The Week Ahead

Like many folks, I’ve been working entirely from home for over a year now. Remote working brings many benefits, but one challenge has been establishing a daily and weekly routine. When I was going into the office, the commute there and back performed many secret jobs to bookend my day. Sitting on the train in the morning, I could glance at my calendar and task manager and start to think over my day to come. The ride and walk home gave me time to decompress. It provided a barrier between “work” thoughts and “home” thoughts. On weekends I did not take the train to an office in the morning. It’s almost silly to say that, but it sure made it very obvious that this day was different from the previous five.

Now things are different. I wake up at home; I sit down to work at home; I eat lunch at home; I relax in the evening at home. Maybe you can see a trend here.

I have some history working from home, but in the past, it would be for one, maybe two days a week. Looking back, I can see that it was different. By being out of the ordinary, special days, they adopted their own unique patterns. Unlike office days or weekend days, these were the days where I went over to my desk to work in the morning. Often I’d go to a coffee shop to work for a few hours at some point. I’d have fewer meetings on these days because it was easier to get them in when I was in the office. What’s more, these work-from-home days were almost always on Fridays, so their very presence served to highlight the end of the workweek. Now that I’m working from home every day, no day feels unique or different.

I realized that I needed to be more thoughtful and conscientious about my routines and structures.

After muddling around like this for a while, I realized that I needed to be more thoughtful and conscientious about my routines and structures. Designating a physical space as my “work zone” helps, but it’s also important to define time markers.

One marker that’s been working well for me is starting Monday mornings by reviewing The Week Ahead. I set aside dedicated time first thing in the morning for this. I’ll look at my calendar to see what meetings I have coming up this week. I’ll review my list of projects: what I’m working on and the next step for each. Most importantly, I’ll think through—and write down—the themes for this week. What is my shortlist of goals I intend to focus on?

These days I’m juggling several different projects at once. It’s easy for unexpected tasks to jump into my lap over the course of the week. Having goals helps me prioritize my known work. It also helps with evaluating surprises. Does this new request support one of my goals? Does it need to wait for a week when it can be a focus? Or is it legitimately more pressing than an item on my list? In that case, I have to be honest and say that item was on my list at the start of the week, but now it will have to be pushed back.

The Week Ahead happens on Mondays, but I’ll also do a mini Day Ahead every morning. What’s on the calendar today? What are my next tasks? How are they supporting my goals? Repeating this every day helps keep it quick—I can often accomplish this casually in a minute or two.

The Week Ahead is just a single tool in an arsenal I’ve been working on. But it’s been a meaningful and successful way to help bring structure to my work week.

Next time I’ll talk about the compliment: closing out the week.