Most people who write work-life advice curate the rules of routines as if displaying Classical art. Why? Because they work. Yes, they do. The problem? They do not work for everyone.
This is a particular problem for creative types, and there are many creative types in the solopreneur, entrepreneur, and founder space.
I am thinking mainly of this audience, and I am not limiting my thoughts to them either.
Anyone can benefit from the strategies that follow.
Perhaps you are a mom balancing family, a spouse working from home, or heading up your own shop. Maybe you are an executive who thrives on rigor, but you cannot seem to stay regimented during these times. This article is for you, too!
“Routines are for golden retrievers.”
This is a statement that I have made hundreds of times. It is one of my hallmark quotes.
Having lived a life of varying schedules and varied commitments, I further assert that adaptability and flexibility are priceless assets.
Add that a sudden shift in schedule can kill a person with a longstanding bedtime, and I call a routine a recipe for disaster.
I am not talking about shift workers.
Shift work has lots of research warning against it, but we never really complain when the overnight ER is fully staffed. Those jobs are worked according to posted schedules. Shift workers do not have the freedom and responsibility associated with running a shop.
Then again, this advice could be for anyone.
It can benefit someone who “can’t sit still.” It can help realign those too driven by mood or moment.
Finally, some people just do not follow through with intended routines. Whether this is a life circumstance or a choice, there are several things you can do to stay on top of your demands.
I am an odd duck.
I have been a solopreneur since 2003, and I have never had a routine. I pride myself on being adaptable and flexible to the moment. This serves my clients well.
Here are 5 strategies to stay productive when your world is anything but routine.
5 ways to avoid a routine and still succeed.
1) Get a timer.
This first one is my favorite. I cannot always commit to work blocks. What I can do is stop and get focused. I keep a timer on my desk to help. In fact, I own three.
When I need to buckle down, I can set the timer for thirty minutes. I block out all other distractions.
When the beeping comes, the amount of progress is impressive.
One benefit of a timer is seeing how much of a difference each minute of our day matters.
Another benefit is that you sometimes keep resetting the timer.
As Jeff Haden reminds us in his book “The Motivation Myth,” once you get started, motivation will follow.
Lacking inspiration? Set a timer, sit down, and time will tell a great tale.
2) Keep Appointments.
Keeping appointments is the best life anchor going. Rescheduling wastes resources and wastes your reputation. Appointments limit your freedom. They set a course for certain elements of your day. If you have to be out of the house by 3:00 p.m., you will likely make more prudent time management decisions with the hours that come beforehand.
If you cancel an appointment and lose that anchor, you will likely see the abundance of time ahead and abuse it. You will fool around if you tend to fool around, and you will lose time—and now that appointment is rescheduled to another date.
You could have used that day for something else, and you still have the burden of the commitment. Put it behind you. Keep the appointment.
3) Use Alarm clocks.
I have three alarm clocks. I set them for important things, but also to chime a check on where the day is. A 5:00 p.m. alarm signaling a client call at 6:00 p.m. can really help reset priorities in the moment. When time becomes scarce, we tend to avoid the distractions of low-priority work.
Remember, our reptilian brain wants to avoid pain. Instead of writing that next big article, refolding towels is immediately gratifying and low risk. If you find yourself refolding towels to improve the look of your bathroom shelf, an alarm might remind you that you are letting your nature ruin your future.
4) Stay seated with sticky notes.
When I have a pile to kill and the pile starts to kill me, I pick one thing. David Allen, author of “Getting Things Done,” teaches us to consider how we handle time: Is what I am doing right now the best use of my time?
Yes, that can even be a nap or a nice walk. While these “sticky jots,” as I call them, can be used for active tasks as well, I mostly employ them for help staying seated.
They also help maintain laser focus.
“Humans are notoriously bad at multi-tasking,” says work-life expert Adam Grant. Pick one thing, and stay focused. Maybe other things are vexing your brain, but you will have three fewer hanging up there.
Then you are free to pick another three. Just like resetting the timer, you might achieve real sticky-jot flow!
5) Steal those little moments for yourself.
No, not those deep soaks in the tub or slow cups of coffee out on the porch!
Today, I had a call at 7:00 p.m. I set an alarm for 6:00 p.m. It warned me out of chapter writing. I set a timer for fifteen minutes to straighten out. Clean desk, clean mind.
I jotted down three tasks that would take about 20 minutes to complete. Yes, I used a sticky note. I then set my timer for 25 minutes.
It went off. I stopped my work, and I took a 5-minute personal break to stretch and such.
An alarm went off at a quarter of, and I prepared for my appointment.
Bonus tip: Never let anything interfere with the final 15 minutes before a business call. I use this time to pace, visualize, and review materials. That’s what I did, and the call went great!
Brian Brandt is not a work-life expert, and he is definitely not a golden retriever.