Over the years my morning routine has shifted. I used to rebel against any order or structure to my day — believing that it was holding me captive and restricting my freedom. I wanted a life of spontaneity, to make up the plan as I went along. I would balk at the slightest sign of some type of schedule or regimen. I could not be “held down”.
Then I had a year of working for myself with absolutely zero structure. Every single day I made it up as I went along. Some days I tried to create a time plan for the week — or month. And some days I just decided to see where the wind would bring me.
To bring the conclusion forth quickly, I’ll admit that I had never been so stressed out in my entire life.
Freedom doesn’t always equal joy and fulfillment. Sometimes it equals pulling my hair out trying to figure out which way to turn first. Sometimes giving structure and priority and set rhythms and rituals in a day help you to timebox your tasks in such a way that you make progress and feel good about what you accomplish.
My brain feels like a database of critical information. The way that I work, jumping between tasks and without a particular order or structure, thoroughly fried my brain cells that I was trying so desperately to protect from losing their creative juices. I’m probably not the first to tell you that multi-tasking doesn’t work.
After reading Steven Pressfield’s The War of Art (I highly recommend you pick it up if you haven’t already!) and learning that the only true way to prepare for creative work (or battle, if you will) is to find a routine and to stick to it. No matter what. Mornings begin at a set time, coffee break is also at a set time, so is lunch and an afternoon walk and dinner. Not every day has to be the exact same, but the more routine you can build in, the more productive and, ironically, creative you will be.
The greatest executives, or writers, don’t start their day by deciding where they should sit, or if they should have coffee or tea to begin. They follow a routine and trust it’s stability and security to bring them inspiration. The fewer decisions you have to make in a day, the more you are able to pour your energy into your work.
Another popular piece of literature on a similar topic, Deep Work by Cal Newport, also demonstrates the wisdom of blocking out distractions and allowing yourself to focus strictly on the task at hand. Turn off your cell phone, stop checking your email or social media, and simply sit down and get to work. The less distraction you have, the deeper you can go, and the more fulfilling and effective your work time becomes.
In an increasingly distracted world, especially one wrought with crisis and chaos everywhere we turn, it is especially important to develop habits and rituals which support you to both be productive and feel good.
While my own instincts still fight me on following a strict routine, I’ve worked hard to find a pattern in my daily habits which allows me to use the most of my brain power and energy when I need it.
I wake up at the same time each day, I sit down at my desk at the same time, I try to timebox as much as possible (mostly using the Pomodoro Method), and I take breaks when I need it. When I feel distracted, I step away from my computer so that I don’t disintegrate into social media central, and I try to keep my goals for the day simple and straightforward.
I am also very clear that when I wake up to work, I also look the part. I shower, put on makeup, and put on professional attire — no pants-free home office for me. To feel good about myself as a professional, I need to play the role to the fullest extent — dressing as though I’m headed in to the office.
My days end by 6 or, latest, 7. Every single day. The benefit of working alone is that there is no social pressure or need to “prove” myself to anyone else by working long hours or feeling exhausted. No one knows how long I work. And more importantly, no one cares. As long as I accomplish what I set out to, and fulfill my responsibilities — the amount of time it takes me to get there is irrelevant.
On the days when my energy is high and my creativity is flowing, I can accomplish what would take some weeks to achieve. And on the days that I simply cannot create, I take a step back and allow myself to hit reset.
Finding this routine took time. I fought against my own inner demons which wanted desperately to get lost in distraction and social engagement. In a new world where most of us are working from home for the first time — it’s important to find a rhythm and routine that works for you, and to give yourself enough time to get accustomed to it. You must create your own boundaries and accept that it might not work out perfectly how you’d hoped from Day 1.
Believe those of us who have been doing this a long time when we say that it does get easier, and you will, without a doubt, come to appreciate the peace and serenity that come from working from home — while setting your own ground rules for how and when things get done.
Find yourself a routine that works and embrace the home office.
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