How do you work best throughout the day?

For some of us on the Buffer team, it’s about the right morning routine to set the day right. For others, the right evening routine is what it takes to get ahead for the next day.

We’ve found there’s no one way to organize your work day — and that the best fit looks different for every person.

Here are a few examples from our team to help inspire some different ideas to arrange your workday for optimal productivity and creativity.

Structure doesn’t have to be a dirty word

Sometimes, “structure” gets a bad reputation, seen as constraining more than freeing. However, that isn’t always the case.

“I believe structure is necessary because structure and creativity have the same parentage,” writes Steve Dennings in a Forbes article. “It is structure that enables creativity.”

Workfront put together this great Slideshare from marketing creatives about the benefits of structure:

We’ve found that the ideal routine doesn’t come about instantly, but with intention, you can find the best balance for you.

Morning routines: Starting the day right

Joel, Buffer’s CEO: Rising early to set the tone for the day
I feel that waking up early sets the tone of “making a choice” for my day. If I leave it to fate as to when I roll out of bed, then I feel like that’s the outlook I’m taking in general. On the other hand, if I choose to get up early and do amazing things in those quiet hours, that’s when I feel like I’m grabbing hold of my life and controlling where I go. That’s the choice I want to make.

When I started Buffer whilst working 5 days per week, it was the choice to work an hour first thing in the morning each day when I was freshest that made a huge difference.

Kevan, Marketing Lead: Start with the ‘Tomorrow List’
Mine has evolved quite a bit over the past several months—and will likely keep evolving. It feels like I’ve settled into a pretty good rhythm with this schedule:

  • Wake up at 5:30 a.m.
  • Consult my to-do list, which I create the night before
  • Head to the computer and start writing a blog post
  • Shower/breakfast at 7:00 a.m.
  • Back to writing

Alfred Lua, Content Crafter: Work with my circadian rhythm
I know I’m more of an early bird and I need at least about 7 hours of sleep every night. Hence, I always try to go to bed by 10pm so that I can wake up by 6am the next day and have a good 8 hours of sleep. Also, I tend to get sleepy in the afternoon so I have been taking a 25-minute power nap after my lunch.

Check out more morning routines here!

Exercise early

Julia, Happiness Hero: Yoga or a walk to start the day
I feel like I’m constantly re-considering my strategies, and always up for new methods! I have to start my day with a yoga session or at the very least a walk outside to clear my head before everything gets underway.

Hailley, PR Specialist: Yoga, body weight exercises and fresh air
Starting the day with some yoga and body weight exercises is my go to, recently I’ve been experimenting with going for a walk early to get fresh air.

Juliet, Happiness Hero: Some off-screen time before any on-screen time
I’m an early riser (usually getting up at 5 am to plan my day and do my personal work and tasks like learning new things and reading, adding posts to my personal Buffer queue.) I’ve found it to be really helpful to then take a break from the computer screen by doing yoga before popping in the Buffer inbox.

Establish priorities first thing

Jordan, iOS Developer: Two key things – the where and the what
As a developer, I find that if I do two things before the day starts I am most productive 1) Decide where I will work from that day and 2) Know what I will be working/focusing on.

Mike E, Customer Researcher: Tackle the biggest task first
I also try and tackle my biggest task for the day first. I find that with the most intimidating things, it’s good to just jump in first thing to get going, to get over the intimidation hump!

Stephanie, Life Saver/Ops: Morning mental check-in
Spending time at the start of my day prioritizing tasks has also been really helpful! Lately, I feel like starting the day with a quick mental check-in about my energy levels also helps in terms of figuring out whether I can power through things today, or if I have to change up the pace as I move through the day.

Hailley, PR Specialist: Tracking tasks in Todoist, focusing on the biggest one
Currently, I keep track of all of my tasks in Todoist and start my day focusing in on whichever one is biggest. I try to have 3 – 5 priorities for the week and only 3 – 5 tasks for the day to make sure I can accomplish all of them.

The power of Mondays

Emily, Engineer: Limiting meetings to Mondays
I’ve found that having meetings for the week on Monday for planning stuff and then having mostly heads down time the rest of the week really helps set focus and get motivated for the week!

I also have found keeping a Paper doc of all the things I want to accomplish for the week to be super valuable. Helps me keep priorities in mind and reduces the amount of work I need to do to figure out what to do next! It can also be a great tool to stay in check with what my productivity looks like week to week. I also really like using Self Control to block distracting websites during the day.

Mike E, Customer Researcher: A weekly Evernote list
For planning I create a note in Evernote with a list of everything I want to do in the week, and then before each day I try and grab three things from the list to achieve in that day (the goal to have one big thing, and two small things). I’m not 100% sold on Evernote though, I think I spend too much time flicking back and forth between notes on there. Might try the ‘analog’ notebook option!

Carving out focus time and meeting time

Hailley, PR Specialist: Grouping calls for focus time
I found when I was on the West Coast, all of my calls were in the morning then I could do focused work in the afternoons, and it was the opposite in Europe with calls afternoons and focus in the mornings. Being back on the East Coast now I find most of my calls are right in the middle of the day.

Stephanie, Life Saver/Ops: Optimizing collaborative hours
I structure my days based on what my ongoing projects are and which teammates I’m working closely with – that really helps with timezoning and figuring out when the key collaborative hours are for me during each week (This also helps for giving a sense of whether I have blocks of time where I can do quiet work or take a guilt-free break. Also a huge fan of having an ‘extended mind’ approach and putting everything down in notes/to-dos in my Asana account ahead of time.

Nicole, Community Champion: Scheduling around nap times
I tend to schedule my meetings around nap times (I’m so fortunate to work from home with my toddler and also take care of him!) and fill in shorter tasks in between. I try to keep one day open for a coffee-shop workday where I have a babysitter look after the little one and I can really dig into the bigger tasks for the week. Ideally, this being on a Monday sets the week off with a really productive feeling!

Reminders and to-do lists

Tigran, Engineer: Sometimes simple is best — the .txt to-do file
I have a simple .txt file called “buffer notes” where I have all my to-dos for today, tomorrow and the week. So every day at the end of my working day I fill in my to-do tasks for tomorrow! So far it works great!

For my personal tasks I use Todoist. I try to keep my list under 5 tasks for a day otherwise I never end up completing them all. In terms of the calls I try to have them in the afternoon since I feel I’m very productive in the mornings.

Dan, Architect: Reminders and blocking time in calendar
I’m a huge reminders person now for scheduling things. I’m normally a person who usually wings it, I try to keep things in my head. I’m trying to get better at blocking time out in my calendar for tasks and I keep a Trello board of my current responsibilities and things I have upcoming, in progress and complete.

Slack’s reminders are awesome: “/remind me to have a call with Bob at 3pm”

structure

Alfred Lua, Content Crafter: Planning a week ahead
Instead of planning on a daily basis, I try to plan a week ahead, usually on a Sunday. I will schedule the major activities in my calendar and also leave room for last minute tasks or events. I found that this keeps me productive and allows me to take a slightly longer term view of things instead of only focusing on each day.

David Gasquez, Data Analyst: Geekiness to keep the motivation
I’ve tried many methods and this one has been working really well for the past couple of years. I add tasks into Taskwarrior as soon as they come to my mind. I’ve also have it linked with a personal Trello board to keep track of everything in a visual way. This workflow has a very low friction (just opening a terminal) and allows me to explore with different methodologies and flows.

Going old school: Paper planners and journals

Julian, Data Analyst: Limiting meetings throughout the day
I’m all about the notebook, but shooting for as few meetings as possible is also great.

structure2Deborah, Culture Scout: Bullet journaling FTW

I’m addicted to the Bullet Journal techniques!

Julia, Happiness Hero: More productive with hand-writing tasks
I find myself most productive when I have my notebook and physically write down my tasks. For me, I haven’t found that the rest of the day’s structure makes much of an impact.

Tyler, Product Designer at Respond: Bullet journal as main to-do list
I’m a huge fan of the bullet journal. Been using it for ~3 years now. Aside from using that as my main todo list, I wrote a post a few months back about how I’m staying productive and planning my days.

Nicole, Community Champion: Living day-to-day by the Passion Planner
I’ve experimented quite a bit over the past, oh, 15 years with various planners, to-do lists, apps and more. (I still have almost all of my day planners from high school and college!) I’ve found having a paper planner and a notebook of to-dos is essential for me.

The one I’ve used for the longest consecutive amount of time is the Passion Planner. This one is great for daily detail and also monthly reflection and longer-term planning. (Though I confess my planners are not quite this colorful and cute:) 

structure3Image: Passionplanner.com

Over to you

How do you structure your work day and work week? Do you batch tasks, use a specific tool or method that is essential to your workflow? We’d love to hear from you in the comments!

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Written by Nicole Miller

Community Champion at Buffer. Writer, reader, dreamer. Hanging around the home office with a baby, some chickens, ducks, dogs and horses.

  • http://www.inc.com/guides/set-up-a-home-office.html ceceliajernegan

    Great thoughts from everyone in this article. Remote working has it challenges but being an early riser has definite advantages. Office set up is also critical. Here is a good article from Inc.com: http://www.inc.com/guides/set-up-a-home-office.html in which they interviewed me. I have a motivational FB page to help others that work from home stay motivated daily: https://www.facebook.com/homeofficeguru/ Check it out and Happy 2017! https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/ed1ea53d366995f9483e77aa4e6f31ca99f6eac0d91ecdb08b62f3e7c051a25b.jpg

    • http://talkkindnesstome.com/ Jane

      I need to check out the Facebook page. Thank you for mentioning it.

  • http://talkkindnesstome.com/ Jane

    I’m trying to stop printing so much – but this article is an exception. There are some best practices I need to try that are already working for your team. I have a weekly check off sheet that has daily and weekly things that I do. It is basically to make sure I don’t let things slip through the cracks, which happens more than you might think for a semi-retired former tech writer and current social media evangelist. I started using the structured pages to structure my life and meet goals. It is definitely not working. After reading this, I am enthused about possibilities and trying something that will work better. Thank you again, Nicole for sharing what the team is doing all around to balance Buffer work and home life.

  • Jasmin Cottontail

    This article provides a lot of useful information for entrepreneurs and website owners on how to make the most out of their time. Having your own business can be really stressful especially if you’re alone and there are a lot of things that needs to be done. Entrepreneurs can use this as their guide with their everyday activities. But if ever one needs an assistance, you can always seek one at http://www.kayceenterprises.com. They actually provide remote assistance that will suit your needs. Have a great day!

  • Jimmy Winskowski

    This is A+ stuff! A few things I absolutely loved:

    – The acknowledgement that remote work is not the Wild West; It’s an arrangement that allows you to expand your reach and get great talent, and places the onus on each employee to work how/where/when they work best.
    – The fact that Buffer is actively encouraging each employee to find her/his own most effective workflow (and not asserting that one way is better for every employee.)
    – The hand-drawn to-do lists! That’s my preferred method, too!
    – The early exercise. The physical and mental effects are awesome, IMO, and for me being active first thing in the morning sets a great tone for the day.

    Thanks for sharing :D

  • Wade B. Weston

    Great article. Two of the tools that I have found to be extremely helpful in strategizing, assigning, organizing and tracking action items is DropTask and iMindMap. DropTask is a “visual” task management web app and iMindMap is a mind mapping tool. They are also integrated making it even easier. And no, I do not work for them :).

  • punker

    The article is more about how one done his things, than about “how we structure … as a remote team” and distributed teamwork. These advices could be applied for anyone.