If you read my August debt update, you got a glimpse of what I’d been up to this summer. Overall, it was a good one. I got to see one of my best friends get married, I got the promotion I asked for at work, and I took classes that challenged me and whose content I enjoyed. Even though my schedule was packed, I expected to feel energized or gain an extra boost of motivation because again, it was packed with good things.
That didn’t happen.
Instead, I came home from work feeling exhausted and restless at the same time. Sitting down to do school work took so much mental pep talking. I would reflect back on my day to find that it felt busy, but I couldn’t tell you where my time had gone. I began pinning all my hopes for a mental recharge on my vacation. “You can do this. Power through this paper. Only three more weeks until Canada, only three more weeks until Canada.”
Limping through the finish line of my pre-vacation to-do list felt worthy of a Olympic highlight reel. I was the embodiment of Kerri Strug at the 1996 Summer Games as I set that out of office notification. I MADE IT.
Thank you for your email. I will be out of the office with no access to email until August 16th. I will respond to emails upon my return in the order in which they were received. If you need immediate assistance, please contact…
Vacation was a magical week and a half filled with some of my best friends, nature, and no cell service or internet connection. It was exactly what I needed. In the words of my SO, “Don’t take this the wrong way, but you haven’t looked miserable once this trip.” The trip went by too fast, as all vacations do, but I returned to DC ready to take on the world.
That is until I got a text from my boss warning me that things had been messy while I was gone (complete with a screenshot of the out of control inbox awaiting my attention), and I glanced at my fall reading list. That weird cocktail of exhaustion, listlessness, and lack of motivation came rushing back. Now at this point, you’re probably thinking that I hate my job and I clearly picked the wrong graduate program, but I promise that’s not it. Yes, my job frustrates me from time to time, but I’m proud of the work that I do. Choosing to go to graduate school while working full-time has been a lot to handle, but I’m still passionate about the content and enjoy what I’m learning.
So what’s the problem? (AKA: Get to the point, Emily.)
I have always been a planner. Using a day planner has been part of my routine for years. I write down my to-dos, my appointments, social events, birthdays, goals, how much water I drank that day, you name it. I value my planner for its potential to structure and organize my life while also giving me space to reflect. In fact, I’ve kept all of the planners I’ve used since high school because by the time the year ends, they feel like an extension of myself. I’ve never been able to keep up a journal, but I write in my planner almost every day.
This summer, though, good portion of the pages in my planner were either blank or filled with unorganized to-do lists. Rather than use my planner as a tool to help me be intentional with my time, I used it as a to-do list dumping ground. My life became all about reacting to those to-do lists with no rhyme or reason to how that time was spent.
Here’s what I imagine an intentional day to look like versus a reactive one, inspired by the Hidden Brain episode “You 2.0: The Value of ‘Deep Work’ in an Age of Distraction” and the Day Designer blog:
Intentional: Spend the first few minutes of the day prioritizing tasks. What absolutely has to get done today? Create a to-do list, focusing on what could realistically be accomplished in one day. Batch tasks for efficiency. Allow for breaks and time to step away. Reflect at the end of the day, moving uncompleted tasks to tomorrow’s to-do list.
Reactive: Immediately check email. Lots of jumping back and forth between projects with no clear goals for the day. One long to-do list with no prioritization of tasks. Breaks are not built into schedule. Lack of long-term planning.
Can you guess which category my summer fell into?
I had become stuck in a reactive rut and my time did not feel like my own anymore.
So What Now?
I have been using the Day Designer Daily Planner this year and I love it. (This is not an affiliate link, I just love the planner.) It’s a bit hefty to carry around, but the daily planning pages are more suited to my style than other planners I’ve tried out. Day Designer is all about intentionality and they have quite a few printables geared towards strategic planning. Over Labor Day weekend, I sat down with my planner and asked myself a few questions:
How do I typically spend my day?
What is my ideal daily routine?
What does my ideal week look like?
What are my goals for the month of September? For the rest of 2017?
I used Day Designer’s Intentional Living and Ideal Week worksheets, and brain dumped all of my other thoughts onto notebook paper. I outlined days to work on the blog, days to do school work, and days to take a break. I updated my morning routine to have time for planning with a note to myself to avoid checking email and social media first thing. I built in time for walks during my lunch hour as well as a few minutes at the end of the day to check back in with my planner and reflect.
Now if you’re thinking that this is all well and good on paper, but life doesn’t really work that way, I agree with you. Most days or weeks will not live up to your ideal and life will do it’s best to derail even the best-laid plans. Not to mention that there are many jobs out there that do not give you control of your workday. Years of retail and barista experience have taught me this well.
Lisa’s extra-dry triple cappuccino is way more important than your break.
Even then, there is time during the day that is yours and having a plan for how you’ll use it can make you more productive, help you reach your goals, and allow you to rest and recharge.
I’m about a week into this readjustment and things are going well. I feel more satisfied at the end of the work day and slightly more in control of my schedule. Still tired, but that just comes with the grad school territory.
I would love to hear your thoughts on this! Do you agree with my distinction between reactive and intentional days? What are your strategies for time management and what do you do to fight burnout?