I work from home and one of the main questions that I get from people is, “So what is your day like, exactly? Do you have trouble staying on task?”
People want to hear about coffee shops and working from the beach and going for long rambles in the sunshine in midday, and for a lot of my coworkers, that is actually probably what it’s like. But I’m a boring, depressive hermit, so my days are honestly probably a lot like the days of anyone who works in an office, except I’m at home.
Naturally, since my company attracts really self-motivated, driven people, I work with a lot of folks who are obsessed with personal productivity and all the tools and systems that go along with that. I have always been a very scheduled, calendared person, even through my 20s when my life was essentially ‘show up at an office 20 hours per week; otherwise, drink.’ I almost never live up to my own calendaring, but I’ve been an obsessive to-do lister since high school. I never don’t have a day’s tasks written down and I simply can’t comprehend people who just live life on the fly. How do they manage to feel horrible about all the stuff they were supposed to do and didn’t if they don’t have a big long list of unchecked to-dos at the end of every week?
At work this week, we all got into a discussion about our methods and everyone started whipping out their calendars to compare whose was bigger, and it occurred to me that maybe someone out there might be interested in my particular system, which is less aimed at channeling my boundless energy in productive directions, and more aimed at simply providing some structure and pre-making all the decisions, so that I don’t just stay in bed under the covers all week long, which is honestly what I would always do if I didn’t really keep after myself all the time. Best case scenario, I get about a third of what I’ve planned actually done, but if I didn’t plan it all out, that much wouldn’t even happen.
I used to always do task lists a week in advance, but for the last few months I’ve been bullet journaling, which is working better in that it forces me to only plan one day ahead. This way, when my day inevitably goes off the rails, I’m not looking ahead at a week’s failure and I don’t think ‘try again Monday;’ instead the next day is a blank page, and I just start fresh continuously.
Here’s a typical spread covering three days:
You’ll note that the runs didn’t get done. If you could see and parse this better, you’d also see that essentially nothing got done that wasn’t an appointment with another person. That is normal. But all those got done! The main things I have to do for work always get done.
In addition to my bullet journal, I use this really pretty calendar app that I like a lot called Sunrise. It’s really attractive and it syncs perfectly across my devices. Here’s this coming work week:
For people who ask me what exactly it is that I do all day, this is a perfect example of what I do. This is a very typical week for me.
The blue stuff goes on my calendar first — it is the scheduled meetings that I have at work. Having this many scheduled meetings is very atypical for my work place. Most Automatticians have at most one meeting per week; we are not big on meetings. But I’m a team lead right now, which means a big part of my job is talking to everyone on my team one on one, and hearing about how things are going for them, and what they’re working on, and what could be better, and all of that sort of thing. I have a pretty big team, and I talk to half of them each week. Plus, I have team calls and group lead calls, and I’m on the training team for new employees at the moment, and so my job right now is actually pretty scheduled and social.
What exactly are “meetings” when you work from home? Most of them are text-based in Slack, and some of them are video Zoom calls. So anyway, all this blue stuff is at set times, other people are expecting me to be there, and it will all for sure get done.
The orange stuff is stuff I have to leave the house for (which means put on outside pants for). You’ll notice there’s very little of this. Usually it’s just the orange block on Mondays, but this week I have to go somewhere on Tuesday as well. This stuff will get done.
The pink stuff is work stuff that doesn’t have to happen at a specific time. Every weekend, I take a minute to slot pink stuff in around the blue stuff for the upcoming week. About half the pink stuff will probably get done. A lot of the blue stuff will eat into the pink stuff and there will be unscheduled green stuff (falling asleep; staring into space) that ends up eating up some of the pink time. My primary job is support; before I was a team lead, my week would look more like 40 solid hours of pink stuff. “Tickets” are what we call support emails; I like how Sunrise app puts the little movie ticket icon on there. I also like how it puts a little train icon on my training sessions.
Yellow stuff is exercise. This mostly consists of my going into my bedroom, putting on a sports bra, lying down for “just a sec,” feeling sorry for myself about having to go for a run, looking at Twitter for “just a sec” and then falling asleep until the next blue thing. So, if I get two out of five yellow things actually done in a week, I’m really killing it.
That’s basically it. In a typical week, Monday and Tuesday will actually look very much like what’s on the calendar there. But then by Wednesday, the colors will start to run together and get muddier, and by Thursday at the latest, the calendar is really just a sea of blackness with only those few blue boxes poking up like icebergs. If I were to go back and revise the week with what it actually looked like, my calendar would look more like this:
And but then it’s the weekend and time for a fresh, rainbowy start to the new week. Getting Things Done! I am a Productivity Guru. Subscribe to my newsletter.