A couple of years ago I shared what my typical day looks like in the 20th issue of Offscreen mag. Looking back, I realize that some of it has changed, and much of it hasn’t. Before I share what a typical day looks like, I think it’s first worth mentioning how I approach time management in general.
A couple of things worth noting about how I approach managing my time
I think of day and time management in terms of blocks. Or, chunks of time, so to speak. I divide my day into “activity blocks” that are then distributed to occupy different time slots across the day. Instead of organizing my activities according to the hours of the day, I organize the hours of the day in accordance with my activities… if that makes sense.
For example, I have a “Exercise/Wellbeing” block which is normally around 90-minutes long. How these blocks are distribued and allocated on any given day is subject to different factors. On most days, the Exercise block occupies an early morning time slot. On occasions, it shifts to the afternoon.
I have two kinds of blocks: Professional and Personal/Life. A professional block is a block of time during which I do work-related activities. This includes development work, meetings, workshop and talk preparation, etc. I shift these blocks around depending on what takes priority on any given day. For example, if, on any given day, there is an important family event happening, that event is what I arrange and shift the rest of the blocks around. If I have a few conferences lined up back-to-back, I tend to make so that I don’t have a lot of client work around those dates, so I have more time during the day for talk creation.
My blocks are arranged around prayer times (which change as the Earth’s movement around the sun changes around the year. 😆)
Generally, I divide my day into three 5 main parts as follows. Each part spans about 3 hours of the day:
- Very early mornings,
- late mornings, which is basically everybody else’s morning and that spans all the way till around noon,
- early afternoons (that’s normally from noon till around 3 or 4 pm),
- late afternoons, which typically span till sundown, and finally,
- night time.
I fill up the slots with activity blocks such as:
- Spiritual block (prayer and related activities) (~30 minutes)
- Health/Wellbeing block (Yoga/Exercise + Post-Workout meal) (~60–90 minutes)
- Personal block (~3 hours)
- Focused work block #1 (~3 hours)
- Work block #2 (~3–4 hours)
- Creative block (~2 hours)
- Recreation block (~2 hours)
Every single one of these blocks is flexible, and is really just a way for me to say “I will focus on this one main thing for the next X amount of time”. A block may move around the schedule on any given day. It may also be longer on any given day than the other.
So, while the following schedule represents what a day could like, it more accurately represents just one variation of a day.
Also, the precise times change on any given day during the year as the prayer times change, as well as during Ramadan, when the entire day’s schedule changes, for example.
Needless to say, the schedule also changes during holidays and weekends.
- 5:00am: [Spiritual block] Up and out of bed. Fajr prayer. Do not Disturb mode.
- 5:30am–7:30am: [Creative block] This can be anything I am inclined to do, as long as it’s meaningful work — “work that contributes to your legacy, helps you advance your career, expands your skill set, etc.… When you finish such work, you have the satisfying feeling of time well spent and a job well done.” (Jocelyn K. Glei, Unsubscribe)
My brain’s information retention powers are at their highest at this time of day. With my brain firing on all cylinders, if I have a lot of work I need to finish, I’m ready to make a bit of headway with the day’s tasks for a good couple of hours. No emails. No client communication. No interruptions.
- 7:30am–9:00am: [Wellbeing block] Yoga. Breakfast. Getting ready for the day.
- 9:00am–12:00pm [Focused work block] or [Personal block]. Getting things done on either front.
- 12:00pm–12:30pm [Spiritual block] (sometimes this shifts back or forward 30 minutes, depending on what time of year it is)
- 12:30pm–1:30pm Break between work sessions. Then lunch.
- 1:30pm–5:30pm [Work block]_ Development, sometimes followed by team and client meetings.
I typically work with teams located across the world and time zones. As a result, most of my meetings tend to happen in the afternoons — somewhere between 3pm and 6pm.
- 5:30pm–6:00pm [Spiritual block]
- 6:00pm–8:30pm [Recreation block] This can be anything: reading, watching videos/a movie, social media, writing, joining snack’n’learns with SuperFriends, or even doing a bit of work if I’m feeling like it.
- 9:00pm Bedtime.
As I mentioned earlier, the blocks shift around a lot. Sometimes if I get into the flow of work in the early morning, the creative/meaningful work session extends well beyond 7:30am, pushing the Exercise block into the late morning. In that case, I might end up Exercising, having late breakfast, and then doing a Personal block in the early afternoon, followed by a lighter work block in the late afternoon before I call it a (productive) day. And if I get into a really deep flow in the morning, I might end up working from 5:50am till noon, in which case I take the rest of the day off, and only do the meetings in the late afternoon if I have any. It’s very flexible, as you see.
I think of my schedule as being fluid — adapting to my needs on any given day.
This is a bird’s eye’s view of my schedule. But there’s a little more happening in each block as I work to maintain a healthy work-life balance…
I know this post isn’t about work-life balance, but I think it’s worth adding a note about it given how I went about this post so far.
Shifting blocks of work around the day and alternating between work and life sessions has worked pretty well and has helped me manage my time better and achieve better work-life balance.
I’ve come to this way of managing my time after burning out 3 times in the last few years. Having the flexibility to shift around activities on any day in accordance to how I’m doing (physically and mentally) on that day, while also keeping my personal life in check is of utmost importance to me.
Typically, my intense work sessions are divided into smaller blocks of time, separated by even smaller chunks of time where I walk away from the screen, go grab a snack, make tea, chat with friends and family, help out around the house, make a smoothie, make food (I don’t just eat it, lol)… Instead of one long block of work interrupted by lunch mid-day, it’s multiple blocks of work interrupted by even smaller blocks of “life”.
Also, quite often if I’m feeling like a change in scenery but also have a lot of work to get done, I’ll grab my laptop and head out to get work done in my car in a nice place with a nice view. I might pass by some shops and buy things on the way. I might visit a friend for a super short visit during an outside work break…
Thinking in terms of blocks, I am able to say “this week’s work needs X hours to be finished” and I am able to distribute those hours across the week and schedule them across each day in a way that is disciplined enough to get work done, all the while being flexible enough to maintain a healthy balance and avoid burnout.
I know routines are important. Setting one up is probably the most frequent piece of advice I come across everywhere. I haven’t been able to successfully implement a routine for all the reasons mentioned above. So the schedule on any given day is not as rigid as it could be. But I like that. It works for me.
Check out Dan Mall’s Typical Day.