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As a free-spirited nonconformist, I’ve always found myself dismissive of routines and tended to embrace a noncommittal approach to living.
It wasn’t that I feared commitment or was a rebel at heart; it was simply because I was tied to the work schedules and deadlines that consumed my day-to-day. I celebrated any opportunity to just simply be.
Time was not my own; thus, I ensured that my free time remained just that—free.
When I was not traveling or working, spending time at home with no schedule to adhere to was a luxury. The simple pleasure derived from rising without the boisterous sound of an alarm clock and not concerning myself with how much sleep I could squeeze in due to a 3 a.m. wake-up call was pure bliss.
It was work hard, play hard, crash, and burn—repeat.
Fast forward to middle age, a time when some of us evaluate our past, present, and future. There are moments when I’m befuddled by the transformation within myself. Call it maturity, growth, or whatever you will; however, I simply cannot imagine how I kept that pace or why I wanted to—or, more importantly, why I needed to.
I’ve come to believe that overscheduling every second of my life and moving at a warped speed kept me emotionally safe. I removed any possibility of focusing on myself because, well, there was no time. I was too busy to have a relationship. My work was too demanding for me to make social plans. My sense of self-respect, self-worth, and self-satisfaction linked only to busyness, productivity, and achievement.
After my first professional fall, the hard landing forced me to discover some harsh truths. Work was no longer a protective barrier behind which I could hide.
For starters, I had no idea how to care for myself or tend to my own needs. The thought of free time left me bewildered. How did people unwind? How did people enjoy their free time if not for sleeping? What happened to the hobbies I once had before entering the corporate world?
Mind you, I still had a job yet fell out of love, you could say. It was as if my lover betrayed me, and not only was my trust broken, but the desire to give my all to something that could be that heartless was no longer on the table.
It was an exciting yet harrowing self-realization, yet I was able to transform the angst into growth and learn lessons that aided in the creation of a better quality of life—both personally and professionally.
Truth be told, it was not easy. The struggle laid within the fact that if I was not on high speed, I stopped and found it difficult to get out of my own way.
Time finally became my friend and I was able to slow down a bit and make strides in achieving some balance, investing in personal relationships outside of the office, and partake in some new—and resurrected—hobbies.
One would think that because of this, the lifestyle limitations brought on by COVID-19 would be welcome, and to some degree, they have been.
For an extroverted introvert like me, working remotely full-time has been a gift because I am a recluse in disguise. However, that gift has been both a blessing—and a burden.
Though I didn’t think routine was a big part of my life, it most certainly was. My free spirit wasn’t even cognizant that the set time I had to rise each day, the commute to and from the office, and other not-so-random daily routines provided me with structure. It just happened, as naturally as breathing.
As time goes on, I’m discovering that the newfound freedoms within a workday are challenging. The freedom to sleep a few minutes longer or toss in a load of laundry before the next meeting was terrific for a while, but now I find my anxiety rising and my nerves shot. I’m growing frazzled, taking multitasking to a whole new level, and feeling as if I’ve ingested too much coffee. I’m jittery and on edge.
Turns out that my free spirit may not be as free-spirited as I once presumed. I find myself craving structure and the need to build a scaffold in an attempt to manage my day-to-day. I need stability, consistency, and something I can rely on while the world spins wildly out of control around us all.
Carol Shields said it best in The Republic of Love: “Routine is liberating. It makes you feel in control.”
I frequently recalled that line out of her book and occasionally reflected upon it. Today, it resonated with me, and I completely understood it.
There is a myriad of activities that we can make habitual, thus freeing up our minds to focus on the tasks at hand rather than feeling scattered, rushed, and unfocused.
If you’re like me, then it’s time for liberation.
Here are some ways in which I plan to take control of my days and nights to successfully navigate our “new normal.”
1. Prepare for the next day.
Look at your schedule, know what commitments and obligations you have in the morning, and outline your day. When I forget to do this, I find myself preoccupied with trying to recall my schedule, then subconsciously stressing over what the day will look like. What time is my first meeting? Can I sleep that extra 10 minutes? Am I on video calls, or can I skip the make-up? No wonder I’m tired by the time morning comes.
Preparation is the key to success, and when you know what lies ahead, you can rest your mind and sleep more soundly at night.
2. Set that alarm clock to rise and shine—no snoozing.
The snooze button may be on the list of the top 10 worst ideas ever. When that alarm jolts us from our slumber, who doesn’t want 10 more minutes—and 10 more and a final 10 after that? But according to Reena Mehra, MD, MS, Director of Sleep Disorders Research at Cleveland Clinic, all of that snoozing doesn’t help our bodies get the restorative sleep that we need.
It can also make something known as “sleep inertia” worse. When we wake abruptly, there is a period of grogginess known as sleep inertia. When we repeatedly hit snooze, we cause our bodies to wake abruptly several times, even when just dozing for a few. The result is that we are more tired and drag through the day. Set your alarm, skip the snooze, and start your day on the right foot.
3. Create a schedule.
We all know that life will throw us curveballs; however, when we create a schedule, it helps us bounce back from the day’s unplanned interruptions. Write in stretch breaks, exercise time, free time, and the must do’s. If we put a framework around what needs to be done on any given day, we increase our chances of making it happen.
4. Stop multitasking.
I was the queen of multitasking, and it worked well for a long stretch of time. More years than I can count. But the reality of today’s world is this: we are inundated with communication options—email, telephone, text, social media channels, video calls, various business platforms from Teams to Stream to Chatter.
Because of this, we need to prioritize. We are constantly bombarded with messages and it is easy to get caught up in the chaos—or to feel pressured to answer each and every one we receive.
Boundaries are needed to successfully manage the influx of communications with the work you need to accomplish. Set a time to check social media and allot yourself 10 minutes, maybe three to four times per day. The same goes for emails and other means of communication.
It is so easy to lose hours of our time scrolling through Facebook, LinkedIn, Instagram, and others. To be productive with our time, we must be constructive with it. Plan accordingly and stop trying to do 1,001 things at once. If you don’t, chances are you will not accomplish what you need to, or you may just compromise the quality of the outcome.