From dream week to real week – how well does it work?

In productivity, getting things done by neville

A coupe of weeks ago I wrote about designing your dream week. Briefly, the concept is as follows:

  • Use a sheet of paper or a spreadsheet to draw a grid of the days of the week divided into hour or 1/2-hour slots.
  • Set the priority focus for each day – yellow for personal time; red for admin work; blue for strategy & planning and green for your revenue engine (making money).
  • Create time blocks for specific tasks that repeat every week.
  • Designate how you’re going to use the remainder of the time.

Here’s what my dream week looks like:

That’s the theory of the dream week. But how well does this work in practice?

Lessons from doing this for over 100 weeks

I’ve been using the concept of the dream week for over 100 weeks now – around 2 years. The concept of the dream week is not my own – I’ve seen it used in a number of different places with different flavours and tweaks, and the current incarnation I’m using here is based on what I’ve picked up from those sources plus tweaks that I’ve made for myself.

Using this consistently for over 100 weeks has taught me a number of lessons. Here are the five top ones.

Lesson 1: You have more control over some parts of your day than others

The first time I designed a dream week I was thrilled – my life was going to be so organised and productive I would be a true dynamo.

But of course real life quickly took over and my dream week was shattered. That was when I learnt the first lesson: it’s easier to control some parts of the day than other parts.

For example, it’s a lot easier to stick to an early morning writing routine before the world wakes up, than it is to control your phone or emails later in the day. I try to write my articles early in the morning, from 6:30 to 8:00 am, and if I avoid the temptation to check my emails and social media feeds I’m very productive. However, slip up on those things and the whole day seems to go for a loop.

Moral: to get deep work done, schedule it during times of the day when chances are smaller that you will be interrupted.

Lesson 2: It takes time to get there

I know that I am mentally more calm and focused early in the morning. Over time I’ve learnt to get up earlier to make more use of that early-morning calm and productivity, and struggled with the temptation to check emails and other time-sucking activities (I still struggle with this).

The initial design of my dream week took this into account – ideally, I would be doing heads down, deep work in the mornings and reserve afternoons for meetings and other interactive things.

But of course life – and clients – do not know this and insist on doing stuff in the morning.

And that’s totally OK. I can not completely control how I work and I have to adapt to what works for my clients. I also have to take their energy levels into account, and I usually try to schedule my half-day workshops in the morning when everyone is a lot fresher.

In the beginning this was a blow to my carefully designed dream week. But over time I’ve noticed that it’s easier to get interactive things done in the afternoon (I try to suggest a time for a meeting before anyone else does) and I’m getting closer to realising my dream week.

Moral: Don’t expect your dream week to work immediately. Life needs some time to learn what you want.

Lesson 3: Chaos happens – make time for it

No matter how carefully you craft a plan, life happens, chaos happens and everything gets thrown aside to deal with an emergency.

Your dream week is aspirational – you may never quite get there but you can get close. But if you don’t accept that chaos is going to happen, and you will have to deal with it, you will always be disappointed and give up on the dream week.

There are two ways to cope with chaos:

  • never commit all your time; and
  • keep some of your time flexible.

Here’s a snapshot of my calendar for the week of 7 May 2018:

There are two things worth noting:

  • First, not all of my time is booked. There are gaps in most days, allowing for chaos, overruns, unexpected tasks and so on.
  • Second, the taupe-coloured blocks (brownish) are blocked out for specific work but can be moved if necessary.

This allows me to deal with most chaos when it happens. Of course, sometimes it was just a bad week and nothing worked and you will have to deal with it and get over it and get back to “normal”.

Moral: make time for chaos – never commit all your time and keep some time flexible.

Lesson 4: Planning the next week doubled my productivity

This was a really cool lesson to learn.

One of the biggest boosts to my productivity is planning the next week on the previous Friday. I came across this somewhat by accident.

I’ve always been a planner and a student of time management. I’ve tried planning my week on Monday mornings, the Sunday evening before the week begins, weeks in advance – nothing seemed to work particularly well. I would start each week knowing there was a ton of stuff to do, but somehow my carefully crafted plans never seemed to get me as productive as I would have liked it to be.

Then I decided I was going to do a weekly review and planning session on Friday mornings. Somehow this just clicked – and I believe there are two reasons why:

  • First, my weekly review and planning session starts with the review of how the week went. I keep a private journal where I write down my wins, learnings, mindset, personal relationships and gratitude. It takes me about 20 minutes, but the difference it makes in my appreciation for life and everything I got done during the week is vast. Now, when I don’t do it, not even my weekend starts off right.
  • Second, I plan the week ahead. My calendar will already be half filled with meetings, workshops or other commitments; the rest of the time I will plan for specific tasks but designate it as flex time so that stuff can move if it has to.

This planning session happens first thing on a Friday. If I leave it to later in the day I’m likely to not do as good a job of it as when I’m fresh. And I get to take the weekend off knowing that my upcoming week is sorted out.

Moral: plan your next week(s) the previous Friday. Then enjoy the weekend.

Lesson 5: Routine beats overwhelm

And finally, the one that makes my dream week really come to life:

Good old boring, repetitive routine.

Back in April I wrote an article specifically about how routine beats overwhelm – but I’ve found this to be so true that it is worth mentioning again.

Routine is your friend. When you stick to a routine you get more stuff done. Over time routine helps you produce lots, maintain high levels of productivity and helps create a sense of calm and control.

Please note: routine is not boring. It is a necessary part of building and growing a business whether you’re just starting out or running a mature business. Routine is also about discipline – if you can’t stick to a routine, how are you going to discipline yourself to stick to create something of value if it takes years to accomplish?

And hey, I get it. Sometimes you just have to break out of the routine and go do something wild. Do it – but come back to routine and discipline if you want to build something great.

Moral: Routine beats overwhelm every time.

So is the dream week worth the trouble?

After 100 weeks of planning my time around the concept of a dream week – yes. The design of my dream week has not changed much in the last 6 months or so; I’ve found a rhythm that works for where I am in my business right now and what I need to focus on.

Designing my dream week and planning my weeks around that framework has helped my double my productivity, help me focus on what matters and get more stuff done faster. Somehow my energy levels are up as well – the combination of an early-morning routine and the positive feedback of getting stuff done works miracles.

It’s worked for me and I can see it working for my clients and my subscribers. Highly recommended.