Have you seen the illustration of filling two equal-sized containers with sand, pebbles and large rocks? If you’ve seen the video, you know the process. If you start with the sand, you are unable to fit all of the remaining pebbles and rocks in the container. However, when you put the large rocks in first, and then pour in the pebbles and sand, something magical happens…it ALL fits.
That’s what creating an ideal work week is all about.
The process of strategizing your week this way has also been referred to as time-blocking. Time-blocking involves scheduling time for meetings, activities, appointments, deep work, and administrative tasks. It also includes fundamental items like project work, scheduled days off, family time and commitments, and even your health goals.
Thinking through your goals and getting an idea of your week-at-a-glance can increase productivity and help you stay on track to meet goals efficiently. It also gives you peace of mind. When my week is set, and all the puzzle pieces fit, it provides the sense of preparedness I need.
START WITH YOUR BIG ROCKS
Immovable appointments like meetings get placed on the calendar first. These serve as anchors for the remainder of your planning. Beyond meetings, this is where you will also account for activities like family commitments for your spouse or kids, dental appointments, scheduled days off, self-care items, and other previously designated engagements.
In an ideal week, your calendar will have a sprinkling of these heavy-lifters, leaving plenty of room for everything else that needs to be done. Too many meetings will kill productivity so schedule sparingly. Meeting can be your demise if you’re not careful.
TIP: When placing these tasks on your calendar, be sure to account for travel or prep time as a part of your schedule. Whether you are walking to the conference room, commuting across town, or setting up a Zoom meeting in your office, the only way to ensure you will start your meeting on time is to plan in a few minutes for travel and prep.
NEXT, ADD PEBBLES
Once you have your anchors in place, you will have a much more visual view of the time that remains in your week. Resist the temptation to start filling in the white space with random tasks that need to be completed. Similar to the sand and pebbles, a strategy is still necessary to finish out your week successfully.
Filling out the next pieces of your productivity calendar takes some care and planning. First, determine when you are most productive. Is your brain engaged in the morning when you first start your day, or do you find yourself getting more work done in the afternoon? Whenever you are most productive, this is the time to work on your pebble projects.
Project work (setting small goals to reach one big one), administrative tasks, meeting prep, strategizing, and paperwork all fit into this category. Although no less important than meetings and the previously set items, these are a little more fluid. They can be moved around and spread throughout the week as needed.
TIP: Think backward by starting with where you want to be at the end of the week and plan accordingly. What are your goals for the week? What needs to be done each day to create a “win” by week’s end? What due dates and deliverables sit on your plate?
FILL IN THE CRACKS WITH SAND
The sand represents all of the small items that fill up your day, some important and some may be unimportant. This is when you need to get specific about the little bits of time you have remaining. These tasks include:
- Phone Calls
- Social Media
- Coffee with a friend
Before you start filling in every little space, it is time to dive deep into your productivity goals. Although these tasks are small, most are not insignificant. They are the types of tasks that can derail your schedule if they are not reigned in. Browsing Facebook for a quick minute can add up to hours of unproductivity. Switching back and forth between work that requires deep concentration and answering emails or phone calls decreases productivity immensely. Without properly executing your strategy, time can sift through the cracks and fill up space intended for other things.
TIP: If you find yourself often derailed by social media, set a timer before you open up any social media apps. Commit to keeping on schedule and closing the app when your timer goes off. It can be challenging at first, but if you keep at it, it is soon very freeing to have short scheduled times to connect.
FINALLY, LEAVE SOME WHITESPACE
Just because there is a little space remaining on your calendar, this does not mean something needs to be scheduled. These whitespaces or blank sections here and there on your calendar are actually very healthy and are necessary to keep your week on track. I prefer them in between each big rock to regroup.
Here are some ways you can use whitespace on your calendar:
- Take 15 minutes increments throughout the day to regroup order takeout or groceries
- Check-in on a family member or friend who needs encouragement
- Clean up your office or workspace
- Answer an email or return a phone call that requires deep thinking
- Go for a brisk walk to get your blood pumping
- Text your spouse or kids to remind them that they are loved
Whitespace is not time to be wasted, but it can be used to regroup, finish a project, encourage someone, or simply relax guilt-free.
Using your calendar as a productivity tool is helpful. Keeping that in mind – remember, your calendar cannot replace real-life experience. It is important to stick with your plan as much as possible. It can serve as a guilt-free buffer to say “no” to certain events and can also serve as a guide to things you truly do have time for. On the other hand, you know the saying about best-laid plans. If you find your week is not shaping up as hoped, take some time from your whitespace to regroup and get back on track.
One final note: At the end of the week, take a few minutes to analyze your overall time spent. What parts of the calendar worked and what parts could be improved? Consider this as you are planning the coming weeks ahead. Learning from your successes and struggles will put you on the path forward to future weeks of success!