Productivity is absolutely essential when running your own business or aiming for a healthy, beneficial work-life balance. The vast majority of successful people rely on a structured schedule to stay focused, motivated, organized and sane. Very few of us can work efficiently and achieve personal excellence by simply winging it and hoping all goes to plan. That’s usually down to sheer luck. Or magical powers.
By creating a daily routine - one which is based on your own unique needs, priorities and goals - you are more likely to progress, succeed and avoid burning out. But routine doesn't come naturally to most of us. Habitual practices require planning, determination, and conviction before they become second nature. But once they’re established, they’re far less daunting, require little to no effort and provide a valuable semblance of structure and direction in one’s life.
How to establish an effective routine
Whether you want to establish a routine for the morning or the entire day, you will free up valuable mental resources for other tasks. You’ll feel more in control and reduce the demand on attention and memory, thus preserving these vital cognitive functions for important work. You’ll also be better equipped to deal with unexpected challenges and changing priorities as and when they occur.
There’s no one-size-fits-all. The key is to develop a personalized routine which enables you to manage your time efficiently, accomplish more, reduce stress, and improve your general health and wellbeing. There are, however, a number of common elements that feature in many a customized routine, some of which will likely be of benefit to you.
1. Getting up early
Setting your alarm at the same time every morning is one of the first steps to establishing a routine. It’s certainly a challenge to begin with, particularly for those of us who are not naturally early risers. But after a couple of weeks, it becomes easier and you will really enjoy the benefits. It’s great being able to get ahead of the day before the rest of the household wakes up.
Weekday and weekend mornings are a great time to do tedious admin tasks that we tend to procrastinate over as the day/week/month progresses. Get the dull but essential stuff out of the way so you can concentrate on the critical tasks during the working day. Plan ahead and set aside the required amount of time each day or week.
If you find that you’re more productive and energetic in the evenings, or your job requires you to work unsocial hours, you can adjust the time you get up each day to accommodate this. The key is to work out what’s best for you and stick to it.
2. Prioritise tasks
At the start of each day (or at the end of the previous day), set aside 10 minutes to create your to-do list. Write down every task that needs to be done, prioritizing the most important ones that need to be addressed first. Work out how much time you will need to complete these tasks and create your daily schedule accordingly. This will help you to manage your time more efficiently and get more done. Don’t fall into the trap of keeping everything in your head and hoping you’ll remember.
Graeme Donnelly, CEO of 1st Formations, believes that prioritizing is essential for clarity of thought and focus:
'Discerning which tasks are the most important ones can make a huge difference to your business and general success. You cannot immediately tackle all of the tasks that pop into your head - planning, organization and delegation (where possible) are key. Sadly, many new business owners realize this after a significant amount of time is spent running around chasing their tail in a stress-induced frenzy!'
3. Working environment
Our working environment has a massive impact on our mood, motivation, and productivity levels. If you work from home, make sure you have a dedicated workspace, be that an entire room or a section in a room. Whatever space you use, design your working environment in a way that is comfortable, aesthetically pleasing, functional and conducive to concentration and productivity.
Always do your work in this dedicated space (where feasible) and only use it for work. The rest of your home is your personal sanctuary. It’s incredibly important not to blur the lines between work and home, otherwise, you’ll struggle to get motivated and/or you’ll never feel able to fully switch off and relax. You need to create boundaries and stick to them.
Incorporating some form of physical exercise into your day is a really effective way to boost your energy levels, improve your mood and concentration levels and sleep better at night, all of which will be of great benefit to your productivity levels.
You don’t have to become a fitness fanatic. Even something as simple as a brisk morning or afternoon walk each day is enough. You may not feel like it at first, but you will really feel great (and maybe even look forward to it) once your daily exercise of choice becomes routine.
Every morning at 6:30am, I take my dogs for a walk and pick up a coffee on the way back. This caffeine incentive motivates me to get up and the walk energizes me for the working day ahead.
5. Rest and relaxation
Your life can’t all be about the job. To be effective at work, you need to take regular breaks to relax and recharge. Ideally, you should take a short break every 50-90 minutes. If you avoid rest, your cognitive functions will slow down, you’ll tire more easily, you’ll get stressed, your concentration levels will dip and you’ll fail to achieve your productivity potential.
Taking more breaks = getting more done. The key is work smarter, not longer and continuously. And when you’re on a break, move away from your desk and put your phone on silent. Schedule fixed times in the day to check social media and reply to personal emails, calls or texts. You may think you’re resting, but the mental energy you expend on these types of distracting tasks can be draining and are detrimental to concentration and productivity.