I am a systems person. I take great solace in tucking into a routine every morning and using a generally ritualized structure to guide me through my day. Doing so greatly improves my chances of being productive as well as providing my “to do” list with a little natural rhythm. When you work independently in a wildly divergent field, like business development consulting, your days can quickly become busy without any really clear direction except “get it done now.” I see a lot of entrepreneurs and self-employed folks fall apart in the face of the assorted demands of their day. Distractions, stress and exhaustion are also adversaries of productivity. However, if you have a routine in place you’re more likely to keep your head, and focus, in the game.
My typical routine looks something like this:
7 am: Gym
• Going first thing in the morning wakes me up, gives me time to think about my day and takes one thing off of my “to do” list immediately.
9 am: Email check
• To tackle a hefty AM open I filter out newsletters, group updates and other regular emails into specific folders leaving only the emails that might demand immediate attention.
9:30 Update “to do” list
• I use google’s Task function to keep my lists handy and easy to reference. There are many list manager services and aps out there to suit your needs.
10 am: News & Blog reading
• This is a big part of my job. Following trends, engaging with social networks and continually researching topics that are of interest to my clients are the fuel that feed my professional fires. I use Google Reader to organize the many RSS feeds I follow.
11 am: Open project files and dig in
• I make sure to give myself enough time to work, research and write.
1:30/2 pm: Lunch Break
3 pm: Email check & reply time
• One of my resolutions for this year is to limit the number of times I hit the email feeder bar. By assigning myself regular times to check in I find I’m less distracted by the prospect of an email.
4 pm: Open time
• Depending on what is most pressing for that day this time can be used in a variety of ways; writing, working on invoicing, touching base with colleagues, etc.
A Good Routine Is Not Set In Stone
You will notice the auto pilot items are condensed in the morning. My mind needs a little time to wake up some mornings and reading news, blogs, emails often lays the seeds of inspiration for where I want to direct my day. However these items are also not the most pressing; if they aren’t done the world will still rotate on it’s axis so they can be set aside and that time can be used for more immediate needs. Whatever your established agenda for the day is it is important to be able to be flexible and move forward if things do get a little out of control.
A Good Routine Comes In Many Shapes & Sizes
I have a few variations of my routine depending on the greater demands of the day. For example, on accounting days I jump right into the open accounts before heading to my google reader. I find it is useful to break an accounting day up by stopping for 30-45 min breaks to read other material every 2 hours or so. When a day requires travel I will often use commuting time to listen to podcasts or the news to make my time efficient. Once you’ve established your basic schedule you will notice the more commonly occurring themes of your days and can create your own variations.
In the time I have been actively building and refining my daily routine I have noticed a definite improvement in my efficiency and productivity. As customers, projects, environments and needs change it is nice to have something to lean on to give shape to some of the chaos.
If you’ve already got your own routine or productivity boosting tips please do leave them in the comments. I am always interested in hearing how others use their time wisely.