ADDING STRUCTURE TO YOUR DAY | HOW TO PLAN OUT AND STICK TO A SCHEDULE WHILE WORKING FROM HOME
Early mornings, structure, and schedules are my jam. I am a multi-passionate, budding entrepreneur, who is quite familiar with working from my laptop from anywhere (back of my suburban to coffee shops and at home). COVID-19 may have forced us all into quarantine, but I've been an expert on social distancing for a few years now.
Working from home and social distancing brings its own slew of discomforts, but there is always a silver lining. In this case, we have been given the gift of more time.
Time is our most valuable resource, and under normal circumstances, our time is wasted on commuting. With shelter-in-place in effect, that time has been freed up. This means more time to spend with loved ones, to practice a hobby, to grow a passion project, and build another source of revenue.
Everyone has heard the same saying:
"We all have the same 24 hours in a day. If Beyonce can do it, so can you."
If using this gift productively is your goal, then structure is what you need. Otherwise, let's be honest, it's more than likely you could be spending these 24 hours over-sleeping, playing video games, or binge watching a Netflix series.
It all comes down to this question: What did YOU do during the 2020 quarantine?
In 5 years, after society has adjusted and things are "normal" again, how are you going to respond to that question?
"Oh, not much that I could do, you know? I caught up on sleep, played a lot of Animal Crossing, and binged the Tiger King."
→ If that statement fits your life right now and you are truly happy, that is 100% okay. The only thing that matters is what you find happiness in. And if you think I mean happy as in "I'm happy to use this time to escape into television or a different reality because I'm afraid to face my own reality"...then no, that's not the happy I'm talking about.
→ If that statement makes you cringe, or you feel like you want to look back on this time with a bit more productive pride, then let's dive into structuring your day for higher performance.
Structuring your day comes down to making decisions about the life you want, considering your own responsibilities and goals.
The first step in creating a schedule is laying out all of the duties you are obligated to spend your time on throughout the day. Start with a blank timeline of the 24 hours we have to work with and block out work, meals, and sleep. If you have children, their needs are obviously important to outline as well.
Once you lay out all of those times, you are left with "free time". This is the time you get to fill with your dreams and aspirations, or mindlessly scrolling through your social feeds.
The next thing you want to do is grab some paper and get clear on what you want to focus on. Prioritize your options. Do you have a business you want to grow? Do you have a hobby that you want to get better at? Prioritize these extras and remember to add in "me-time".
Depending on how large the projects are, pick one or two that you are excited about starting. The key is to keep from over-thinking your schedule. Start with something, try it out, and make adjustments as you go through it.
Here is an example of what the structure in my day looks like:
Maybe you lost your job in this mess and you have a lot more time on your hands, and maybe you need help deciding what times work best for you. If you're working with a blank slate, or have a flexible base schedule, I highly recommend taking the chronotype personality test.
This quiz will identify you as a dolphin, lion, bear, or wolf and give you an idea of when you should wake up, go to sleep, and what to do with your day. It is based off of the book The Power of When by Michael Breus, which I personally have not read yet, but enjoyed the quiz.
Whether you choose to follow the exact recommended schedule according to your chronotype, or adapt it in a way to your own needs, having a structured day can highly impact how you use your time.
I suggest using time blocks, which are talked about in the book 12 Week Year by Brian P. Moran, Michael Lennington, et al., which I bought back in 2016 and have thoroughly appreciated reviewing each year.
If you're a dolphin like me, you may get a little carried away with your schedule and try to plan out every part of your day.
Block out 2-3 hours of time during your day to work on your projects, and dedicate enough sleep and "off-time" during your day to prevent burnout.
Understand the difference between what looks good on paper and what feels good inside for you. After you have come up with a schedule that feels good for you and your goals, set dates to review your progress. I recommend doing this every week. Personally, I review each weekend as I set myself up for the new week.
Are you sticking to your time blocks?
Are you getting enough done during your productive project time?
Are you hitting milestones?
Are you committed?
As you reflect, if there is something you want to change in your schedule, do it on these dates. Otherwise, try to stick to your schedule and give it some effort. If this is something completely new to you, expect to run into obstacles. Push past those and keep going.
Here are a few tips to help you stick to having more structure in your day:
1. List your priorities from an honest state of mind. If it matters to your mom more than you, it's not YOUR priority, and not worth your time.
2. Find the source of your own happiness. What makes you feel purposeful? What gives you a comfy, cozy feeling on the inside? What inspires you? What makes you smile? Do more of that.
3. Do things mindfully, without multitasking. Don't just do things to get them done. Do them fully and remind yourself why you are doing them - relax into the moment, be present and aware.
4. Understand your habits. Do you constantly snooze the alarm? Skip breakfast? Don't drink enough water? Tackle these unhealthy habits with the excitement of new structure.
5. Rest when you feel tired. If you're avoiding texts and messages, feeling dread when you go to sleep or wake up, have meltdowns often, or notice a peak in anxiety, then become aware of these burnout symptoms without personal judgement, and take the time to refill your cup.
6. Plan for more "me-time". Enjoy less screen time, turn off time. Go to bed earlier. Spend more quiet time alone or with loved ones.
7. Pick only 3 main goals for the day. Take action on those goals and know that you are moving the needle forward towards achieving your dreams. Be happy with the work you put in at the end of the day.
8. Play more. Enjoy your hobbies, do it for fun, and embrace the low pressure. Give your brain the ability to take breaks.
9. Keep up your relationships with people. Independence is one thing, but we all need human connection and roles with our family, friends, neighbors, and community.
10. Use affirmations. Set the tone at the start of your day with statements of the future you you want to become, and use affirmations at the end of your day to set the tone for a peaceful night of rest.
For those of you resistant to full-day schedules, due to varying time obligations or anything else, you can still have structure in your day without having a full time-blocked schedule. It will look a bit differently than what's talked about above, but still manageable and effective!
The key is to switch your thinking from time-based to activity-based.
Activity-based structure is when you focus on the activity and adjust your routine surrounding that activity.
For example, one of my friends has wanted to create a morning routine for herself, but her morning work obligations vary from day to day. Some days, she has early meetings, thus close to no time to practice the same morning routine she might do on other mornings with more time.
The key in this situation is to find a routine focused on specific activities, and change the time duration according to each day's needs.
A good place to start is with The Miracle Morning by Hal Elrod. He suggests using the acronym: SAVERS to start each day.
You can spend as much time in each phase of SAVERS, which allows you to change the duration, as your morning obligations change. If you have early morning meetings like my friend, you can go through your morning routine in as little as 6 minutes, dedicating one minute to each item.
This way, each morning is structured with a healthy habitual routine to start each day with full intentions and positivity.
The same strategy can be applied to formulating a routine with different parts of your day - workouts, hobby time, business build time, meals, before bed, etc.
Regardless of having a full schedule laid out or not, this extra time we have is a gift. Take control of your day by creating more structure to optimize what you do with and get out of this time.