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How To Hack Your Schedule To Be A More Productive & Efficient Intrapreneur

The other day, I bumped into my colleague at lunchtime at the office pantry. Casually, I asked, “How’s your day?”

Without missing a beat, he replied, “Terrible. I have been in back-to-back meetings since I got into office, and I am getting this cup of coffee to help me get through this lunch meeting I am about to go into”.

I clucked sympathetically. “That must have been so draining for you. Your afternoon is a little bit better, I hope”.

He shook his head, somewhat ruefully. “I got this 30-minutes break at around 3 p.m. Otherwise it’s meetings all the way. I even got this night call to speak to our vendor in the States”.

I paused, fearing the answer to my next question. “How will you get any work done?”

“I don’t. Not everything at least. I can only get to them after dinner”

Sounds familiar? Incidents like this happen all the time. Worklife has been so demanding that it is consuming all of our waking hours. It doesn’t help that some of us like to say that “I am so busy” like a badge of honor.

You don’t need a study or research to tell you such relentless busy-ness is not good for you. Your productivity plummets, you are rushing from task to meeting like a headless chicken, and your health suffers.

And you wonder why you have deep eye bags and start to gain weight.

Photo by Tim Gouw on Unsplash

Of course, there is something that you can do about this. I found that a combination of GTD principle with a commitment to deep work and schedule hacking helps me to be better, more productive at work.

Schedule everything.

Being an intrapreneur requires one to be able to deftly balance between the demand of corporate life and the rigor of entrepreneurship. Think about your regular meetings with your boss and your direct reports, and time for you to do market research and brainstorm for new ideas.

Everything takes time. Part of the Getting Things Done philosophy is to schedule everything — daily routines, reminders, checklists, meetings, and even time for self-improvement and learning. You need to put them onto your calendar; otherwise, it is not happening.

Perhaps the most important thing you can schedule time for is deep work.

Deep work is king.

What is deep work? Deep work is the ability to focus without distraction on a cognitively demanding task. It is time for you to work on a sales pitch deck, a framework for your new product, or a timeline for that difficult project. You need to focus on them without distraction. No emails, no social media, no Slack or Whatsapp.

For example, I consider writing this article to be deep work. I arrived at the office extra early and I locked myself into a quiet room. I turned off all notifications, brew myself a large cup of coffee, and started writing.

It has been forty minutes since I began. At the 25th minute's mark, I took a Pomodoro break (that’s another hack to improve your productivity with deep work). I took a stroll to the washroom, and I am back at this after five minutes.

Photo by Jeroen den Otter on Unsplash

So, how do you balance deep work with everything else you need to do?

Know your work.

Apart from deep work, there are a few types of work that demand your attention, energy and time. For me, I look at them this way:

  • Checklist: A list of quick-fire tasks that can be completed within a few minutes each. For example, checking my in-tray (yes, I still receive physical letters), ordering my meal subscriptions, and paying bills online. My rule of thumb is that each task should not take you more than ten minutes, and I should not have more than eight tasks within the same checklist. Each day, I allocate one hour to do things on my checklist. (Now you know how I remember checking in with you for that casual pint of beer three months after we had our last catch up. It is on my checklist.)
  • Meetings: Meetings are an evil necessity in your working life. We have way too many of them, but it is probably the fastest, easiest way for you to brainstorm, discuss issues, get consensus on decisions, and plan for the next course of action. You need to plan well for meetings, otherwise, it is a huge drain of time. For me, meetings are by default thirty minutes each unless I have very good reasons to allocate more time.
  • Pairing & mentorship: This is a special kind of meeting, where you have regular updates with your boss and with your direct reports. Usually, this takes place once a week or at the very least once every two weeks, and I allocate (or ask for) at least an hour to do this. The time is used to cover my day to day work and to mentor someone (or asked to be mentored). It is time to report on what I have done and planned to do, and to voice out concerns on projects and colleagues in a safe environment. And let’s not kid ourselves, you can’t do all these in less than an hour, or less frequently than once a week.
  • Planning, review, and close-the-loops: This is a time for me to start off and end the week right. Each week I will set aside time to review leftover tasks from the week before, and to look at what’s in the schedule for me in the coming week. I plot out my weekly timeline, set priorities. At the end of the week, I will take the time to round off my to-do lists and checklists, clear out my inbox as much as I could, and put things onto my timeline for the following week.

The kind of work that you have in your routine may be different from mine. The important point is that you know your working style, and how it all fits together.

Hack your schedule.

Now, this is the time for you to put all these together: schedule time for everything that you need to do. Mine looks something like this:

I dedicate each day of the week to certain types of work. Mondays and Fridays are for planning and reviews, while Tuesdays and Thursdays are for a mix of deep work and meetings. Wednesday is dedicated entirely on meetings.

Which means overall I dedicate two full days for meetings, one full day for deep work, and two days for planning, reviews, and close-the-loops, with dedicated time for a checklist of quick-fire tasks every day. Your ratio between these may differ, of course. You need to find a formula that works for you.

You will notice there is a third column of this framework that indicates the projects that I am currently on. Apart from the type of work that I do, I try to focus my checklists, deep work, and meetings for a certain project on a particular day, so that I can reduce the fatigue of mental switching. For examples:

  • If I have a teleconference to discuss the programming for Digital Media Asia (DMA), I will schedule it to be on Wednesday
  • If I have a laundry list of appointments to confirm with potential sponsors for China Conference Philippines (CCPH), I will do it on Tuesday
  • If I have to do a coffee session with someone who wants to “pick my brain”, I will offer a slot on Friday

Of course, this structure is not foolproof; you will have to make exceptions every now and then. Otherwise, only your steadfast discipline to adhere to this guideline will reap you the benefits of hacking your schedule this way.

Eliminate distractions.

Having a schedule alternating between deep work and other commitments is not enough. You’ll need the discipline to stave off other forms of distractions too.

Infinity pool apps are the worst; you thought you’ll just take a five-minutes break on Facebook, and only to realize you went down too deep a rabbit hole half an hour later. Repeat that a couple of times each day, and it’s easy to see why you don’t have enough time to do things that truly matter.

Thankfully, there are things you can do to minimize this. Take control. Use your own time on your own terms. You owe it to yourself.

Why are these important? For too long, we have been surrounded by a vibe of toxicity that everyone is overworked and counterproductive. Being busy is not the same as being productive.

We need to make sure our calendar works for us for purposeful work. And with purposeful work, we produce the kind of results that we want, at a pace that works for us, and be happier as a result.

So, here’s a summary on how you can hack your schedule to be a better intrapreneur:

  • Schedule everything
  • Deep work is king
  • Know your work
  • Hack your schedule
  • Eliminate distractions

Do them, and watch your productivity and happiness improve.

Now, let me just send this link to my overworked colleague. Hopefully, he gets to read this after all the work he has to do post-dinner.

Liked what you have read? Leave a comment, and join my personal mailing list at RazlanWrites.

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Razlan Manjaji

Razlan Manjaji

249 Followers

He reads to be informed, and he informs to be read. Head of Global Events for the South China Morning Post.