Focus Day feedback form for staff

The DoLS Culture Committee would love to get feedback from staff on the Focus Day pilot programme. 

Fill in this short feedback form to share your thoughts with us.

Focus Day is an initiative to provide ring-fenced protected time for members of our department - an opportunity to focus on important, non-urgent tasks. We appreciate that it cannot work for everyone all the time, but we hope it supports our community to carve out time for deeper thinking. 

Further information for staff

What is it?

Focus Day is an attempt to mitigate the challenge posed by fragmentation of time. It’s one day per week where members of the Department of Life Sciences synchronise a day of protected time in our calendars where we actively encourage everyone to focus on their own job roles as far as possible.

Our hope is that Focus Day will help build a culture where people’s time is respected and protected.

To help with this, you can import an ICS calendar file into your calendar that will block off Fridays as 'busy'.

How does it work?

On Focus Day, we encourage staff in all job families to reduce, or even eliminate, activities including meetings and email. We hope that this will free up a block of time in which you are undisturbed and can focus on tasks that are time consuming and important, but not necessarily urgent.

In practice, this means:

  • Scheduling meetings in advance to work around Focus Day.
  • Planning your week to ensure deadlines that fall on Focus Day are met in advance.
  • Taking the opportunity to turn off email, and if you cannot avoid sending an email to a DoLS colleague on Focus Day, be patient and do not expect to receive an immediate response.

What are the exceptions?

Focus Day will not work for every person in every week, and we do not expect it to. There will be weeks where your job role means you have other activities that take priority.

Obvious exceptions are for scheduled teaching and tutorials: Focus Day is not an opportunity to avoid these duties.

We encourage you to use common sense to define what type of activities might take priority in your particular job role, and to discuss it with your Line Manager where necessary.

Who is it for?

Everyone who wants it! We’ve consulted staff in most job roles in the department and most people have identified ways in which Focus Day could benefit them. But it is not a mandate: if this style of working is not right for you, then you are not expected or required to implement it, but please respect those who do.

When is it?

Every Friday. 

The central role of collegiality

Focus day needs to be a two-way interaction: it recognises that you need protected time, but that it is also necessary to recognise that your colleagues need the same. Focus Day is for all job families, so academics should be mindful of intruding on support staff Focus time.

Frequently asked questions

How can I reasonably not check my emails for a day?

We recommend you set an autoreply on Focus Day using this out-of-office message as a starting point:

I am following Imperial College London’s Department of Life Sciences guidelines around Focus Day on Fridays, in which department members are encouraged to switch off email and focus on important-non-urgent tasks. I will respond to your email in due course on the next working day.

For staff who need to be contactable in the case of emergencies, we recommend adding additional contact details such as a phone number to the end of this message.

How can I negotiate meeting requests made for Focus Days?

If you’re approached and asked to arrange meetings for “Friday focus day”, then try this response:

Imperial College London’s Department of Life Sciences guidelines on Focus Day actively encourage staff to refrain from scheduling non-urgent meetings on Fridays, empowering us to deal with important tasks that require large blocks of continuous time. If possible, let’s reschedule for another time.

What if I need to contact a colleague on Focus Day?

Focus Day does not mean ‘zero communication day’, and if you need to contact a colleague then you should. But you should not expect your colleague to be monitoring email as they might be on other days of the week. If it’s urgent, then use the phone or Teams to contact them instead.

What if I have teaching scheduled for Focus Day?

Timetabled teaching and student-facing activities will inevitably fall on Focus day for some staff in some weeks, and teaching takes priority.

What if I have a deadline falling on Focus Day?

Focus Day is not an excuse, and staff are expected to meet deadlines as usual. Within the department, we encourage deadline-setters to avoid setting them for Focus Day. Where those deadlines exist, staff who want to engage in Focus Day should organise their work patterns to ensure deadlines that clash with Focus Day are met in advance.

My role means I have to deal with emergencies – how is that compatible with Focus Day?

This is an issue that’s relevant to a number of job roles, including academics and support staff that field urgent student queries and technicians that deal with building and equipment failures.

Where it’s appropriate, staff in these roles could consider using their email auto-reply function to have a standard statement about being on Focus Day, but then provide your phone number for emergency contact. That ensures you are still available and contactable for real emergencies, but it could help filter out non-urgent requests.

Where it is necessary to always have an ‘instant responder’ on email, investigate ways to have a ‘duty roster’ that allows staff in these roles to rotate on Focus Days. That wouldn’t free up Focus day for all staff every week, but could provide limited ability to take advantage of Focus day.

Why can’t I choose to have Focus Day on a different day of the week?

Implementing Focus Day in a format where individuals choose the day that suits them would give us all more flexibility, but would lose the department-wide synchronization of protected time which will limit its effectiveness. To work well, implementing Focus Day needs to be simple: we need to make it as easy as possible to schedule meetings, teaching and deadlines to work around Focus day, which is only achievable if it’s the same day for everyone.

We do all, however, control our own calendars. You have always had the option to block out time in your calendar to focus on your own tasks, and Focus Day does not remove that right.

What if Focus Day clashes with interactions outside of the Department?

To some extent, this is going to be inevitable and unavoidable, but there are actions we can take to minimise the disruption.

Within College interactions

We’ve specifically avoided timing Focus day for Wednesday, which is when many cross-College meetings are scheduled for. This will partially limit the extent to which this is a problem.

We can raise awareness of Focus day across College directly by publicising through HoDs lunch and having it presented to Faculty, but we wouldn’t expect that to immediately result in a reduction in the number of meeting requests for Focus day. The most likely route to reducing within College demands is if across College meeting requestors receive a consistent, unified response from our department members who explain what Focus day is and ask for meetings to be scheduled for other days.

Outside College interactions

Ultimately there may be little we can pro-actively do as a department to influence the timing of these interactions, but as individuals we can all request for meetings to be scheduled for different days. In some cases that will be feasible and in others it won’t, but we would hope that consistently making and explaining this type of request with your colleagues will, through time, begin to reduce the number of external meetings being arranged for Focus day.

What if I get pressure to deal with last-minute, urgent requests on Focus Day?

We hope the solution to this can be found via community-wide engagement with Focus Day. For example, it would be appropriate to accompany responses to last-minute non-urgent requests with a reminder that this is Focus day and this request could reasonably have been made in advance with appropriate planning.

What if I prefer to work in ‘responsive mode’?

People who work better in this manner are welcome to continue doing so, but we do ask them to respect the fact that others of their colleagues do require uninterrupted blocks of time and are less likely to respond to you on Focus Day.

Case Studies

Cristina Lo Celso (Academic staff)

It is Friday, this week’s to do list is still ominous and next week’s deadlines are already looming. My group meeting in the morning is the highlight of the week, and afterwards now often we lunch together as a group, which provides a much needed recharge of our ‘being human’ batteries (last week we even made it for a walk in Hyde Park - blissful).  After that, the reduced email income and meeting schedule is a unique opportunity for catching up with all sorts of pending tasks and even sparking some new thoughts and ideas. Focus Friday looks like a small change but ‘it is bigger on the inside’ and has a wonderful impact on both morale and productivity. I hope it continues!

Jessica Rowley (Technical staff)

We’ve decided to continue the Focus Friday with each of us having one Friday per month to work from home. We’ve borrowed from the tech world and run ‘demos and donuts’. We spend the time learning a new skill so that we can keep up to date with current technology and practice. This will be highly valuable as we need to provide advice and help users perform these type of analyses – but we never get time to practice or increase our learning. Even if we have free time, if we are at our desk we are called away with frequent disturbances. We should be able to manage one Friday each a month going forward – and ‘demos and donuts’ will structure the time productively in a way that will benefit staff development and the facility service.

Martin Brazeau (Academic staff)

I use Focus Fridays as a way of making sure there’s always dedicated time for those things where I need to work in quiet, uninterrupted solitude. I put a bit of effort into the earlier in the week to make sure Focus Friday has a clear objective and I’ve got a clear head going into it. Fridays are completely blocked off for me so that I don’t agree to any meetings on those days. I generally make a plan for what I’m going to do that day on the day before, so I’m not trying to make decisions on Focus Friday itself. When I haven’t done that, I’ve found Focus Fridays less successful. I try to make Focus Friday a day for doing intellectual work like writing or coding. I mix in some breaks involving more menial tasks (like a bit of work in the lab or preparing illustrations for figures), but most of what I’m doing is a discrete, focussed effort to move some important intellectual/scientific project forward.