Schedules are a Necessary Evil

This month has been all about getting myself on a new schedule. We bought a house and moved over the summer. My oldest is at a new elementary school and we enrolled our one-year-old in part-time daycare for nine hours a week. My mornings are no longer about waiting for the baby to take a nap so I can shower. If I want to make the most of the time he’s being cared for by others – that I’m paying for – I need to be able to get to work as soon as I drop him off. Not to mention that driving my oldest to school on time just feels better if I’m not in my pajamas and last night’s drool.

I am proud to say I am rocking the new schedule. I am also honest enough to know that just a few years ago, I would have been taking short cuts before the first week ended.

Here’s what I know about myself, from failures of years past when trying and never quite getting to be on a steady working schedule:

  • I am not a morning person. Not the kind of non-morning personhood who will murder other people, nor the kind who are overly lethargic. Mostly I just do not wake up perky like how morning people seem to advertise. Though between you and me I’m actually pretty sure those people are a myth.
  • I can handle having a different schedule on the weekends. I cannot handle having a varying schedule on the weekdays. That means that if I need to wake up on Tuesdays at 7am in order to get myself and my kids ready to leave by 8:30am, then I need to wake up Monday, Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday all at the same time. Even if I don’t need to. I have to, or I’ll start looking for shortcuts on the days where I really don’t have that ability.
  • I need to have at least one cup of coffee. The spice must flow. More than one is questionable and usually means I just need to start getting to bed earlier. 1am sleep does not a happy person make later at 7am.
  • I do better when I can exercise in the morning. Nothing intensive, just about ten minutes of stretches or yoga poses, and maybe a little cardio. It helps wake me up before coffee so I can remember things like snacks for my kids. And my car keys.
  • I cannot skip breakfast. Even if that means having things on hand to eat in the car. Those breakfast shake things from Kelloggs aren’t so bad and work in a pinch. Plus they’re cheaper than buying breakfast sandwiches from Dunkin Donuts every day.
  • Always be listing things on a master to-do list so that there is always a go-to resource of core tasks and satellite tasks to choose from when work time is ticking. This can be whatever you need it to be, whether that’s just work or if its reminders for things around the house too.
  • Rinse, repeat. Do that for a week. Then two. After three we can consider it a good habit. Sleep times get a little more regular. I feel more rested. Kids have been at school on time, with their snacks, every day. #Parenting
  • Most important: Do. Not. Let. Up.

So, basically, I’m the kind of person who works better after all the morning check boxes are checked. I can sit down to work and clear my head and there’s a lot more boom. Skipping over trying to regulate my mornings anytime I tried to get on a schedule in the past, I never ended up with any sort of measurable productivity gain. I’d plan what I needed to work on for the day to the gills, but never actually carve out more than a couple hours where I could check things off the list. It took me a while to realize that planning what I should be working on almost literally didn’t matter if I spent the whole day recovering or patching up things that got left undone in the morning.

Now, what does this mean for you?

One – Figure out what doesn’t work for you. I say this first because sometimes it’s easier than figuring out what does work. It also will help you with the next bit.

Two – Write down the problems you have, including the ones you only think you have, and start proposing solutions. Don’t filter the solutions with things that won’t work. Just write down every piece of advice you’ve ever heard, ever sad trope that you wished was as easy as it sounds, and the less likely you’d actually do them, the better.

Three – Start looking for solutions that solve two or more problems at the same time.

Four – Narrow down the cause-effect problems of what doesn’t work for you. Look at one at a time. Is there a way to solve it, and if not, is there a way to eliminate it altogether?

Five – Set a solution schedule. Try it for five days – yes, all five, with no cheating. Write down your observations each day as to when and why things went off the rails.

Six – Go back to step one, with the new list of things that didn’t work. Move forward until you get stuck on one of the steps.

Your schedule doesn’t have to be for an entire day. It doesn’t even have to be in the mornings, that’s just what works for me. I worked on the segment of the day where it gave me the greatest results. For other people, that could be evenings. Or maybe in the middle of the work day, when you feel like there is three hours you need to cram into an hour of lunch.

The main thing is just to write down where you lose time, meaning what are the things you end up doing at varying parts of the day, that you could, maybe, have done earlier. Or maybe later. If any of them are predictable, start setting a time to handle them. This way you can roll with the changes of the day more, and not end up buried in a pile of things that need to get done – or worse, that needed to get done two hours ago.

If you’ve ever wanted to try to set a better schedule for yourself, do it now. Do it tomorrow. You don’t have to wait for the new year or the new month, or the next solstice. Whatever you tell yourself regarding why you can’t make changes ASAP needs to be on the list of problems you only think you have, and if it wasn’t, go back and add it in.

We’re all stressed from trying to multitask and be productive all of the time. Schedules are just one thing that could result in working smarter rather than harder. Please keep in mind that I didn’t get to this point overnight, while for some people this might not be a problem at all. If you ever think that being on a schedule might make things easier, there’s never a bad time to try it again.

What do you think are your biggest challenges to getting things done? Do you list out the things needing to get done? If you’re like me and function best when you can meander through work time without responsibilities hanging over your head, what strategies do you employ to keep your work time clutter free? I’d love to hear from you. The comments are always open.

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