One major thing missing from GTD is structure — I think David Allen did this on purpose, to achieve more of a “mind like water” state where you are Ready for Anything. You are fluid in your movements, and respond to anything that comes your way.
But while this is a good thing for people like The David, it can be a bit too chaotic for others.
Hence Zen To Done’s Habit 9: Create weekly and daily routines. This habit creates the structure missing from GTD, giving your day and your week a more ordered and calm feeling.
It can also greatly simplify your work day and personal life, as your day won’t be overly chaotic and complicated, you can group similar tasks together and batch process them, and you can be sure of doing the things you really need to do.
Most importantly, it puts you in control of your day, instead of putting you at the mercy of the ebb and flow of all incoming requests. Without a routine, we have no good way of saying “no” to requests as they come in, and we are at the beck and call of every person who wants our time and every website that wants our attention. That’s not a good thing, not if you want to get the important things done.
Take control of your life. Set some routines and learn to follow them.
Here are some tips for doing that:
- Work tasks. Make a list of all the things you want or need to accomplish in your work life. This could be big things like the Weekly Review, or little things like paperwork or reports, or clearing your physical inbox each day, setting your MITs at the beginning of each day, reviewing your goals, communicating your progress with your boss, processing your email inbox to empty, phone calls, writing, designing, etc.
- Personal tasks. Do the same thing with your personal life. This could include things like exercise, yoga, meditation, writing in a journal, reading, reading your RSS feeds, as well as chores and errands such as paying bills, balancing your checkbook, laundry, cleaning routines, grocery shopping, pet chores, stuff in your kids’ lives, going to the bank, going to the post office, fixing your kids’ lunch, etc.
- Batch process. Take a look at your lists and find ways to put smaller tasks together. This saves time and cuts down on interruption. For example, if you have grocery shopping, going to the bank, going to the post office and going to the pet store on your list, put them together as “errands” and do them on one day. You can do a “desk day” each week for personal stuff and take care of processing your mail, paying bills, balancing your checkbook, filing personal papers, getting stuff ready for the post office, setting your weekly dinner menu and creating a grocery list. For work, you could batch process all phone calls into one hour, batch process email into one one-hour period, batch process paperwork, etc.
- Daily list. Now look at your lists and see which ones need to be done every day. Those might include email, phone calls, setting your MITs, writing in a journal, exercise, reading RSS feeds, processing your physical inbox, and more. Plan out your daily routine. Don’t schedule every minute of your day, but have certain set times each day when you do these daily tasks. My suggestion is to have a morning routine (maybe one morning routine at home and another when you first get into work) and an end-of-the-day routine (again, for the end of your work day and for right before you go to bed).Leave the middle of the day (the biggest portion of the day) open for completing your MITs and other things that come up.
- Weekly list. The stuff you do once or twice (or more) a week, but not every day, should be on your Weekly Routine. This could be things like your Weekly Review, laundry, reviewing goals (although this could be put in your Weekly Review), house cleaning, exercise (if you exercise 3x a week, for example), errands, financial stuff, your Desk Day, gardening, yard work, etc. Schedule these things throughout your week, trying not to pile too much on each day. You should have 2-3 things per day at the most. An ideal mix would be 1-2 things per day. If you have so many weekly tasks that you need 3-4 things per day, or more, you probably need to simplify, as it will be hard to maintain this schedule. Either batch some things together or eliminate the least important.
- Trying it out. Now that you’ve set your daily and weekly routines, give it a go. For the daily routines, try to stick with them for at least a week. At the end of the week, review how it went. If there are things that just didn’t work, make adjustments. For the weekly routine, see if you can stick with it for at least two weeks (unless it’s really not working, in which case you should adjust as you go along). Make adjustments, and try it again, until you find what works with you.
- Sticking with it. This is the trick — it’s easy to set routines, but harder to stick with them. But once you find a good set of routines that work for you, if you can stick with them for 30 days, it will become a habit. And you will find yourself feeling much calmer and in control of your life. How do you stick with it for 30 days? Make it a 30-day Challenge, give yourself rewards, commit to it in public, post your routines up on the wall at home and near your desk, and don’t have any other goals or habit changes going on while you do this. If you can really put your energy and focus into it for 30 days, it will become more automatic and require less energy.