Daily and Weekly Ceremonies for Productivity

Coffee and notepad

I have been speaking at conferences on the benefits of daily and weekly ceremonies to help with building habits to increase productivity.  I did blog about this very briefly a while back but this blog is expanding on the purpose and benefit of the ceremonies that I use to manage my tasks and my time.

During one session I did there was a comment that read “Now I understand what you mean by ceremonies” so let me start by clarifying what I mean by ceremony.

According to Wikipedia, “A ceremony is a unified ritualistic event with a purpose, usually consisting of a number of artistic components, performed on a special occasion.”

My ceremonies have purpose and are ritualistic, although they may be less artistic and not limited to special occasions.

Overview

I use four scheduled ceremonies and a process ceremony when appropriate.  The scheduled ceremonies are just that: time scheduled each week and each day to carry out specific ceremonial activities.

Start the Week

This ceremony signifies the start of the working week.  Scheduled for when you start work on a Monday morning, it allows you to refresh your memory of what you have planned for the week:

  • Review your calendar to ensure that you have time set aside to prepare for any scheduled meetings or activities that you have committed to.  These are usually the immovable elements of your week.
  • Review the tasks that you have to do and select those that you intend to get done this week
  • In Microsoft To Do, flag these tasks as important
  • Reality Check: Check to make sure that the tasks you have flagged as important can be completed in the time that you have between scheduled activities
  • WARNING: If you have less time available than you need then you need plan for one of the following:
    • Reduce the number of tasks you plan to complete in the week
    • Remove some of the scheduled activities to make time
    • Work additional hours
    • Not complete all of the tasks

After you have completed this ceremony, you are clear on what you are going to achieve in the week and the only task list you need look at all week is the “Important Tasks” list in Microsoft To Do.

Start the Day

On a Monday, this ceremony immediately follows the Start the Week ceremony, for the rest of the week, it is scheduled for the start of each day.

Set yourself up for success during the day by reviewing the “Important Tasks” list in Microsoft To Do and selecting the tasks that you can completed during the day and adding them to “My Day”.

In Outlook Online, you can drag the tasks into your calendar to block the time required for each task.

You have now set your objectives for the day.

End the Day

At the end of each day, the aim is that all of the tasks that were identified to be completed that day have been completed.  Make sure that the tasks that have been completed are ticked off as complete, and that tasks that have not been completed are updated and it is clear what is remaining to be done.

Ensure that all emails that need a response or activity have a due date and are flagged so that they show up in Microsoft To Do and if they need to be done this week, then ensure that they and are flagged as important so they can be priorities during the “Start the Day” ceremony.

Review the schedule for the next day to ensure that you are prepared for any meetings.

End the Week

There isn’t much to this ceremony other than reviewing the week and assessing how much you have achieved and how much you may have overestimated what you can get done. Take lessons from your achievements to adjust the expectations of how much you can get done so that you are more likely to succeed rather than fail in completing all the tasks you identify in your start the week ceremony.

Pomodoro Technique

The Pomodoro technique is a process for allocating time to focus on a given task or set of tasks that allows for deep work and breaks.  The premise is that you have an allocated amount of time during which you concentrate on a single task without any distractions.  Once that period of time ends, you take a break for a defined amount of time.  During the break you might have a physical/comfort break or a digital break and do something different like scan your emails, check Twitter or Facebook, or simply close your eyes and meditate.

The key to this technique is to set the times so you are hitting the right balance for you and the way you work.  For me, I use the following time periods:

  • 00:00 – 00:40 – Pomodoro 1
  • 00:40 – 00:50 – Break 1
  • 00:50 – 01:30 – Pomodoro 2
  • 01:30 – 01:40 – Break 2
  • 01:40 – 02:20 – Pomodoro 3
  • 02:30 – 02:30 – Break 3
  • 02:30 – 03:10 – Pomodoro 4
  • 03:10 – 03:30 – Break 4

In practice, this is a 3.5 hour block that fits in well with my scheduling – I use blocks of 3.5 hour focus time so I know I can bring tasks into a set of 4 Pomodoros.

When you start out with Pomodoros, you might want to start with a shorter Pomodoro length as you practice using them and build your “focus muscle”.

To support Pomodoros, there are many Apps that you can get which will act as your timer and allow you to set the lengths of the Pomodoro, short break and final long break.

Summary

These ceremonies are useful when you are trying to build habits to manage the tasks you have to complete and the time that you have available to complete them.  You will need to try them and then tailor them to the way that you work and your role, e.g. You may prefer focus time in the morning, or in the afternoon or evening.

It is also important to note that in most cases, you will need to be pragmatic and flexible, especially when you are working with external parties who will need to have meetings at given times.  In this scenario, work your Pomodoro schedule around those meetings, or propose a meeting that is the length of your Pomodoro