For years I’ve preached the mantra “Grade A tasks go in Grade A time.”
The gist is simple: the tasks that require the most focus and brain power should go in the times of day when you have the most focus and brain power. If you know that you have the most focus after the kids leave for school but before lunch, you shouldn’t run to the store or do the breakfast dishes during that time. Save more mundane tasks (like paying bills) for when you don’t need to be firing on all cylinders, or when you can handle some distractions.
Putting Grade A tasks in Grade A time was great….until the kids stopped going to school.
As a working parent, I saw my own grade A time all but disappear. Even with older children, my distraction-free time was no longer “after the kids left for school.” It seemed someone always needed me, (or let’s face it, didn’t want to be alone in their bedrooms all day on Zoom – who can blame them!) Add in a pandemic puppy … a spouse with work changes too, and it just wasn’t working.
I had to rethink what my grade A time was. I had to retrain my brain (and my family) to honor that Grade A time. And sometimes I had to manufacture it.
Rethinking Grade A Time
I’ve always been a morning person and my grade A time was the example above, between school drop off and my own lunch break, that was when I got my best work done. But I found that with our new distance learning schedule, there seemed to be more demands on my attention in the morning.
So, this self proclaimed morning person, became an afternoon warrior. After lunch now seemed to be a time everyone was more settled and I could dive into work. I had to change the story I told myself about only getting my best work done in the morning.
I also had to change another ‘rule’ I had for myself about working on the weekends. When I had a full 30 hours of school time a week, putting away work on the weekends was a useful boundary. But now I give myself permission to take Wednesdays “off,” This gives me a day during the week to focus just on the kids schooling, the house admin stuff, and other “weekend” things, and then I put in 5 blissful Grade A hours on the weekend while everyone else gets their screen time allotment and doesn’t even notice I’m gone (note: my kids don’t get 5 hours of screen time….my husband takes them out after he has read the paper and they’ve played ample Fortnite.)
I started wearing noise cancelling headphones, the big over the ear ones… in bright teal. Not only do they actually block out the noise of the washing machine or the neighbor’s leaf blower, but they act as a signal to my family that I’m in focus time and not to be bothered. It works … for the most part 😉
Finding Flow with A/B Weeks & Airbnbs
In addition to giving up my morning focus time, I found my time was really broken up and it was hard to get the focus I needed.
Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi coined the term finding flow to describe the mental state when you are fully immersed in a project and able to lose track of time because of your deep focus. This flow state is considered to be intrinsically rewarding and how much time we spend in flow may be a key to how much we enjoy life. (And also to how much we get done.)
But in the last 11 months, finding flow has been pretty hard to come by. Enter A/B weeks.
I was talking with a business friend early in January and she mentioned that she structures her schedule into A and B weeks. In A weeks she focuses on content creation and project work, using deep pockets of Grade A time where she can find flow. Then, she puts all her client calls, podcast interviews, etc., into the B weeks, therefore managing her to-do list expectations of those weeks.
I sighed audibly, thinking how wonderful that sounded—and thinking there is no way I could convert my schedule full of client and team calls on top of constant distant learning needs to an A/B week model.
I mentioned this pipe dream to another friend, and she reminded me it was the same amount of to dos, just arranged differently on my calendar. Skeptical, I went to my calendar and started labeling A and B weeks. Surprisingly, I found I could draft out A/B weeks. I shifted team meetings and adjusted my scheduler. I couldn’t completely clear my calendar of calls and meetings, but I could definitely start to craft weeks that were more focused on talking to people and others that were more focused on creating, visioning and finding flow.
Last week, we had our Momentum Accelerator retreat. I was highly focused on time with clients. This week is an A week, and here I am writing a blog, my To Do list focused on content creation.
As I said, last week was the Momentum Accelerator retreat. Our retreats have been virtual since last year, and while I think they have been awesome, there is a big piece missing for me as the leader—the down time I have being in a hotel by myself after each retreat day. That time gives me space to process, prep, and rest from the deep work everyone is doing. A virtual retreat meant I was going home and doing home stuff (kid care, dog walks, meal prep) in between leading the two days of the retreat. So this past week, I checked myself into an Airbnb for the two nights, and it was EXACTLY the kind of flow time I needed to be fully present for the retreat. I think I’ll be booking another one to just work on my own business in the near future!
Whether it’s when your grade A time is or how you structure your weekly schedule, it’s easy to get stuck on what was working (or in feeling like things aren’t working but there’s nothing to do about it). How can you rethink that? If my description of A/B weeks sounds like just what you need, but your first thought is, “That won’t work for me,” look at your planner, see if you could shift things around. If A/B weeks really don’t work, can you schedule some A/B days? (Those Grade A time Saturdays when my husband takes the kids, I usually use them for A Week work. Do you have a day you could do that, even if it makes shifting something else in your schedule?)
Where in your life and business can you rethink your Grade A time? What can you do to retrain yourself and those around you to honor your new Grade A time and where do you need to manufacture it with noise canceling headphones, a ‘do not disturb sign’ or a night in an Airbnb?
Grade A time and finding flow are still the keys to a successful business and an overall happy life, we just might need to rethink what it means for us right now.