In a previous post I talked how I use my calendar, Todoist and my bullet journal to plan my week. I have since made a few changes. The tools are mostly the same except I have moved to a digital bullet journal on my iPad and I am currently trying a paid for journal from THISS Planner.

What has changed has been how much I plan and how many time blocks I allocate each day. The plan from my How I plan my week post was unsustainable as I tried to pre-allocate too much time. I ended up with a busy calendar full of time blocks. One last minute thing or a meeting and it all went out the window. After listening to Episode 381 from That Productivity Show: Calendar Cleanup I realised I had been overloading my calendar by trying to schedule every time slot. Mostly because I was worried I wouldn’t know what to do. My brain likes a busy calendar and I often end up overloading myself with meetings if it appears empty.

Since then I have realised that a quiet calendar doesn’t mean I’m not busy – I have plenty of things to do. And that actually overloading my calendar meant I ended up doing a lot less than planned. So what did I change?

I re-did my commitment inventory (an exercise to help you manage your commitments against your time) and decided to create an “ideal” week with a key theme each day to move key projects forward each week. This helps me with the focus for that day since I have to juggle a few areas and competing priorities. My key work themes are:

  • Staff Development
  • PGR Development
  • My Research / My Development
  • Big projects
  • Admin

Then I discovered the Focus Plan from Office365 – when this plan is activated Outlook checks your calendar roughly 2 weeks in advance and schedules focus time blocks for you. The timing of this works well for me as most my meetings will be scheduled by the time the focus time gets scheduled. This also helps my anxiety around an empty calendar. You can pick how much time the plan should try and schedule each day and your core working hours. I would love to have an addition of how many blocks per week rather than getting something in every day. If a day is busy though it doesn’t schedule focus time or schedules a shorter block or breaks the time up.

Focusmate has been a bit hit and miss – I go through phases where I schedule the three free sessions and then not schedule anything ages. I decided to replace Focusmate und use our Power Hour of Writing community instead and I’m trialling two sessions each week from 8:30-9:15. Which has worked quite well so far.

Time blocks and themes work quite well for me, however just having a time block in the calendar didn’t work. I really have to plan what I’m going to do in that time block or I end up procrastinating and procrasti-planning. I still have my master task lists in my ToDoist app (Note: I recently dropped to the free plan while I tried out Microsoft ToDo but I think I go back to the paid plan. A big part of my procrastination-planning is trying out new Task managers). When I plan my week I allocate a time block for that day’s theme and see what focus time as been scheduled by the O365 Focus plan. I then plan my days in more detail – adding at least one task or goal for my time and/or the focus time block. I have my ToDoist projects set up to mirror my themes and I pick an item from there. Having the days ready at the start means fewer opportunities to procrastinate and I get into focus mode a bit faster. On a Friday I plan Monday to Wednesday and then plan the rest of the week during a Wednesday admin slot. I want to leave some flexibility in the week.

My key time blocks are set to busy on my calendar to protect some time each day, where other time blocks are set to tentative so people can book meetings into these. If you overload your calendar with time blocks you leave little room for meetings – by leaving time slots open or as tentative I can control a little bit when people are likely to put a meeting in. Unless they don’t check my calendar or don’t use the scheduling assistant.

Revisit and reflect: I try and keep an eye on how things are working and use academic calendar dates to revisit my ideal week, themes and time blocks. For example over the summer I have a lot of control over my schedule, so I can place things where I want them. Once the term starts I am a little bit limited and I have to start allowing for delivery of webinars, workshops and other development activities. This is also when regular meetings are back. Luckily these are scheduled quite well in advance and I can work around those. For me being flexible is key – this also keeps things interesting and knowing if something doesn’t work for me I can ditch or amend it. There is no point trying to fit into someone else’s productivity set-up.

What do you do? Time blocks, lists, app only or calendar? Leave a comment as I’m always keen to learn how others work.