Maybe we should segment the workday more

Here’s a new article in Harvard Business Review. It makes many of the same points that others in the workday-optimization space have made, but this nugget is interesting:

People and organizations looking for brave new ideas or significant critical thinking need to recognize that disconnection is therefore sometimes preferable to connection. You don’t ask a jogger who just ran six miles to compete in a sprint, so why would you ask an executive who’s been answering a pinging phone all morning to deliver top-drawer content at his next meeting?

There are probably about a million theories out there on how best to optimize your workday — I’ve written about it here on this blog, and I’ve written e-books for others about it as well — and each one needs to be taken with several grains of salt, simply because each workday is so contextually different based on rank, industry, office location, proximity to manager, etc.

But think about this idea above — you don’t ask a marathoner who just did 20 miles for training to then run another 20, for example — and maybe what we should focus on is segmenting the workday. I have no idea if this would work, but it might. For example:

  • People get in by 9:30am.
  • 9:30am-10:15am: This is designed as a period for e-mails — writing new ones, catching up on old ones. Like everything on this list, it’s supposed to be company-wide.
  • 10:30am-12:30pm: This is designed as a period for meetings and check-ins.
  • 12:30pm-1:30pm: This is designed as a period for lunch and detox’ing from the morning.
  • 1:45pm – 3:45pm: This is designed as a period for real work, in teams and individually. No digital breaks and no meetings.
  • 3:45pm-4:00pm: Digital break / refresh break (take a walk, etc.)
  • 4:00pm – Close: This is designed as a period for real work, in teams and individually. No digital breaks and no meetings.

Now of course, this would be challenging to make work — because oftentimes, even if you work for Company A, you’re frequently interacting with Company B (clients/customers), and if Company B isn’t on this schedule, well, you need to bend to make sure you’re handling their needs. But as an internal focus, it could kind of work. There’s this whole notion of “the corporate athlete,” right? Consider this, then: athletes train in specific ways — they do back exercises in one batch, or they take 20-foot jumpers in a row, or whatever. They don’t often try to go from sprints to lifting to shooting to skating to full pads (varies by sport) all at once. So perhaps that’s how we should be thinking about working too.

I’ve talked before about only checking your e-mail 8-10 times in a five-day period (i.e. a work week); that’s complete blasphemy to some, but in reality, how much that’s on e-mail couldn’t really wait? If it was urgent, someone would be calling you.

TL:DR for this? It’s hard to create any universalized approach for something that can consist of 500+ individuals — i.e. an office — but thinking about the workday as different segments to maximize performance could be interesting.


Ted Bauer