Full Life Reflections

Striving for happiness, peace, and fulfillment in a chaotic world

Time management has long been my Achilles heel despite the fact that I have done extensive reading on the subject. Over the years, I’ve tried various productivity strategies, yet I continue to feel like I never get enough done and am always behind on my tasks. While I’m frustrated that I have yet to become a master of productivity, I don’t want to give up, so I will keep exploring different avenues and adopting new approaches.

productivity hacks

What productivity “hacks” have you learned over the years?

Natural Rhythms and Productivity

One topic that I’ve given more thought to lately is the concept of natural working styles. We all have our own unique rhythms that point to the times when we have high versus low physical, mental, and creative energy. One of the keys to increased productivity is tapping into these rhythms and using them to our best advantage. Of course, we can’t always get things done at the absolute optimal times for us, especially if we work for someone else, but most of us can tweak certain aspects of our lives to increase both our productivity and life satisfaction.

A few weeks ago, I mentioned that I recently started a new educational program. This program is quite intense and includes a lot of homework assignments, some of which don’t directly correspond to the main subject matter of the course. One such assignment was to track our natural rhythms over a five-day period to get a better sense of how we work best. We were directed to check in during eight different time frames each day and write a word or a few words that best described how we felt at that time. The time frames were as follows:

  • Before 8am
  • 8am – 11am
  • 11am – 1pm
  • 1pm – 3pm
  • 3pm – 5pm
  • 5pm – 8pm
  • 8pm – 10pm
  • 10pm – late

I just completed the exercise yesterday, so I would like to share my findings and what I learned. Before last week, I basically adhered to the same type of schedule each day in that I had a leisurely breakfast and did some fun reading before exercising, showering, and getting ready for my day. This routine wasn’t ideal for me, however, because I often didn’t get started with my daily tasks until late morning or early afternoon. This resulted in my not getting all that much done on any given day, especially since my husband and I usually spend time together in the evenings and I typically don’t get back to my tasks after dinner. I had a sense of what wasn’t working, but I didn’t know what to do instead.

Trying Out Different Routines

Since I wasn’t already aware of my optimal work patterns, for the week of the exercise I decided to try out a few different routines to see which one resonated best with me. Below are some of the ways I switched up my routine this past week. I realize that I have more flexibility in how I spend my time than many other people do and I’m fortunate to be in such a position. But hopefully if you’re interested in this type of exercise, you will be able to try something similar even if you’re not able to vary things quite as much.  If your weekdays are pretty set in store, you may wish to try the exercise for your weekends to help you optimize how you spend your days off.

Monday:  I got started working at my desk right after breakfast and spent about four hours on my tasks before breaking to exercise, have lunch, and shower. I then did another task session of roughly the same length at my desk in the afternoon/evening prior to cooking and eating dinner with my husband. I got a lot done this day, but I felt “gross” in the morning and didn’t get outside at all, which led me to feel both depressed and isolated.

Tuesday:  I went back to my usual routine of exercising and showering right after breakfast, then spent the bulk of the day at my desk other than a long break for lunch. This was another very productive day, but I didn’t talk to anyone or go anywhere until a late evening walk with my husband. Although I got outside on Tuesday, it wasn’t until after dark, which wasn’t ideal. I also didn’t feel well at all that day, but I pushed myself to get things done, which really depleted me.

Wednesday:  The early portion of this day looked a lot like Tuesday, but then I opted to get out for a few hours during the afternoon to run errands and go to the gym. After I returned home, I spent a big chunk of time on tasks at my desk but ended up eating a late dinner and staying up until the wee hours, which was easier to do because my husband was out of town. It was nice to get outside while it was still light out, but breaking my usual rule of not going on my computer late at night wasn’t a good idea for me.

Thursday:  This was a very enjoyable day, as I spent a large portion of it with a friend after my usual morning routine of breakfast, exercising, and showering. I spent some time on my tasks in the evening, but it wasn’t a highly productive day overall. I got off my computer at 8 pm, which I was proud of, but I felt anxious because I was behind on getting my tasks done.

Friday:  I intended to get an hour long “jumpstart” on tasks before exercising, but instead ended up spending two hours online before an 11am phone meeting. This was beneficial for my productivity, but I didn’t feel good not having showered by the time 1:00 came around. Although I later spent a few hours at my desk prior to meeting a friend for dinner, I didn’t feel like I got much done yesterday, which is why I’m writing this blog post on a Saturday afternoon (I had hoped to write it yesterday).

Productivity Patterns and Feelings

The above are the basics of what I did, but when I look back at my notes during the various time periods, I saw some patterns in terms of how I felt and when I was most productive. I already knew that I’m not exactly a “morning person,” so it didn’t surprise me that the main word I wrote for the before 8am segment was “tired.” The word “motivated” showed up most days during the 8-11am segment, but because I wasn’t productive enough in those hours, “overwhelm” was mentioned on all days except one for the 11am – 1pm time frame.

Surprisingly, besides the 8-11am period, my most focused and productive time was between 5 and 8 pm. The 1-3 pm and 3-5 pm segments were more of a mixed bag in that I often found myself feeling tired or head-achy at that time. By 8pm, I had generally run out of stream and was eager to eat dinner (yes, I usually eat pretty late) and engage in leisure activities then.

Lessons Learned and Alternate Options

So what can I learn from this past week’s exploration and introspection and how can I use this new knowledge to increase my productivity? I think I need to take better advantage of my most focused and determined time frames of 8-11am and 5-8pm. However, I don’t like the feeling of not having showered until later in the day. If I could manage to get to bed earlier such that I could get up by 7am, I could exercise right away, shower, have some breakfast, and get some important things done right out of the gate. Instead of doing my hair and make-up immediately after my shower like I usually do, I could wait until 11 or so when I tend to lose focus and start feeling a bit more stress and anxiety. Taking a break at that time to finish getting ready while listening to a podcast could be the change of pace that I need. It might then be time for lunch, which I could follow by some lower-focus types of activities at my desk, such as email and administrative tasks, until later in the afternoon when I feel more focused and motivated again.

Another option could be to shower right away, have breakfast, get some stuff done, and break for a walk in the middle of the day. This would also be a good time to do something social, such as meeting a friend for lunch or running errands that get me out around other people. Doing this would ensure that I get outside while also giving me an energy boost when I need it most. I might then feel recharged to focus for a few hours in the afternoon into the early evening. Perhaps I might also feel more focused during the 3-5pm timeframe if I followed this type of schedule. Evenings would also be a great time for social activities, which would be more viable if I increase my productivity during the daytime hours.

In order to better utilize the early morning hours, I need to get to bed earlier so that I’m well-rested for the day. I will never be someone whose head hits the pillow by 9 or 10pm, but I think an 11pm bedtime is probably doable for me. This would make getting up by 6:30 or 7am far more feasible as well. If I move everything up an hour or two, I would be better able to eat dinner earlier and wind down enough to get to bed on time. I’m usually not able to sleep in very much anyway and I generally lag in the mornings because I’m so tired, which results in my whole day getting off to a very slow start.

Conclusion

I haven’t had an optimal daily routine for as long as I can remember and perhaps it’s never happened. Back when I worked in an office, I was forced to adhere to someone else’s timeline, but that only helped so much. The middle part of my day – the work hours – were productive, but I often still stayed up too late in the evenings and didn’t get enough sleep. I never filled out a worksheet to track my natural rhythms previously, but I can imagine there would have been similarities to what I wrote this past week. My work environment and state of health were definitely different, but I was still the same person with similar physical patterns and preferences.

For at least the next few weeks, I’m going to try shifting between the two newly defined daily routines I highlighted above to see how it affects both my productivity and sense of satisfaction and well-being. I suspect it will make a powerful difference, but I’m willing to tweak things as necessary to hone in on the best routines for my natural rhythms. I look forward to seeing a positive change in the way I feel physically, mentally, and emotionally.

Your Thoughts?

Now I’d love to hear from you. Feel free to comment however you’d like about the contents of this post, but here are a few questions to help spark your thoughts:

  • What are your natural rhythms? When do you feel the most physical, mental, and creative energy and when do you feel tired and depleted?
  • What daily routines have you established for yourself to maximize your productivity and life satisfaction?
  • What changes would you like to make in terms of the way you spend your time?
  • What would your optimal schedule be if you didn’t have to answer to anyone besides yourself?
  • What time management and productivity tips have you learned that you think might help other readers of this blog?

Thank you for reading and I look forward to what you have to share about this topic (you can read other posts I’ve written on the topic of time management and productivity HERE). I also welcome suggestions for what you’d like to see me write about in the future.

13 thoughts on “Daily Routines and Productivity Tips

  1. Gail H. says:

    You are learning so much about yourself and your work tendencies, Debbie. This area I have not looked at closely, but I know we all could benefit by your example.
    I am a bit compulsive and work best when the worst part of a job or the worst job is over. So I have learned one thing in all my years as a teacher and now a retiree: I tackle the most dreaded first.
    This carries over to working best in the a.m., but not before getting up slowly, eating, being alone–I get up earliest in the household–previously with 3 others, now with only one other– and enjoy alone time. I can relax better later when some things are done.
    In grad school I had to learn to break down a big task into smaller ones, setting smaller goals. I am too anxious otherwise. (Although I am anxious anyway.)
    I have had to leave for school at 6 or earlier for so many years, that I still wake up too early for a retired person. I am a poor sleeper, and it does show when I get even less sleep than usual. So I roll over and over and finally get up and do a few things. I have always gotten done what is expected on the job and at home and in a timely way, but I have notbeen able to relax as much as most. In a somewhat perverse way I enjoy scheduling and scratching items off the list, but I know I have been way too compulsive about it.
    What a topic!

    1. Debbie Roes says:

      I think your advice to tackle the most dreaded task first is right on, Gail! I didn’t quite do that today, but I did think of you when I needed to make a few calls and did it then and there instead of putting it off until later. That’s progress and it felt good to do that! Like you, I can relax better once I have gotten some important things done, and I also struggle to be able to relax. I don’t have as many things on my plate as a lot of other people do, but I always stress out about it. Yes, it’s fun to scratch items off of a list, but it can become compulsive. Like with many other things, it’s tough to find a good middle ground, but that’s where I hope exercises like the one I wrote about will help. What a topic indeed!

  2. Tara C says:

    I sleep from 11-7 approximately every night, when I get up it takes me a while to get going so I have breakfast, walk the dog, then shower and get dressed for the day. Unless I have big projects to do at home, I try to get out of the house by 10am to get stuff done outside the home, or I meet a friend for lunch at noon. I am normally home by 4pm and in for the evening as I eat early, 5:30 or 6, then relax with some reading. If I have something that needs to be done and I don’t start on it by 10am I often lose motivation and it doesn’t get done. Exercising is either at 9:30 am or 7pm when I am in San Diego as that is my yoga class schedule. In Montreal it is usually in the late afternoon. If we go for a bike ride it is usually 9:30 am. But I don’t exercise every day.

    Since I’m retired I don’t feel like I need to be all that productive, but if I do have things that need to be done, the late morning is probably my best time.

    1. Debbie Roes says:

      It sounds like you have a really great workable routine going for yourself, Tara. Good for you for keeping things balanced and enjoying your retirement. I think it’s important to have some type of structure even when one isn’t working or going to school. Otherwise, the time can just zip on by and we wonder where it went. Good for you for sleeping enough, getting out of the house every day, and making sure to stay active and also get ample relaxation. Sounds like retirement is treating you well and it’s wonderful that you will have many years to enjoy it since you’re still so young (I have to say “young” since we’re the same age…).

  3. krissie says:

    after working for many years in a field full of schedules and timeframes, having been retired now for afew years I feel best when my timetable is as free as possible. I just love to get up and do things as I feel. yesterday I spent most of the day in bed as I felt out of sorts and tired so I did some online stuff and read. Sort of felt like it was a slight waste of day but then thought… who cares. I felt much better for the rest I did have.I dont have any schedules for laundry or housework, if I see the need for something to be done it gets done, if not I have eased up on making myself do it. it gets done eventually when I have the energy or motivation. My house is very tidy and simple, and that also cuts down on housework and tidying, it stays tidy and nice for longer. I seem to spend most time on decluttering and finding ways of making my house as simple as possible and that pays dividends in the long run.It also makes me feel more relaxed in my home. I enjoyed your post, it certainly made me think if theres anything I could do to take advantage of my optimal times and when those might be,

    1. wingedtrish says:

      Krissie – I have been trying to live more in the moment and so I like to have limited schedules and time frames as well, however, I think that some kind of routine would be helpful for me because once I get it established, I feel that I will have less decisions to make about how to spend my time. While I enjoy the freedom of detaching myself from schedules, it can get exhausting because it requires me to make a lot of decisions throughout the day. I need to experiment more with a routine or schedule, but I feel like if I have a pre-determined plan, at least for the weekdays, then I’ll be less rattled by indecision.

    2. Debbie Roes says:

      I’m glad you enjoyed this post, Krissie, although it doesn’t seem like you need it. You seem to be doing great with following your natural rhythms and enjoying your retirement. I think it’s wonderful that after so many years of doing, doing, doing, you’re now better able to just be and follow what your body and your heart want to do. There is something to be said for living in the moment like wingedtrish wrote. I don’t like to have too many obligations and strict time frames, but I also see her point about the exhaustion of having to make a lot of decisions throughout the day. I keep experimenting with how many “rules” and plans to make for myself. I think I like to have a few “musts” for the day and a general framework (like what I’m trying to do with this post), but not too much structure. Everyone is different and we all need to find what works best for us. Like with many other things, it will also vary over time and based upon how we’re feeling.

  4. Kim says:

    This is a really interesting post, Debbie, and I really enjoyed it. I’m definitely a morning person. I remember when I was 4 or 5 years old, my mom had to be at work super early and she’d take me and my sister in our pjs to a sitter at 4:30 in the morning, then we’d sleep there for a while. And then as a teen I purposely got up early so I could monopolize the only bathroom we had, lol. My working life as an RN had me getting up at 4:30 for almost 24 years, and even on my days off I still woke up nearly that early. I retired in 2013 and still am awake by 5 or 6 a.m. Sometimes I lay in bed and read a bit on my iPad but usually I just get up, piddle around, and feed the cats. I often find myself get sucked into FB and being online in general in the morning, which slows my productivity for sure. I eat breakfast at 8 am, lunch at 12, dinner at 5, almost without fail. In bed by 10 pm at the latest. My best hours are from 6 am to 3 pm and then I slump! For about 3 yrs after retiring I had a strict weekly schedule for housework and laundry, and I enjoyed the structure of that. Not sure why I stopped that but I might go back to it. I don’t really need to be productive since retiring but I like a somewhat structured day.

    1. Debbie Roes says:

      It sounds like you had good training for being a morning person, Kim. I always think that it’s better to be a morning person and morning people are more productive, but I just can’t get myself to become one! I can’t imagine getting up at 4:30 for 24 years, but I’m sure I would get used to it. I think I would prefer that over the evening shift, as I would likely waste so much of the morning and early afternoon hours. I often hate structure, but I need to have at least SOME or else the decision fatigue that wingedtrish wrote about above gets to me. It’s good that you know your best hours. Mine seem to be in two chunks, as the afternoons are when I tend to drag. I’m going to keep experimenting to see what works best for me. You seem to be very keenly aware of that for you and that’s wonderful. I can see how having some structure even in retirement can be helpful and I’m sure that’s what I will want to do, too.

  5. wingedtrish says:

    Hi Debbie. This is something I’ve been trying to figure out for myself, too. I know that I work best in the mornings, but I often get distracted and lose a lot of my most productive hours. When I’m vigilant, I sit down at the computer and write before I open up any email or social media. There seems to always be something in my email that needs my attention or gives me anxiety that keeps me from focusing. I like the idea of tracking my natural working rhythms, I think that I know what the results will be, but perhaps I’ll be surprised if I’m paying more attention. Thanks for sharing and best of luck in cultivating your optimal routine.

    1. Debbie Roes says:

      I really get what you mean about email, Trish. I know that my day gets off to a better start if I avoid email and social media. I have dramatically cut back on my social media time and actually more than I want lately, but I still check email too often. I think that starting our days off right makes a huge difference, even if it’s just to have a sort of “power hour” that kicks things off. A morning routine can be very beneficial for all of us, no matter what time we get up. I hope you find your optimal routine, too, and I hope you comment again. I always like to see new commenters here – welcome!

  6. Katrina B says:

    Debbie, this is fascinating, and I’m going to borrow your experimental method for a week or two. I work at home and I believe I am most effective in the early morning through early afternoon, and tend to lose focus in the late afternoon. It will be very interesting to test this belief to see if it’s really happening or if it’s just lifelong habits. I know I do need to change my afternoon habits because as soon as I get distracted from work, I fall into behaviors I’d prefer to avoid: snacking, watching TV, online shopping, etc.

    1. Debbie Roes says:

      I’m glad you found this helpful, Katrina, and I hope you learn some useful things about your natural rhythms from this experiment. You seem to already have a good sense of things, but you may have a few surprises. I thought that I was more productive in the afternoon than the morning, but that didn’t end up being the case. I think we all have some distracting behaviors we’d like to cut back on. I’ve always fond that when I track things, I get a rude awakening and that motivates me to change. Change is never easy, but knowing how far afield I’ve gone (like with the shopping…) can help to bring me back on track, even if it takes a long time and there are ups and downs along the way.

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