Themed days, Timeboxing and why you should use them.

Have you ever wondered how Elon Musk is running two billion-dollar companies at once? Musk is an interesting example of someone who manages his time so well that he can work 100 hours a week and still manage to take time out for his hobbies, family, and even Twitter! So, how does he do it?

Musk is known for using timeboxing methods to manage his time effectively. He uses timeboxing from the moment he wakes up in the morning where he assigns each time block to a certain task that he needs to accomplish on a given day. This timeboxing method can be used for any tasks ranging from writing emails, scheduling meetings, meditating or anything that you would like to do on a particular day.

Before I began using timeboxing, I learned about another technique called Themed days. I decided to combine both to maximize productivity. Themed days are strategically planned days in your calendar, which are entirely dedicated to one single thing or tasks from the same category. While timeboxing is to allocate a certain amount of time to a task in advance and then complete it within that time frame. The idea behind these two techniques is to eliminate context switching or minimize it.

How to use them? Very simple.

Make a list of 4-5 things you want to focus on this week. For example:

  1. ☎️ Talk to 5 customers
  2. 💻️ Implement features X,Y & Z
  3. 🎨 Redesign landing page
  4. ✍️ Write a blog post about productivity

These are going to be your “themes”. Now open your calendar and assign a day for each one. Let’s say you want to work Monday and Tuesday on coding the missing features. Use Wednesday to interview customers, etc, you got the idea. (Tip: give each theme a color or an emoji 😉️)

Themed days could be super useful if you already have a day job and are trying to make time for your side hustle. Instead of trying to work on it one hour each day after your day job when you already feel exhausted, you dedicate a whole day for your side project.

With the one hour a day approach, the chance you could skip the scheduled hour is higher; with themed days, maintaining self-discipline is much easier.

Timeboxing

To spice things up a little bit, you should use time timeboxing. Once you finished assigning themes and each day has one:

  1. Zoom in on each day
  2. Add sub-tasks for that day’s theme
  3. Add a time estimate to each task, and frame it with a start and end time.

You want to avoid any tasks without a clear deadline, even if the deadline is not accurate. According to Parkinson’s Law, if you have more time to finish a task, the overall time that you will take to finish the task will also expand. This holds true for many people and timeboxing greatly helps in dealing with that as well.

It’s important that as much as possible in Step 3 above, you avoid the mental optimistic bias of underestimating how long the completion of a task would require. When we’re too optimistic about how long a given task is going to take, we fail to completely follow through on what we set out to do.This bias, can be avoided by simply using a feedback loop, where you're constantly thinking about what you've done and how you could be doing it better. At the end of each day or at least once a week, reflect on your progress and review the things you worked on that week and think to yourself how you could improve. 

Timeboxing is amazing if you learn to do it effectively. In simple words, it is a process to merge your to-do list with your calendar. Another benefit of timeboxing is that it reduces the number of choices you’d have to make in any given moment — boosting your willpower for peak productivity.

Productivity as an indie hacker

To maximize your productivity, you must set your priorities straight. For me as a developer, I find myself investing the majority of my time coding, but as an indie hacker who wants to build a profitable business, I must focus on other stuff too; marketing, promoting, writing, and talking to customers. Themed days made me realize that coding could be a procrastination trap.

Applying theme days helped me break out of the dev-hamster-wheel (aka coding) and forced me to do more of what needed to be done. So I decided to structure my themed days to look like this:

Monday: Coding
Tuesday: Coding
Wednesday
: Writing / Learning
Thursday
: Coding 
Friday
: Housekeeping / Reflecting 
Saturday
: Marketing / SEO 
Sunday
: Writing 

As you see, I only code three days a week, so I can focus on other equally or sometimes even more important things.

I also found themed days to be very effective when it comes to dealing with new or unexpected tasks. Depending on the task’s "theme", I know precisely on which day it should be scheduled. It takes me a fraction of the time to add it to my system.

Themed Inbox

I took themed days an extra step and applied it to my Gmail inbox. With a super cool trick using Google Apps Script, I have control over when emails hit my inbox. Instead of checking my email everyday and having dozens of unrelated emails, now emails show up in my inbox on the right day. For example, all unimportant emails are scheduled for Friday (my Housekeeping day), while all marketing & SEO related emails come in on Saturday, and so on. This way I make sure I read the right email at the right time when I’m ready to act on it. So cool, right?

The script automatically label emails

Building a system: find a tool that works for you.

When it comes to productivity in general, it’s important to have an efficient and flexible system that can adapt as your needs change without investing countless hours rebuilding everything from scratch.

Notion has been the core part of my system for the last five months. I’ve been experimenting a lot with different productivity techniques and approaches and it would have been so hard to do that without a super flexible and elegant tool like Notion. It's my second brain and where I store everything, so I’m using it to implement themed days, with Notion build-in templates.

I have a database where I have designed a template for each day and theme. Every morning, after preparing my coffee, I create a new page for that day using the proper template. The new page gets populated with everything I need to be as productive as possible on that day.

For example, on Saturday, which is a marketing/SEO day, I have a page with all the resources and reminders related to that subject.

my Notion templates
Notion template for each day of the week
Saturday template
Saturday's template, focus on marketing & SEO


What I found really nice about this approach is that my templates are not static, and as I keep updating them, they keep evolving and improving.

Next level: Themed weeks

If you really want to level up your game and accelerate your progress even further, you can implement themed weeks.

One of my favourite indie makers, Jon Yongfook, has implemented themed weeks for his workflow. Jon works in a 2 weeks sprint, one week of coding, followed by one week of marking, and then wraps it up by writing a newsletter and changelog. When I asked him if he tried shorter sprints, he said that he did but found shorter sprints lead to too much context switching, and two weeks sprint works very well for him.

You can also use the same concept to devote the whole week to a single project, and really make huge advancements, or to a certain business function, and today, with all the rapid prototyping tools available, you could take a week to build an MVP/prototype and test your idea on the market.

Give it a try and see for yourself.  

The best way to see what themed days can do for your productivity is merely trying it out. Here's your homework:

I promise that afterwards, you will feel a sense of achievement and see the progress that can

be made with this approach. It’s time to make room in your calendar for what matters!