I’ve heard from fellow Creative Directors that they don’t feel that they can even ballpark their output on any given day because they never know what their team is going to throw at them. That’s the context for this article, but applied more broadly to anyone who feels like they don’t have autonomy in their day to make things happen.
In order to evolve the workplaces we all contribute to, I’d like to believe we can normalize a radical ownership of one’s work day by blocking it out, for everyone’s benefit.
By this I mean, anyone who has deadlines and things to deliver also needs to be granted the space and respect from management to accomplish these items. Conversely, anyone in management is better off staying plugged in to the work being created, but they can’t if all they do is solve team and business problems (aka, “I’ve got a 5 hour block of meetings”).
We accept that this dynamic is part of working in a group of more than 2 or 3 people, but do we really HAVE to accept this inherent inefficiency?
No, no we don’t. So let’s assume that you agree with the last part, and if so I’ll ask you to go along with my general premise that team needs and manager needs are interchangeable in the context of blocking time.
Much like anything process oriented, there isn’t a one size fits all prescription for time blocking.
Blocking time successfully is wildly different depending on the role of the person blocking the time, the work product being made, and the environment in which the coordination must happen (in that order).
Here are my blocks, with some insights into how I manage them on the daily.
BLOCK 1: The Magic Block
To time block successfully, one must first identify one’s most productive period of the day. For me, this is “Magic”, because I’m expected to routinely conjure up interesting ideas that pair with a market rationale. For an engineer, it’s not really going to look like that at all. Let’s understand that whether it contains a woo woo ingredient or not, this period is all about optimizing productivity. You’re looking for a 3 hour window here. Regardless of work product (and perhaps even industry), if you’re responsible for delivering a thing on a deadline, you owe it to yourself and others to optimize the space in which the creation of that thing happens. If you’re freelance like me, you typically have more available time because there’s less coworker coordination to be done. 8 - 3 = 5, and now you’re left with 5 hours.
BLOCK 2: The Coordination Block
Create 2 blocks of time at different periods for meetings and coordination. How much to give honestly depends on the needs of your working environment. For the sake of our equation, let’s just say 2 hours. 5 - 2 is 3 hours. NOTE: Success in blocking team time is ALL about figuring out a format for meetings that doesn’t require 30 minutes per topic. This is a silly thing we do to ourselves and while I’m not a fan of Basecamp’s project management platform, they really do have it right in saying that Meetings are Toxic
BLOCK 3: The Slightly Less Magical Block
With our remaining 3 hours we can block in some slightly less optimized productivity time. For me, this is where I do editing (on the page or video timeline), research, budgeting, scheduling, lead gen, etc.
BLOCK 0: The Church meets State Block
This is a silly name for a super important thing that I’ve stumbled into lately. You’re reading this because I’ve made time in my day to warm up creatively by writing first thing, with the goal of sharing the product of that effort with anyone who’s interested, and I do this everyday. This isn’t a required block, but I add it to the list because service is a powerful force that can energize everything else you have to do in a day.
In understanding that you may have to fight for your right to be productive (which is patently absurd but it’s what happens), one must accept that the theoretical framework above represents a PERFECTLY IDEAL APPROACH, one that can’t possibly happen everyday.
Our human experience is messy and so are a lot of the places we work. Some grace and flex in the process of organizing things that have to move forward everyday (and hopefully GAIN momentum in the process) is such a nicer way to work together. Said differently, what I’ve offered aren’t rigid guidelines, but instead conceptual frameworks to spur explorations in your place of work.
I’ll leave you with what my framework above looks like on a given calendar day. At the peak of my studio days in a bustling creative workspace, this approach to blocking my day held up under the pressure of having 10 people who needed things from me on an hourly basis. Here’s the schedule from that era:
9 - 10 am
Coordination Block 1:
If you need something from me, get it done in this time frame. Yes we COULD talk about this or that for 30 minutes, but it only takes 5 minutes on average to get in and get out. Scarcity of access is not a bad thing, own it directly and authentically and everyone will be grateful for it. Nobody likes meetings.
10 - 1 pm
I have to be making something, and I’m pretty committed to the idea that I never want to become a full-time delegator. Time Block 1 was usually reserved for making stuff from scratch. Scripts, Briefs, Treatments, etc. This is my most productive and energized time of the day.
1 - 2 pm
Break/Email Check in.
2 - 4 pm
Slightly Less Magical Block:
This is where I try to schedule a block that needs to be productive, but not in a blank page kind of a way. It depends on what I have happening on a given day, but things like scheduling, budgeting, editing (video or words), are all great candidates for this block. If I have to, I will book meetings during this time.
4 - 6 pm
Coordination Block 2:
I try to schedule artist feedback, team meetings, and coordination huddles during this block. I’ve adapted using the afternoon/evenings to nail down the trajectory for the NEXT day vs. team meetings in the morning (which kills my Magic Block’s momentum). This way we all walk in with a sense of what the day holds, and plan for getting it all done because we had a chance to sleep on it.