The perfect work day schedule

photo-280One thing I’ve learned from studying time logs is that there are no perfect days. There aren’t even any typical days. But if one were to design an ideal workday, what would it look like?

The Huffington Post recently attempted to answer this question. You can see their diagram of a perfect workday here. When I shared this on my Facebook page, many commenters (accurately) pointed out that “perfect” was one way to describe this illustration of 24 hours. There were no commutes, chores, children’s needs, etc. This was a productive day…on a different planet.

That said, there were some interesting take-aways. One was the idea of structured breaks. Many of us fall victim to the idea that we should try to work straight through the day. That way we can get home earlier! It’s fine in theory, but the human brain doesn’t work like that. When we don’t take real breaks, we take fake ones. We wind up following links from Facebook over to The Huffington Post in order to read about some unattached person’s perfectly productive day.

Better to plan for breaks and do something really rejuvenating. The article recommends working for 52 minutes and then taking a break for 17, based on a study from DeskTime. If you’re aiming for something like that, this means taking roughly 2 breaks in the morning, a lunch, and 3 in the afternoon (based on a 9-6ish work day). This is a useful framework. If you have 5 mini-breaks and 1 long one during your work day, how would you like to spend them? Grabbing coffee, doing some stretches, going outside, chatting with a work friend, and meditating are all great ideas. This might be worth mapping out.

I also liked the idea of designating a time to record daily wins. This will probably not happen at 8 p.m. for me. That, conveniently, is the time when the baby wants to nurse, the 3-year-old needs a bedtime story and snuggle, and the older boys want their dessert/bedtime snack. However, I have been writing in my journal. I had let this habit slide, and I decided to pick it up again in the new year. I haven’t missed a day yet! I mostly just record the hours, but I need to be better about celebrating the sorts of postpartum wins that are easy to forget about (I got my hair cut!)  

Do you plan your breaks? Do you record daily wins?

In other news: My friend Linda Formichelli recently released a short ebook called Commit that recommends “massive action” to achieve a goal. There are lots of different ways to attack a problem, so why not throw it all against the wall and see what sticks? While I’m generally a fan of slow, sustainable progress, she’s not wrong that seeing something work instantly may be motivational enough to propel you forward. She’s got stories like one aspiring writer who sent out 300 queries to trade journals in a short period of time. This person landed a dozen regular clients. That’s enough to launch a business. Sometimes it is possible to change your life quickly.

Photo: Totally gratuitous baby pic. I could make up a caption about pondering the perfect workday schedule or something.

19 thoughts on “The perfect work day schedule

  1. Oooh… interesting. A couple of things jumped out at me:

    First, if I roll the schedule back to accommodate my 7:30 AM start time, then I would be getting up at 5:00 AM in order to fit in morning exercise. Sheesh. No wonder I struggle with that one. (Also: who eats breakfast THEN exercises?)

    Second, there is nothing in this schedule BUT work, and taking care of your immediate physical and psychological needs (sleep; food; exercise, socialization; relaxation). This person isn’t doing even the minor daily cleaning tasks; isn’t taking care of a child; isn’t even cooking dinner – at least not on a work day. Maybe that’s the point: here’s all you really need to get through a workday – the other stuff is optional or outsourceable.

    On the other hand, maybe it’s just plain unrealistic. But you already covered that in your second paragraph anyway. And it IS a really interesting graph!!

    1. @Byrd – maybe a light breakfast? I tend not to be doing AM exercise these days, but when I do sometimes I eat half a granola bar or a banana just for energy.

      But yes, the question of a perfect workday is kind of silly, in that for many people a perfect day would not, by definition, involve going to work. Or if you did, the day would involve learning that you just got a six-figure raise and your new job description involves getting daily massages.

  2. That “perfect workday” chart is fascinating. I often plan out my “perfect day” as an exercise to see what I might be able to do differently, though it’s rarely a workday 🙂 I want to try it now for a work day too. Thanks for the idea.

    I also bought the eBook – I wonder if the “small and steady” vs “big overhaul” is a personality thing. I had WAY more success permanently changing some eating habits by doing a Whole30 (full on crazy strict Paleo-ish diet) than I ever did with “I’ll try to eat better with one habit at a time.” But that’s just me – I’m guessing other people find the “microhabits” thing more compelling and easy to maintain.

    1. @ARC – perhaps it’s the whole abstainer/moderator thing again. But I do see the appeal of a big overhaul with lots of tactics. I’ve been watching this silly My 600 lbs Life show on TLC and the take-away is that the people who succeed in losing 300+ lbs combine surgery with dietary changes, more daily mobility, strength training with a trainer, and often therapy as well for the various psychological issues that contributed to their becoming 600+ lbs. It takes all these approaches to succeed, whereas any one alone doesn’t work (as people who get surgery but then don’t change anything else soon discover).

    2. ARC, thanks for buying my book! Too funny, I talk about the Whole30 in there. I believe it may be a personality thing…some people like the baby steps approach and feel comforted by it, but I find it very demotivating to have to wait so long for results. Hope you enjoy the book!

  3. that workday chart is . . .well, kinda silly in my opinion as it does not and cannot apply to anyone in the workforce with children (and I am sure this is a large slice of the HP’s audience).

    that said, it’s interesting. I DO take little breaks at work (like to respond to this post!) and find that I just NEED them when trying to pound out patient notes and calls at top speed to refresh my brain a little bit. BUT, 17 minute breaks are not practical. Still I liked the ideas of ways I could better use these breaks 🙂

    1. @SHU – I did wonder about the 17 minute breaks. But when I’m not juggling lots of phone calls that force me to stay on a schedule, I’m sure I lose 17 minutes in web surfing multiple times through the day. I plan to experiment with taking more conscious mini-breaks every hour or so once I’m not interrupted constantly to feed/rock a baby.

  4. I’m terrible at taking breaks that begin and end. Either I need to work straight through and then stop my day or I take a break that turns into “I forgot to start working again” which leads to working late into the night.
    It’s a thing I’m trying to figure out since eating lunch is truly a GOOD thing.

    Gratuitous picture? Nah, we all need to see great newborn cheeks every so often. I had forgotten how much I loved them and their squeaks til Little Bean came along.

  5. Thanks for that ebook write-up…going to pick that up on the weekend when things slow down. I like the idea of doing a big concerted effort sometimes – I find it also helps make rejection feel less personal. The first few emails or tweets you send out came be hard, but the next 100, not so much.

    1. That’s EXACTLY the point I make in the book.

      One of the Commit tactics is “Overwhelm your goal with sheer numbers.” For example, if you’re a writer, send out 300 letters of introduction to business or trade magazines, not one a week. If you’re a sales person, make 50 calls a day, not three.

      The first few are the hardest, but as you go along they get easier and faster. When you do 3 calls a day, you have to kick up your motivation for them every day…you don’t give them a chance to get easier. When you do 50, by number 50 you’re feeling great and the next day you’re still riding on that wave of confidence.

      Hope you like the book!

  6. A good schedule is very important to our daily life, it affects the productivity that we can get.
    I would like to organize it like this with my tasks organizer Efficient To Do List :
    First, list the work things that i need complete today or this week.
    Second, set the priority of each one. Some belongs to normal, some belongs to the highest.
    Third, limit the time. Doing everything must have a time limit. Set the time for each one can helps to control the whole process better.
    Fourth, set reminder. This mainly helps me to know that should do right now and be more focused.
    Fifth, set recurrent tasks. Some tasks needs focus every day, or every week, or even every month and year. Considering this, a recurrent task can help a lot to save time and alert me.

  7. I used to just work, work, work and then earlier this year I started my own business and began to analyze how I was spending my time. Now that I’m on my own, I have the flexibility to better own and manage my time and I so now I am better able to organize my days according to my highs and lows in terms of energy and focus. It has made all the difference. You can read what I did in my blog post called, “A Perfectly Productive Day” — http://www.priorigami.com/blog/a-perfectly-productive-day.

  8. I work from home and recently started taking designated work breaks on days when meetings don’t conflict with the practice. To get ahead of the game, I schedule in my breaks on my calendar (where coworkers might have otherwise seen a vacancy). I prefer afternoon exercise when the weather is nice and that’s when my brain is tired, so it’s a nice pick me up.

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