A structure for productivity

To me structure is the most important piece of the productivity puzzel. Without it’s impossible to get long term results, even though some days may be super productive and propell me to new focus heights, I have learned that they are always passing and the monotomy of the workday creeps back in under my skin. Now don’t get me wrong – I really love what I do and I do consider myself one of the lucky few that get to work with something that I’m truly passionate about. Nevertheless, it’s not all fun, unicorns and rainbows. Some days are better, other days are less good. And that’s where structure comes in, to minimize the lows.

Before finding a structure that worked for me I could find myself resurfacing after a four hour reading frenzy that started as a quick google for some javascript quirk and ended up 47 levels deep in HN. Sure, I still do drift of into the abyss of StackOverflow or Twitter sometimes, but never for more than 20-something minutes!


So this is how I structure my day at the moment.

7.30-8.20 – Reading blogs, articles etc.
8.20-8.30 – Planning / preparing the mornings work
8.30-11.35 – Pomodoro time
11.35-12.00 – Communication
12.00-1.00 – Lunch
1.00-1.10 – Planning / preparing the afternoons work
1.10-4.15 – Pomodoro time
4.15-4.30 – Recap of the day, planning the next day

Getting Started
The first part that I’ve found really let’s me get a head start on the day is to start a little early. I work in an office where normal working hours are 8 to 5, but since a few months I’ve been working around that a bit. Since I’m a morning person I try to get to the office at around 7.30, giving me a good 45 minutes before the floor starts filling up with people that are eager to chat after a full night of soltitude.

That first 45 minutes I spend reading up on articles in my Pocket, industry blogs, Twitter links etc. I find it makes for a nice, slow start of the day and allows me to get my mind ready for the day. At about 8.20 I go grab a cup of coffee before settling in to look over my first period of work. If I did what I’m supposed to do the day before then the plan will already be paid out and I’ll just spend a few minutes looking over it to make sure it still makes sense. After that it’s time to get productive.

Pomodoro time

I use the Pomodoro technique and work in bursts of 25 minutes, with a 5 minute break after each. After the third Pomodoro I take a 15 minutes break before settling in for another round of 3. So my morning looks like this:

8.30-8.55: Pomodoro 1 (5 minutes break)
9.00-9.25: Pomodoro 2 (5 minutes break)
9.30-9.55: Pomodoro 3 (15 minutes break)
10.10-10.35: Pomodoro 4 (5 minutes break)
10.40-11.05: Pomodoro 5 (5 minutes break)
11.10-11.35: Pomodoro 6

After Pomodoro 6 I’ll take some time to answer emails, get people on the phone and other communication that is needed. I try to go to lunch at 12 and be back at my desk by 1. During Pomodoros I close down my mail program and if colleagues ask me stuff me on Slack I try to stick to the GTD-principle – if I can complete it within 2 minutes I’ll do it right away, otherwise I’ll defer it to a later Pomodoro.

After lunch I try to get started as quickly as possible and then run another 6 Pomodoros, just like in the morning. I know that I’ll start to lose focus at around 4 in the afternoon so I try to have my important todos done by then.

If I have a lot of commucation that I need to do I’ll usually set aside the last Pomodoro for that purpose so that I have time to recap and prioritize the next day before I leave work. This is a really important task and I always force myself to invest 5 or 10 minutes to it, it helps me get going so much faster the following day if I have summarized for myself what needs to be done.

Falling of the wagon

That’s it, a regular day I do try to stick as close as possible to this schedule since I know it really helps me be productive, but it really is more of a guiding light than a leash. Colleagues, meetings, and other unplanned events can get the best of me at times but even then it’s nice to have a structure to fall back on once I can get back to my tasks.

Regarding meetings, a common nuisance for anyone working in an office, I try to keep my mornings meeting free. I’m always most productive in the mornings and if I’m allowed to really settle in and work with focus for 3 hours in the morning I’m often able to complete as much work as the rest of the day combined. So whenever I have to attend meetings I try to push them to after lunch.

And if I ever get lost on Twitter my Pomodoro timer makes sure to remind me that it’s time for a break and that I probably should get back to do real work once that is done.