How To Break Up Your Work Day (Hour By Hour Breakdown)
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On paper, those of us who are lucky enough to have a job, work on average 8 hours a day.
At least that’s how it’s supposed to be.
The reality, though, paints a very different picture – both for those who work at the office adhering to a rigid schedule, and those who freelance and set their own work hours.
We waste a lot of time procrastinating during the work hours, leaving stuff to pile up until the deadline looms mercilessly over our heads like the Sword of Damocles, or keep working for too long, often even after the work hours should be over motivated either by monetary gain or emotional satisfaction of a job well done.
The lines between our work lives and our leisure time have become even more blurred ever since the pandemic hit.
Working from home has taken an emotional toll on people not only because it has rather abruptly forced them to restructure their entire work environment and cut off social connections, but also because the schedules seem to have disappeared.
Now the workday ends not when the clock strikes a certain hour, but when the task is done – and that is often long past the reasonable time one would stop working if they were keeping their regular office hours.
Why breaking up your day hour-by-hour could help
A good way to battle most of the abovementioned problems is to organize a tight schedule.
Not just one that goes “let’s work from 9AM to 6PM” – because those usually only work for people who’ve already got a solid grip on the most optimal way of managing their work environments (so, like, a very tiny percentage of freelancers. Make no mistake, just because some of us choose to work from home, doesn’t mean we always go about it the healthy way!).
But an actual step by step schedule that breaks your day down into hours and allocates specific time for each possible task – down to the rest time, coffee break, and lunch.
Why does this work?
If adhered to, a schedule helps you avoid procrastination, and helps you manage the deadlines more efficiently. Since basically, this is all about breaking down your large tasks into smaller ones and setting reasonable deadlines for each of them.
These deadlines are shorter – ranging from a couple of hours to the end of the workday. But when they’re done – they’re done!
And with them, your workday is also done.
While earlier you might’ve been tempted to finish the entire task, now that it’s broken down into simple elements, the sense of accomplishment is more easily achieved – and leaving the rest untouched for another day is easier than it would’ve been if you were tackling the whole massive thing at once.
This is what an hour by hour schedule might look like
This is a personal example that works for me.
This is not a blueprint but something of a guideline that I’ve found helps me be the most productive I can be – while also not be overwhelmed or keep working past reasonable hours.
Adjust it however you see fit for your specific work and/or necessities. My work hours are 10:00 to 19:00 – and the schedule is broken down across this window.
- 10:00 to 10:30: Morning tea
- 10:30 to 11:00: Figuring out the tasks for the day
- 11:00 to 13:00: First big task
- 13:00 to 13:30: A breather
- 13:00 to 14:00: Revisions, consultations with the manager/colleagues
- 14:00 to 15:00: Start second big task
- 15:00 to 16:00: Lunch break
- 16:00 to 17:00: Finishing second big task
- 17:00 to 17:30: Another round of revisions
- 17:30 to 18:00: Another breather (and a snack)
- 18:00 to 19:00: Organise the most pressing issues for the following day
How does it work, exactly? Let’s break it down further:
How does the hour by hour schedule work?
This type of schedule is quite rigid, so you may not be able to adhere to it to a T every single day. Sometimes you need a little more time on either the task itself or revisions and consultations. Sometimes you might get hungry earlier or later. The idea of this type of schedule is to limit the time you spend on stuff that isn’t work – but also make sure that the work doesn’t overtake your entire day. Here’s what I actually mean under each point:
10:00 to 10:30 – Morning tea
I don’t know about you people, but I’m definitely not a morning person. I just cannot sit right at my computer and start working off the bet. So the first half an hour or so is a more chill period of the day – I drink a cup of tea and simply scroll through the e-mails and work chats, slowly figuring out where I should get started for the day.
10:30 to 11:00 – Figuring out the tasks for the day
I actually get started: I answer the e-mails (and chat messages), confirm which of the tasks are the most pressing, what it is exactly that is demanded from me, and then either prioritize them according to the need, or – if the task is too big – break it down into several smaller parts.
11:00 to 13:00 – First big task
This is my deadline. The task (or the first part of it) should be small enough that I can deal with it in 2 hours.
13:00 to 13:30 – A breather
I rest a little – read some news, watch some YouTube, maybe drink another cup of tea.
13:00 to 14:00 – Revisions, consultations with the manager/colleagues
I take a look at what I’ve done for the day, and then ensure I got what was demanded of me right or am on the right course, by consulting the other members of my team (or my manager).
14:00 to 15:00 – Start second big task
If everything is right, I get started on the second task – if not, I concentrate on revising the first task, adjusting the schedule accordingly.
15:00 to 16:00 – Lunch break
At this time, I typically get hungry, so I have my lunch break. Is it a little late? For most people, maybe. But it works for me and that’s the idea – the breaks during the workday should be placed in a way that helps you.
16:00 to 17:00 – Finish second big task
What it says on the label J
17:00 to 17:30 – Another round of revisions
Repeat the routine from earlier in the day so make sure you’ve got everything right (sometimes when the tasks are identical I do not need to do this and the schedule gets adjusted accordingly).
17:30 to 18:00 – Another breather (and a snack)
I do start feeling peckish, so I grab myself something light and either watch more Youtube or do light revisions (which count for a breather for me).
18:00 to 19:00 – Organise the most pressing issues for the following day
The most important part of the day figuring out what I’ll have to do tomorrow. Either planning the day ahead if I’m not finished with the tasks or finding out about the prospective tasks, while at the same time ensuring everything I worked on during the day is on par with what was expected.
Obviously, this schedule sometimes needs adjustments: for tighter deadlines, when I don’t have time for in-depth revisions and have to cut the “breather” time, or sometimes by breathers are longer, when there’s nothing much to do.
And – again – it’s a very specific schedule that works for one specific person: me. You should most definitely adjust it in a way that will be the most beneficial for the type of job you’re doing.
By the way, I feel like this should be said: this is not only for those who’ve found themselves struggling with organizing their workday while being stuck working from home. I actually designed this schedule while working at the office, since I did suffer from a constant cycle of “procrastinating and then having to work with deadlines looming into the wee hours of the morning”.
I did find that having an organized hour by hour schedule ready to go helped me avoid most of the pitfalls my colleagues had fallen into when they had to move their work environment from their offices to their homes.
Final thoughts on an hour by our work schedule
Structuring a full day minute by minute is definitely not a thing that works for everybody. But if you do vibe with it – it can be of immense help.
There’s this assumption that freelancers are innately good at organizing their workdays. But often you’ll find freelancers to be the worst at it – unless we get a tight grip on ourselves, we often find ourselves either doing nothing for days to come and then scrambling right before deadlines or taking on more than a reasonable amount of work and working an unhealthy amount, disregarding everything else.
While office workers typically have at least some organization coming from having set work hours they have to spend in professional environments – I know plenty of them who suffer from the same “do nothing at first, do too much later” syndrome (after all, I used to be one).
Having to break down your workday hour by hour, down to tea and coffee breaks and simple breathers might sound too rigid for some people.
But in reality, this schedule isn’t there to act as a tool for punishment – it’s a guideline of optimizing your workday so that it’s neither wasted nor too overwhelming.
How does this work?
It helps me keep the amount of work I tackle every day to a reasonable amount while resting a little here and there, and neither skipping meals because I work too much nor snacking too often due to feeling lazy and/or feeling like I have nothing to do.
And…well, it makes me feel a little guilty when I don’t adhere to the basis of it, like when I start procrastinating when I should be working, or keep working when I should be on my lunch break.
Guilt can be a pretty powerful tool – and despite what some people say, it’s not always a negative thing.