6 min read –
Ten daily routine rules I wish I learned when I was propelled into a fast moving high-performance expecting world.
I clearly remember the moment I was looking at my screen, my eyes were itching, my butt sore from sitting for hours on end and my head pounding like a wild river sucking along all my creative thoughts. And I thought: ‘Isn’t there another — more healthy and productive — way of working?’
After years of trying to figure it out I have found the answer to that question. I also found that I wasn’t the only one struggling with that same question and moreover, when I started teaching the next generation I discovered that I wasn’t necessarily to blame.
We teach students what the industry looks like, what kind of work you will need to perform, we go through theory and practice. We tell them to be go-getters, to never hold back and climb your way up. But we don’t teach them how to maintain a healthy day-to-day routine, how to deal with stress and conflict, how to read the signs and say no whenever needed.
So what follows next are my 10 daily routine rules I have found to bring forth a more healthier — and therefore happier and more productive — work life. Some days I get them all right and thrive, sometimes I feel empty and tense and notice I have been failing on a few for a while.
Whatever you decide to do with these ‘rules’, experiment with them and find your own sweet spot. Most importantly: don’t beat yourself up when the going gets tough. Take a deep breath and work your way back to that sweet spot. Good luck!
Pick one medium to communicate important/work matters
When you get information, questions and/or info through different services/devices like email, sms and WhatsApp, it is really hard to keep track and errors are inevitable. Further more it prevents you from having some me-time, because work is everywhere on all services and devices.. Aaargh!
Choose which service you like to work with and have a standard answer ready for communication on other services/devices: “Sounds cool, can you send me an email with the details so I can confirm?”
Be careful with making promises
Never offer ‘Yes, sure’ as a standard reply. It will set expectations you can’t keep up and it prevents you from looking at the task in an objective way. When you’re not directly claiming ownership you’re distancing yourself from the task long enough to be able to analyze it properly and respond in everyones best interest. Try responding by asking more questions so you can determine urgency, responsibility and main objective. It may even turn out not to be your responsibility at all. Lucky you! A couple of examples of counter questions: “When do you need it?” or “Do you need this today?” “Can I get back to you about this?” “Can you send me the details, background and objective in an email?”
Questions you can ask yourself: “Do I have time for this within the given timeframe?” “Am I the right person to handle this right now?”
Make a time efficient week planning. Think of what needs to be done that week and schedule accordingly. Cluster meetings into 1 or 2 parts of a day and leave plenty of room for undisturbed working. You might not be able to follow through on everything but it will help you stay disciplined and it creates headspace for executing tasks without being distracted by thoughts about what still needs to be done.
Start the day with a realistic day planning. And by starting I literally mean it needs to be the first thing you do in the morning. Don’t open your mailbox yet! Check your week planning, specify tasks/calls/etc. and think about timeframes. End your day by checking what you finished and what needs to move to a different day on your week planning.
Set a timer and honor breaks. Did you know that when you sit your blood starts to flow slower, causing your brain to get less fresh blood and oxygen, which are needed to trigger the release of brain- and mood-enhancing chemicals. And that’s only the effect it has on the brain, I’m sure you can imagine what sitting does to your muscles and organs.
Schedule your activities in bits of 20 minutes and set a timer to let you know times’ up. Get up, stretch and get yourself a new hot cup of tea. It will also provide an insight into how realistic your planning actually is and you will be able to change accordingly resulting in a more effective planning and use of time.
Start the day with the difficult tasks, end it with the pleasant ones. And start the first activity before you open your mailbox in the morning. Your mind will be at its freshest in the morning and more capable of handling something you don’t feel like doing. Because surely you don’t want to do that awful thing anymore when you have been at it for a few hours already, right?
Limit distractions during focused work. Science taught us that it takes the average person 20 minutes to fully get back to a specific task after being interrupted. Apart from a lot of time lost, interruptions can cause stress and change your mood. If you need to focus, find a spot where you can work undisturbed or put on headphones and tell your colleagues it means you wish not to be disturbed.
p.s. Don’t forget incoming email and phone messages (even app notifications) create similar distractions and anxiety. Shut down and/or enable flight mode.
Categorize tasks and cluster the ones that are connected. Just like interruptions can disrupt your productivity and creativity, so can changing from one task to the other. When you’re working on different projects, try clustering the different activities and work on one project at a time. Although the specific activities may vary, in your mind you’re working on that one project and it doesn’t feel like changing attention.
Reduce the static in your inboxes. Get a lot of non-urgent messages? Do you really need to be on cc? Ask your colleagues to only pop you an email if the matter cannot be discussed during contact moments face-to-face or via the phone. Sometimes just one or two contact moments per the week (say for instance Monday morning and Wednesday afternoon) can cut down 50% of email traffic.
While we’re at it. That same rule applies to you. Do you have two or three things to ask someone? Write down for a contact moment and continue focusing on the task at hand.
Check your email twice a day for just one hour each. And close it down during the moments in between so you can no longer feel drawn to checking new incoming mail and directly answering it. When going through your email, determine your course of action based on these three ways of handling: / urgent — needs an answer now (write a reply but don’t send it right away)
/ urgent — needs research to answer (reply you’ll get back, flag it, write on to-do list)
/ not urgent — can answer later (flag it, write on to-do list)
Reduce unnecessary follow-up communication. Nothing takes up more time and energy than rectifying and explaining yourself. When you write an email or reply, ask yourself the following questions:
/ Have I given all of the necessary information? (Did you answer all questions asked, is a little background story needed for the receiver to understand and take proper action?)
/ Are my questions specific and detailed? (think about what you want from the receiver, when you need it and how you would like to receive it — for instance: .pdf, via mail, etc.)
At first this seems like a lot of work. But if you make it a ritual you will notice you will ask these questions automatically while writing. If you still notice a lot of questions coming back to you, the best way to check your wrong-doings is by not sending your email right away. Write it, hide it, wait, re-read and then send.
No wait, one final advice I’ve come to cherish: However tempting it is to work towards becoming irreplaceable, the moment you strive for the opposite is when you will be most comfortable, creative and productive.