It happens to all of us.
We get stressed out, overwhelmed, stretched too far.
(Also, I really wanted an excuse to use this stock image…)
There’s a simple solution to implement when you start feeling this way:
STRUCTURE WILL SAVE YOU
There’s a very real thing called decision fatigue, and it can be one of the many causes of feeling stressed out and ineffective at work and in your life. Structuring your day, especially your morning routine, can help eliminate a bunch of decisions at the beginning of your day and help you feel more productive later on.
Here’s a few tips, every single one I have tried and found them to be helpful.
1. Get up early.
Leo Babauta of ZenHabits.net was the one who turned me on to this, but it’s been written about many other times. Just search your favorite productivity or life hacking site and I’m sure they recommend it as well. Not only do you add hours to your day to get more done, but it gives you time to get things done without interruptions.
2. Postpone Email
When you get up early, don’t immediately turn on your phone and check your email. Especially if you work in a job that requires a lot of you through email from clients or coworkers, save that stress for the hours you’re actually at work.
3. Drink a glass of water
My wife is the best at drinking water, she’ll go through 3 or 4 liters a day. One habit she has is to always have a big water bottle by the bed, so that as soon as she wakes up she can rehydrate. Our bodies lose a lot of water while we sleep, so it’s a great habit to get into to replenish your body first thing. Keep a water bottle or glass of water next to the bed. I started doing this a little while ago and I notice it’s much easier to get up and going. Also, the colder the better, so if you have the willpower to get up and pour yourself a glass of ice water, that’s even better.
4. 30 grams of Protein in the first 30 minutes
Tim Ferriss, best selling author of the 4 hour work week, 4 hour body, and 4 hour chef, recommends eating 30 grams of protein within 30 minutes of waking up to not only get a jumpstart to the day, but help accelerate fat loss. I did this as part of my 20 pound body recomposition a year and a half ago and it WORKS.
Tim Ferriss may be the best example I know of when it comes to discipline and testing to see what works. If you don’t follow his blog, you should definitely check it out.
5. Morning Pages
In her book The Artist’s Way, Julia Cameron suggests writing 3 stream of conscious, long hand pages in the morning before doing anything else. This helps clear your head of everything that it’s thinking of – your grocery list, your relationship woes, your frustrations and disappointments, your achievements and anything else. This is one of the few things that you will notice an immediate effect. Do these first thing in the morning, the rest of your day will go better.
Ask your creative friends if they’ve heard of this or done it themselves, and I’m sure you’ll find someone who will wholeheartedly recommend it.
Touted as “the analog note-taking system for the digital age”, the bullet journal has changed the way I structure my day. Essentially, it’s a way of planning that works FOR you, rather than giving you a tool that requires you to use it how it is intended to be used.
The biggest takeaway for me was being able to, on a daily basis, plan for the next day at the end of work, and decide what the 3 most important things I could do the next day were. These are things that even if you only accomplished one of them you could feel like you accomplished something that day. Typically, for me, I’ll put down things like “write a blog post”, or “finish ____ project”, or even “2 hours of editing on ____”.
This way, I know exactly what I need to do the moment I sit down on my desk. It helps remove that decision fatigue we were talking about because we already made those decisions the night before.
7. Work in “blocks”
When you’re faced with a task at work as a freelancer or a creative, it can often times feel extremely overwhelming. It’s easy to look at a project, whether it be an art piece, a documentary edit, or writing a song, and think “how am I ever going to do this?”
The answer is: one step at a time. If you divvy up your project into manageable blocks of 1.5 to 2 hours, it’s much easier to move forward and make progress. So you have a song you need to write for a client? Alright, the next two hours are for the melody. Didn’t get it in two hours? That’s fine, the next two hours are also for melody, and so on until you finish that part. Then on to lyrics, then instrumentation, then etc. etc. etc.
Along with these blocks, it’s important to take breaks in between. I started a few months ago getting up and taking a walk around downtown Provo 2-3 times per day, just to clear my head, think about the project I’m working on, and take a chance to get some sun, drink some water, and reset. This way, when I come back to my desk I’m refreshed rather than stressed.
Bonus: 8. Collaborate
I’ve written about this before, but there’s nothing that gets you out of a slump than the excitement that comes with working on a great project with other people. So go to lunch, go to a show, hang out with your creative friends, and ask them what they’re working on. Come up with a project you can collaborate on that, once finished, can have twice the reach when you start sharing it because you now have two audiences your promoting it to.
Have you tried any of these yourself? What was your experience? Anything that you would add to the list? Share below in the comments.