Creating Structure in Surreal Times

By Ruairi Kavanagh - Last update


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Planning, scheduling and meeting deadlines is something that we all grapple with for the majority of our professional lives. Whether they be manual or electronic, you have likely tried multiple methods of organising your work-week, with varying degrees of success. While, during the pandemic, we may have more time on our hands than we need, we still need some sort of a schedule or plan to add some sort of structure from a seemingly endless series of ‘days.’ Here are our top tips on creating structure to get you through the day. 

Creating Structure For Your Workday

The Planner and the Minimalist

Using multiple apps, calendars and reminders, the scheduler maps out their days, weeks and month with intense detail. Meetings overlap meetings and personal events bookend these meetings, which are then accompanied by a relevant to do list and associated tasks. The result is scarcely any time for preparation, relaxation and reflection, which is also an essential part of any schedule. During the current situation, such a person is likely to struggle to adapt to a remote way of living.

At the other end of the scale, the minimalist’s diary consists of amorphous amounts of mostly white space, which may not sound like a bad thing if there is nothing on the schedule, but for almost all professionals, there are a number of tasks within any given day that need doing, and these result in other smaller tasks as a result, and sometimes bigger projects. By not scheduling them in, aside from perhaps a start date and an initial meeting, the minimalist is denying the existence of the work that needs to be done, but will still need to do it. In addition, while they may think they have plenty of time for rest, relaxation and reflection, the reality is that they will spend most of their week catching up for bad scheduling. While this way of thinking may have far more leeway these days, it’s probably not a good idea to try and build upon less structure with no structure at all. 

There is of course that percentage that do not need schedules at all, whose week follows a pattern that doesn’t require any element of organisation and planning. But they are the envied few. 

Organising During Surreal Times

These days, almost all the structures that may have governed your time; transport schedules, school pickups, lunch appointments, gym classes, have rapidly vanished. But it’s worth looking at putting some building blocks into your day to help you keep some structure and stay on track. We will still have meetings and deadlines to follow, and you should document them and of course stick to them, but the most important schedule during times like this is having some sort of structure to the day, which will help you operate at work and as a parent, but will also give you time to make the best of the less-structure that surrounds us today.

Go to Work

Ok, this may mean the kitchen table or desk in the corner of a room for many of us, but it’s important that you try and keep some sort of structure to the day and maintain a routine. If you normally start at work at 9, try and stick to that. It’s best to get dressed too and feel prepared in case you get an unexpected Zoom or Teams call, even if you might have none in your schedule. Have a rough to-do list, stay focused, but take breaks to have a short walk or a refreshment. Be comfortable in your own space and make the best of it. 

Be Productive, Rather Than ‘Busy’

With so many of us working remotely, there are a large cohort who feel the need to justify every hour of their working day through calls, and scheduling of meetings and task lists. It’s rarely management who operate like this, or not effective management anyway. If you’re a productive worker, you will most likely be allowed to proceed with your work and trusted to meet your objectives and targets as normal. Brief daily catch ups are a great way to keep in touch, but too many updates create a need for people to find tasks for themselves, which may impact them completing another task of higher value. If you have time, use it to address items on your to-do list that have long been overdue, or take time to brush up on knowledge or skills that will help you develop. Use this time to become more effective, not drained. 

Childcare

This is a very difficult one these days. If your child, or children, are old enough to by and large take care of themselves then try and create a routine for them based around home schooling that they can then build upon with their own academic curiosity through larger projects that they can sink their teeth into. If they’re sports-minded, have them design their own fitness schedule, home-based, that they can try to stick to. If the children are young and need a lot of attention, you will need to share responsibilities with the other parent where possible, almost on a shift basis. This will allow you to have some time to do your work properly and the other time to focus on parenting. Trying to mix the two will lead to you doing neither well at all. 

Get Some Exercise

It’s amazing what you can accomplish within a short distance of your home and within your own home when it comes to fitness. Brief high intensity runs or cycles can be augmented with some very basic bodyweight, or free weight activities. If you’ve a family, try doing something together on the fitness front, whether it be a brief walk, or all attempting 20 pushups. Try to build something that you can continue doing when all this passes, gaining something valuable in your relationship as a family. If you’re on your own, there’s a legion of online resources to help you build up a weekly repertoire of exercises that will stand you in good stead. Don’t feel you alway need music to exercise too either, sometimes a work or life problem can be untangled while exercising with a quiet and clear mind. 

Rest

The biggest enemy to a good night’s sleep these days is not work or work-related, but information, or in some cases misinformation, related. While knowing what is going on, there comes a saturation point, obsessing on screens and tv updates and staying up well into the night discussing these online can eat into what should be a restful night’s sleep. Give yourself screen-free time, and time to wind down before bed to make sure you get a good 7 or 8 hours.

 



Ruairi Kavanagh

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