 p.m. before declining to their lowest points around 3:30 a.m., the report said.
While most people follow this general cycle of energy, others, referred to by Harvard Business Review as “night owls” and morning “larks,” reach their highest levels of alertness a little later or a little earlier in the day. If you’re not sure which category you fall into, take some time to monitor your own energy levels throughout the day, then see if you can schedule your work in such a way that takes advantage of your peaks in productivity. For example, you may opt to complete your most important tasks before lunch, and schedule less pressing activities—maybe even a nap!—for times of low energy in the late afternoon.
5. When It Comes to Productivity, Play To Your Strengths
Another important aspect of designing your day when you have a flexible schedule is considering ways in which you can improve and maintain your motivation and productivity levels. Some ideas might include:
Time Blocking and Bundling
Time blocking refers to setting aside a predetermined period of time—a “block,” if you will—to focus on one particular task. By scheduling out your time in this way, you can complete your most important tasks more quickly and tick off the items on your to-do list faster.
When blocking your time, start by slating your important tasks for when you will be most alert, and keep track of your progress. If you have several smaller tasks, group them into related bundles and then set aside a block of time to complete the entire set. For example, responding to emails and social media comments and scheduling new social media posts for the day could all be part of one bundle of tasks.
You can also establish theme days to tackle larger projects or areas of responsibility. Scheduling time in this way will keep your attention focused on related tasks and prevent attempts at multitasking.
Establishing a Separate Home Office
One of the best ways to stay productive is to create a workspace that is physically separated from your living space. In addition to helping with productivity by putting you in a professional frame of mind every time you sit down at your desk, having a separate space is another way to establish boundaries between your personal and professional lives: you and your loved ones will know that when you’re in your office—whether it’s a whole room, a corner desk, or a spot at the end of the dining room table—you’re on the clock.
It’s important to furnish and arrange your workspace in such a way that helps you stay focused and keeps everything you need within reach. Surround yourself with things that motivate and inspire you, like your favorite color on the wall, a family picture, or a flipbook of inspirational quotes. If you can’t arrange a separate space, then try establishing a mobile office using a rolling cart or a backpack. This way, you can quickly set up your workspace and just as quickly pack it up at the end of the day.
Taking Frequent Breaks
Another secret to staying productive when you work from home is to schedule regular and frequent breaks. Whether you resolve to take 15 minutes every couple of hours or can only swing a five-minute break between tasks, letting your mind relax for a moment can help you come back to work feeling refreshed and ready to take on the rest of the day.
Remember, the most important thing is to change your mental focus, whether that’s by going for a walk, eating a healthy snack, reading a chapter in a book, or working on a puzzle.
6. Set Boundaries
One of the biggest favors you can do for yourself as a remote worker is to set clear boundaries. When working from home, it’s easy to blur the lines between your work life and your home life. Many who are new to remote work find it difficult to tear themselves away from their computer screens, and it’s easy to waste time watching afternoon TV—and then find yourself having to work long hours into the night.
But these situations are easily averted by practicing some self-discipline and enforcing some boundaries. When establishing these lines in your own life, consider:
Setting Regular Work Hours
Setting boundaries when it comes to your work hours doesn’t mean you can’t be flexible; it just means adding some sensible parameters to your workday to ensure you’re making the most of your time both on and off the clock. A recent Staples survey found the number of hours worked by American professionals increased by over 6% in 2020. Implementing set work hours can help you avoid being part of that statistic and help prevent your professional obligations from bleeding into your leisure time.
In addition, there is a growing body of evidence that suggests humans are at their most productive for only about six hours a day. This means if you’re putting in more than an eight-hour workday, you may not be doing yourself—or your boss—any favors. Instead, maximize your productivity by setting limited work hours that take into consideration your own strengths and preferences.
Limiting Your Technology Use
For many remote professionals, a large portion of the workday is spent behind the screen, and in recent years, that’s only become more true.
Too much screen time has been shown to contribute to problems with sleep, eye strain and headaches, shoulder and neck pain, and even decreases in cognitive performance. By limiting your screentime outside of work hours, you can help mitigate these effects.
Just Say No to Extra Favors
Especially if you’re new to working from home, you may find yourself the frequent recipient of requests for favors from loved ones who don’t quite understand that even though you’re in your own house, you’re still on the clock. From drop-in visits to additional errands to kids busting in on your Zoom meetings, these demands on your time can quickly get away from you.
Avoid overextending yourself by letting your friends and family know when you can’t be disturbed unless it’s an emergency—and being clear about what you consider an emergency. As with all boundaries, you have to stick to them if you want them to work.
7. Design Your Day
Now that you’ve established your priorities and decided on a daily schedule that utilizes time blocks, leverages your times of peak productivity, and involves healthy boundaries, you can finish designing your daily schedule. Start by planning out the month ahead to see how your design functions for you over a few weeks. If needed, you can make changes later.
As you’re etching events and appointments into your schedule, think about due dates and deadlines to ensure you allocate enough time to complete your priority projects. And while scheduling is important, don’t be afraid to allow for flex time to accommodate last-minute projects. One of the greatest perks of remote work is flexibility, and we all know that life happens, so it’s nice to be able to adapt to the unexpected.
By taking the time to thoughtfully design your day, you can take full advantage of the benefits of a flexible schedule. Your days will revolve around what is most important to you and offer opportunities to engage in activities you love, while still ensuring you’re making progress toward your career and life goals.