All across the internet, three tips stand out for “life in the time of coronavirus”: 1) stay home, 2) wash your hands, and 3) put yourself on a schedule. The first two are way easier than the third. Is it just us at Mindstead.org or is there always something to clean and some place further to scroll on Instagram? It’s hard to maintain a semblance of the productivity we had just two weeks ago. Talking to friends, while some have seen their productivity skyrocket, most of them, be them former-office workers or longtime work-from-homers, are struggling. To be fair, some admitted to struggling before, too.
Having a schedule with clear goals is linked to everything from improving mental health and sleeping better to getting into a flow state. But, more than that, without a schedule that includes attainable goals, it’s hard to say if you did, or didn’t, get anything done. It just feels like an overwhelming mess. So, let’s begin April with intention. Here are six tips we’ve compiled to keep Mindstead.org moving forward.
1. Start with a clean slate
Before diving into your new schedule full of your old to-do lists, meetings, and goals, which undoubtedly carry the weight of the COVID-filled world, start with an empty calendar – a week wide open with possibility. This way, you can think through your actual priorities, which may have changed. There are tons of helpful apps out there that can assist you in building a daily schedule, but pen and paper can be just as effective while also being hands-on. Loving Mondays has a series of worksheets for planning your time. Likewise, Unbounded Potential has a great free tool you can print or fill out on a screen. Though we advise that you to read this entire article before you get started.
2. Prioritize your day based on your values, not your to-do list
Our to-do lists are usually long sets of random items: request a refund for a flight you didn’t take, finish a work report, file your taxes, respond to personal emails, etc. It’s easy to plan your day around them, but then you’ll likely never make any progress toward your long-term goals. Hold onto those to-dos for now (don’t worry, we’ll get to them later), and instead, prioritize your new schedule based on your values. What are the things you most care about: are they personal wellness? Connection and family time? Professional output? You can even designate time to freak out; some people find this helpful. There is no wrong answer. Wherever your priorities lies, put those into your calendar first. Perhaps they won’t end up getting the most minutes of your day, but by setting them into your schedule first, you’ll be sure to take that yoga class or Facetime your best friend. Unsure of what activities can help reinforce your values? Try a worksheet like this one on values-based habits.
3. Intentionally decide what things you aren’t going to do
It’s a rookie move to overcommit and think you can do it all. 1) You’ll lose. 2) Even if you did “win,” there’d just be a new list tomorrow. But it’s also not helpful to keep that to-do list around if, when you’re being realistic, you know you’ll never get to it. Instead, be intentional about the things you’re never going to do. Ask someone else to do them, tell anyone involved you’re not going to get to them, or, worst case, put them into your schedule for a later date – be that a week or three months from now. This will remove significant stress from your brain.
4. Know your energy triggers
All of us have different circadian rhythms informing when we’re most creative, analytical, or productive overall. We also have moments where we, quite frankly, suck at one or all of these things. As you plan your ideal schedule, think about what times make the most sense for the things you want to do. Similarly, know your personality. Some people get satisfaction from small wins – a series of successes completing small tasks give them the energy to tackle big ones. Others are the opposite and are best at tacking the big stuff first; the rest is distraction. Know yourself and plan accordingly. You might even consider scheduling your distractions so you know that free time is coming, be that a 15-minute social media break or an afternoon walk.
5. Block and bundle your tasks
Remember all your random errands from #2? Take out that list (minus the things you got rid of in #3!). At Mindstead.org, we like to think of our day in time blocks: morning block, afternoon block, and occasionally an evening block – each one between two and four hours long. Each block gets its own goal to help us get into that elusive focused state. Sometimes a block is a single topic with deep work – for example a two-hour block dedicated to writing an op-ed. Other times, a block is a bunch of similar things bundled together – for example a three-hour block of four phone calls stacked back-to-back. The calls may be on different topics, but being a similar media with short-term attention requirements, you’ll use less energy bundling them together than spreading them out throughout your day.
6. Get an accountability buddy
You can track your progress with worksheets like these from Loving Mondays, though it’s also a good idea to share your plans with someone. Be it a spouse, a roommate, a parent, or a friend – tell them verbally what you’re up to, hang your schedule on your shared fridge, or share your digital calendar. The sheer act of sharing your goals will make you more accountable, but their follow-up questions won’t hurt either.
Now get off the internet and get to work!