As I’ve settled into my work at Automattic as a Happiness Engineer for WordPress.com, which is remote and requires self-discipline and managing my own time well, I’ve tried several different methods of scheduling my tasks and keeping track of my time. I used this method of calendar blocks for several months very successfully. (The past few months I’ve been trying a more digital bullet journal-type method, which I’ll share the details of soon, in case you’re not a calendar person.)
Mapping out your day with calendar blocks isn’t anything fancy, but it can definitely get the job done if you’re needing to assign tasks to the hours of your day to stay on top of things.
This quote basically explains why it works:
“When it comes to task completion the major difference between a calendar and a to-do-list is that the calendar accounts for time. You’re forced to work within the constraints of the 24 hours that you have. Not only that, given that there are only 24 hours it also reduces the paradox of choice. This tends to be great for scheduling time for high-level creative output.”
Read more here: Why Calendars are More Effective Than To-do Lists.
So, how does this work for me as a Happiness Engineer?
Here’s a screenshot of a week of my calendar:
I tried to add a bit more detail in the tiny spaces than I normally would for myself, so hopefully it makes pretty good sense to someone who didn’t set it up. Note: Slack is our internal chat communication tool and p2s are our internal blogs where we document a lot of our work. We use these instead of email for most things.
How, when, and why did all of that get on my calendar?
I aim to fill it out a week or two ahead of time (at least in large part), but my official self-imposed rule is that it’s done by Sunday before I kick off the next work week on Monday morning. (I tend to add myself to the live chat schedule for a few weeks at a time, so those hours are usually ready to go quite a bit in advance.)
First I add any recurring blocks, like the team hangout on Wednesday mornings. If I had other groups to meet with, like the Training Guild, this is when I’d add those blocks.
I also add my live chat hours early. Live chat makes up a signifiant portion of my work, so it’s important to get it on there early. I tend to chat during similar blocks each week, so I have them set to repeat weekly and usually only have to do minor edits. If you have something that consistently repeats, consider making the blocks recurring so you don’t have to keep adding the same things week after week and Google handles it for you instead.
Next I block off any commitments I’ve made that are time-specific, like a trial buddy chat, a hangout or learnup I want to attend, or personal appointments (like when I go to the doctor). I add these as I agree to them, but this is when I’d check to make sure they made it on here, because it’s starting to be pretty full and soon there won’t be room.
I add a lunch hour at this point. It’s usually at noon, but shifts around based on the week. My afternoons go way better when I take the break, so whenever it is, I make sure it’s there as many days as I can. I close my computer and watch an episode of a show, read a book, play a game, or go out for lunch somewhere, or exercise, and then come back in an hour refreshed and ready to work.
Then I add Helpshift, which is a small portion of my work and very flexible, so I can squish it in where ever I’ve got the time. Next I fill in the empty spots with project and dedicated ticket/forum time. I also work on tickets (or forums, if tickets are handled) when I’m in live chat and it’s slow enough to allow that, so these ticket blocks are extra time to really focus there, beyond what I get done while chatting. For project blocks, I add a note about what I’m going to be working on during that time, since I have a few different things I do outside of my usual support work. (See: the Instagram block on Thursday. I used that hour to look for sites to feature on the WordPress.com Instagram account, the create and schedule posts for the week.)
A few extra notes on why I think this has worked well for me:
- It’s flexible! I don’t let it feel like an over-scheduled trap. No one is in charge of it except me, so I allow myself to move things around as needed, or to switch gears if I blocked off too much time for a task. This is meant to be a basic layout of how my time will go and removes the time spent each day deciding what to do next. It can change whenever I want, and often does.
- The blocks for p2s are not only for reading p2s, but also for writing p2 posts. I have many drafts floating around in my Simplenote. I’m trying to make an effort to finish them up and actually post them, so they’ve got official time on the calendar now.
- I take short breaks throughout the day (every hour or so), but they’re so tiny they’re not on the calendar. Still, don’t forget those just because they’re not shown here! Your eyeballs need a break and your muscles need a stretch.
- I add Reminders to my calendar for very specific tasks I need to remember to do at a certain time, such as a phone call to make or a domain to check on. They catch my attention, and will also keep following me around if I miss them, instead of disappearing in the past like a random calendar block would.
- For more detail, I use IDoneThis to track completed tasks. My calendar is the overview and plan, while IDoneThis is the official record of what happened (completed tasks) or what has to happen soon (goals). I drop links to things I wrote, stats, project updates, etc. in there and use that to write my weekly update post each week (where my team shares an overview of what we each did the past week) and make sure to complete specific tasks that I may otherwise have forgotten. (I get the email each morning to remind me of what’s on the to do list there, and then reply to it with completed tasks throughout the day.)
And that’s it. (Ha!)
If you’ve struggled with managing your time or always seem to miss a task, give this method a try. It goes beyond the standard to do list, by making the space in your day to actually complete the task, which can be really helpful.