Running your own firm? Looking for ways to maximize your own productivity, or the work efficiency of your team?
You need to consider both your surroundings and your schedule if you want to get more from your working hours.
That means evaluating the best office setup for your business to determine what kind of workspace is best for you (and your team, if you have one). It also means carefully considering your work schedules for productivity — and not necessarily working traditional business days and hours.
If you want to know what the best space and schedule is for you and your firm, here’s the answer:
Whatever setup is right for you.
You might be looking for more direction, and we can get into how to determine what’s “right” in a moment — but it’s so important that we start with this concept. We’re all so conditioned to work in a certain way, a certain style, at certain times from really early ages.
So we continue working that way — even when we have the choice not to — because it’s that ingrained in us.
Start by Breaking (Or At Least Questioning) Your Existing Workspace and Hours
Think about it: from the time you were 4 or 5 years old you’ve probably been spent the majority of your “working” years on a Monday through Friday schedule, starting at roughly 8am and stopping around 5pm.
It starts when you’re in grade school and continues on through college and into your career, especially if you always worked as a white-collar professional.
I’m sure there were exceptions for you. For me, it was the waitressing job I kept in high school then the retail job at a bookstore in college — for both, I worked weekends and evening hours, but even with that, my schedule revolved around school first… and that was always weekdays, starting at 8am and finishing at some point in the afternoon.
And yes, there are some occupations and jobs that are really far removed from this.
My dad worked as a firefighter for 30 years, and his schedule was 24 hours on, 48 hours off — meaning, his shift at the fire station lasted from 7am to 7am the next day, and then he’d have 2 days off.
That was the schedule no matter what. 24 on, 48 off, through weekends, birthdays, and holidays. To this day there’s an association in my brain with Christmas and the very distinctive smell of fire stations; a mix of stale smoke, rubber, and some sort of chemical.
But as a financial planner, I’m going to say it’s safe to assume you haven’t spent many years working as a firefighter and the bulk of your working career (including school) was spent on the typical Monday-Friday 8-to-5 schedule.
If that’s the case, you first need to challenge that bit of cultural conditioning before you can find the workspace setup and schedule that’s actually ideal for you.
Because that’s what’s going on here: cultural conditioning.
The only reason offices tend to operate that way is because it’s the way they’ve always operated. You’re likely in the same groove, and working on your current schedule because that’s the way you’ve always worked.
That might be the best setup for you, or it may be holding you back from maximum productivity. Here are the questions to consider if you want to determine whether or not you’re cultivating the best space and schedule for you:
- What times of day do you feel most energized?
- When are you most often seeking a nap or feeling low?
- Where were you when your last great ideas came to you? What does that space have in common with other spaces in which you feel focused and creative?
Work According to Your Energy and Natural Rhythms
The reason these questions are important to consider is that we all have natural ebbs and flows to our energy levels and our ability to focus and be productive. Our energy changes throughout the day and throughout the week.
I know for me, I never have two super high productivity days in a row. I usually start strong on a Monday, so can schedule in a LOT of tasks or a single huge project and tackle it with a ton of energy that day.
Because Mondays are high-energy, high-productivity, high-creativity days for me, I refuse to schedule meetings or plan to run errands on those days — I need to be at my desk and working.
But I find I’m just about useless for work that requires a lot of energy and creative work on Tuesdays. I try to schedule administrative tasks and all my meetings on Tuesdays for that reason.
Wednesdays tend to be good for tedious tasks that don’t require as much creativity, but do require focus and willpower to stick with them until they’re done. By Thursday and Friday, my creative energy is back up and I can tackle big, complex tasks and projects again.
Time of day also matters. I don’t do email in the morning because it’s a waste of my best energy for the day. Daniel Pink explains this in his book, When: The Scientific Secrets of Perfect Timing. In general, most of us have a few hours of peak productivity in the morning, and that’s also when we can do our best thinking and therefore our best work.
We hit a slump after that — which means it’s a good time to give your brain a break and step away from work for a bit to give yourself a chance to recover and reset before coming back to your tasks and to-do list.
Some of us, though, are the opposite: we can barely function in the morning. Our slump hits first, we recover, and then we’re able to work well. In other words, we’re night owls.
If that’s you, don’t force yourself to start working first thing in the morning.
Tune in to when you feel most energized, most aware, and most creative. Then plan your work days and weeks around that energy.
And if you have a team? Encourage your employees to do the same, and consider how you can set up flexible work schedules for everyone.
If you force a night owl to show up to the office at 8am every single day, you’re not going to get the best work out of that person. Different people need different surroundings and schedules depending on what helps them focus and produce high-quality results.
Work Schedules for Productivity: Here’s How I Structure My Day
When I learned about all this, I realized I needed to shift the way I worked if I wanted to produce higher-quality deliverables and increase my productivity. Here’s the schedule I just set up for myself that’s been working really well so far:
- 5am – 6am: I wake up sometime between 5am and 6am (usually dependent on what time I got to bed the night before; I know I need 8 hours of sleep!). I throw on my workout clothes right away so it makes getting to the gym later less of a decision. I’m already dressed for it, so no reason not to go.
- 6am – 6:30am: I straighten up, pick up clutter that didn’t get put away the day before, and do a little bit of cleaning. I’ll sweep or wipe down counters. This is a bit of a ritual for me; I know I like to work in a clean space so this is one way of signaling to my brain, “we’re getting ready to get into work mode.” Plus, it gives me time to actually wake up and feel alert (which is not something that happens immediately for me).
- 6:30am – 9am: I make my coffee and then start on my most important, biggest tasks for the day that require the most creative energy and thought. I’m not good at “swallowing the frog,” or getting the most unpleasant task out of the way first, but I am good at knocking out the complex stuff right away.
- 9am – 10am: I head to the gym or go for a run.
- 10am – 11am: Breakfast and a shower after my workout.
- 12pm – 5pm or so: The rest of the day is dedicated to the tasks on my to-do lists, dealing with things like email, and calls and meetings.
This is just an example of how you could structure your workdays around what you need. This particular schedule might completely derail your productivity, but hopefully it gets you thinking of what does work for you.
A Few Options for Ideal Workspaces
Work schedules for productivity are important to have — but the space in which you do that work matters just as much. That’s especially true if you have a team working at your firm or you meet most of your clients in person (rather than over the phone or through virtual/video calls).
The traditional solution, of course, is office space that you own or rent. But for most smaller firms, this is problematic for one big reason: that’s incredibly expensive.
Even if you have a small team, and office costs a lot to keep (because it’s not just the space: it’s the supplies, the hardware like printers, the utilities, and so on).
The best alternative that I’ve found for financial planners who need office space but don’t want to incur the expense of renting their own: coworking space.
If you’re in a city, you likely have tons of options. Here in Boston, we have coworking spaces that range from being small cozy spaces that offer members dinner each night (Hall Boston) to my old coworking spot in a building where we had access to 10 floors, countless conference rooms and spaces in which to make private phone calls, and fully-stocked kitchens (the CIC and ImpactHub).
There are also “chains” like WeWork that have multiple locations throughout the city. If you’re interested in some sort of coworking or shared office space, make time to check out all the options in your area as each likely has a different vibe.
In Boston, WeWork is notoriously “bro-y,” meaning it’s full of free-flowing beer from office kegs 20-something men (loudly) working on their startup idea.
Meanwhile, places like Industrious offer a far more sophisticated, grown-up, sleek and modern feel that’s probably more appropriate for financial planning firms — while still being more cost-effective than renting out your own office.
Do a quick Google search for “coworking space in [your area]” or “shared office space” and see what comes up. Most offer tours or trial passes so you can test out the space.
Of course, you can forego office space entirely if working from home is a desirable option for you. While I used the coworking membership at the CIC here in Boston for almost 2 years, I just recently dropped it in favor of working at home again.
I think a home office can be conducive to productivity and your best work — but for me, it takes a little planning to make it that way. Here’s what I’ve learned from years of working out of my home:
- Have a dedicated space. This is important not just for the IRS and your home office tax deduction, but for your own sanity and productivity. Because there’s no physical separation from your home and office, you need to create that for yourself through dedicated spaces. If I’m at home, I work from my desk — not from the couch, or the bed, or anywhere else. I also have a spot where my computer goes when I’m done with work (which is powered off, on a shelf that’s pretty much out of sight).
- Create a routine and practice rituals throughout your day. I already talked about my routine — so what about rituals? These are little things you can practice as a way to send signals to yourself. My morning ritual is to make coffee in my French Press then carry that over to my desk and start working; it’s a signal that says “it’s time to do some serious stuff.” My powering-off ritual is taking my computer, shutting it off (not just closing it), and putting it on that out-of-sight shelf. This signals “work is done for the day.”
- Plan people time. Even if you’re an introvert, you will go insane if you sit in your house, alone, for your entire workweek. Plan lunches or coffee dates not just with professional connections but with friends, too. Go for a walk with a neighbor. Find ways to interact with people more when you run errands, go to the gym, or ship a package.
- Make your home office somewhere you enjoy being. Because you’re gonna see a lot of it. I think it’s worth investing in furniture, storage and organizers, and even decor that helps you focus, stay motivated, or find inspiration.
To Find the Right Combo of Workspace and Schedule That Works for You, Experiment
To take us back to where we started, the best work setup for you is one that fits your needs, habits, preferences, and overall work style.
There is no one right answer. It’s more about the right process to find your own answer — and that starts with questioning what you do today.
You might find that you’re already operating in a way that best suits you. But if you realize you could make some tweaks to change up your working hours or your office, go for it.
It might take some time to figure out the best setup for you, and a great way to make a final determination on the ideal solution is to test out different things.
Experiment with your schedule and take notes on what worked well and what you didn’t like at all. That will help you make a mindful decision about when and where you should be working to maximize your productivity and the quality of your outputs.
It’s a wonderful thing to run your own business and therefore be the one in control of your own space and time. Take advantage of that freedom and flexibility to create what you want.