NZS, Episode 0009: Design Your Workweek

Hi everyone and welcome to episode number nine of the Nate Zeisler show, I’m so happy to have you here. Before we dive in, I want to take a moment to strongly encourage you to get started with your podcast using buzzsprout today. A pandemic is the perfect time to dive into creating your own content and there is no time like the present to get started. Now, on to our question:  

Lizzy: Hey Nate, it’s Lizzy. Question for you: How have you found you’ve needed to design your workday or week, based on your understanding of how you work, and, how has that changed since being home? Excited for the podcast and looking forward to hearing your response. Thanks!

Nate: Thanks so much for the note Lizzy and great question. Let me first just say that my understanding of how I work has evolved over the past fifteen years or so. When I was in my mid-twenties, my workflow was way different in that I had absolutely no idea how to plan for a workweek. I barely held a calendar and just kind of went with the flow. I always got my work done but there was never a rhyme or reason behind how I pursued my work. For the creative dreamer that I was (and continue to be) this type of flow suited me perfectly. I also had the luxury of only having to be held accountable for myself, which allowed me to focus completely on my most important projects but kept me from needing to be hyper-organized. Simply put, I just had more time in the day to get things done. 

Fast forward to today and I have to be hyper-focused on planning my workweek. I constantly work to find balance between three overarching priorities: Spending time with my family, pursuing my creative work and making sure I’m tackling my biggest projects on the job. If one of those things are out of balance, it throws everything off. 

Time has always been a more important currency for me than money, and I can’t achieve balance without having a good work week design that prioritizes efficiency in my work. Understanding how I will spend my team each day and week allows me to be more present for my children and wife, do my best at work, and feed a deep desire to create. With that in mind, I have a few suggestions that have helped me along the way:

  1. The first thing I’d like you to do is understand the big picture times when you found flow. Think about the last time you were completely immersed in a project? When was that time and why did you feel so settled in? For example, I know that I need at least two hours blocked off in order to do my best work, so I regularly set aside these blocks of time to get my most important work done. 
  2. Block off time when you do your best work. When you identify that time that was particularly meaningful in terms of your work flow, expand out and see if there’s a pattern in the time when you work best. For me, my most creative times happen to be early in the morning believe it or not , so I make sure to block off 2-hours of time between 5am-7am every weekday. I know a lot of people who work well between the hours of 11pm-1am. Regardless of the time of day you choose, I think you will be amazed by how much you can get done without any disruptions! 
  3. Finally, the most important thing you can do when designing your workweek is develop something that works for you. To this day, I tend to be a little loose with my schedule so I can go with the flow on projects. I know for a fact that I drive the people who have every single minute of their day scheduled crazy with this mindset. Both ways work, you just have to figure out what works for you. Come up with a plan for the week, try it out and adjust as necessary. 

As for what I’m specifically upto in regards to a wokrweek during this pandemic, I’ve been trying to apply the same rules that I just listed above but for a completely virtual environment. I have gained an hour and a half back each day without a commute and have tried to limit the amount of screen time where I can as I find zoom calls completely draining. The most important thing the pandemic has helped me think about when it comes to workplace design is that we are on this planet for such a short amount of time, it’s important to identify what we value most as we take on work. With that in mind, here are five quick tips I have been focusing on during the pandemic: 

  1. Adopt Pareto’s Principle: Also called the 80-20 rule, Pareto’s principle is the thought that with every action, 20% of our efforts result in 80% of the output of our work. Conversely, the remaining 20% of our output necessitates 80% of our time. When it comes to designing my workweek, one of the first things I consider is Pareto’s principal, especially when it comes to lower level tasks like email. Emails are meant to be short memos, not full on reports. Spend 20% of your time to get 80% efficiency on those emails. Get to the point quickly, hit send and move on. 
  2. Schedule your personal time and make it sacred. Just like we talked about setting blocks of time for important work, make sure you are making a conscious decision to carve out time for yourself each day to think, read, meditate, create and plan your future. My suggestion is to block out times in your calendar for personal reflection and work. It’s so important to find balance as an artist and creator. Shoot for at least two hours a day. If you can manage it, try to block out a larger amount of time (4-6 hours) at least once a week to tackle big personal projects.
  3. Exercise. It is so important to take the time to exercise several times a week, especially during a pandemic. Schedule the time and hold yourself to it. You will feel so much better in the long run and have more energy to do the things you love to do. I’ve found that incorporating my exercise into my morning routine to be incredibly effective and I encourage you to do the same.
  4. Be there for your friends and family. I find that I get the most stressed out when I don’t allow enough space to be with my family. As a rule, I try to keep 4pm-8pm free during the week and my weekends as open as possible so I can spend time with my wife and kids. I know that the workweek can be intense so make certain you consider your family as you plan your week. Consistency is the key so try to find an ongoing time for family and get it on the calendar before you commit to any work. 
  5. Serve others. One of the best ways I’ve found to counter-balance work, especially during a pandemic, is to put myself out there in service to others. I would recommend that you identify an organization or a group of artists to work with and give them the gift of your time to help make a difference in the world. 

Lizzy, thanks so much for the question and to those of you listening, I’d love to be able to answer one of your questions on a future podcast. Please send me an email with a recorded question to Nathaniel@nathanielzeisler.com and I’ll do my best to help. Finally, if you like what you hear on this podcast, I encourage you to join my newsletter, 5 Tips For The Unrelenting Twenty-Something, it’s completely free, easy to digest and specifically created for unrelenting twenty-somethings just like you, sign up below! Thanks for listening. 

Published by Nate Zeisler

Nate Zeisler is the Dean for Community Initiatives at the Colburn School in Los Angeles. He envisions a world where students majoring in the arts have a clear path to a sustainable career, where creative minds are empowered and inspired to rule the workforce, and where access to the arts is not just for the privileged few, but for all.

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