Balance: 4 ways to embrace calm productivity at work with routines

Have you had that moment at work where you just find yourself losing time on a task you do often? Even creative knowledge work, from blogging to designing lessons, has work routines to it. But if the information you need and the process to follow isn’t there, it can take ages to get your brain into work mode, losing time and productivity. Hello procrastination and goodbye brain focus!

I spent a year working overseas where the motto was definitely to work long hours. Until the boss went home, everyone was in the office. Even if they were just reading and not working much. Now, I’d prefer to work hard and then get out of there, not work slowly over long hours. However, the amount of admin in every role has increased exponentially and it seems impossible to get out fast at the end of the day.

So how do you reduce admin, manage workload, and save brain power at work so you can get home and enjoy life?

work routines to find your balance

The benefits of work routines

Routines are beneficial because they can “buffer the adverse impact of stress exposure on mental health.”They provide a sense of control and regularity in the face of work stresses. Routines conserve energy due to their automatic set of actions. They also increase our effectiveness to get things done. If our mental resources aren’t taken up by thinking about what to do next, it frees up resources for increased mental, creative and emotional performance. It’s even been claimed that routines contribute to making life feel meaningful

4 ways to find and create work routines

So, if you want to be more efficient, put in less effort yet be more creative and happy at work, look to employ routines.

Look for where there’s repeated or routine work. You may be a creative knowledge worker, but there will still be processes, events or tasks that are similar.

1. Checklists for complex yet repeated tasks

Invest in making a checklist for these processes or events. If you have regular people visiting for similar reasons, make an event checklist so you can make sure you’re organised and remember every step you need to follow to make their visit a success. If you have written work – from blog posts to lesson plans or reports – make a scaffold for writing or calendar schedule so all you have to do is fill in the blanks.

2. Templates for repeated information requests

If you have similar types of email requests, create templates or automated responses. Rather than having to think through and type out the same response every time, and have a template or standard response.

3. Flowcharts for complex decision making

They say a teacher makes 1,500 decisions every day. Avoid decision fatigue and uncertainty by creating decision flowcharts or matrices. So much time is wasted procrastinating or deliberating because we don’t know the next step. Create your own decision flowchart to make decision making less mentally taxing and effortful. This is about finding balance in your work life, through simplifying the complex work that we do. 

4. Calendar schedules for repeated admin

Save mental load and having to think in advance of everything in the future for planning. Have a calendar overview of the quarter or year to schedule activities in so you don’t forget. Use recurring calendar events to schedule time for repeated admin each week, from logs, reports, phone call contact, planning for the week ahead or resource creation. If it’s in the calendar, it will likely happen because you’ll get the reminder, freeing your brain space and mental load.

Make a schedule, template or flowchart for one activity of your work. Do the heavy mental lifting up front and reap the rewards of effortless action later.

Human beings derive meaning and maintain well-being through the organization of time.

ADOLF MEYER (1922, p. 6)

Recommended Reading

Hou WK, Lai FT, Ben-Ezra M, Goodwin R. Regularizing daily routines for mental health during and after the COVID-19 pandemic. J Glob Health. 2020 Dec;10(2):020315. doi: 10.7189/jogh.10.020315. PMID: 33110518; PMCID: PMC7535346.

Get more in the 21 day Find Your Balance series, from morning routines to evening routines.

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