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How I plan my days – a flexible schedule that allows creativity to thrive

I know you’ve seen them… excel charts mapping out the perfect “productive” week.

My first thought is these people must not have kids. That might be true, but my that-could-never-work-for-me reaction isn’t about kids (or whatever the variable is in your life), it’s my creative brain reacting to restriction.

I’m one of those people who struggles to be creative at 11am if I have to go somewhere at 2pm. Just knowing that a commitment is looming stifles my creativity… but it doesn’t need to stifle my effectiveness.

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As a freelance designer who has worked from home with kids (and other variables) for almost 20 years, I know how hard it can be to create consistency that you can schedule projects by.

I’d like you to recognize that it’s entirely possible to work with the time you do have. If you are goal-setting, then get motivated by the results of being more effective inside your current constraints – rather than trying to simply produce more by carving out more time (ie allowing work to invade family and personal time).

I’ve got a few tips for you…

Start by giving yourself feedback.

Every hour is not created equal and every day has variables that affect productivity. I know… duh… but bear with me.

If you are self-employed, you can probably answer any or all of the following:

  • If you have 3 calls in a day, do you still expect yourself to get the same amount of work done?
  • If you are working on something intensely creative or draining, do you expect yourself to be able to do it all day?
  • What about a day with a dentist appointment? Or your daughter’s volleyball game? Do you expect yourself to be productive before or after appointments?

Looking back, how have variables and events have impacted your work before? When you feel frustrated, can you pinpoint the cause? At the end of each day, review what you worked on and how you felt. Did you miss lunch? Were you rushing? Did you have too high an expectation of yourself? What was good? What was frustrating?

Take action: Stop overloading your schedule and start paying attention to your own feedback.

For example, tomorrow I have yoga in the morning (non-negotiable) and my daughter has a volleyball game across town. My “realistic” work window is about 3 hours. I need to eat lunch too. So on that day, I’m not going to schedule anything that requires me to buckle down and concentrate super hard or be super creative. That will be a day for admin, getting out proposals, making a quick update here and there.

At the end of the day, I won’t be beating myself up because I wasn’t productive enough… I was as productive as I realistically expected myself to be.

Don’t switch back and forth between projects during the day.

Multi-tasking is not all it’s cracked up to be. In fact, the brain can’t really multi-task. That’s why you feel frazzled at the end of a day full of distractions.

When you switch back and forth between two projects, you can lose up to 20% of your total time to the switch. If you switch back and forth between 4 projects in one day, you can lose up to 80% of your day to context-switching.

Food for thought… when you allow a pushy client with email drama into the middle of your serious work time, you give them 20% of your day. Are they paying you enough for that?

Take action: Take a look at your week and pencil in your commitments. Then pencil in the projects you need to work on. They should be grouped by client or theme (like social media on Tuesday, marketing Thursday, XYZ client Friday, etc). It’s okay to move them around week to week so your work is always paired with the day where you can be the most effective.

If you have to switch between 2 projects – do it at a natural break – like lunchtime or a daily walk.

Plan your day the night before.

Start by referencing the weekly schedule you just created. Plan your day the night before so you can hit the ground running. You’ve already done the thought work for what needs to happen during the week… so you can focus on what you need to do today. You haven’t overloaded your day because you’ve been listening to your own feedback.

Remember yoga and volleyball? I don’t plan a lot on those days. If I have a podcast interview or coaching call, I give myself an hour of recovery after. My personal feedback from past experience tells me that is what I need.

If I’m creating course material? That’s draining work… I can only keep that up for about 2-3 hours. My personal feedback from past experience tells me that is what I need.

Working on wireframes for a client? That takes about half a day but not on a day full of distractions. I need to do it in the mornings. My personal feedback from past experience tells me that is what I need.

Take action: Look at the plan you created for your week. Make a plan at the end of today for tomorrow. Do you have calls? or a nice block of work time? Appointments? Set a reasonable expectation for yourself. At the end of the day, give yourself feedback to apply to your next round of planning.

Not sure what to be working on? Learn more about how to connect your daily tasks to your big goals.

That’s how I plan my days. You are probably thinking… Christine, your days aren’t all that structured.

You are right… they aren’t the same on any given day or week. It’s unrealistic for me to force structure on myself in this season of life. Structure is replaced with the feedback and framework that allows me to plug in projects where I can be the most effective. I am no longer under the illusion that I can do more than I can actually do. Rather than berating myself for not getting an impossible list of work done, I listen to my own feedback so I can improve my next round of planning and become even more effective.

Tell me… what time of day are you most effective? or, tell me the last time you were really frustrated and why. What can you do differently next time?

As a designer, I struggle to function under strict confines, but I recognize that my design brain needs to rest. I need to stay off the hamster wheel, so I actually enjoy this amazing freelance lifestyle. Click through to read more about how I schedule my ideal day »
As a designer, I struggle to function under strict confines, but I recognize that my design brain needs to rest. I need to stay off the hamster wheel, so I actually enjoy this amazing freelance lifestyle. Click through to read more about how I schedule my ideal day »

One Response to How I plan my days – a flexible schedule that allows creativity to thrive

  1. Fabulous article, but I especially love this: “I shut my door and get upset with my family when they interrupt me (they are old enough to know better). It’s taken me years to realize that it’s okay to get fierce about my time being “on”, so that when I’m off, I’m off completely.”

    I’m homeschooling 5 kids between 7 & 15. We homeschool in the morning, take a break for lunch and then my plan is to work from 1:30-4:30. It’s hard to keep that focused time some days, but we’re slowly getting there and my kids are slowly coming to respect my work time (some days are better than others!)

    Thanks!
    Lisa Vanderveen

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