Since most people follow the same routine day in and day out, it can be easy to get caught in a rut. To avoid this trap, it is essential to shake up your routine every now and then. This article offers nine ways you can jump start your thinking processes.
In this society, where we have so many things competing for our time and attention, we need to shake up our routines occasionally to gain new perspectives and more effective ways to spend our time. The following are ways you can alter your routines and in the process make better use of your time:
1. Get up one hour earlier. Twenty-five years ago, the concept of late night (11:00 p.m.) news was unknown. People went to bed at 9:30 or 10:00. Once people began staying up for the late news, the networks began running late night talk shows. As a result, the entire population is staying up later than the generation before them did. Why not go to bed earlier, and wake up an hour earlier? Even if you don’t go to bed earlier, try getting up an hour earlier on occasion ---you won’t miss the sleep that much. In that extra hour, you can watch the sun rise, meditate, do some exercises, or go to work before traffic gets bad.
The activities you do in that extra hour can affect your whole perspective on the day. To gain greater control of your time, to shake up your routine, and to get a fresh perspective, occasionally alter your sleep routine--you won’t miss Letterman that much.
2. Work on the porch of your house instead of in the office. When you change your venue and the scenery, you open up new vistas. When you do this for some of your tasks (especially tasks that require conceptualization or creative thinking), you’ll be more productive than you ever were before. As the author of 18 books, I find that I can proofread much better on the porch or in a swing than when I’m at the desk. Begin to identify the places in your life that are welcome retreats to which you can go and work--a library, sitting in your car in a parking lot, even a shopping center. When you change where you’re working, you can benefit immensely and immediately.
3. If possible, don’t get your mail until Friday. Postpone tearing through all your mail. Most things are not so urgent that you need to attend to them that day. We tend to place an immediacy upon things that often is unnecessary.
4. If possible, hold all calls for two days. Think of it as if you were on vacation and unable to be reached for a couple of days. You don’t have to respond immediately to every call. When you hold your calls for a few hours--or a day--you open up time so you can get things done in a way that is impossible when you are preoccupied with answering calls. Work surveys show that the primary disrupter and time-waster of the workday is the telephone. Of course, you don’t want to be totally inaccessible all of the time, but you can coach those who may call you.
For example, leave a message on your answering system or with your receptionist saying that you’ll be inaccessible for two days, or until 3:00, or whatever. In this way you are directing them politely and professionally in a way that benefits you both; you will gain a brief respite and they will know when they can reach you.
5. Work under a tree or at a pool, during nice weather. This is an extension of the idea of working on the porch. In this case, however, being near nature opens up a way of viewing things that you would not get if you were in the office. When working in a natural, tranquil setting, you’ll gain peace of mind in your otherwise hectic work routine.
6. Drop the unproductive 80 percent of your activities. The Pareto Principle (the “80/20” rule) states that 80 percent of your activities contribute to only 20 percent of your results. The remaining 20 percent of your activities contribute to the other 80 percent of your results. Take a hardware store for example: about 20 percent of its stock accounts for 80 percent of the revenues; the remaining 80 percent of the stock accounts for only 20 percent of the revenues.
The key to successful retailing is identifying the 20 percent that is producing the bulk of the revenues. A smart store manager knows to place that 20 percent where it is most accessible, and to put the rest where, though it can be reached, it is out of the immediate way. As a career-conscious and productive individual, you need to identify what activities in your work (and personal life) support you and are bringing you the most results. Have the strength to abandon those activities that are not producing results for you--get rid of that unproductive 80 percent.
7. Schedule brainstorming sessions. Brainstorming is a great process by which you get a wonderful array of ideas that you might not receive otherwise. You can brainstorm with yourself, or (preferably) with others. Have you ever gone to lunch with a colleague and begun discussing ways to approach a topic at work? After a few minutes, perhaps you both are deep into the conversation, coming up with all sorts of great ideas.
When the waiter comes to take your order or bring your check, however, what usually happens? The conversation dies out. When you both go back to work, oftentimes those ideas are forgotten or just put on a back burner. If you consciously schedule a meeting, the sole purpose of which is to brainstorm, you'll grab control of your time and get some of the most productive sessions that you’ve ever had.
For example, I meet with my mentor once a month at his dining room table. At a clear table, we sit across from each other with tape recorders and discuss problems and issues that face us and ways in which we can overcome them. We both keep a copy of the tape, take it home and make notes on it, and then capture those ideas--instead of letting them die. When you come in contact with other people, you’re exposed to whole new worlds--their worlds. When you interact with another person, you get the benefit of all his or her information, in addition to your own.
8. Use humor more often--laugh at yourself. When you proceed through the workday without humor, the days tend to be long and difficult. Part of taking control of your life is being able to step back and look at the big picture, being able to see the humorous, lighter side of things. Some of your worst gaffs later become some of the things you pleasantly recall--sometimes they might even turn out to be some of your best ideas!
Humor has its place in our lives; don’t get caught in the trap of thinking that what you do is so serious that you must look serious in order to appear professional. You’re likely to end up looking like a stuffed shirt. Step back and see the humor in your life; it gives you a break in the action, it makes things less tense, and it puts you back in control.
9. Work in your car, when appropriate. This is an extension of the idea of changing your venue. In an urban area especially, the car can be your life support system. I don’t mean that you should do work while driving--it’s not productive or safe. You might get stuck, however, in traffic, or in a snowstorm, or perhaps arrive at a meeting and have 30 minutes to wait. In these cases, being able to work in your car will make you more productive and give you greater control over your time.
Make your car a friendly, supportive environment so that you will feel comfortable when in it. Furthermore, why not pack a gym bag, and leave it in the trunk? Include a few changes of clothes or perhaps a bottle of your favorite juice. The key is to set up in advance whatever it is that supports you.
When you shake up your work routine, you will gain a fresh perspective on your life, and will begin to retake control of your time. Taking new approaches to the way you work will give you more time, reduce your stress, and help you attain breathing space.
Jeff helps organizations and individuals manage the relentless enslaught of information overload. www.BreathingSpace.com discusses Jeff's keynote speeches and seminars including "Managing Information and Communication Overload" and "Prospering in a World of Rapid Change." Jeff is Executive Director of the Breathing Space® Institute; a popular speaker; and the author of numerous books, including:
The 60 Second Organizer (Adams Media)
Breathing Space (MasterMedia)
The Joy of Simple Living (Rodale)
Complete Idiot's Guide to Managing Your Time (Alpha/Penguin)
To book Jeff for your next meeting call him directly at 800-735-1994.
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