The short version

I realized something today after hearing clients and friends struggle with this over and over again. What I realized is that most of us are unsure how to radically redesign our own lives.

In Before World (that is, before our normal routines were upended by the effects of a global pandemic), we were asleep at the wheel. We lived the daily grind on autopilot without giving any thought to whether or not it was optimized for us. We took what other people expected from us at face value and then kept that routine for a good decade. Some people have stumbled into a daily routine that was working; a morning meditation or a consistent after-work stop at the gym. Many of us hadn’t cracked the code.

Take this moment of shakeup to design your day exactly how you would like it to be. Have it include the things you have been wanting to do forever (Meditation! Exercise! Reading!). Even if you aren’t feeling the big pause (more like the big chaos) because your work is exploding, this still applies. Slash and burn anything that isn’t adding value or making your day doable. I bet you are holding on to something that can go if you examined it closer, like caring about others’ opinions or shaving your legs.

Keep reading for ideas on how to optimize your day, and your energy.

 

The long version (a.k.a., I have no idea how to actually do that)

I have worked for myself and out of my home for over three years, and have had that time to process exactly what I am seeing people experience right now. When you first begin working from home, it feels “wrong” to do anything different than your normal commute to work, bust your ass nonstop from start time to end time, commute home, and then continue with your second job of living your life or taking care of your family. There were time and space containers that defined work and home. Even with the “constantly on” feel of mobile phones, there was some way to delineate the difference between work and non-work.

In After World, with everyone quarantined in their homes and “work from home” being the new normal for office employees, people feel unproductive, unmotivated, or end up working all day long. There are many factors that contribute to this, some of which might feel out of our control or related to our anxiety about a global pandemic, or economic ruin, or all that. Yes, all of that is real. AND…

We have lost sight that we have control over how we spend our days. We can create the containers we need to be effective, productive, creative, whatever you need to be.

 

How to begin

Most people begin by repurposing commute time, and the rest stays the same. Then you take breaks to walk at lunch, and so on. With each peeling back of an arbitrary work rule, you start to find your optimal day. The lines between work and home life may blur, but this can be an integration rather than an altercation. Work and home, now one and the same, can work together rather than fight against each other. After giving way too much for too long already during my “work day” at the corporate office, I remember feeling resentful for having to work at night. As an entrepreneur, working later was part of my optimization, not because I was working 12 hours a day.

Take a nap in the afternoon. Workout midday. Work in the morning before anyone else has the gall to wake up and bother you. Work at night because you lived life for a bit during “business hours.” Go to the grocery store at 8:00 a.m. on a Thursday. Stop working at 3:00 p.m. on Tuesday to bike with your daughter. Do whatever the hell you need to do to fill your energy cup back up.

These are all real possibilities.

Create “stations” so you move around your house every few hours with new scenery, renewed focus. Block your time, split your time, do what works for you.

You’ve never even thought about it this much. You have an opportunity right now to revolutionize your day, not just improve it by 5%. You can blow the whole thing up and ask yourself, “what is possible?” and “what is ideal?” What is stopping you from building the ideal?

 

Here are a few questions to consider that might help you construct the optimized day:
  • How much sleep do you want?
  • What time to do you wake up?
  • What does your morning routine look like?
  • What wellbeing habits are you working to instill, and when are the optimal times to build them in?
  • What would feel like “enough” for work time?
  • How much time, and when, will you spend with your family?
  • When will you move your body, or get outside?
  • What are your boundaries and non-negotiables that need to be part of your day?

 

Here is a near-optimal day for me in Before World:

6:15 a.m.: Wake-up

6:20 a.m. – 7:20 a.m.: Coffee, breakfast, feed kids, get family out the door

7:20 a.m. – 7:30 a.m.: Get my life in order

7:30 a.m. – 8:00 a.m.: Meditation, morning pages, reading

8:00 a.m. – 11:00 a.m.: Deep, creative work

11:00 a.m. – 11:30 a.m.: Eat snack, take break (load of laundry, etc.)

11:30 a.m. – 12:30 p.m.: Email/admin

12:30 p.m. – 1:30 p.m.: Outdoor running

1:30 p.m. – 2:00 p.m.: Shower

2:00 p.m. – 4:30 p.m.: Client calls, coffees, meetings with others

4:30 p.m. – 5:00 p.m.: Prep dinner

5:00 p.m. – 5:45 p.m.: Pick up kids from school

5:45 p.m. – 6:30 p.m.: Dinner

6:30 p.m. – 8:00 p.m.: Bedtime routines with kids (and I cannot stress this enough, I am DONE parenting by 8:00 p.m.)

8:00 p.m. – 9:00 p.m.: Read (usually work-related or world-related)

9:00 p.m. – 9:20 p.m.: Zone out at the TV

9:30 p.m.: In bed for sleep

 

Critical components to point out:
  • Goal is to sleep at least 8 hours
  • I usually exercise and shower midday
  • I stop at 4:30 p.m. to make dinnertime easier on us
  • I plan creative time in the morning when I am at my best
  • I plan meetings with others around my deep work time

 

After World quarantine real life:

It is critical to mention that I do my work at times outside of this normal day. My regular “business hours” are currently being used as a kick-ass at-home preschool teacher. You may notice some differences. Nevertheless, this is my current day.

6:15 a.m.: Wake-up

6:20 a.m. – 7:30 a.m.: Coffee, breakfast, feed kids, achieve morning routine (and remember to brush everyone’s teeth)

7:30 a.m. – 8:00 a.m.: I don’t care, go watch TV while I get my life in order

8:00 a.m. – 9:00 a.m.: School lessons, the toughest ones (deep work) [TOGETHER]

9:00 a.m. – 9:15 a.m.: Free play [APART]

9:15 – 9:30 a.m.: Snack

9:30 a.m. – 10:00 a.m.: School lessons, easier ones [TOGETHER]

10:00 a.m. – 11:00 a.m.: Outside play [MOSTLY TOGETHER]

11:00 a.m. – 11:30 a.m.: Free play [APART]

11:30 a.m. – 12:00 p.m.: Lunch [TOGETHER]

12:00 p.m. – 12:30 p.m.: Free play [APART]

12:30 p.m. – 1:00 p.m.: Clean up/Get kids to rest time

1:00 p.m. – 2:30 p.m.: Kids rest/I workout, shower, and/or do work [APART]

2:30 p.m. – 3:00 p.m.: One-on-one time with older kiddo [TOGETHER]

3:00 p.m. – 3:30 p.m.: Storytime and snack [TOGETHER]

3:30 p.m. – 4:30 p.m.: Outside play [MOSTLY TOGETHER]

4:30 p.m. – 5:00 p.m.: Free play [APART]

5:00 p.m. – 5:45 p.m.: I don’t care, go watch Puppy Dog Pals/make dinner

5:45 p.m. – 6:30 p.m.: Dinner

6:30 p.m. – 8:00 p.m.: Bedtime routines with kids (and I cannot stress this enough, I am DONE parenting by 8:00 p.m.)

8:00 p.m. – 9:20 p.m.: Zone out at the TV

9:30 p.m.: In bed for sleep

 

Notable mentions here:
  • There is no truly restorative alone time (I must work on that)
  • The schedule and “containers” of time are critical for everyone’s success
  • I make the plan, but I am by no means married to the plan – I cannot care about staying “on track”

 

Maybe you work for a global company, so you are expected to be on calls at 8:00 p.m. Perhaps you have a 7:00 a.m. meeting that someone “really important” scheduled, so you have to be there. There will always be these things. But now more than ever is an opportunity to realize that you can in fact set boundaries and containers for your own time and energy, and then communicate those to other people in your life so they may uphold them.

Back when I returned to work from maternity leave after the birth of my first child, I felt constant stress about leaving on time, every day, to go pick him up from daycare. What were people going to think? What if a top leader scheduled a meeting I was invited to, and I needed to leave? I could have absolutely given myself a heart condition if I had kept that level of stress about leaving work at 4:55 p.m. Instead I realized, “Well, I am going to leave at that time no matter what. No question about it. So, how about I stop worrying about it? Or even better, make sure everyone knows that’s the deal, so no one gets in my way?” Allowing this release for myself felt much lighter, and everything turned out just fine.

I set a boundary, which is simply deciding what you are going to do, sticking with it, and communicating to others what you will be doing.

 

Into the future

If you have read any credible sources about what the next year might look like as a society, you may now be coming to the painful realization that it could be a collection of fits and starts. On-again-off-again bouts of social distancing, work-from-home, schools closed. Hold on to your awareness of what needs to stay, and what needs to go, so you can flex in and out of your dual lives without losing so much of yourself. You have so much more power than you realize to set boundaries and create the type of day that helps you manage your energy.

Get clear on what works for you, and if you need to ask for help or commitment from co-conspirators (e.g., your boss, your partner) then do it. They will not know what you need if you don’t even know. Instead of only repurposing that old commute time, try dreaming bigger and blow the whole thing up. The biggest thing getting in the way is your own permission.

 

About the author:

Katie Rasoul is a keynote speaker, author, coach and Chief Awesome Officer for Team Awesome, a leadership coaching and culture consulting firm. She is a TEDx speaker alumna, author of the best-selling book, Hidden Brilliance: A High-Achieving Introvert’s Guide to Self-Discovery, Leadership and Playing Big, and co-host of The Life and Leadership Podcast.

To learn more about Katie’s signature keynote talk, “Beyond Diversity & Inclusion to Belonging,” visit www.katierasoul.com.

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