There, I said it.
Whilst we are all in lockdown, one of the key things we are all being told to do is create a routine.
I actually just read a really interesting article with advice on how to cope with the anxiety if you are between jobs. The author talked about how she created a routine whilst looking for work, and even showed a screenshot of her calendar.
But it got me thinking. I was made redundant at the beginning of 2020 and I took it quite badly. I was having to look for work and a routine like this, whilst ideal and even essential for some, is the last thing which motivates me.
I like change.
I like surprising days. I like it when the unexpected happens. I like it when I go to the fridge and find that chocolate bar at the back of the veg drawer that I hid a couple of weeks ago.
I also get distracted easily. Which is possibly why I have started four different businesses as "side hustles". It's also why I absolutely thrived at the role from which I had just become redundant. I travelled the country meeting new people. I wasn't in the office every day. I was doing data analysis, presenting to clients, corporate events, etc. I loved it. A lot of us talk about there never being two days the same in our roles, but I loved having no two weeks the same, or two months.
Which is probably why I was so devastated when I had to leave.
So when I was looking for a job, the thought of being constrained to a routine would make me want to rebel against it. I would get distracted looking at the ingredients list on a tin of sweetcorn. I would get suddenly lost in looking up new plugins for one of my websites. Trying to stick to a routine made the whole search more difficult for me.
Most of the time I felt like I was constantly failing. I would start the day by hitting the snooze button one too many times and it would go downhill from there. If I attempted to create any kind of plan or routine, it was as though my mind was this rebelling teenager trying to do anything but stick to it.
If I ever did make a plan and stick to any part of it, I didn't even have that sense of achievement. It was relief that I had got through it, and then I would reward myself with a break. The rest of my day was then a complete failure and I would start this cycle all over again.
I wondered why everyone else in the world seems to work better and smarter when they have a daily routine, and yet I struggled. Was I really on my own? On social media, every "top tip" guide on searching for work or getting motivated seemed like it was all focused around routine.
Get up, have a shower, have a healthy breakfast, etc etc. It was like I had to be disciplined in order to be disciplined.
So what worked for me?
Well, I do like a list. I have to-do lists all over the place. My favourite is Trello, but I'm also happy with a google doc or a checklist on my phone.
I listed out all of my tasks, but I made sure they were all really short. Nothing like "re-write my CV" or "clear out the loft". I would never get those done in one stint. Instead, I split it up into dozens and dozens of little tasks. I added a couple of things that I knew I had already done so that I could tick them off straight away. Yes, I'm one of those people.
I even added things on there that I knew I couldn't do that day. This was important for me because it meant that I could "win" at this, without finishing my list.
Next, I set a timer on my phone. 20 minutes. Every 20 minutes I would do something else. I would achieve three things per hour. More than I was achieving most days, to be honest. Then, after two hours, I would go to the gym. I love the gym and it's a huge release for me. So that was my reward.
I started off with something completely non work-related: clean the sink in my en-suite. I was done in less than 10 minutes so I ended up cleaning the floor too. Suddenly I'd ticked two things off my list in 20 minutes.
Next up was to apply for one job. Just one. I had a bunch of saved jobs on LinkedIn so I went there and found one to apply for. 20 minutes was a perfect amount of time. Ticked that off the list.
Then I had to call one recruiter. I called them up to have a chat about whether they'd had any new roles in for me. They hadn't, but I was now back in the front of this recruiter's mind.
There, that was four things in one hour.
One of the reasons, I think, it worked so well for me was because I was also getting a change of scenery. Even though I remained in my home, I was getting a different view point every 20 minutes.
As well as liking change, I also like background noise. I found that having a TV show on was counter productive as I would just sit there and watch it. Having my music on that I would normally play in the gym made me want to sing along to it. This is also not helpful. So I started listening to classical music. Now, I'm not someone who knows anything about classical. But having that in the background really did help. It was noise without being distracting.
It transpires that being productive makes you more productive. I went for nearly three hours before I got bored and wanted a change of scenery. So I went to the gym, happy in the knowledge that I had actually done something. Rather than before when I was going to the gym so that I was somehow able to justify not being productive.
This method has been helping me for several months now. As long as I don't plan to do it every weekend, of course!
So I guess this post was a way of me to reach out to people to ask if being adverse to routine was normal. That was my initial goal, anyway. But as I wrote it, it dawned on me that this is how I feel. So by default, it's my "normal". And that's OK!
The best bit is that I figured out MY way to be productive. If there is anyone else who reads this and finds that it resonates, brilliant. If not, that's OK too. We are all different and we can all find our best ways to work.