You and your work spend a lot of time together. Over the years, you may have started to take each other for granted.
Does your workweek feel like the ‘ole ball and chain? Would you rather it be the launch pad for your best self and life? When your workweek is structured to focus your creative energy on the right work at the right time, you’ll stay energized and effective. These three steps can help take you there.
1. Align work with your goals
When you know what you want from your entire career, or for the next year, you can break it down to intermediate goals. Then take the small and strategic steps that take you there. Author Jack Canfield compares this practice to driving with your headlights on in the dark. Though you can only see a few feet in front of you at a time, you can reach any destination, eventually.
Let’s say your lifetime goal is to become the CFO of a Fortune 500 company. And right now, you’re working as a bank teller. Maybe your three big goals goal for the next year are to earn your branch’s service award, get promoted to supervisor, and enroll in a CPA program. Break these down to three key goals for the next week. Then break these down further into your top three goals for each day of the week. Meet these goals, and repeat.
A digital task management system such as Trello, or even a basic paper planner, can help you execute on your goals and track your progress. Use whatever tools make it easiest for you to plot out your trajectory. Then pay close attention to your progress toward your big-picture goals, celebrating every milestone along the way.
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2. Batch tasks and time purposefully
Because it takes an estimated 25 minutes to return to an interrupted task or start a new one, batching work lets you get in a groove and stay there. To minimize transition friction, consider doing one type of task for a long period of time—such as writing a month’s worth of blog posts in one sitting, instead of just one.
You could also try organizing and batching work by “public”, “private”, or “personal” focus. “Public” or customer-facing tasks, such as meetings, calls and presentations take a certain kind of extroversion energy. “Private” tasks such as writing, thinking, and planning generally require deep and uninterrupted focus.
And “personal” time outside of work is for resting and replenishing. Being intentional about which type of work (or play) you are doing can help you discover ways to make the best use of your power hours. The early bird is credited with getting the worm, but night owls can hunt in the dark. The trick is to know and own your superpower, in service to your success.
Whether you are most creative or interpersonally dynamic or strategic as the sun rises or by moonlight or when the rest of your team is in their late afternoon slump, try to align the right type of work with your optimal biorhythm. Or perhaps dedicating a full day every week to internal or external work lets you sink in enough to get a meaningful foothold.
Even being strategic about your personal time—by entirely disengaging mind and body from work—can make a huge difference in your capacity to reenter at full velocity. Block time on the calendar that belongs to each type of output or input, and structure your workweek accordingly. Notice which rhythms are moving you forward or holding you back. Then course correct as you go.
3. Get in the flow and stay there
The best way to limit decision fatigue and stay on-purpose is with rituals and routines to start, manage, and complete your days and weeks. Experts often advise that you start the day with the hardest task, because it gives you a sense of accomplishment right out of the gate.
But I like to start each day with the most delightful task (a five-minute free write), because it sets the frame of “satisfaction” for my workday. You may benefit from crunching numbers, responding to email, making client calls, or eating a scone to start each workday.
Experiment to see what puts you in your power center, ready for the adventure ahead. Then, once you’ve landed squarely in “the zone,” stay there by minimizing distraction. If you’re in “private” work mode, make yourself physically and digitally unavailable, so no one and nothing else can interrupt you. Use sound-canceling headphones or music to eliminate background noise. And if you tend to get sucked into the social media vortex, consider an app like Freedom to keep you offline for set periods of time. When in “public” mode, a full day of meetings or presentations could help sustain high energy.
A ritual to complete each workday and workweek can help you digest your successes, reflect on how you’ll improve, and determine what’s next. One way to do this is by revisiting your three key goals, then setting fresh expectations for the next day or week.
When your goals are clear, and your time and energy are in alignment, your creativity will have an ideal habitat in which to flourish. Keep exploring until you find a way to bring your best self and work forward. Your ideal workweek will evolve as you leverage the rhythms and practices that give you liftoff.
Sage Cohen is the author of Fierce on the Page, The Productive Writer, Writing the Life Poetic, and the poetry collection Like the Heart, the World. Since founding Sage Cohen Global in 1997, she’s been developing communication, education, and empowerment solutions that help people and businesses change the conversation.