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From admin Monday to walking meetings; unorthodox ways of structuring your week to be more productive and creative


It's hard to escape the daily treadmill of work-sleep-eat-work. True innovation needs time and space to grow in, but we're about as likely to find that as we are a seat on the Northern line come 8am. 

Yet amazing feats can be achieved just by taking a different approach to your weekly working schedule. 

Here, leading luminaries from the world of technology, design and communication share their tips on how to alternate your work structure to create time for those big, lightbulb-moment ideas of creativity. 

From Silicon Valley star Nilofer Merchant to illustrator Jessica Hische, these entrepreneurs have engineered their own spin on the average working week, carving our hugely successful businesses in the process.

Come read their ideas on shrugging off the corporate grind: 

Create 'admin Mondays'

Sorting your admin saves time for the important things in life

Sort admin to save time for important tasks...

This idea comes from illustrator Jessica Hische, via the design blog Swiss Miss. She suggests reserving one day for all those annoying little admin tasks that are always at the back of your mind and eat hours off your working week. Instead of wasting time trying to constantly juggle them, save them all - from paying bills to inbox clear-outs - to one day of the week.

Any day will do but Mondays tend to work best as you come fresh from the weekend with bags of energy for this thankless drudgery, and it means you can clear the slate of distractions for the rest of the week. 

"Setting aside a whole day to catch up on email, bills, paperwork, etc. means the rest of the week you can feel totally fine putting it off," says Jessica. "If a client writes me on a Tuesday and says that they need me to fill in some paperwork, send an invoice, fill out a questionnaire, etc, I say 'Great, I can take care of this next Monday when I’m doing all of my admin work' - 99% of the time the client is completely fine with it, and I’ve now made sure that Tuesday is spent doing actual billable creative work, not doing unexpected admin nonsense. Any tasks like these that come in during the week get added to my calendar the following Monday so I don’t forget about them, and their request email is archived."

Host regular exploration days

Let the ideas flow

Let the ideas flow

In today's results-driven world, it can be hard to carve out the time to step back and think. Real creativity is not engendered by a constant stream of Things To Do and deadlines and targets can chip away at your ability to see the big picture.

Businesses often counter this effect by holding brainstorming sessions, but research has shown these can be counterproductive. Management psychologist Paul B. Paulus believes  group brainstorm participants perform at about half the level they would if they brainstormed alone, because such meetings stifle creativity; some people get self-conscious, others hijack proceedings and still more tune out. The best ideas come from a blend of individual and collective thinking, so scheduling in time for solo thought could work wonders. 

Architect Michael Pawlyn, the man behind the Eden Project in Cornwall, gives staff at his company "exploration days" to simply go away and think. 

"It helps you to distinguish the things that are important from the things that are merely urgent," he says. 

This concept acknowledges that no-one can be 100% productive all of the time, and that bigger results may be achieved by getting some space and perspective. 

Front-load your day, and your week

Front-load your diary over coffee and toast

Front-load your diary over coffee and toast

This tip comes from life coach Elizabeth Grace Saunders, author of The 3 Secrets to Effective Time Investment: How to Achieve More Success With Less Stress.

She suggests that instead of worrying about how long you'll take to do everything, take time to bring forward your most important projects to earlier in the day, and earlier in the week. 

"For example, something due on Friday should start appearing in your schedule by Tuesday afternoon," she says. "And your amount of planned to-do items should decrease from Monday to Friday with ideally little-to-no new to-do items on Friday.

"Front-loading gives you the ability to stay on top of projects that take longer than expected without getting stressed or working into the wee hours of the night. Since all of your must-do’s are taken care of at least a few days in advance, you can easily move would-like-to-do’s to the next day. Also if a cool opportunity arises, you can make a spontaneous decision to take advantage of it because you don’t constantly have the pressure of racing to meet a deadline."

Productivity blogger Dave Navarro agrees. "Front loading is simply the act of slamming out results in the early part of the schedule, rather than the latter," he says. "In other words, move your 'crunch time' to the very start. By forcing yourself to think in crunch mode right off the bat, you’ll have a much easier time of avoiding distractions, staying focused, and delivering great results."

Hold Friday walk-meetings

Force people to engage with walking meetings

Force your team away from their phones

"Sitting has become the smoking of our generation," argues Nilofer Merchant, a former CEO who lectures on innovation and board governance at Stanford University.

"Simply put: We spend more time sitting (average 9.3 hours a day) than sleeping (7.7 hours) — and it doesn’t even occur to us that this is not OK. So instead of using a standing desk, doing sitting meetings over coffee, or meeting in some fluorescent-lit conference room, I do one-on-one meetings as walks. It resolves the tradeoff between 'taking care of health' and 'getting stuff done.'"

Walking meetings have become a growing trend among start-ups and SMEs. The altered perspective can help spark bigger ideas, and crucially, the walking format forces people to focus, and stops them from becoming distracted by phones or PowerPoint presentations. 

"Often, we’re not talking notes on our devices during meetings. We’re doing e-mail. Or we’re surface skimming for the tweetable line. We’re not engaging. Dividing our attention is like living on a diet of cupcakes: bring us short-term happiness but long-term emptiness," says Nilofer. "Ultimately, it’s the absence of a device that lets me be present and listen with full attention."

Holding a walking meeting every time may not be feasible - especially given the UK's unreliable track record on weather - but at least once a week on a Friday should help shake things up. 

Introduce a four-day working week

Four-day working week = more time to party

Four-day working week = more time to party

In 2008, the US state of Utah introduced a mandatory four-day working week for 18,000 of its state employees. The move was actually introduced as a money-saving measure but one year in, those involved reported a dramatic increase in productivity and well-being, with stats showing a boast to staff morale and a drop in sick days. 

As stress takes its toll on the workforce (anxiety and stress accounted for 11.3 million days of sickness in the UK in 2013-14), the question of how to create a happy team becomes evermore pertinent; and a greater work-life balance is central to this. 

Emily Stoddard Furrow and Gretchen DeVault introduced a 4/7 working week when they set up Michigan-based communications agency DVQ Studio in 2006; and they've never looked back. 

"We wanted to make this a different kind of business, so we decided on the four-day workweek from the get-go,"  says Gretchen. "We've all worked in places where you get burned out easily, so we wanted to make this a place where you enjoy coming to work. We're a small staff, and we're really flexible with things, we embrace it."

Even if your company doesn't have such a policy (and let's face it, most UK businesses would be reluctant to introduce it), you could think about creating your own flexible working week. UK-based community organiser Kathleen Cassidy, 26, chose to trade a higher salary for a 25-hour week

"It's about balance and having a passion," she says. "Also not being on a treadmill, where you just work, eat and sleep. I felt I wanted to produce things rather than consume all the time. I've never been much of a spendthrift, never really spent on holidays, cars or things like that. It simplifies life, having less money."

Photos: Getty Images

What do you think can be done to shake up the average working week, in order to further innovation and creativity? Let us know your thoughts and ideas in the comments section below. 



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