10am, 1pm, 4pm, no excuses

Being constantly ‘on call’ at work by email, phone, at my desk and the newly installed enterprise-wide ‘chat’ program (aargh!) means that my ‘to do’ list grows faster than I can tick things off. The only way to clean the slate is to catch up out of hours, during which no one can add anything to the list. That is, unless they’re in our Melbourne, Sydney, San Francisco or New York offices. However, many of these colleagues have recently been fired so this is less a problem these days (more about this in a future post).

Not only am I chasing an ever-growing ‘snake’ of tasks and meetings, because most tasks or meetings are small, much of my day is spent recovering from the last interruption and steeling myself for the next ‘to do’. So while the quantity of time for my projects is reducing, the quality of time is also plunging.

I am pretty good at multi-tasking (or rapid switching, which is probably a more accurate term). But recently, I reached my limit. I had two days in a row where I struggled to work out what to put on my time sheet. I was busy all day but was I productive? Could I justify charging this time to a client? Could the budgets on my projects handle days like this?

A very timely article appeared on Lifehacker: Simple Guidelines for Workday Quality over Quantity. These are the rules.

QUALITY vs quantity, UX process.
Check email ONLY:

  • 10AM
  • 1PM
  • 4PM

Send any time
Set email to check every 3 hours.
NO email on evenings.
NO email on weekends.
EMERGENCY? = Use phone.

FOCUS 1-3 Activities max/day
LOG 1-3 Succinct status bullets every day on team wiki

MAXIMIZE single-tasking

OUT by 5:30PM
~No excuses~

I bookmarked this on Delicious on February 28 and tried to implement it when I went to work on Monday.

I wasn’t successful straight away. First, I got rid of the pop-up that told me I had new email. Even this small step was helpful, despite me still checking my mail twice an hour. Then there was an unfortunate (but necessary?) evening where I worked until 8:30 PM. But as the week went on, I checked my email less and less often.

By Friday, I no longer had Microsoft Outlook open at all. I followed the 10 AM, 1 PM and 4 PM rule (interestingly, every time I checked my mail, I spent at least half an hour responding to the accumulated messages — but I was thankful for the uninterrupted three hours of productive work that had just passed). I finished one task on Friday. And at 5:30 PM, I dropped it all and went to the pub.

It was a rather extraordinary day. I was so thrilled by it that I’ve been telling everyone about the rules. My colleagues are envious. They immediately recognise the wisdom of the rules but are doubtful they can apply them.

Maybe if I can show them these rules are achievable (at least on some days) at our workplace, more people will adopt them.


  1. vera says:

    One of my archi friends has regularly worked 8AM till 12AM (yes, that’s right, AM) for a few weeks in these past two months. Then one Friday, the pattern was finally broken… she stayed till 4AM.

    Bet she wishes she was out by 5:30PM, no excuses!

  2. joanium says:

    Wow, that sounds hard core. In fact, many designers I know (graphics, architects, urban designers) have a similar work ethic. I would get burnt out within a few days.

    Do you know why your friend has to work these kind of hours?

  3. vera says:

    They had some tendering deadline or something, I think. Something to do with trying to squeeze something in the budget into some time frame for cost-savings reason… or something (I can’t really remember).

    It’s just nuts, ’cause the firm has laid off about 20 people in the last two months from other projects, but then the people on this project had to work so late.

    Not saying that I’d ever want to stay back at work that late, but I think I do have a tendency to work with that kind of pattern as well, pushing many late nights towards a deadline. It doesn’t bother me much as long as there’s recovery time afterwards!

  4. joanium says:

    We have late nights sometimes. I work better in the morning so there have been three times in the past year that I’ve gotten up at 4am to meet a deadline. But I’d hate for that to be expected or the norm. Wherever I’ve worked, people are horrified to hear that someone has had to work very late.

    It’s different when you don’t have a family to go home to. Maybe it’s the young people and the single people who can get away with such insanity.

  5. vera says:

    Even before all this madness, another friend of mine at the same firm was regularly working 60 hour weeks. He was laid off in the end (some 8 people on the project were). At least they got paid overtime – another firm I know pays award wage with no overtime (but expects people to stay back). Pretty poor.

    I’m definitely not a morning person. I would love it if I could one day work officially work 10-6 instead of 9-5. I really struggle at 9 in the morning…

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