Simple Productivity Task of The Day: The Shape Of The Day

by Randy Murray on April 26, 2010

One of the things that calendars, to-do lists, and most productivity planning tools do poorly is let you view both close-up details and long-range perspectives of your schedule at the same time.  Here’s a simple practice used by my friends Ann and Gary Ralston from Ralston Consulting called “the Shape Of The Day.”  It can and should be used at the week and month level as well.

The first step is a review of all the things you have to do in the coming week. Get them in front of you: load them into your memory.  Anchor the due dates, big events, and deliverables by noting on your calendar when they fall by day and time.

Now for each anchored item, work backward, indicating the amount of time you’ll need to prepare for each of these events or projects.

To do this, you will need to step up to the month level, and then the quarter level. Big projects take lots of preparation and work in advance. Although you may not have to worry about the details of a big project three months out, you may know that it will take you 100 hours of work to complete. Working backwards may let you know that you need to spend 10 hours working on it THIS week.

Once you have this week’s items anchored in the future, and know the hours of work you’ll need for each this week, you can decide how you’ll distribute the time to complete each over the week. This is the shape. This process and perspective will also let you decide what you won’t do, including meetings you can cancel or delay or “nice to do” items that can be postponed. This is the freedom and power of this approach. You get to choose.

Once you’ve outlined your quarter, month, and week, you can update this approach for each day in just a few minutes at the start of each day.

Ask yourself:

  • Am I on track?
  • Do I need to alter the shape of my day?
  • Do I need to negotiate a change with someone else?

Whenever I’m a manager, I always tell my team members, “never tell me on the day something is due that you’re not ready – tell me as soon as you know.” If I know early enough, I can shift resources and still meet our deadline. But if that information is hidden from me, I have no ability to respond. Extend that courtesy to all of your team members and customers as well. Using the “shape” approach may help you recognize problems further in advance than you normally would.

You can also use the shape of the day approach to limit your interesting but distracting and time wasting activities. For example, plan on reading and responding to email at 8 AM, 10 AM, 2 PM, and 5 PM and tweeting only at 10 AM and 3 PM. Having a time for it on your day may help keep you from the constant and distracting checking.

What does the shape of your day look like?

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