One of the biggest benefits of working for yourself, and working from home, is that you can, to a large extent, set your own schedule. I love this autonomy. I also love routine and the freedom it gives me.
You might think routine is a straitjacket which stifles creativity and flexibility. You might also think a routine is boring.
You would be wrong.
Following a routine removes a huge amount of pointless decision-making, choice and cognitive load from my life. This is good. Why waste time and energy making the same decisions and choices every day? Just make them once and be done with it. Routine frees me to focus on what is most important.
My routine gives me the freedom to work in the way that best suits me. With over a decade of working from home, I’ve learnt when I am most creative and when my brain is—essentially—mush.
My Daily Roadmap
My daily routine is my daily roadmap. If I follow my routine—and I am organised enough to plan ahead—I’ll get where I am going. I am a huge fan of disciplined and sustainable slow design. I’m not interested in writing 5,000 words a day if I don’t get any of my other tasks done and everything else falls apart. I’d much rather write 500 words a day for ten days while getting everything else done.
Why would I do design—my deep work—when my creativity and focus are at a low ebb? If I work in a haphazard fashion, things fall through the cracks, jobs take longer, and the finished result is subpar. That’s bad for me, that’s bad for the GM’s buying Raging Swan Press’s books, and it’s bad for their players.
Working like an easily distracted squirrel is a recipe for disaster. So I don’t.
This graphic shows the schedule of my Perfect Working Day.
Do I follow this schedule every day? No. Of course not; that would be impossible. Life gets in the way. I have a family, and I have the weather to contend with. Walking an elderly labrador, for example, in the howling rain is a bad show. Similarly, running in weather so bad it kills your headphones is insane. (I won’t do that again!) The best routines are flexible.
I also have standing commitments on some days. For example, I normally spend much of Wednesday afternoon prepping for our Wednesday night gaming session. School runs must be done on certain days. As a gaming group, many of us meet for Lads Wot Lunch on Mondays.
But no matter; this routine gives me something to aim at. The closer I get to it, the better, more productive and on-track my work day. Productive work days lead to productive weeks, which in turn lead to productive months and years.
The Horrible Truth
I posted recently about a growing, nagging feeling that I’m leaving performance on the table.
The posts are interlinked; thinking I was leaving performance on the table has prompted me to once again reassess my Perfect Work Day.
My perfect day has changed over the years; it’s important to reassess and tweak a routine when it becomes self-evident it is not working for you—or that it won’t work for you in the future.
Part of the reason I think I’m not achieving as much as I could is that my afternoons are a bit of a disaster. Apparently, admin is not exciting and does not fill me full of excitement.
But worse than that, I’ve noticed I often finish my deep work early; when I do, I move onto admin. You might think that’s a good thing, as I’m getting tons done, but it isn’t. What it actually means is I’m not doing enough deep work. What’s happening is that I do the admin in the late morning and early afternoon and then end up with empty time toward the late afternoon, which I just waste. As I said in an earlier post, I don’t want to leave performance on the table, and I think working in this slightly indisciplined way is doing just that.
I need more discipline. Knowing what my Perfect Work Day looks like is a step toward that. Today, for example, I finished my design and development early. I could have stampeded into admin tasks, but I didn’t. Instead, I put the finishing touches to this article. This is a good start. As I ponder a challenging, year-long project, I need to keep this idea of disciplined and sustainable design at the front of my mind.
How About You?
Do you know what your Perfect Working Day looks like? If you don’t, finding out is well worth the time and effort. Grab a piece of paper and sketch it out. Think deeply about what’s best for you and your work. When you design your perfect day, don’t make concessions. Concessions come later when reality turns up.
You might not have total control over your work day, but designing your perfect day gives you a target to work towards. Once you have a target, try to hit it. Even if you fail more often than not, one or two perfect(ish) days a week are far better than none. Remember, no plan survives contact with the enemy. (For “enemy”, read “calender”, “to-do list” and “boss”) Or, to put it like Mike Tyson, “Everyone has a plan until they get punched in the face”.
Want to see how my quest to time block and organise my days goes? Let me know in the comments below or in the exclusive Slack channel for full Gameatory members.