Sustaining a productive routine is hard. Eventually we look for guidance to put things back in the place we think they should be.
But we need to be smarter than that.
We need to design a disciplined practice that allows us to expand the time available for completing and recovering from tasks and events. We need to prioritize what we want to do (both as individuals and organizations) and create the environment in which it is done.
So here are some to-do items to ensure that the time you do have is well spent.
Read a daily or weekly to-do list. I regularly see people completely derailed by the process of filling out and updating their to-do lists. We may start with a big list of daily tasks, and it can be intimidating to tackle all of them. The answer is to figure out what is most urgent, what matters most to you, and to include all the things that are already on your list. Then commit to tackle one item at a time, step by step, until you’ve accomplished it.
Read a daily or weekly email to review calendar appointments, other calendar appointments, and important events. I was guilty of trusting my BlackBerry calendar and sending emails to each meeting I attended. The email was more important than the meeting, to me. A single email from the wrong party can ruin a very important event. On my calendar, I see each email like I see the meeting on the calendar. Since I have a screen reader, I can easily scan the email for an agenda, confirm the time, and have a reminder sent to my smart phone.
Plan for what you want to do — and how you want to do it. Think of goals for your day in terms of activities. Do you want to finish a spreadsheet, find a lost wallet, or schedule an appointment? In addition to a daily or weekly to-do list, you should have a second to-do list, frequently updated. This second list provides a reference point to check your progress. If something gets pushed back a day or if you are short of a deadline, add it to the second list. To help keep your own to-do list organized, create a digital archive of everything you have done that day and the day before.
Build a routine. I am a believer in a formal/off-the-clock routine. Working in a fast-paced, relentless environment causes my brain to go into “high-performance” mode. Normally, I don’t need to take breaks. I don’t mind working hard. But I quickly get behind the eight ball when I get stuck. One solution is to incorporate a practice of going 10-20 minutes at a time without interruption. You will feel energized. Then, when you feel that is enough for you, you can sit down for another 20 minutes. But, don’t think that just by arriving at your desk and getting work done in an uninterrupted way, you will achieve what you want to do. You have to put in the same kind of effort to get the results you want.
Take care of yourself. If you are well organized, you can accomplish a lot more with less stress. Fortunately, there are other ways to protect yourself from burnout. I have been using Sleep Cycle to check my sleep. It measures the percentage of hours of sleep I get every night, and there is a percentage indicator at the bottom of my calendar. When my sleep percentage is below 60 percent, I set a timer for 15 minutes for me to go to bed, set my alarm clock and go to sleep for 15 minutes. Before I leave, I set my cell phone for the alarm notification. And then I never touch my phone until I’m ready to wake up. When I’m awake, I don’t check the phone. I just work. I can see that I have raised my sleep percentage (and lowered my phone and alarm notification) by 10 to 15 percent in a single month, without it being a major change to my workflow.
To achieve the same results with a more focused schedule, consider taking a company-wide meditation class. Meditation has been shown to reduce stress levels, increase creativity, increase empathy, and improve cognitive function. Sometimes mindfulness is not just about shutting your brain off for half an hour or so. This means that it may be a part of your routine as well.