Does it feel like you are always rushing to meet deadlines, missing appointments, or squeezing too many tasks into your day? Do you frequently work late into the night just trying to catch up? If disorganization, procrastination, and poor time management are robbing your productivity and causing chronic stress, it might be time to implement more structure in your daily routine.
Implementing structure establishes the foundation for effective time management. Without proactively planning your days and weeks, it is all too easy to lose control of your schedule. Here’s why building more structure sets you up for success:
You’re Less Overwhelmed
When every day feels chaotic, you’re left drained and overwhelmed. Creating set routines removes the mental effort of constantly deciding what to do next. Structured schedules create calm.
You Become More Productive
With recurring blocks of time assigned to specific tasks, you can focus more deeply and work more efficiently without distraction. This will allow you to get more done in less time.
It Reduces Procrastination
Unstructured days allow procrastination to sneak in and derail your plans. When certain activities are tied to certain time slots, you are unable to put them off. Structure encourages you to prioritize and complete your most important work.
You Identify Time Wasters
A structured schedule highlights where you might be wasting time during your day. With every hour accounted for, time wasters can become more obvious and can be reduced or can even be eliminated.
You Build Helpful Habits
Consistent daily routines help cement helpful habits related to work, health, relationships and more. Structure reinforces positive behaviors.
How to Implement More Structure
To reap the benefits of structure, try implementing these suggestions and see how they work for you:
Block Your Calendar
– Carve out set blocks of time for major to-do’s, meetings, and appointments in your calendar.
– Schedule time for single-focus work, creative work, busy work, exercise, etc.
– Do the most difficult thing on your to-do list first while you have energy. You can weave in and out of that task and break it into smaller chunks taking breaks by doing smaller, easier tasks in between such as answering emails.
Create Recurring Schedules
– Identify tasks that repeat daily, weekly, monthly. Standardize a routine schedule.
– For example, set a daily 5pm closing routine to wrap up work consistently.
-Color code to easily identify your recurring tasks at a glance.
Use Time Boxing
– Assign set amounts of time to work on a task before moving on to the next one.
– Use a timer to stay focused in 25- or 50-minute bursts.
-This is a good technique to, not only beat procrastination by giving yourself a deadline, but it can also help you move on to other tasks when your perfectionism is getting the best of you. Done is better than perfect. Perfect does not exist unless you are solving a straightforward math problem.
Plan Your Day the Night Before
– Each evening, review tomorrow and create a timed agenda.
– Having a clear map eliminates morning decision fatigue. You start the day knowing exactly what you need to do regardless of whether or not you’ve had your coffee.
-Build in wiggle room. Expect the unexpected. Give yourself more time than you think you will need for each task. In addition, you will probably get interrupted throughout the day. You may even be pulled into a meeting. It is important to plan for these interruptions, so you don’t fall behind. A tightly packed schedule without room for flexibility can be stressful and is not realistic day after day.
-Completing your work ahead of deadlines is a fantastic way to reduce stress. You can always tinker with your final product, always add some finishing touches, but get the bulk of the work done as soon as you can.
– During work blocks, silence phone, close email, minimize disruptions.
-Every office has different policies so, if you are working on a big project, communicate with your manager. Let him/her know that you need some uninterrupted focus time. In some offices, you can simply close your emails and put a note on your door letting your colleagues know that you are working on a project. In other companies, you may need to set up an automatic email letting customers know that you will be checking your emails starting at 10am, for example. If you are unsure, check with your supervisor. It does take time to refocus and settle into a difficult task.
– Single-task to avoid mental multitasking which drains efficiency.
-Don’t confuse being busy with being productive. Sometimes being busy for the sake of being busy can be a form of procrastination that keeps us from doing the important tasks, and probably hard things, we need to do. Focus on being productive.
Review Your Plan
– Evaluate how you followed your plan.
-How did it work for you? What went well?
-What could be improved upon for next time?
-Review how well you followed your routine and if it had influence on your level of productivity and if it reduced your stress levels.
– Periodically regroup and adjust your schedule as needs change. Allow some flexibility.
It takes time to change but when you see that the changes you make yield positive results, you will be encouraged to continue. What other areas of your life are you flying on auto pilot? Where else would you like to be more efficient? What would that look like? How would that make your life more enjoyable and less stressful? What are some ways you could streamline what you are doing?
Books on Time Management and Productivity
– The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen Covey – Provides a pathway for adopting new effective habits like prioritizing and scheduling intentionally.
– Getting Things Done by David Allen – Offers productivity tips for streamlining tasks, reducing stress, and implementing organizational systems.
– Essentialism by Greg McKeown – Advocates for disciplined focus on only the most vital priorities by cutting away less essential tasks.
– Deep Work by Cal Newport – Shares tips for training concentration and creating productive routines by optimizing energy.
– Make Time: How to Focus on What Matters Everyday by Jake Knapp and John Zeratsky – Offers tactical tips for finding focus through highlight calendars, daily highlighting, and themed days.
– Atomic Habits by James Clear – Reveals how to create systems for building good habits and phasing out self-sabotaging behaviors.
– Eat That Frog by Brian Tracy – Provides strategies for tackling difficult but important tasks right away to avoid procrastination.
– The ONE Thing by Gary Keller – Advocates identifying the single most important task daily rather than less effective multitasking.
– The Now Habit by Neil Fiore – Diagnoses underlying causes of procrastination like perfectionism and fear to complete tasks on time.
– The Checklist Manifesto by Atul Gawande – Makes the case for using checklists to minimize errors and accomplish complex processes.
– Smarter, Faster, Better by Charles Duhigg – Analyzes productivity strategies used by high performers, like focusing on process over product.
– 168 Hours by Laura Vanderkam – Shows readers how to align schedules with priorities by tracking time and planning deliberately.
– Manage Your Day-to-Day by Jocelyn K. Glei – Provides frameworks, strategies, and tips for spending time wisely and averting distractions.