Friday, January 18, 2008

Find Your Rhythm

What rhythm do your days have? Is it working for you?

I've been self employed, working from home, for 2 years now, and it took a while to find a rhythm that works for me. Having a schedule is good, but forcing yourself to work when your mind is elsewhere, or when you've become frustrated and unproductive, eliminates one of the best things about being self employed: Making Every Moment Count.

Not everyone has this degree of flexibility, but everyone does have some flexibility in determining the rhythm of their days. When do you get up in the morning? When do you check email? How do you schedule the tasks for your day that must be done?

Here's the rhythm I've found:

  • I check personal email, read one or two blogs, and do writing-type creative tasks first thing in the morning, while I'm having coffee. My mind is alert and fresh - uncluttered from all the events of the day. Then I spend a little time reading news and other blogs.
  • Before lunch, I try to quickly take care of a few tasks that have a discrete beginning and end (like paying bills), then start on a bigger, ongoing project. This makes me really feel productive, and gets my mind in gear for work. Do NOT check business email first thing in the morning.
  • I try to schedule meetings for mid-morning or lunchtime, so I can still have a couple normal hours of my "morning block" and have an uninterrupted "afternoon block."
  • After a mid-day break (lunch and sometimes a power nap) I'll either return to the big project or work on a different one, and I really pay attention to whether I'm making progress. If I'm really in a good "flow" state, I'll stay with it and find it hard to stop working (my "quitting time" is between 4 and 6, unless there's a good reason to stop earlier or later). If, however, I find that I'm not making progress, I switch gears completely and work on a different type of project. Depending how my day's gone, that might be a drawing-type creative project, researching a new idea, going out to buy supplies, or just taking care of filing and cleaning up my office.
  • I try to never schedule meetings between 2 and 5, because this is often my most productive time, and having a meeting then throws off my whole afternoon.
Find your own rhythm. As far as you're able, make your work productivity-based, not hours-based (you can probably do more in 4-6 focused hours than most people do in 8 typical hours). Pay attention to whether you're making progress, and if you're not, switch to something else for a while.

This post is an elaboration on my comment from today's Zen Habits post. (My name on that comment links to my other blog.)