Do you feel frustrated when you get to the end of a week or even a day, and you didn’t get any of your most important tasks completed? When I used to have days like that, I would feel defeated and cranky. Piling today’s uncompleted work onto tomorrow’s list just felt overwhelming and frustrating.
These days when it happens, I might still feel a wee bit cranky, but now I know that I just got slack on my systems. I have two productivity strategies that are working fairly well for me these days. Today we’ll cover what I refer to as Theme (or Focus) Days.
What is a Theme Day?
Sometime last year, I watched an interview with a productivity author (whose name I don’t recall) that endorsed the idea of giving each day a theme. Now, normally, I would have a To Do List a mile long, but at least I would have headings for my various roles. In other words, I would have a section for my day job tasks, a section for my SimpleMoney tasks, a section for errands, and a section for home tasks.
Does that make you tired already? Me, too.
All the things under all these headings would never all get completed in a day, which meant I would transfer them onto the next day. This was a depressing system, to say the least.
Then I tried using theme days. Theme, or focus, days are where you give each day a theme. I’ll tell you how mine look, and then I’ll give some other examples, since your life likely looks enormously different than mine.
My Theme Days
Here are my themes, more or less:
Monday = Work Day
Tuesday = Work Day
Wednesday = Writing and Errand Day
Thursday = Work Day
Friday = Writing and Homeschool Day
Saturday = Writing and Homeschool Day
Sunday = Writing and Homeschool Day
In a typical week, I work at my “day job,” my financial planning firm, three days. Because my workweek is so short, my days are compressed and packed full (oh so very full!) of client meetings and all the other projects I have to do. Making the focus of those days my work is a no brainer.
My errand day is super flexible. Having the habit now of Wednesday being Errand Days means that when I have to schedule doctor appointments and the like, I strive to make them on a Wednesday. There is nothing I hate more than feeling like I’m running all over town multiple days in the week.
Writing/homeschool days also include my leisure time and household projects. Sometimes school only happens on two of the three designated days, depending on how the rest of the week went for school between Rowan and Greg.
Themes are not set in stone
Giving each day a theme doesn’t necessarily mean I only do tasks related to that day’s theme. What it does for me, however, is causes me to focus on the theme when I am making my task list for the day. Could this work task be done tomorrow, on my Work Day instead of today? If the answer to that is yes, then I move it to tomorrow and keep my focus where it needs to be today.
Another advantage to using this mindset is that it stops me in my tracks when I’m inclined to start making a huge to do list for the day. I now have completely come to grips with the fact that I am no longer able to do a million things in one day.
I never was, as it turns out.
How Theme Days provide more white space
By organizing my week in this manner, I strive to maintain some white space in my days, but more importantly, in my mind. If I am constantly thinking about all the work things that need to be done while I’m trying to write a blog post or work on school with Rowan, it’s unsettling and leads to stress.
Instead, unless it is truly an emergency, I simply add it to the docket for the next “Work Day,” and get on with my current focus. In this way, I don’t forget the task, and more importantly, it doesn’t stay in my mind milling about in an obnoxious way trying to get more of my attention.
Slowing down and taking time to plan out my week is also instrumental in giving me the white space I so desperately need. Not every week looks like the one I outlined above. There are quite a number of weeks in the year that I don’t work in my office at all. In those weeks, I tend to separate out my writing and homeschool themes and add in a bunch of other SimpleMoney-related projects. Those weeks have an entirely different rhythm, which brings a nice change.
Other ways you could use theme days
Everybody has a different-looking workweek with different priorities and activities. If you work a more traditional five-day workweek, you might think that this strategy couldn’t work for you. I disagree! Here are four different ways using themes could help you organize your week:
Theme your projects: If you have a job that requires you to regularly engage in different projects or tasks, you might designation a project theme each day. For example, maybe you could plan to engage in all of your creative tasks on Monday, make all your follow-up calls on Tuesday, catch up on correspondence on Wednesday, do all your research on Thursday, and end the week with the theme of planning for the coming week.
If you work for someone else, most likely you won’t have complete autonomy to structure each day to your liking. However, to the extent that you can theme your days, you can provide yourself with some structure and direction. This prevents spending hours each day floundering around trying to decide what to do next among all the competing tasks on your list.
Theme within your day: This strategy is more like time-blocking, which I’ll write more about another time. This is taking the theme day concept and using it to divide up your workday. You might make your morning work hours dedicated to creative work (while you are the most alert and energized), and then devote time in the afternoon for meetings and correspondence.
Use themes for the other tasks of life: If you are a 9 to 5 employee with no hope to organize your work days as you see fit, use theme days for other tasks. I frequently see people using themes to fit their household tasks into their week painlessly (dusting on Monday, laundry on Tuesday…) You might already designate one weekend day for errands and the other for rest and relaxation. See? You DO have theme days!
Maybe the theme is just for your thoughts: Still a doubter? I thought you might be! If you want to try theme days without revamping your entire calendar, just designate a theme for your day tomorrow. Maybe your theme will be “peace and quiet.” Or you might consider trying out a theme of “being cheerful and friendly, no matter what.”
Theme days used in this manner might really help you gain some mindfulness and focus on things you tend to forget about in the heat of all those To Do items on your daily list.
So, there you have it, one of the two productivity strategies that are working well for me right now. In the future, I’ll write about how I’m using time blocks to achieve even more focus and white space in my life.
How do you keep yourself consistently productive? Which strategies have worked for you, and which have not? Share below! Or if you want to start a discussion with some like-minded friends, join the free SimpleMoney Community on Facebook to share your thoughts!
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