Theme days

Ashutosh Priyadarshy author headshot

Ashutosh Priyadarshy, CEO @ Sunsama
January 28, 2021

My work week is broken down into "theme days" where each day of the week has a specific focus. If you manage multiple work streams, it's a good way to work with deep focus.

Here's how I break down my work week:

Monday - "Shallow work and work chores"

I tackle small things that need to get done but don't require concentration or creative effort. This would be things like paying invoices, writing small product updates, integrating some new SaaS tool, etc.

Monday's job is to concentrate the less fulfilling but necessary parts of work so that other days can be deeply fulfilling. I find it easier to stay motivated and power through less enjoyable work on Monday because I know it's protecting my focus and attention for my deeper work days.

Having a set day for this makes it easy to triage this kind of work. When I get a miscellaneous request in an email on Thursday, I just add that email to my list of things to do Monday. When you have a place for the loose ends, you are less likely to feel overwhelmed during focused days.

I specifically chose Monday for this type of work since it tends to be the day emails and notifications pile up anyway. One such day a week is plenty for me. Depending on your work, you may need more.

Tuesday - "Customers"

Tuesday is the day I focus on customers. I answer support chats, read, respond and analyze customer surveys, get on six calls with customers and then make small product improvements based on things I learned that day.

Theme days don't need to be based solely on the type of work (e.g. coding, meetings). A conceptual focus like "customers" works well because your conscious and subconscious thoughts are focused on one domain. I think of it as seeding the "top idea in my mind", to use Paul Graham's terminology. There's a mental alchemy that happens when you are immersed in a single topic that would be hard to achieve if I had to handle talking to customers on the same day as the one on ones with my direct reports.

Wednesday and Thursday - "Deep work projects"

I reserve Wednesday and Thursday for "Deep work projects." This is usually just one thing that I'm building that will take a significant amount of time, focus and attention like writing and product engineering.

Theme days also break up the monotony of work. When I wake up on Wednesday morning, I often feel like it's the weekend. On Monday and Tuesday I do a lot of things that "feel like work" so that delving into my craft on Wednesday and Thursday feels like "playtime". Knowing I just have these two days to code, write, and design makes me work with an urgency that's otherwise hard to cultivate.

The excitement of having heads down time to code, write or design feels precious.

Friday and Sunday - "Review, reflect and plan"

On my last workdays of the week, I review our progress from the past week and plan ahead. Typically this means looking over analytics, a weekly check-in with my cofounder, writing a weekly update, and doing one on ones (async) with my direct reports.

Similar to Tuesday, the focus here is around a single question: "How did we do this week, and what do we need to do next week to hit our goals?".

Carving out time and attention to answer this question tends to yield better results than trying to squeeze it in with other work. It's also more fulfilling to feel that you were truly devoted to reading and understanding what was said in a one on one instead of just "getting through it".

Theme days are an effective way to multitask without overloading your mind

Implement Theme Days

It's easy to read a writeup like this, think it's a good idea and then never put it into action. If you want to get started, open up your calendar, pick one day on your calendar next week and assign it a theme. If you like it, add another theme day. There's no requirement that each day of the week has a different theme. A few of my colleagues just have one theme day and use the other four days for heads down product development.

What if I don't have the flexibility in my schedule to control my theme days?

If you can't control your entire week, see if there's one or two days where you are in charge of 75% of the time. Perhaps there's a day with one or two morning meetings out of your control, once you finish those, treat yourself to a long lunch and treat the afternoon like a brand new work day. And if you can't carve out a big chunk of a day, find a few mornings or afternoons.

I need to do __ everyday, I can't wait till another day to those tasks.

I'm always surprised at how much of the work I think I need to do now doesn't really need to be done now. Ultimately, you must decide this for yourself but chances you can dial back how responsive you are to certain things and still do good work. That being said, even on my theme days, I still set aside an hour or so in the mornings to do my usual work "chores" like responding to emails and doing quick code reviews. It's hard to find a balance but it's worth trying.