What is your routine? Heck, what is a routine? What I’m calling a routine, some might call a ritual, or a schedule, or a checklist. At its heart, a routine is a series of steps that you follow to get a result. Think about a routine in a computer program. It’s just a set of instructions, executed in order, to get a certain result.
When you work remotely, you need a routine. You already have some routines. You probably have a morning routine, and probably have an evening routine. They might not be ideal, and they might be a little random, but they’re there. You may also have a lunchtime routine, or a starting work routine.
When you worked at an office (or if you still do), you probably had a routine when arriving at work and one when getting home. Though they probably weren’t explicit or super consistent, the habitual nature of those routines gave structure to your day and helped you get certain things done. Those routines often pressured you to create other routines, like a productive morning routine, or an end-of-the-workday routine.
But when you start working remotely, all of that seems to go out the window. You don’t stop having a routine, but you probably noticed that it degraded over time. Your morning bled into work time, which later bled into the evening. Your routine became more random, less ordered, less productive, less routine-y.
Has that happened to you? I know it’s happened to me. It happened when I first started working remotely. It happened after I moved six months later. It almost happened again last week. But I’m slowly getting better at making the routines stick. Here are a few ideas that keep me from descending into a pit of unorganized, randomly ordered life choices that leave me weak and unproductive…
First, make your routine sustainable. Honestly, this take regular adjustment. I’ve found that I can usually go 6-8 weeks with a new or adjusted routine before the routine gets routine, and therefore boring and hard to sustain. Whenever I start to feel that, I know it’s time to change something. Partly, that change is just for the sake of change. Our minds need a sense of newness to stay interested in something. But more importantly, I aim for changes that will make the routine easier to stick with, while still being productive.
Second, include slack time in your routine. If you’re morning routine is scheduled down to the minute, the smallest disturbance can throw you off your game. Make sure you’ve set aside more time for each activity than it will take.
With the slack time, you need some simple tasks to fill it. Slack time has it’s own pitfalls. The main one is that you don’t need it, and so you pull up your phone and check twitter, and before you know it the slack time is gone, and you’ve already missed the next thing you’re supposed to do. If its not twitter on your phone, its surfing in your browser, or checking Facebook, or picking up the book you recently got sucked into. Make sure you’ve got small things, that will only take a couple minutes to do, to fill the slack. Some ideas: brush your teeth, floss your teeth, de-clutter a room in your home. One that’s been working well for me is that I’m slowly clearing the garage bay where my new office will be built. Just walk in, carry one thing out and find a new place for it. Doesn’t take long, doesn’t get me distracted.
Third, flow. When I say flow, I don’t mean the state of flow that you can get into when you’re deep in a task that you love, that is at just the right line between challenging and too hard. I mean, instead, that the tasks in your routine should flow into each other. It should be easy to move from one to another. My morning routine includes exercise, breakfast, and a shower. And if I do them in that order, it flows pretty well. If I tried shower, breakfast, exercise, it would be a disaster. That’s the simple, obvious example. Another one is to recognize that a few tasks in your routine require a computer – doing them all at the same time helps your routine flow, making it easier to stick to and quicker to do.
At this point, you may be thinking that it’s time to fix your routines. But you’re probably also wondering how to do it. Without the forced structure of a commute, a required time to be at the office, a family or nightlife to pull you away from work in the evening. How do you impose some structure on your own life, while still remaining flexible? How do you keep that structure in place? How do you improve it, so that your routines are helping you be more productive, be happier, get you all those benefits you had hoped for from a remote work job?
Whew! That’s a lot of questions. I’ve put together a short email course on building, maintaining, and perfecting the daily routines you need for productive remote work. Sign up below and I’ll send you a new email once a week to help you build your routines.