Dear Shi, I recently got a new job where I have much more flexibility to set my schedule and working hours. I really love the sense of freedom I have to work on my own terms, but I’m finding that every day is way different. It’s funny, I have all the time in the world to do things, but I don’t actually get things done. How do you find the balance between having the structure to make things predictable but also the flexibility to allow for life to happen? More importantly, how do I set up a personal schedule/routine to follow that blends both?
Dear Mara, I’m so glad you asked this question! A lot of people think that the ultimate dream is to have FREEDOM — to do what you want, when you want. But with that freedom comes great responsibility (or is that Spider-Man super powers?). Finding the balance between having structure to know what to expect and flexibility to adapt for things that come up is definitely a tricky skill. My suggestion for people who going through a major lifestyle change, like getting a new job, is to create a routine that allows for you to be intentional with how you spend your time. These intentions, carried out by your actions, is what will allow you to mix structure and flexibility in a way that works best for you. If that sounds good to you, here are a handful of tips to consider as you establish routines in your life and work.
Why a Routine is Essential for Your Creative Lifestyle
Routines are a set of repeated tasks that when done on a regular basis, creates a habit. As a creative, you want to save your creative juices to well…doing creative things. Routines help train your brain and your body to function on autopilot so you can “get into the flow” of doing the work. It’s really easy to get distracted or procrastinate on work if you don’t have a specific time block or deadline attached to it. Routines also build structure into your day and week to maximize your energy.
Some tips to consider as you create your routines:
- What are your priorities? What’s important to incorporate into your schedule? What are your non-negotiables of things that really make a difference in your life?
Starting with what’s important shows that you make time for the things that you value. These are your “big rocks” that anchor your priorities. For example, if health is important, you’ll open up your schedule and book times when you go to the gym. If work/life balance is key, you may want to sign off work by 5:00pm to eat dinner with your husband. If your faith is a non-negotiable, consider incorporating reading a devotional and journal during your morning routine. Perhaps you have a big project coming up, block off the time you will set aside to work on it. If it’s important, schedule it into your day and make it happen. You can also include things that you know occur regularly — like your weekly book club or taking a weekend off each month to visit your parents.
- How do you want to start your mornings? How do you want to end your evenings?
Mornings are a great time to create some routines. What are some ways you want to start your day on the right foot? Even if you’re super busy, what’s a little thing you can do for self-care? What’s realistic for you to incorporate but could make a big difference? A morning routine can be as simple as waking up, doing some meditation, eating breakfast, and reviewing your important tasks for the day.Evenings are the same way. What’s something that can help you wind down? How can you use this time to prepare for the next day? What’s something you can do for a little “me time”? Some ideas could be reflecting on how the day went and writing down what you’re doing tomorrow, picking out tomorrow’s outfit, or using some essential oils to wind down.
- Plan & Prepare for What’s Next What do you have on the horizon that you want to plan and prepare for? If you don’t have much, what’s something you would like to take initiative in creating in your life and work? The idea here is to be able to distinguish between what’s important and what’s urgent. Important tasks are things that create lasting value — ex. eating a healthy meal, marketing initiatives for your business, and finishing your continuing education courses. Urgent tasks are things that pop up that will help other people’s agendas. These come up that will require your immediate attention. Take care of these when you can.
- Notice Your Energy Levels & Plan Accordingly
Our energy levels rise and fall throughout the day. Notice when you have high energy to use on high energy activities and notice when you have low energy to rest and rejuvenate. For me, I have high energy in the morning that I like to save for projects like blogging, coaching calls, and creating content. I get a little sleepy around 3:00pm so I like to take a break or go on a walk. Noticing your rhythm can help you maximize efficiency on your energy. Also, when are you going to have some fun? When are you going to rest? Setting aside time for fun and rest is a great reward for getting work done and will help you refuel as well.
- Experiment & Reflect & Repeat
Habits take a while to form because rewiring your brain takes effort and time. Whenever you’re incorporating something new in your life, start small and be consistent. Try it for two weeks, then evaluate how it’s going. Do you like it? What’s working? What could make this even better? How can I be more accountable or create a reward for what I’m doing? If you miss a day, give yourself some grace and try again tomorrow. If you miss lots of days, give yourself some grace and try again tomorrow.
I hope this helps you find focus in how you spend your time. The best way to blend structure and flexibility into your schedule is to create a routine that allows you to be intentional with your time. When you’re intentional, you’ll get rid of any feelings of guilt or shame that say “Oh, but I should be doing….” because you’re planned ahead and given yourself permission to have dedicated times of work and play.
I would love to hear from you: what are some routines you’ve incorporated into your creative life?