How To - Design Your Week

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-- J.D. Meier


Summary

This How To article shows you how to design your week with skill. Your week is a large chunk of time to get a handle on. By designing a week that supports you, you set yourself up for weekly results. Each week is a fresh start. You can carry the lessons forward from one week into the next. All you really have is time, so the key is to make the most of it. If you have recurring activities, you probably added them over time without realizing it; that’s a schedule by default, not by design. Seize the opportunity now to design a week which actually supports you.


Contents

  • Objectives
  • Overview
  • Summary of Steps
  • Step 1. Baseline Your Schedule
  • Step 2. Set Boundaries and Limits
  • Step 3. Fix Time for Eating, Sleeping, and Working Out
  • Step 4. Carve Out Time for What’s Important
  • Step 5. Consolidate Related Activities
  • Step 6. Consolidate Weaknesses
  • Step 7. Add Strengths
  • Step 8. Schedule Free Time
  • Additional Considerations
  • Additional Resources


Objectives

  • Design a week that helps you get your best results
  • Carve out time for the things that are most important to you
  • Free up more time
  • Get better results from where you already spend your time
  • Spend your best energy where it counts
  • Spend more time in your strengths and less time in your weaknesses


Overview

By designing your week, you can spend more time in your strengths and less time in your weaknesses. This will improve your energy and help you continuously renew. The most important thing you can do is fix time for core activities that keep you going: eating, sleeping, and working out. Investing in these is investing in yourself.


One of the keys to results is owning your schedule. You can drive your schedule, or it can drive you. Imagine a week where you spend each day working on the right things with the right people and making the right impact. Imagine looking forward to the start of the week, whether it’s because it’s a fresh start, or it’s a chance to experience more of what you want. Imagine spending more time each day on the things that make you strong, give you energy and make you feel powerful. Imagine a week filled with power hours, creative think time, and enough free time that you feel balanced and effective. Imagine a week where you get enough sleep, get enough movement, and have enough energy to accomplish whatever you want. This is a week by design. It’s not just about weekly results; it’s about sustainable results.


By shuffling your schedule around, you can make some dramatic improvements in your energy and how you feel. It’s not about making a perfect week. It’s about making improvements in how you spend your time. Here are the keys to designing your week:

  • First baseline your schedule. Note your committed time and free time.
  • Consolidate activities that make you weak as much as possible.
  • Move those activities that make you weak to the morning when you can.
  • Spend more of your time on your strengths.
  • Create time blocks to consolidate, batch and focus on key activities.
  • Make time for important activities, including alone time, fun time, time with people, etc.
  • Push for spending 75 percent of your time each day in activities that make you strong. Push the 25 percent of the time you spend in weaknesses, to the start of your day. Think of this as worst things first. By getting your weaknesses out of the way, you can spend the rest of your day in your strengths. Another way to do this is to push the main things that make you weak to the start of your week. Eliminating them early creates a glide path for the rest of the week.


Summary of Steps

  • Step 1. Baseline Your Schedule
  • Step 2. Set Boundaries and Limits
  • Step 3. Fix Time for Eating, Sleeping, and Working Out
  • Step 4. Carve Out Time for What’s Important
  • Step 5. Carve Out Time for What’s Important
  • Step 6. Consolidate Related Activities
  • Step 7. Consolidate Weaknesses
  • Step 8. Add Strengths
  • Step 9. Schedule Free Time



Step 1. Baseline Your Schedule

Before you can improve your week, you first need a bird’s-eye view of your schedule; creating a simple map of your week helps. If you know what your week looks like at a glance, it’s easier to spot problems. It’s also easier to test potential solutions in terms of rearranging your schedule. Having a simple map of your week makes it easy to play with “What if” scenarios, such as, what if I used Monday to take care of most of my administrative tasks or what if I used Friday to catch up with people.


Sunday Monday Tuesday Wednesday Thursday Friday Saturday
7:00 a.m.
8:00
9:00
10:00
11:00
12:00
1:00 p.m.
2:00
3:00
4:00
5:00
6:00
7:00
8:00
9:00
10:00


On your map, write down your activities and how you spend your time. Here are some key things to include:

  • Sleeping
  • Eating
  • Workouts
  • Meetings
  • Work time
  • Free time
  • Activities


Identify Committed Time

Identify your committed time. These are scheduled items that aren’t flexible. This might include meetings, other people’s schedules, or activities that you can’t move. Your goal is simply to map out which time is fixed versus which time is flexible.


Identify Free Time

Identify your free time. It might be scattered all over the board. You might find you don’t even have any free time. Your goal is simply to map out what your current free time is. Be honest. You’ll get a chance to fix it. What’s important is that you take a good look at what it currently is.


Map Out Your Strengths and Weaknesses

Identify which activities make you weak and which activities make you strong. If you’re not sure, start by thinking about which activities you look forward to and which activities you dread. The goal is to be able to see your activities at a glance and know whether they make you weak or strong.


Step 2. Set Boundaries and Limits

Setting boundaries and limits is how you achieve your balance. If you don’t make time for things, they won’t happen. If you don’t set limits for things, they will take over other important parts of your life. Start with simple boundaries; here are some examples:

  • Dinner on the table at 5:30 p.m.
  • No work on the weekend.
  • Tuesday night is date night.


Try using Hot Spots and setting boundaries. Set a maximum on career and a minimum on relationships, body, and fun. Here’s an example:

Hot Spot Minimums and Maximums (per week)
Mind
Body Minimum of 3 hours
Emotions
Career Maximum of 50 hours
Financial
Relationships Minimum of 8 hours
Fun Minimum of 3 hours


Don’t spread your life force too thinly. The Hot Spots categories support each other.


Key Insights

  • When you set a minimum in the right categories, you avoid getting unbalanced and improving other categories.
  • When you set a maximum in the right categories, you learn how to become more effective. For example, if you only have eight hours to throw at your day, you’ll use them wisely.
  • The worst mistake is to throw more time at problems. The key is to reduce time spent, while increasing value and improving effectiveness and efficiency.


The first step is to decide to spend no more than 50 hours each week on work. This forces you to bite off only what you can chew. This is how you start improving time management and pushing back effectively.


Step 3. Fix Time for Eating, Sleeping, and Working Out

One of the most effective patterns for improving your week is having consistent times for eating, sleeping, and working out. If you set those in place and work everything else around that, you have a great start and help ensure that you invest in yourself.


This is how many of the most effective people structure their week. They know how much sleep they need; therefore, they make sure they go to bed at the right time for the right amount of hours. They enjoy their meals at allotted times throughout the day: for some it means eating three times a day while others prefer smaller portions five times or more a day. When it comes to exercise, one of the most common patterns for successful people is to work out first thing in the morning. This gives them a continuous block of “me” time from the night before into the start of their day; it also ensures that the workout happens. Another pattern is to work out after work as a way to cap off their work day and transition to home, thus helping to enforce a boundary for ending their work day. Some people work out at the very end of the day if they can’t find any other time that works. What’s important is making time.


By fixing time for eating, sleeping and working out, you help make sure you take care of the basics. Eventually, you won’t have to spend as much time thinking about them as you find ways to improve efficiencies and reduce friction. For example, if you work out in the morning every weekday, you’ll find ways to glide into your routine. These three activities are core for your energy and are core energy patterns that support you. When neglected or improperly managed, however, they can work against you.


Step 4. Carve Out Time for What’s Important

You don’t have time for things, you make time for things. Your time allocations should match your priorities. If you schedule it, it happens. If you leave it to chance, you’ll have random success. The key is to figure out what’s important to you and put it on your map. Make it a part of your schedule by design. By making time for things, you’ll improve your focus.


Step 5. Consolidate Related Activities

It’s common to have activities spread throughout the week that would be better off done in a batch. Consolidate them. This optimizes your routines and frees up more time. It’s task-switching and hopping around that can eat up a lot of your time and lessen your effectiveness.


Step 6. Consolidate Weaknesses

Activities that make you weak might be scattered throughout your week. Consolidate these as well. For example, consider doing all the activities that make you weak in the first hour of your day when you are your strongest. Likewise, you can push as much of these weakening activities as you can to the start of your week. Compartmentalizing your time like this keeps your energy strong.


Step 7. Add Strengths

The secret to improving your energy is to add more activities that make you strong throughout your day and week. For example, one technique is to schedule lunches with people you enjoy and that catalyze you. You can also schedule activities you really enjoy to the end of each day and at the end of the week so that you have something to look forward to, and you end on a high note.


Step 8. Schedule Free Time

If you want to increase your free time, schedule more of it. It might seem strange to schedule your free time, but it will liberate you. For example, if you know a break is scheduled, it’s easier to stay fully engaged. Also, it’s easier to truly enjoy your free time if you’ve already allocated time to get the things done that you know you must do.


Additional Considerations

Once you have the basics in place for an effective week, there are a few key practices you can explore for improving your results. The key is to stay balanced and spend more time in strengths and less in weaknesses. It’s also about making sure you accomplish what’s important to you. Remember that you’re not going for productivity (i.e., simply checking things off a list). You are going for meaningful results in your life. It’s your life by design.


  • Increase Your Power Hours. Count your power hours. Your power hours are the times throughout the day when you’re most productive: your energy is strong, your mind is clear, and you’re in the zone. Plowing through your work is easy and you’re in your flow. You find your power hours by paying attention to the points in the day where you get your best results with the least amount of effort. It might even help by first finding your worst parts of the day to identify your non-power hours. If you currently have a handful of power hours over the course of the week, shoot for ten. Increase it from there. You add power hours by changing the activities you do or moving things around in your schedule, until you unblock your best results. Adding power hours is one of the best ways to improve your results for the week.
  • Increase Your Creative Hours. Just like adding power hours, you might benefit from adding more creative hours. Count how many creative hours you have during the week. If it’s not enough, schedule more and set yourself up so that they truly are creative hours. If you’re the creative type, this will be especially important. If you don’t think of yourself as very creative, then simply think of these as free hours to let your mind wander and explore or reflect.
  • Schedule Things You Need Time For. Scheduling things is one of the best ways to make sure it happens. This includes giving it the proper amount of time needed. The more realistic you are about how much time things take, the better you get at accomplishing them. The trick, of course, is to find a balance; make time available but also don’t spend too much time on things. As one of my mentors put it, “Don’t spend 20 dollars on a 5-dollar problem.” Make sure the time investment matches the value. Your time is one of the most important resources you have. Invest it wisely.
  • Add Buffers. Don’t let all your activities bump up against each other—have some breathing room. One of the most important buffers is your morning buffer. For example, give yourself more than enough time to get to work. This way you aren’t stressed by the traffic and have made allowances for things to go wrong. The more you account for things going wrong, the less stress you’ll experience and the less things will actually go wrong. If you run too tight a ship, you’ll find things will go wrong more often and throw you off. Life has lots of unexpected curve balls, so allow for them by design.
  • Avoid All-or-Nothing Thinking. Don’t let all-or-nothing thinking ruin things. Don’t throw out the baby with the bathwater. Don’t let one bad apple spoil the bunch. Things do go wrong, and things will go wrong. Roll with the punches. Having your weekly routines will help you gradually improve and respond to change. It’s this learn-and-respond pattern that will see you through each day, each week and each month. It’s that pattern that will produce results.
  • Make Time to Recharge. Renewal is an important part of your cycle. You need to make sure you have the energy to keep going. Therefore, it’s important to know what actually recharges you versus what drains you. Some things that drain some people actually recharge other people. Pay attention to how you respond in terms of energy to different activities and find the routines, patterns, and practices that recharge and renew you.
  • 'Experiment Between Morning Person and Night Owl'. Some people find that they are more creative at night but are more productive during the day. Other people find they simply can’t be creative in certain situations or that they can’t be productive in others. Experiment between being a night owl and a morning person to see which patterns work best for you. You might even find that these patterns switch, depending on the season. For example, you might prefer to be a night owl in the winter and a morning person in the summer.


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