happiness engineer

How to Schedule Your Tasks with Calendar Blocks

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.)

How to Schedule Your Tasks with Calendar Blocks by sarah.blog

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:

How to Schedule Your Tasks with Calendar Blocks by sarah.blog
click to see larger.

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.

automattic, career

Top Tips for Working Remotely

Sarah Blackstock's Top Tips for Working Remotely

If you work remotely or have considered it, you’ve most likely seen lots of advice about how to do it successfully, including how you should dress like you’re going into an office or have a whole room dedicated for your office space. And you know what? I don’t agree.

I’ve worked remotely successfully for over two years now (currently: at Automattic for WordPress.com), and the secret is: Do what works best for you. Try lots of variations until you get the right combination, and then be willing to change it up once those things aren’t working as well for you anymore.

Here are my top tips for how to work from home:

  1. Wear whatever you want! Take advantage of not having to go into an office and dress however you’re most comfortable while working. Do you need the structure of a business casual outfit to get in the right mindset? Fine. But if you don’t? Get cozy! My loungewear and sweatpants collection has expanded vastly over the past two years. When they became my work wardrobe, I wanted lots of cute options!
  2. Work from home or anywhere. Just remember to leave your house! I’m 100% fine with being on my own a lot of the time, so I don’t get that stir crazy feeling from staying home unless I stay in for quite a long stretch. If that happens, I make a Target run, out among the people, and I’m all set. If you need more time out than that, find a café or coffee shop and spend a workday there. I’m not big on official coworking spaces (too much networking and distraction), but I love a few hours at a table with coffee, snacks, and prime people watching at the local café. I also meetup with my local coworkers about once a month, so if you’ve got any nearby, plan a coworking session with them!
  3. Don’t sit at a desk all day every day unless you really want to. So many remote working tips include needing a dedicated work space. I have a desk, but do I spend all day there? Nope. Some days I spend no time at all at my desk. I let my tasks for the day and mood determine where I’ll be. I’ve worked from my couch, the dining table, standing next to a shelf holding my computer, the back porch on a sunny day, and even bundled up in bed. If you’re not home alone while working, a room you can work in with the door closed is a big plus, but don’t lock yourself in there every day unless you must. I like to change up what I’m looking at, so I tend to move around my house throughout the day.
  4. Take advantage of your very short commute. Instead of just working more because your commute was about 10 seconds, make time to take care of yourself throughout the day. You can have fantastic breakfasts and lunches, if you want. I like to spend my lunch break totally away from my computer doing yoga, watching an episode of a show I’m into, or reading for a while. Whatever I do, the point is to reset my brain for an afternoon of work, so it shouldn’t include working while I eat.
  5. Remember to take breaks. When you’re home, especially if you’re working from a particularly cozy spot, it can be easy to skip the breaks and work through several hours. But your eyeballs need to look away from the computer screen and your body needs a stretch, so make time for those too! You could take a quick walk around the block, workout, or do absolutely nothing for two minutes. I have a whole post of self-care ideas you can use for ideas on how to spend your breaks.

Basically, do what works! Don’t feel obligated to follow all the advice you see out there (including in this post!) unless it truly works best for you. Mix it up and find your favorites!


Ideas for Self-Care

As I mentioned yesterday, I took the day off to rest up and recover after WCUS, and spent the day snacking/gaming/reading/watching TV. It was excellent and so needed. Working remotely can make it easy to ignore certain needs, because you don’t have to drag yourself to an office and can stay home all day — And isn’t that relaxing enough? And sure, it is a lot of the time, but not always & a break for work can be good for anyone.

Since I’m a firm believer in taking care of yourself (so that you can be happy & have the energy to take care of others), I’ve compiled a bunch of ideas for self-care to hopefully inspire you to do a few (and inspire some more ideas for your own personal list).

If you want to stay in your house:

  • get comfortable & listen to an audiobook
  • read for pleasure (I’ve got some recs here – try romance!)
  • take a late night bath by candlelight
  • prepare an elaborate, delicious meal for yourself
  • keep a journal of lists of things that make you happy.
  • stretch, meditate, do yoga
  • bake yourself a treat & don’t skimp on the decorations, if applicable
  • make something with your hands (I’m learning to sew!)
  • stay in bed for 30 minutes after you wake up
  • have a 15 minute dance party with yourself
  • re-read/watch a favorite book/movie/show that makes you feel good
  • relax in a hammock
  • play a game (video or board, alone or with others)
  • make your house comfortable (declutter, make cozy spaces)
  • pet a cat or hug a dog (ask first, but hello dog park!)
  • stare up at the sky (clouds or stars!)
  • color (it’s so relaxing!)
  • do a puzzle
  • exercise
  • write a letter to yourself or someone else
  • do a Random Act of Kindness
  • If you work remotely: Mail a little surprise to a faraway coworker/friend!

If you want to get away from the house: 

  • go for a leisurely bike ride
  • treat yourself to a manicure, pedicure, haircut, and/or massage
  • go for a walk & take photos
  • take a class for a hobby (make sure it’s not about your job)
  • eat at a favorite restaurant
  • spend a day being a tourist in your own city
  • If you work remotely: Cowork! (With people who work at your company or other friendly remote workers.)

Ideas for during your workday:

  • Be mindful. Set & understand your limits.
  • Ask for help when you need it.
  • Do nothing for two minutes. Hands off your keyboard!
  • Schedule time for yourself each day to do some of these.
  • If you work remotely: Take a real lunch break! Log off, walk away from your computer, eat lunch, watch an episode of your latest Netflix binge, nap, do some stretches, and/or read a book. Basically, refresh for the rest of your day.

I hope you find some ideas that work for you or all of these inspire your perfect setup for taking care of yourself. It’s a worthy cause. 🙂

about sarah, automattic, life

Rest Day

I took today off work after working yesterday and realizing I really needed a break after a very social long weekend in Philly for WordCamp US. 

I spent the day lounging on my couch, eating snacks, playing Fallout 4 on PS4, starting my friends new YA novel (The Trouble with Destiny), and finishing season one of Jessica Jones. (I will tell you what I think of these three things soon.)

I didn’t use my voice from the time my husband left for work until he got home in the evening. It was just what I needed. I’m diving back into work tomorrow, but I’m happy I work somewhere that allows me the flexibility to realize I need a break to recharge and take it. No questions asked. No guilt. That’s not as common as it should be, so I’ve added it to the list of reasons I love working at Automattic. (Psst… We’re always hiring.)

automattic, travel

Automattic Grand Meetup Time!

Flying away from Seattle

I left Seattle today to head to Utah for Automattic’s annual Grand Meetup, which is in Park City this year. Back in April, I was very excited to be hired as a Happiness Engineer for WordPress.com and now, almost six months later, it’s finally GM time and I’m getting to meet a whole bunch of great people. We normally work remotely, so this is our chance to all hang out in person. (I met six coworkers total before this, at other events, but this week involves almost 400! So, whoa!)

We’re sharing updates from GM wherever hashtags work, so follow along with #a8cgm if you’re interested. (I’ll be posting on Twitter & Instagram.) It’s going to be a busy/fun/exhausting/great week!

Flight into Utah
happiness engineer, life

Job Happiness & Working it Out

I’m approaching three months as a full-time (non-trial) Happiness Engineer at Automattic, and I’m so, so happy. I have a job I enjoy, and lets me be (remotely) surrounded by great people. I have a job that I learn from every day, and that I want to keep doing. I worked hard to get it (the trial period is no joke) and I’m so grateful to have it.

If you’re still searching for the right place for you: Don’t settle. Keep looking. Be Bold. It’s worth it.