Six months ago, I reduced my working hours as an employee and took a step into working freelance. As I’ve adapted to a new working pattern, including two days a week working from home, I’ve tried to build some routine into my working day. The aim is to maximise the time I can spend focused on creative work. It all begins with an attempt to make mornings easier.
I’ve made some small changes to take the stress out of my mornings and leave me feeling prepared for the day ahead. I now sort out breakfast and make lunches the night before. I decide what I’m going to wear and lay out what I need to take with me. The idea is that by removing these small decisions from my morning, my mind is freed up to start thinking more clearly about the day ahead and the bigger decision I might have to make.
I wish I could say that I manage to get out of bed as soon as my alarm goes off, but that’s still a struggle. However, the alarm is set half an hour earlier than before to allow for this. Even with my snoozing, this small shift gives me time to read in bed with a cup of tea for around 20 minutes which helps to ease me gently into the day.
Another small change is to stop sleeping with my phone next to the bed. Reaching for a book, instead of my phone, first thing in the morning helps me create the headspace I need to get myself ready to begin work undistracted by news or notifications.
Every morning I take 10-15 minutes to plan my day. I try not to do anything else – checking email, social media etc – before it’s done. I use the Bullet Journal method which helps me to plan daily activities and keep a view on more long-term scheduling and tasks. What I love about the process is that it’s completely customisable – you take the initial concepts, use the ones that work for you, ditch the ones that don’t and add your own features.
For 2017 I’ve added a daily plan bar to help me plan out my day. I’ve always chunked up my time into roughly two-hour slots. Previously I’ve used time blocking in my online calendar but this feature allows me to combine that with the daily tasks in my journal.
If you’re interested in exploring the use of bullet journals in a research context, check out Ellie Mackin’s useful research planning tips and hints.
I had a conversation on Twitter recently about tracking habits. The simplest way this can be done is the old-school star chart – I’m sure you had one as a kid. Every time you complete a task you get a star and as the stars build up, if you maintain a streak of a week or a month, you get rewarded. These days we have apps to help us track our habits.
I’ve been a bit concerned lately about my reliance on using my phone to track what I’ve done; books I’ve read, films I’ve seen, exercise etc so I was hesitant about using yet another tracker. After some thought, I’ve come to the conclusion that there’s a difference here – this is about building something positive. As I’ve begun creating daily routines I’ve tried a couple of free habit tracking apps to see my progress. I’ve settled on Momentum which allows you to track three habits for free (you can upgrade to add more).
If you’re interested in giving habit tracking a go, here are a couple of posts on the topic, with recommendations for other Android and iOS apps you could try:
- Small habits make big differences by Doug Belshaw
- Build a habit streak with Productive by Jason B. Jones
Are you trying to form new habits? You might find Matt Cutts’ 3 minutes TED talk a good place to start: