Optimizing one’s day for maximum productivity—and creativity!—is one of our favorite topics to research and think over.

We’ve written on the blog before about morning routines, creativity routines, the routines of successful entrepreneurs and even ways to maximize your lunch break.

But we haven’t managed to share any of our own daily routines, until now.

Recently we were honored to be asked by the team at inbound.org to do an “Ask Me Anything” session, answering questions from their smart community. One of the most popular topics was how we work, and how many hours we work, without any rules around our work schedules.

This seemed like a great topic to share transparently about on the blog! Read on to discover more about why we offer this freedom, learn how many hours we really work at Buffer and take a peek into some teammates’ daily schedules.

buffer work routines

We have the freedom to work how we want

Buffer is a bit unique in that, as a self-managed and distributed team with members all around the world, it doesn’t really provide any benefit to us to have everyone to work the same hours.

And seeing as one of our company values is “live smarter, not harder,” each of us gets the privilege of determining our own optimal work schedule and routine in the place where we feel happiest.

Buffer value 8: Live smarter, not harder
We don’t have a fixed amount of working hours, and you’re even free to experiment with your weekly schedule.

My hypothesis and data gathering

After reading a reflection from Leo on self-management, I had a theory that we at Buffer were perhaps working fewer hours than most traditional companies, especially after we became self-managed.

Our emphasis on taking breaks, getting plenty of sleep and managing energy instead of time seemed to point in that direction, and reading this from Leo made a lot of sense to me:

“I also believe that through this, self-managed companies (and Buffer, in this example) can work less to get more done. My estimation is that a self-managed team only has to work 6 hours a day to get the work done that normal companies do in 8 or 10 hours a day. Since self-managed orgs have no “zombie meetings” or bloated processes, they can operate more efficiently and create the same results in much less time.”

To find out if my hunch was correct, I sent around a voluntary internal survey to see if I could get a better understanding of how much we’re really working at Buffer.

I asked my teammates a few specific things:

  • How many hours per day they worked, on average
  • How many hours per week they worked, on average
  • How often they worked on weekends
  • If they had noticed any change in their work schedule since Buffer became a self-managed team

I got 11 responses to the voluntary survey, so a little more than 1/3 of the team participated.

The results: We work 8.27 hours a day

Checking out the results from the team was fascinating. My hypothesis did not hold up very well and I discovered that we work quite a bit at Buffer—pretty much the same amount as a “traditional” company.

A few quick stats:

  • Our average work day is 8.27 hours.
  • Our average work week is 43. 4 hours. (I calculated this by using the middle of the ranges teammates could choose)
  • We pretty much all work on the weekends at least sometimes.
  • Self-management is mostly not changing our time at work so far. (These are the answers to the question about “going Teal,” which we borrowed from the book Reinventing Organizations as our shorthand for evolved self-management)

Buffer work habits survey

For comparison’s sake, the average American works 8.8 hours every day and an average of 47 hours per week, so we’re just a bit under that average.

I added a spot where anyone could add some extra thoughts about their work schedule, and here are the comments from that:

  • “Transitioning to Buffer, I saw my two hour commute disappear. It was surprising how much more energy has returned to my day as a result. This helps when managing my energy as I approach different tasks and float between Buffer and family.”
  • “I tend to work during evenings and weekends in a very different way from “business hours” during the week. A little bit more relaxed and mixed in with other bits of personal admin perhaps. Really enjoy the time on Sundays when I jump in and get some things done ahead of next week :D Happier in this routine than I ever was when I worked 8-5 every day in the corporate world.”
  • “I feel like overall I work a lot less because my role prior to going teal was managing many meetings and then finding times to focus. Now most of time is spent focusing on various areas which allows me to work fewer hours generally to feel productive.”
  • “My day is very flexible. I sometimes work early in the day, take a long lunch break and work a bit later in the evening. Or perhaps sleep in a bit, then later catch an awesome sunset and jump on a few calls after dinner.”
  • “It goes in waves. I’ve worked much more in March than February or January. Some months are more intense than others!”
  • “I have found that I can work less by getting on with whatever I am doing whilst using the advice process to guide me :) I feel empowered to jump into an investigation or task without having to jump through hoops and by bouncing ideas off the team, I never feel lost.”

A look at 6 different teammates’ schedules

A few Buffer teammates were kind enough to volunteer even more information about their daily work routines. Here’s a detailed look at six different types of workdays across many different roles at Buffer.

Patrik, User Researcher

patrik

This was a key challenge for me when I first joined Buffer, as I found it surprisingly hard to “unlearn” hourly time-keeping. At first I used a tool called RescueTime, which tracked the time I spent on each website and total time spent each day. This gave me a great granular view of where I was spending my time, which I found really helpful during my bootcamp to keep myself on-task as I adjusted to this new method of working.

A few months in I stopped using RescueTime, and now I rely entirely on my intuition to sense if I’m striking the right balance. With our self-managing structure, we’re building a really interesting network of commitments that also help to keep me on track with the tasks that I’ve promised to do. I think the amount of variability in my schedule would be quite difficult to maintain otherwise, as I sometimes will work very long days talking with customers in different time zones, and other times I’ll take Monday afternoon off to go see a movie.

Tom, Android Developer

tom

Each week I’ll define a set of Android or development-related goals I want to achieve. It’s usually a list of roughly 4-6 items, depending on their perceived scope. This allows me to check off things as I complete them, which is super satisfying, and also gives me a nice go-to list of things I can get done in (approximately) x hours.

The beauty of working the way we do means that I’m not necessarily worried about actually completing all the tasks I give myself in a week. If I’ve been productive, then I don’t worry about the actual tasks completed (within reason, of course). It can be a bit tough to wrap your head around, but it’s quite liberating.

Each day I’ll usually start around 8 or 9, and finish up around 5-7, depending on where I am in a task. Personally, I’ve found that each day tends to have a naturally comfortable stopping point. That might be when your brain is calling it quits, or a nice, atomic piece of functionality or bug fix is in place and initial tests look good.

I rely on my intuition a lot as for when calling it a day feels good, my best days are when I feel like I’ve been really productive, usually deep in code with successful or substantial changes. But I have also found that often, even when I don’t feel productive it doesn’t mean that I haven’t been productive!

Nicole, Community Champion

nicoleI like to get to the computer before 8 a.m. and take a few “outdoor” breaks throughout the day, whether that is visiting with the chickens outside, taking a riding lesson or running some errands. My days typically end around 6 p.m., though I’ve been known to sneak in some card-writing and swag packaging in the evening and weekend hours. (It’s too much fun!)

I tend to utilize “theme days” throughout the week to focus on the different aspects of Buffer community. Here are my general focuses for the day, though the themes do ebb and flow each week:
Monday: General tasks, email catch-up, map out the week, Mastermind :)
Tuesday: prep, some cards and packages
Wednesday: All about #bufferchat: promotion, tweeting, recapping, planning for the next week.
Thursday: Hiring inbox and sync day
Friday: #bufferloveday: cards, packages

I live by my Evernote Moleskine planner and keep all my weekly tasks in there. :)

Dan, Front-End Developer

danNot much of a routine guy so my day usually starts with waking up somewhere between 8 and 9. I’m a late riser and I set 3 alarms in the morning and wake up when I feel refreshed (or if I have a meeting!).
I do a bit of email reading at home then I aim to walk over to my co-working space and sit down to work between 9:30 and 10 am. My mornings usually are email and catching up with the goings on in Europe (they get so much done while I’m asleep!!).

I mostly write code and do focus work in afternoon when I feel the most productive. Most days I end up leaving the co-working space anywhere between 6:30 and 8 pm depending if I have a meeting with people on the west coast or if I have an event to get to like a meetup or plans with friends.

As far as planning goes, I usually have some rough daily goals I keep in Evernote, but nothing too set in stone as higher priority items like bugs or small tasks can often arise. The most important aspect is communication across our various channels: the asynchronous (email), the long-running (Hackpad) and the real-time conversation (HipChat). For myself, focusing on quality communication is paramount to working without a fixed schedule. That and sending each other GIFs.

Kevan, Content Crafter

kevanIn general, I have a pretty smooth split between two different types of days: 1) where I’m spending a lot of time with my son as I’m the main person around the house, and 2) when someone is here to spend the morning with him. I do three days of each for the week, Monday thru Saturday.

Batch day

  • 5:30am: Up for the day
  • 5:30 to 7:30 a.m.: Focused work,  final edits for the day’s blog posts, big tasks for the day
  • 7:30 to noon: Play with my son, breakfast, lunch, errands, stay near Hipchat if anyone pings me, any scheduled syncs as needed
  • noon to 2 p.m.: Work while my son naps, syncs and pair calls and hipchat chats, catchup on email
  • 2 to 3 p.m.: Play with my son
  • 3 to 5 p.m.: Work, syncs and calls, focused work on bigger tasks
  • 5 to 7 p.m.: Dinner with family, play time, bed time
  • 7 to 9 p.m.: Focused work, wrapping up tasks that were yet to be completed
  • 9 to 10 p.m.: Relax & unwind

Focus day

  • 5:30 a.m.: Up for the day
  • 5:30 to 2 p.m.: Focused block of work with breaks for breakfast/morning routine and lunch, lots of writing time on these days, as well as longer syncs like masterminds and advice sessions
  • 2 to 7 p.m.: Play, dinner, bed (plus any scheduled syncs or things that come up via hipchat)
  • 7 to 8 p.m.: Check in with email and the goings-on of the afternoon
  • 8 to 10p.m.: Relax & unwind

I’ve been trying out a weekly to-do list (vs a daily one) by storing all the week’s activities on a Trello board. It’s been helpful to see my main tasks for the week and to feel prepared for what activities to tackle next (there’s a “pending” column also for when I happen to finish all the week’s activities early!)

Philippe, Back-End Developer

My schedule is quite regular but flexible too as sometimes I enjoy spending more time at lunch discussing with friends on a sunny day :)  But usually, I spend 1hour in the morning to answer emails, hackpads and discourses (2h on Mondays as there are usually more to answer). I then take 15min to list what I want to get done today, both personal and work related. It helps me to have a big picture of my day and I can better schedule sync with others if needed.

I also know I will spent 1h to 1h30 for my crossfit session (3 days a week) or home sport session (the other days). The rest of my day is shared between syncs and data/development tasks. Before signing off I check a last time my emails and see I something important need to be answered :)

Now, it is more a tweaking phase. I know how to mainly “schedule” my day but I still want to be flexible depending on “social” events. For instance, as summer is coming I want to try to get up earlier and stop working earlier to enjoy some kitesurfing sessions with friends after they end their work day :)

Over to you! Share your day

It was really fascinating to dive into our work days a bit and learn more about my teammates’ habits and routines.

I’d love to hear about your day as well! Do you have a routine or keep it loose? How many hours a day and week do you work? Share anything you’d like about your work habits in the comments!

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Written by Courtney Seiter

Courtney writes about social media, diversity and workplace culture at Buffer. She runs Girls to the Moon on the side and pets every dog she sees.

  • Many thanks for sharing! I was actually the one who asked a couple of such questions on the AMA then.
    As for me, my working day is pretty much a standard one (8 hours of office work and everything that goes with it, plus some personal projects that need working on at home).
    The great thing about a distributed team at Buffer is that you don’t spend time on commuting (which is an issue for me, 2,5 hours a day on a bus or a subway sometimes can be a pain unless you use this time wisely).
    Thanks again!

    • Ah, thanks so much for inspiring us on this one, Ksenia, and for sharing your routine! Yup, I feel really lucky to be able to spend a bit less time in the car now as a result of remote working!

    • I definitely agree with the commuting as a waste of time, unless it is a bike ride or some sort of exercise :) Sometimes I feel like listening to audiobooks while driving, but I feel less focused on the driving the car and feel a little insecure. Fingers crossed to find a way how to avoid the 2,5 hour commute Ksenia.

      • Thanks, Petr!
        Yep, and this insecure feeling is what actually makes me use public transport instead of a car – 2,5 hours of reading is not bad at all. But I do still hope some day I’ll work closer to my apartment, though. Cheers!

        • How many books per month do you read? :)

          • It really depends on many factors, but a rough number is from 5 to 15, normally around 10, I guess.

          • What? That is insane! :) Awesome.. so you’ll become a writer soon right? 100 books per year,what a great achievement.

          • Well, I wish I would =)
            Thanks! In fact, I never thought of it as an achievement, as when you’re crazy in love with books, reading is always a priority and there is always time for a book. Plus, I guess I have a natural ability for fast reading, no boasting here, I just discovered it last year when people started telling me I’m faster than they are.
            So what’s your monthly number?

          • Right, if you have something a priority, there is always time for that :)
            Fast reading is great! I can agree with that since it seems I read pretty fast too.
            My number is pretty bad, only 1 to 2 books :( But the last one had 600 pages :)

  • Cal Bachand

    Wow this is awesome! I can imagine the kind of productivity and creativity that this schedule freedom must inspire. :)

  • Thanks for sharing and putting this together. I find it very interesting. I am one of very few that work remotely away from our office. Although I have set hours, I feel I am much more productive when I am working from home, than when I travel to the office. I always start before my scheduled time of 9am, and tend to get at least a good hour in before I start getting e-mails and messages. This means I can get through e-mails from the evening before (working on a global scale there are often quite a few), and make good head way on several tasks. I can take lunch pretty much when I feel I need to, around any scheduled meetings.

    When I worked in the USA, I pretty much always worked in the evening and at night. Having moved back to the UK, that’s rarely the case. I am much more relaxed and feel I give even more during the work day as a result. Thanks again! Seems like there is good work/life balance there too!

    • I agree, Megan! The freedom to create your own schedule can lead to some big leaps in productivity. :)

  • Hello Courtney!

    Thanks for sharing this! It is nice to hear how different people in the team manage their days. I love how Kevan allocates time to spend with his son and family! :) I guess that’s one huge benefit of working remotely. Nicole’s “theme days” remind me of Jack Dorsey’s themed week! (https://blog.bufferapp.com/the-daily-routines-of-famous-entrepreneurs-and-how-to-design-your-own-master-routine)

    For me, I prefer to have a routine. My day usually looks like this:
    – Wake up at 5:45am
    – Morning training (swim/cycle/run)
    – 3 hours of focus work in the morning
    – Lunch and call my girlfriend (and perhaps a nap too :))
    – 3-4 hours of focus work in the afternoon
    – Dinner and evening walk
    – Relax for the day and do what I want to do

    There are breaks filled in throughout the day! :)

    • Hey Alfred, the morning training looks great!

      • Hello Petr! Yeah, I cannot do without at least a bit of exercise in the morning haha :)

        • Haha, yes, exactly. A day without exercise is also impossible for me :)

    • Looks like a very well-rounded and productive day, Alfred! High five!

  • Jussi Laasonen

    Thank you for sharing! I would also have expected about 6 hours of work per day. Maybe the freedom from strict schedule frees up so much energy, that people are able to put up more quality work than in normal office environment.

    I used to work remotely, but I had to be more or less in sync with the office and being the only remote worker in the team, made me sometimes feel excluded. Still, it was satisfying to be able to interleave work with non-work activities and not spending time commuting was absolutely great.

    • Yup, Jussi, I think you’re exactly right! Thanks for sharing your remote experience; those are some common themes for sure!

  • I dig that people can harness their own rhythms accordingly. It is so interesting to see how people organize their tasks & segment their schedules differently.

    • I enjoyed peeking at all the different schedules too, Allison! Thanks for checking this one out!

  • Jaina

    This is really interesting – as much as I like the idea of self-management, there’s something comforting to me about having structure to my days and that separation between work and my own time. Definitely piqued my interest – working remotely but with set office hours I do have days where I feel like I need that extra bit of AFK time to just clear my thoughts.

    • Hey Jaina, thanks for adding your thoughts here! I’m a structure person, too. The cool thing about self-management is that you can create your own structure if you like!

  • How would you go about finding people who honour routine and be productive in their own way? What would you look for in an interview?

  • What a refreshing post! I like that most of the Buffer team members rely on intuition and that you’ve learnt to be more forgiving whenever bugs/emergencies arise. That and not letting the “need to get things crossed off!” kind of control ruin your day. I think it helps when you have something to look forward to outside of work. I found that since I started running, swimming, and learning Korean, I’ve definitely gotten better at priority-making decisions.

    • What a great observation and awesome list of activities, Niki!

  • Oh, Courtney, I love it! I was waiting for this one for a while, you’ve made my day! :) So happy to see the details of how do you guys work during the day. Thanks for that.

    As for my current job, I usually work from 7 to 4 with 30-90 minute break for lunch/walk/shopping. Recently I’ve moved to a new place so the commuting by car takes me about 60 minutes per day and as it gets warmer and warmer, I’ll switch for bike which will make it a wonderful 30km round-trip per day and about 90 minutes.
    Meetings take place during the afternoon and my productive work is usually before that as I’m most productive in the morning.
    After work I usually run (+- 10k), workout, go for a bike or walk a slackline for 1-2 hours. Dinner preparation after that and a movie, book or anything else there is necessary to do before sleep. I usually go to bed before 10pm and don’t wake up with the alarm before 6am.

    Future blog post idea: Will you share something about how much vacation do you take per year since you have no limits? And if you work during vacation too? I would love to see that one too.

    • Great future post idea @petrpinkas:disqus — great to see you here! :) *waves*

      • Thanks @TheaWoods:disqus — glad to see you here too, no time for Bufferchat the last couple weeks :( I prefer to spend the time in the nature after work since it is getting warmer here :)

        • Glad to see you’re enjoying the warmth! :) I too missed the last few Bufferchats (Ugh – so sad about that!) but hope to be back on track starting next Wednesday.

          Take care Petr! :)

    • Ooooh, so much awesome in this comment Petr! I loved reading about your routine; seems like you’ve done a really great job of figuring out how you work best! A post on vacation is such a good idea! This is our first year of getting extra money to go on vacation and it has been fun to see how everyone’s been using it! Adding to Trello now!

      • You’re right, being able to spend a vacation of your dreams sounds like a great post for the next time :) Good you have some food for your Trello beast :)

  • Fascinating post! I’ve read studies that show that working from home increases productivity as well as actual hours worked. I think it has to do with the fact that having the flexibility means you don’t really mind putting in a couple more hours here and there answering those extra emails or making calls at random times throughout the week! And before you know it, you’ve actually put in more productive hours that you might have missed out on by sticking to a 9-5 routine or partaking in ‘zombie meetings’.

    • Great points, Loni! I agree totally; working on your own schedule really changes the nature of “work” a good bit.

  • Nicole Kohler

    This was quite an interesting read. Thanks to the Buffer team for sharing their input and very unique schedules!

    I very much agree with whomever it was that said losing their 2 hour commute brought them a lot more energy, as I just went through that myself! :)

    • What a wonderful change for you, Nicole! Thanks for checking this one out. :)

  • Emily Ahlbum

    Our newest member of our Business Development team just shared her day in today’s post – how funny!

  • It’s great to see such variety in everyone’s schedules – thanks for sharing this Courtney! :)

    I must admit to being slightly surprised that some of you are still putting in 45+ hours now that you’ve moved to a self-managed structure. I guess when you’re doing what you choose to do (and LOVE to do) – the hours just fly by, eh? :)

    I’m curious to see how those of you who have other side projects (unrelated to Buffer) manage to do both efficiently. Are you able to achieve the 6 hours/day that Leo mentioned and still work on your personal projects, while “living smarter, not harder”?

    Again, thanks for being so candid with us. You don’t really have to share so many details with us, yet I’m so grateful you do! :)

    • I was surprised too to see the 45+ but when I reflect it to my job,there are ups and downs and when I have some really challenging projects and tasks, I can see myself in the 50+ range, but when it is slow and not that challenging, I can see myself in the 35 range.. I guess when you’re fully engaged, it is easy to go beyond the 45 hours per week

    • I was surprised by the results also, Thea! I probably should have mentioned that volunteer sampling isn’t the most scientific way to do this. It could be that the hardest workers are also the exact people who would volunteer to answer my survey, which could have skewed the responses. :) But I agree with you; when work is really fun it doesn’t feel like you have to cap it at a certain time. As for side projects, I can only speak to mine but there seems to be an ebb and flow there. Sometimes it feels very organic to fold work on my side project into my day and sometimes it feels like being focused on Buffer work is better. I just kind of let my intuition guide me there, with the knowledge that my teammates at Buffer are super excited about giving me as much time as I need to work on it!

      • Hey @courtneyseiter:disqus *waves* :)

        That makes a lot of sense! Also – I see what you mean in regards to how you work on your side projects. I guess it all boils down to everyone doing what feels best for them at the moment (including you) – not a set schedule per se…

        Thanks again for the reply and have a great week! :)

  • slfisher

    I work at home as a content strategist and the hard part for me is deciding what’s “work” and what isn’t. :) If I’m surfing the Internet and I run into some ideas for stories that I tuck into Evernote for later, is that work? If I’m writing a blog post about business lessons from Game of Thrones, is watching Game or Thrones work?

    That said, I get up in the morning, read my email and work on a little private project, get my daughter off to school, do my content deliverables for my major client, have lunch, and then usually write something for one client or another. My daughter gets home at 3:30 and I usually knock off then for a while, then go back online when she does her homework or hangs out with her friends. I’ll make or clean up after dinner, and then get online again after that. Or, in the spring and summer, I’ll often go out and do yardwork during the day to enjoy the sunshine. I do some work on weekends sometimes when it’s necessary and if the timing works out.

    • I totally empathize with ALL these questions and scenarios. The work-life blend. :)

  • Mathias Luz

    Loved this post Buffers!

    I usually work 6-7 hours a day, mostly from 1 p.m. to 8-9 p.m. with a long break (40 min) for exercising a bit. During the morning though, I focus on self-development.

    Here is how my morning routine goes:

    4:30 to 6:30 a.m.: Wake up, meditate & practice Shivam Yoga

    6:30 to 7 a.m.: Breakfast and hear to podcasts

    7:00 to 8 a.m.: Read a book

    8 to 10 a.m.: Develop or harness a skill

    10 to 12 p.m.: Work on my sideprojects

    12 to 1 p.m.: Have lunch + listen to podcasts

    P.S.: Also, I usually take small breaks (10-15min every hour) to chill out doing my headstands! It’s so refreshing as I trick with my head bloodstream while upside-down! The result is that I get back to work much more energized :)

    Thanks for sharing your ins and outs as a self-managed team!

    Take care!

    Mathias

  • Steven Liu

    Awesome post Courtney! I really enjoyed how open people were in sharing their work routine and mindset. For me, as I more recently made a career shift, I noticed that being up by 6am and at my desk by 630 gives me a calm and peace that enables me to come up with solutions in ways that I wasn’t quite able to tap into before. I haven’t kept a close eye on how many hours I ‘work’ each day, probably because for me it doesn’t feel like work. I’ve noticed recently that as long as I feel and can see the growth in what I’m doing, that’s the ultimate high for me. ;)

  • Dawn Jones

    It’s really interesting to see how you all manage to fit your lifestyles around work and still stay fully motivated when working remotely. Do you ever find there are issues with timezones in terms of speaking to different team members who may all be involved on the one project?

  • Loved reading this! Thanks for sharing, Courtney! I’ve always been quite curious what the “average day” for a Buffer employee looks like, so this was really need to read how each person’s job/personality/life situation changes how/when they work. It’s a goal of mine to work at a place like Buffer (even Buffer itself!), partially for the atmosphere and culture of the company, and largely because I’ve long known that my natural productivity flow/energy levels/personality aren’t suited well to a traditional 9-5 schedule.

  • Keli’i

    Great read! As it happens, I discovered Buffer last Thursday while reading a, “How I organize my week,” post by Noah Kagan. I spent Friday implementing his tactics and most of the weekend soaking up your blog.

    Looking forward to sharing what I learned this weekend with my team to see if we can come up with new ways to structure our weeks. Excited to hear the conversations and ideas that come from this.

    Also saw that you folks were in Hawaii recently. Hope you all had a wonderful time!!! Here’s a pic of a weekend hike our team did together. Aloha!

  • Craig Inzana

    Awhile back I changed my “commute” by moving closer and biking/walking to work. It can be exhausting physically, but it’s a really nice buffer between work and home.