For many years, I have been searching for an ideal day structure as a researcher and an assistant professor in academia. I have read books, followed many people and tested different types of “days”. Do you know what I came out with?
Many ideas, many failures, some successes, and a major understanding: there is no something like an “ideal day” that works for an entire academic year. Or even for the entire semester. I know that even in a “quiet” period, many things can happen, especially as I work in a research team and I am not alone. How many times have I received unexpected phone calls that put some urgency on my already full agenda?
However, my search for the “perfect day structure” has improved my life greatly, because I have understood many things I was doing wrong: not planning in advance, just following urgencies and answering emails for the entire day.
These are toxic actions, that drain out my entire energy and do not help me advance in my career, and even in my day-by-day tasks.
To avoid this, I now start the day spending some minutes planning. Several people do it the nigtht/evening before, but I feel more comfortable in doing this while sipping my coffee first thing in the morning. I use either my paper agendas, either an app: my Passion Planner, my iCal and Notion. Recently I have also used an app called Structured, which is interesting and effective. But also the digital calendar in your laptop is perfect for the function.
With these, I just try to understand the major tasks of the day. I will not micro-manage my time but I just check if I have any calls or meetings (I already know this of course, but a quick recap is always useful); if there are near deadlines that need some work during the day; if I have some appointments both for work, for family or related to my passions.
In my Notion app, I check the specific tasks I have to do that day and the priorities and then… I just start with the first one.
Every day I try to save some time for reading and/or writing. This can be very different in relation to the different periods of the year or if I am in a writing phase for books or for scientific papers. But even outside these specific times, I always try to dedicate a few hours to reading or writing.
Every day I try to select the best time for checking emails. Some days is in the morning first thing, especially if I am waiting for some responses or work from my colleagues or I know that some important email should come. On other days I try to preserve active working sessions and I check emails only after lunch.
These are my compass rules, the ones that I remember to myself every day.
Then yes, I also have an ideal daily schedule, and I try to practice it every time I can. The reality is that very few days are so, but sometimes, when starts align, I am able to have the perfect day ever!
This is my “perfect schedule” while working from home:
6:00 wake up
6:30-7:00 breakfast and planning the day with my paper agenda and my Notion app (while the house is silent)
7:00-8:30 family time that includes waking up my daughter, making her ready and going to school
8:30-9:00 coffee and short reading (this includes blogs or books or news)
9:00-12:30 main work tasks. During the morning I try to do the most important and difficult task of the day.
12:30-13:00 emails check and preparing lunch
14:00-14:30 managing emails contents if necessary with the Notion app
14:30-17:00 work tasks and/or administrative tasks
17:00 end of the working day. It does not happen each day. Sometimes, I work later: until 18:00 or 19:00. Anyway after the end of the day, I try to dedicate all my attention to my daughter, as we are only the two of us during the evening. And sport? Yes, I know, I still have to improve. For now, I try to move my body as much as I can while doing other things. I do not have a more precise workout routine. (Finger crossed for the future)
This is my perfect schedule when I have to go to campus (2h commute):
5:30 wake up
5:30-6:45 breakfast, preparation and quick day check
6:45-9:00 commute. While commuting (a short trip by car then the major part in two trains) I check emails, prepare the work for the day, and read on my kindle usually non-fiction or work-related books and articles.
9:00-17:00 course or team work
17:00-19:00 commute. The evening commute is mainly devoted to reading books and other blogs and preparing content for the blog. Sometimes, if the crowd is not too much, I also use this time for writing.
19:00 end of the working day and family time
As said previously, this is more of a compass than a rule. There is also a big variety on the different days of the week.
I was really impressed by other researchers’ posts on this topic. For example, in his blog, Raul-Pacheco Vega has a very interesting way of scheduling his work.
This year, I would also like to try to create weekday themes, like devoting one day to meetings, another to reading, another to writing, etc. I don’t know if this could be applicable to my type of work.
I would love to hear from you: do you have any “perfect schedule” for your day or do you go more with the flow? Let me know in the comments.