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Thursday, September 22, 2011

An Effective Routine

Although my children are still too young for back-to-school, my work schedule changed this past week, which led to an upheaval of the routine that had been working nicely for our household for quite some time.   My new schedule will restrict my time to get things done (like writing blog posts!).  To make matters worse, in order to eek every possible second out of our end-of-summer vacation, we got home from a road trip last weekend very late the night before the start of our new schedule. 

My first order of business now is to figure out a new routine that will minimize stress through our hectic new schedule as much as possible.   This makes me realize just how much I rely on a working routine and schedule to keep my life organized and my sanity in check.

Developing an Effective Routine

  • The first step to developing an effective routine or schedule is to identify those tasks and systems that need to be a part of it.  Some parts of the schedule will be obviously set, such as work/school hours and general meal times, and will form the basic backbone of the schedule.  Others tasks or systems will be things that must happen regularly, but for which the time won’t matter as much, such as returning phone calls, responding to emails, opening mail, or taking baths/showers. 
  • Also include or block off time to focus on completing important tasks.  At work, especially if your job requires you to attend many meetings or to provide customer service throughout the day, it can be difficult to complete tasks that require focus.  At home, you should sequester time in the schedule for your family, such as play time, family outings, and kid-free time, just as you would at work. 
  • Next, prioritize any flexible recurring tasks in order to make sure those things that are truly important have a place in your routine.  Please note: They can’t all be the highest level of priority! 
Helpful Hints

  • The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People emphasizes a matrix approach to prioritization, in which you assess both the urgency and importance of a task in order to effectively prioritize it.  Only those tasks that are both important AND urgent should be addressed as they come up.  If you can refine your ability to assess the urgency of important tasks, you will manage your work or life much more effectively and lower your stress level.  I consult for several start-up medical device companies, and I often get phone calls from executives wondering about regulations.  It is easy to view these important questions as urgent, especially when they come from executives, but instead I commit to a response time (set a realistic expectation) and schedule time in my routine to research and respond to the inquiry.    
  • Urgency often has to do with the expectations you’ve allowed others to set for you (or you to set for yourself): when a customer expects to hear back from you on an inquiry, when your boss expects a report to be completed, when you need to complete a project, etc.  Set realistic expectations for yourself, otherwise you may find yourself constantly putting out fires and getting stressed out.
  • Another key to developing an effective schedule is to remember to include buffer time and not make it so rigid that there is no room for flexibility.  While I am a planner and would be happy with pre-defined days all the time, my husband is not and it would wear on him and our marriage if there were no room for spontaneity. 
Developing a working schedule can increase productivity at home and at work while minimizing stress.  But it is important to remember to use it as a tool, and not yet another daunting task.  Once you figure out what works for you, you’ll keep doing it because it is just easier that way and makes life more manageable!! 

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