In previous posts, we’ve looked at the theories behind the concept of a “work-life balance”, and whether such a balance is possible, or even desirable. One thing is for certain though: at a certain point, as per this quote from Gary Keller’s The One Thing, we’re going to need to knuckle-down and focus on the things that actually matter, rather than trying to appease everybody simultaneously:

In your effort to attend to all things, everything gets shortchanged and nothing gets its due. […] Toying with time will lead you down a rabbit hole with no way out. Believing this lie does its harm by convincing you to do things you shouldn’t and stop doing things you should.

This was the position that I found myself in when I recently decided to take a couple of months’ break from work, a “nuclear” scenario that I outlined in yesterday’s blog post, Creating buffers and boundaries in your working life. I simultaneously wanted to spend more time with my family, take some time to relax, pursue some hobbies that I wouldn’t be able to fit into an ordinary week, and begin to think about my future career options. That’s a lot of concepts to juggle within any given week!

Planning my week ahead

Being me, I decided to combine different pieces of advice that I’d read recently, from books which are all featured in the Book Reviews section of this site. From The One Thing, I decided to define a high-level goal for the week ahead. From Make Time, I set a “Daily Highlight” - my most important activity for that day - for each day of the week. And from Rebecca Seal’s Solo, I split my mornings, afternoon and evenings into “time blocks”, with a colour-coded high-level idea of what I wanted to do with that time.

I named it the Mojovation Planner - it was actually the first time that I’d used the word “mojovation” (we have an About Us page if you want to find more about how this site came to be). It evolved as the weeks progressed, but here’s an extract of a week in early July (click the image to enlarge it):

A sample of my Mojovation Planner

If you’re curious about some of those specific activities that I was up to, let me define a few of those terms for you:

  • I’ve included the whereabouts of my wife and son on each day of the week, to help me make sure that I’m in the right place at the right time.
  • FLPR is the Football League Power Rankings, a site created by my former brother-in-law, where I’ve been supporting the back-end data generation since he sadly passed away in 2018.
  • PYPZ stands for Peak Your Power Zones, an eight-week Peloton-based fitness training program which I was in the midst of completing.
  • TID is Testers’ Island Discs, an interview-based podcast which I’ve been running for the past five years.
  • The Club is a community forum for the Ministry of Testing (who also host the above podcast), where I try to dabble in reading/replying to topics.
  • Mansun are literally my favourite band of all-time, probably most recognised for the song Wide Open Space, although in my mind their best single is the one which gave the name to their 25-disc career anthology boxset, Closed For Business.
  • Ladybower Reservoir is one of a series of large dams near where I live, particularly notable for its surrounding hill climbs, and for the sunken villages which are revealed when the water levels drop low.

As per the key at the bottom, I employed a colour-coding technique: I wasn’t looking to find a perfect balance between all the different activities, but I was certainly looking to achieve the right balance. For example, in the first few weeks of my plan, there were very few orange “Career” blocks, as I wanted to prioritise my recovery. Also, for instance, you’ll notice that there weren’t any yellow “Social” blocks in this specific week - this was something that I observed, acknowledged, and took time to address for the next week.

You’ll also notice that it doesn’t include weekends at all. By accomplishing everything that I set out to do during my weekdays, it left my weekends completely free for family time, whereas if I hadn’t been planning so carefully then a lot of my weeks’ tasks would have drifted into my weekend time, denying myself the end-of-week break that a weekend is designed to bring.

Looking back at the end of the week

One of the benefits of segmenting your focus time for specific tasks is that there’s a realistic chance that you’ll achieve most, if not all, of what you set out to do. And if you’re also building relaxation time into your schedule, it means that you can look back on the week and feel not just accomplished, but also well-rested.

Prior to creating my planner, I tried several activities, including journalling, which were designed to help you reflect on what you’d achieved that day/week. But I frequently found that the day had passed me by in such a blur, that the best I could do was put “I survived that”. However, my planner gave me a list of tasks and goals to look back on, and I could nourish myself by reflecting on just how much I’d actually accomplished. Here, for example, are the long-form notes that I wrote myself at the end of my sample week (and actually, this one was quieter than normal):

  • Recorded two episodes of Testers’ Island Discs, the first of which has been edited and is ready for release!
  • Finally opened my Mansun boxset and pored over the contents, watching the Live at Brixton Academy DVD afterwards.
  • Similarly, finally unwrapped my The Beatles: Get Back book, and combed through its glossy pages whilst rewatching the documentary.
  • Registered and configured it to publish a simple (currently empty) blog via GitHub Pages, as a possible future space for articles / book content.
  • Climbed up Bamford Edge (by the Ladybower Reservoir) while listening to a Star Trek podcast.
  • Re-booked tickets to see King Lear at the Globe next week, and re-read the play (and associated footnotes/essays).
  • Read the new Andrew Hunter Murray novel, The Sanctuary. (It was okay)
  • Booked onto a Certified Scrum Master training course in a couple of weeks’ time.
  • Got the FLPR websites ready for the new season, including finally making a cheat-sheet of all the things that need changing each season.

In total, I recorded 70 such bullet-points in the past two months - and this was during a time that I was technically resting. What’s especially noticeable is that, had I started the week with those bullet-points as my to-do list, it would have looked overwhelming and unmanageable, because where would I possibly have found the time? But with a little up-front planning, and a colour-coded chart, it was not only possible - it was enjoyable.

Hopefully this has been an interesting glimpse into how I’ve been plotting my time for the past couple of months! I’d gladly make the template available for you, although it’s quite easy to create your own and shape it to your own life’s needs.

Key takeaways 📝

  • A weekly goal - your “One Thing” - creates focus when planning your week.
  • A “Daily Highlight” establishes the thing that you want to achieve that day above all others.
  • Even high-level planning in half-day blocks creates many opportunities to achieve great things.