Have you ever looked at your diary for the week and wondered how on earth you were going to get everything done? You can feel the stress creeping in and it’s only Monday morning!
I’ve had that feeling too. I made a conscious effort to rearrange my days so that they flow smoothly. I wanted to share some of my organising tips (some of which came from mistakes I’ve made in my years of long hours working as a lawyer and now the switch to working for myself).
1. Plan ahead
I use “Sunday Strategy Sessions” to plan my week ahead. I also happen to like alliteration!
I do my planning on a Sunday so that when I wake up on Monday morning I know how my week is going to look. If I take the time to plan ahead I can see if I’ve tried to cram too much onto my to-do-list or whether I need to adjust my usual work pattern because of events that are on that week.
At the very least I’d suggest planning one day ahead. A lot of time can be wasted by getting to your desk, reading all your emails then getting to 11am and not feeling like you’ve began to tackle the most important task you needed to that day.
2. Leave gaps
I now leave gaps in my schedule. Lunch breaks are essential! I used to regularly work through my lunch breaks, deluding myself that I was getting more work done. All it meant was that I’d have a big energy slump mid-afternoon because I’d not had any fresh air or exercise. The slump usually meant I’d reach for sugar and caffeine to get me through the day which we all know now is not the brightest of ideas.
I also leave gaps so that my creativity has room to flow. Perhaps I’ll go for a walk or sit in a café. I’m constantly amazed how problems are solved or new ideas are generated because I’ve given myself a break from actually doing the work. I always carry a notebook and pen with me in case inspiration strikes.
Where do you get your best ideas? I can almost guarantee it’s not while you are sitting in front of a computer. Perhaps it’s on a walk. Maybe it’s while talking through an issue with friends or colleagues.
Be sure to leave gaps to let your mind do it’s best work.
3. When are your energy levels at their best?
When do you feel like you have the most energy?
Are you at your most creative in the morning? Do your best ideas only begin to stir when the sun sets?
Where possible do your most important work when your energy levels are at their highest.
I’m a morning person but not a very early morning person. My brain usually hits its stride between 9.30 and 10am. It suits me to start my day doing things that don’t require a lot of brain power.
I might schedule a blog post that I’ve previously written; this involves copying from a word document into my WordPress site and then formatting the text and adding in photos (all logical left brain activities). Once I’m warmed up I’d move onto my important task for the day, which will usually be a creative right brain activity.
4. Left and right brain
We’ve all heard about our brains having a left side and a right side. I wonder though do you structure your work day to take advantage of this?
It’s quite a big ask of your brain to have it constantly switching from a left side activity to a right side then back again through the day. Or worse still trying to do a task that involves both.
I’ve learnt now not to write and edit my work at the same time. If I just let myself write then the words come much more freely. If I’m attempting to edit my work at the same time then it becomes a jerky, stop and start process.
When I worked as a lawyer most of my day was taken up with left side activities. In hindsight I would’ve used my brain in a much better way if I’d included more creative expression in my day, even if it was only taking some photos at lunch. This would’ve given my logical brain a much needed break.
Always remember to include you in your day. It’s all too easy to sit hunched at your desk, forgetting to drink enough water (hoping that 8 cups of coffee will rehydrate you) and eating whatever you can get from the vending machine. You end the day stiff, headachy and mildly grumpy.
Yip that was me for awhile in London when I was doing 14 hour days. Lucky it didn’t take long to come to my senses but if I’m honest I didn’t do nearly enough for me. This resulted in me getting sick much for often than I should have as well as not being able to handle the stress that the job involved.
If there is one piece of advice I’d love to give to new lawyers (or new job starters everywhere) it’s to take care of yourself. That is your responsibility not your employers (although they can assist you in this).
Make you a non-negotiable part of your day.
6. Switch off
Working for myself at home means my work day can easily flow into the evening. I then wonder why I don’t feel motivated the next day.
It’s because the mind needs downtime to be at its best. That is why I now schedule in lunch breaks, exercise every morning and make sure I get outside in the fresh air at least once a day.
I’m also experimenting with switching off my laptop, phone and TV an hour before bed. WHAT?! I can hear you cry. “What do you do if you’ve switched everything off??”
I’ve been reading more. Taking photos of ridiculously cute kittens. Having a bath. Writing.
So far I’m finding that I sleep so much better if I do this.
What do you do to switch off?
7. Exploring your mind
Work. Work. Work.
When we are knee deep in our everyday lives we can forget that there is more to work than just the technical aspects.
I was guilty of this while working as a lawyer. After all, it was the technical aspects that I was being paid for, not how high my emotional intelligence was. I now know that working on my personal development would’ve helped me to be a better lawyer and a much happier one.
Oh the tips I’d love to give to my younger self!
Working with a coach and then training as a coach opened up a whole new world to me. Yet you don’t have to go that far. Simply taking the time to read books on personal development can be a great investment in you.