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5 Ways to Immediately Regain Control of Your Day

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5 Ways to Immediately Regain Control of Your Day


    How often do you begin your day with this thought:

    “Ugh.  I’m too tired for this.  I wish I could get settled before the nonstop hassles start?”

    How often do you end your day with a thought like:

    “I’m exhausted…I can’t remember what I accomplished today, but I feel like I slogged uphill carrying my desk?”

    For many of us, the answer is “far too often”.

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    There are many things that could contribute to those feelings, and many are beyond our control – immediate or otherwise.  However, there are several things we do to ourselves that contribute to ending a day with such work exhaustion that it guarantees the next day will begin with it. This starts a self-reinforcing cycle that will end in burnout.

    Fortunately, there are several things you can immediately implement to start gaining control of some of your day and give you the perspective to seize control of as much of the rest of it as you possibly can.  Here are five things you can do…beginning today.

    1. Stop scheduling meetings for first and last thing

    You just gave yourself three hours right there.  If you have a 9-hour workday, it just became a 6-hour (normal) workday with three hours at the beginning and end to review your plans for the day and revise as necessary, identify whether meetings need to be scheduled or rescheduled since yesterday, and finish out your day by making any final notes (either in your calendar or in your daily notebook) about what transpired and any required follow-up actions.

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    2. Schedule breathing room

    Don’t allow incursions.  Really.  How many times have you tried to schedule a meeting with someone to find their calendar completely full from beginning to the end of the day, and possibly with overlapping or conflicting appointments?  Annoying, isn’t it?  And completely counterproductive.  No one can possibly hold all of those meetings, and if even just one or two slip, the remainder are usually slipped later in the day rather than killing or rescheduling one meeting in favor of saving the others.  Protect your ability to remain effective:  schedule islands of meeting prep and recovery time (for assembly of briefing materials beforehand and documentation afterward) to start gaining control of your day.  A fifteen-to-thirty minute hold on your calendar around most meetings will suffice.

    3. Schedule lunch

    Protect it.  Lunch is important, even if you don’t eat.  But, eat.  Skipping a meal guarantees you’ll crash sometime during the afternoon, and almost certainly overeat at dinner.  Lunch is also a crucial middle-of-the-workday decompression time.  If you don’t want to spend half an hour or an hour in a restaurant, take your lunch to a nearby park, picnic table, or somewhere else that will get you outside if the weather is good, and away from your desk regardless.  If you aren’t eating lunch for some reason, at least take time for a constructive break.

    4. End meetings with clear expectations of what’s next

    “What’s the next action?”

    David Allen’s Getting Things Done espouses this principle as one of the most crucial to being productive.  I happen to agree, and practice it almost constantly.  Ending a meeting with no clear expectation of what is owed to whom guarantees something – or everything – will be late.  Declaring “I need something” does not equate to issuing an action.  Identify the action, the desired result, the expected delivery timeframe, and the person who is responsible.  Ensure they understand this information…have them repeat it back to you.  The trick to gaining control of your day is not to assume they understood you simply because you think you were clear.  Meetings that are scheduled to end at 5PM and do not include a time before the end of the agenda to review action items are not properly-scheduled meetings.  It doesn’t matter if you have a great GTD tool you use, or are using a paper planner, capture the next actions in a way that allows you to find them again.

    5. Make daily notes

    Do it more often than once a day!  Waiting until the end of the day to make all of your daily notes will virtually guarantee that you will have forgotten an action or an important detail, and it will frustrate you when inevitable interruptions occur during your carefully-constructed end-of-the-day notetaking time.  As much as possible, jot down memory-jogging notes about your meetings and decisions as you make them, or very quickly thereafter.  An easy way to do this is to add notes to calendar appointments, or print the calendar and take it with you; you can then simply add it to your notebook with the appointment “pre-populated” and the notes written on it, automatically placing them in context.

    (Photo credit: Man Holding Clock via Shutterstock)

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    Last Updated on October 21, 2021

    How to Create Your Own Ritual to Conquer Time Wasters and Laziness

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    How to Create Your Own Ritual to Conquer Time Wasters and Laziness

    Life is wasted in the in-between times. The time between when your alarm first rings and when you finally decide to get out of bed. The time between when you sit at your desk and when productive work begins. The time between making a decision and doing something about it.

    Slowly, your day is whittled away from all the unused in-between moments. Eventually, time wasters, laziness, and procrastination get the better of you.

    The solution to reclaim these lost middle moments is by creating rituals. Every culture on earth uses rituals to transfer information and encode behaviors that are deemed important. Personal rituals can help you build a better pattern for handling everything from how you wake up to how you work.

    Unfortunately, when most people see rituals, they see pointless superstitions. Indeed, many rituals are based on a primitive understanding of the world. But by building personal rituals, you get to encode the behaviors you feel are important and cut out the wasted middle moments.

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    Program Your Own Algorithms

    Another way of viewing rituals is by seeing them as computer algorithms. An algorithm is a set of instructions that is repeated to get a result.

    Some algorithms are highly efficient, sorting or searching millions of pieces of data in a few seconds. Other algorithms are bulky and awkward, taking hours to do the same task.

    By forming rituals, you are building algorithms for your behavior. Take the delayed and painful pattern of waking up, debating whether to sleep in for another two minutes, hitting the snooze button, repeat until almost late for work. This could be reprogrammed to get out of bed immediately, without debating your decision.

    How to Form a Ritual

    I’ve set up personal rituals for myself for handling e-mail, waking up each morning, writing articles, and reading books. Far from making me inflexible, these rituals give me a useful default pattern that works best 99% of the time. Whenever my current ritual won’t work, I’m always free to stop using it.

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    Forming a ritual isn’t too difficult, and the same principles for changing habits apply:

    1. Write out your sequence of behavior. I suggest starting with a simple ritual of only 3-4 steps maximum. Wait until you’ve established a ritual before you try to add new steps.
    2. Commit to following your ritual for thirty days. This step will take the idea and condition it into your nervous system as a habit.
    3. Define a clear trigger. When does your ritual start? A ritual to wake up is easy—the sound of your alarm clock will work. As for what triggers you to go to the gym, read a book or answer e-mail—you’ll have to decide.
    4. Tweak the Pattern. Your algorithm probably won’t be perfectly efficient the first time. Making a few tweaks after the first 30-day trial can make your ritual more useful.

    Ways to Use a Ritual

    Based on the above ideas, here are some ways you could implement your own rituals:

    1. Waking Up

    Set up a morning ritual for when you wake up and the next few things you do immediately afterward. To combat the grogginess after immediately waking up, my solution is to do a few pushups right after getting out of bed. After that, I sneak in ninety minutes of reading before getting ready for morning classes.

    2. Web Usage

    How often do you answer e-mail, look at Google Reader, or check Facebook each day? I found by taking all my daily internet needs and compressing them into one, highly-efficient ritual, I was able to cut off 75% of my web time without losing any communication.

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    3. Reading

    How much time do you get to read books? If your library isn’t as large as you’d like, you might want to consider the rituals you use for reading. Programming a few steps to trigger yourself to read instead of watching television or during a break in your day can chew through dozens of books each year.

    4. Friendliness

    Rituals can also help with communication. Set up a ritual of starting a conversation when you have opportunities to meet people.

    5. Working

    One of the hardest barriers when overcoming procrastination is building up a concentrated flow. Building those steps into a ritual can allow you to quickly start working or continue working after an interruption.

    6. Going to the gym

    If exercising is a struggle, encoding a ritual can remove a lot of the difficulty. Set up a quick ritual for going to exercise right after work or when you wake up.

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    7. Exercise

    Even within your workouts, you can have rituals. Spacing the time between runs or reps with a certain number of breaths can remove the guesswork. Forming a ritual of doing certain exercises in a particular order can save time.

    8. Sleeping

    Form a calming ritual in the last 30-60 minutes of your day before you go to bed. This will help slow yourself down and make falling asleep much easier. Especially if you plan to get up full of energy in the morning, it will help if you remove insomnia.

    8. Weekly Reviews

    The weekly review is a big part of the GTD system. By making a simple ritual checklist for my weekly review, I can get the most out of this exercise in less time. Originally, I did holistic reviews where I wrote my thoughts on the week and progress as a whole. Now, I narrow my focus toward specific plans, ideas, and measurements.

    Final Thoughts

    We all want to be productive. But time wasters, procrastination, and laziness sometimes get the better of us. If you’re facing such difficulties, don’t be afraid to make use of these rituals to help you conquer them.

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    Featured photo credit: RODOLFO BARRETO via unsplash.com

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