Twice a year, I block off a week on my calendar for "Infrastructure Week".
No meetings, no work for clients, very little email. Instead, I spend the whole week focused on things that will allow me to operate more smoothly and effectively during the other 50 weeks of the year.
As I write this, I'm on Day 3 of my second "Infrastructure Week" this year. (The first one was at the beginning of January.)
I've never been happier to see infrastructure week arrive.
It's been a crazy Spring. Every time I turned around, there was another request for consulting or coaching support — and when you work for yourself, it can be hard to turn those requests down.
I've had the chance to work with some terrific people on some really meaningful projects, but the pace has been pretty relentless. It was only my weekly review process that I fine tuned during January's infrastructure week that kept me sane this year.
But basic sanity and genuine well-being are two different things. And as you no doubt have figured out, my goal (for me and you) is genuine well-being.
So I was positively giddy the last couple weeks as I saw the much needed "Infrastructure Week" approaching on my calendar.
I couldn't wait for the chance to regroup.
Here's what went on my list for this week. I've made some good progress so far. Hopefully I'll make it through most of the items before the week is up...
- Journaling and reflection on the year to date.
- Reviewing data from the time tracking app I use to help me make good decisions going forward.
- Developing and beginning implementation of a new procedure to ensure I've blocked out enough time on my calendar for upcoming projects.
- Updating and fine-tuning my time map.
- Fine-tuning my checklists and procedures for regular tasks such as my weekly review, email, and financial processes.
- Cleaning up my active project files.
- Organizing my frequently used bookmarks into this simple start page so I can easily access them from any browser.
- Ordering a new battery for my dying cell phone. (Should arrive tomorrow from Amazon. Keep your fingers crossed that this keeps me going until Verizon finally comes out with the HTC One smartphone I'm coveting.)
- Various other little technology tweaks (integrating a couple online banking accounts, fixing a glitch in my email list service, etc.).
Why Do an Infrastructure Week?
Think of infrastructure week as a pit stop in the midst of a long, high-speed race.
Nascar drivers don't keep going endlessly without ever stopping. They take strategic breaks to fill up their gas tank, replace the tires, and address problems that are preventing the car from performing well during the race.
It probably doesn't hurt to also have a few moments to catch their breath and reflect on how the race is going and what adjustments they might make to their strategy. I'm guessing here...
The truth is, I know next to nothing about Nascar.
But you get the point, right?
It's not realistic (and certainly isn't a winning strategy) to expect yourself to keep going and going without ever stopping to ensure everything is in good working order — you, your tools, your processes, your strategies.
So I encourage you to think about scheduling your own infrastructure week sometime in the not-too-distant future. Here are some tips for ensuring your success...
8 Tips for Your Own Infrastructure Week
1. Schedule it well in advance.
With a vacation, you wouldn't suddenly disappear for a week without notice and planning, right? Infrastructure week works the same way.
Figure out when you can best afford to take the time away from your regular activities, and then mark your infrastructure week prominently on your calendar. I block mine out several years at a time, for January and June, knowing that these tend to be less crazy times of year for me. (Also, my birthday is in June, so this is a nice gift to myself!)
2. Find the right length & frequency for you.
For me, a full week twice a year feels perfect. It's not too frequent to be disruptive, but it's often enough to be able to learn from recent experiences and make adjustments. And, again like a vacation, I find it takes me a day or so to settle in, so a full week helps me create space to really think strategically and to give myself a good shot at accomplishing meaningful tasks.
You might find that a different pattern works better for you, though. Perhaps a whole week at once isn't feasible given the demands of your job. Or maybe you just can't bear to spend that much time in one stretch focused on this kind of process stuff. If so, try something shorter but more frequent — e.g., two days every few months.
3. Respect the time you've blocked out.
Trust me on this: It will be tempting to give the time away as the date approaches and people and projects start clamoring for a spot on your calendar or to-do list. Don't do it. This is an important investment that will benefit you and the people you work with. Keep reminding yourself (and them, if needed) of this fact.
4. Plan for it in advance.
Don't schedule any firm activities (e.g., a pickup by the bulk shredding company) until you've had a chance to reflect on how best to use your infrastructure week. What you ultimately decide is the smartest use of the time may be different from what you originally expect.
Do a little journaling to figure out your biggest obstacles to optimal productivity and well-being. Or brainstorm a list of possible infrastructure week activities and then prioritize them based on their likely return on investment. Or talk with a coach for help in developing a smart plan for your week.
5. Don't expect to get a lot done. DO expect a big impact.
My list up there is a long one because I already have a lot of good "infrastructure" in place — I've been at this for a while. So I'm mostly fine-tuning and building on foundations I've already laid.
If you're starting from scratch with these kinds of things, though, everything is going to take longer. If you get one or two main things done, you should feel really good.
For example, if your email situation is so bad that you've come close to declaring "email bankruptcy", then just emptying your inbox and developing a realistic system for keeping it under control will be a HUGE accomplishment. Because it will make such a big difference for you going forward.
6. Set expectations with others.
As I alluded to in #3, you might get some pushback on this from the people you work with. To cope with these reactions, try to help them see how your infrastructure week will benefit them as well as you. And then enlist their support for ensuring that your time gets spent as intended.
A big part of making this work is getting clear on your boundaries. How often will you check and respond to email during this time? In what situations will you be available to your colleagues? When should and shouldn't they interrupt you?
As with vacations and other scheduled leaves, communicate in advance to let people know what to expect. And then remind them again when the time comes. Simple things like an email autoresponder or a sign on your door (or by your desk) can relieve you from the need to constantly explain and say "no" to requests.
But practice saying "no" anyway. I can guarantee you it will come in handy.
7. Get away from the office when possible.
If your infrastructure week tasks are reflective in nature, or can be efficiently done on a laptop or mobile device, then for heaven's sake: Get yourself out of your normal routine and setting!
If you can do this, it will of course minimize distractions and the kinds of demands described in #6. But even if your coworkers leave you in complete peace, or if you work in a solitary job with few distractions, it's still a good idea to switch things up. It will help you think in fresh ways about your work and how to optimize your effectiveness.
8. Don't race through it.
As much as it's about tuning up your tools and processes, infrastructure week is also about creating a little recharge time for yourself.
To go back to our Nascar analogy: You're running at 200 mph for most of the year. Infrastructure week is a chance to catch your breath before you head back into the race.
So don't stress yourself out over it. Don't try to get more done than is realistic. Take your time, be smart about doing a few important things, and then pat yourself on the back at the end of the week for having done something strategic that will benefit both you and the people and causes you serve.
Here are the links cited above, plus a couple other resources relevant to the things I've been working on this week. I'm betting some of these might be helpful to you right now, whether or not you're on board with the whole "Infrastructure Week" idea.
- A previous article I wrote on journaling for effectiveness at work
- Tour of Toggl free time tracking app (I upgraded to the paid version)
- Julie Morgenstern on how to take control of your days with a time map
- Lifehacker article on how to do a weekly review
- Start.me free personal startpage and bookmarking tool
- Tips from Digital Trends to keep your mobile device running smoothly
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