Studies have shown that we’re actually working more hours now that we’re working from home versus working in an office. In addition to that, our homes now pull double duty as offices, schools, playgrounds, and cafés. It’s easy to see how time can slip away when you’re juggling multiple responsibilities throughout the day.
How can you find balance and reclaim some of your lost time? By creating a work schedule, which helps to provide structure to your day.
To create your personalized work schedule, you first need to track your time.
When you’re tracking your time, you want to be as precise as possible. Track things down to the minute to find out how long it really takes you to accomplish specific tasks. In addition to work tasks, you should track anything else that takes up your time during working hours like childcare or helping kids with their schoolwork. You can use an app to track your time, or simply use the stopwatch function on your phone and create a spreadsheet.
Do this for an entire week to get an accurate picture of how much time is spent on routine tasks like emails and meetings, daily job requirements, and also to gauge what your major time-takers are. Your schedule will likely fluctuate from day to day, so take note of not only how long tasks take, but when they need to be done as well.
Create a base structure for your schedule.
Once you know how long you spend on different tasks, you can use that to create the outline for your schedule. Start by adding the tasks that need to be done at specific times or specific days. That becomes the base from which you can work the rest of your day around.
Don’t forget to schedule a lunch break. Taking time away from work is important for your mental health, yet it’s so easy just to skip and work through lunch instead. Putting a lunch break on your schedule is a reminder of its importance and will hopefully prevent you from eating and working at the same time.
Schedule times for breaks.
It’s as important to schedule a few short breaks during the day as it is to schedule time off for lunch. Taking periodic breaks helps you maintain your energy throughout the day by giving you time to recharge. Step away from the task you’re working on and take a quick walk, play with your kids, watch TV, read a book, make a snack, or anything else that isn’t work related. You’ll be able to return to work with more clarity and focus after a break, rather than trying to plow through your entire day without stopping.
Optimize your schedule for yourself.
While there will always be certain scheduling restraints and things you don’t have control over related to working times, you do have some freedom in which you can schedule most of your working day to best optimize it for yourself. Energy naturally ebbs and flows throughout the day, so figure out when you have the most energy and ability to focus and schedule more challenging tasks during those times.
Block your time.
Time blocking can help you minimize lost time when used effectively. Rather than working on the same task a few times throughout the day, schedule one larger block of time in which you can focus solely on one task. This is particularly useful for things that require more focus like writing, researching, or content creation.
Certain blocks can be scheduled for multiple times a day like email and meetings, but others will be most effective when kept whole, like working on projects or anything else that requires full focus with few distractions. Try to group similar tasks together in one block to really maximize your focus.
Don’t schedule everything to the minute.
Your schedule should be treated more like an agenda rather than a minute by minute playbook of your day. There will always be unforeseen events that impact your plans. Meetings will run late, projects will take more time than you anticipate, and there will be days when your phone never stops buzzing with emails and messages. Structuring your day helps you get back on track quicker when you’ve had something throw you off schedule.
Take note of distractors.
If you find that even with a schedule to follow, you’re still not gaining any additional time back in your day, look for any possible distractors. It’s equally helpful to know how much time is spent on non-work tasks during your work day as it is to know how much time you actually spend working. You don’t often realize how long you spend on a task, whether that’s working or going down an internet rabbit hole.
You might find that certain tasks are taking longer than you anticipated or that you reach for your phone more times in a day than you realized. For the former, adjust your schedule to ensure that you’re allowing ample time. For the latter, consider leaving your phone in another room or adding a plugin that blocks specific websites so you can’t be tempted.
Creating your optimized work schedule often requires a bit of trial and error. Keep working with it and adjusting as needed, and you’ll soon find yourself with a better handle on time as well as an improved balance in your daily life.