Recently I made the arduous trek from Richmond to Washington DC along Interstate 95. For a little while, the trip was smooth, but that rarely lasts long on the nation’s number one most congested corridor. Soon, I was in the predictable “stop and go” traffic. Stop and go always raises the frustration meter inside of me as I wonder whether I will make my next meeting in time. I viscerally feel the waste of each minute as my car crawls along.
Many days are relentless “stop and go” experiences. Some of this is unavoidable, but much is not. To combat this, work to instill rhythm into your day. Incorporating rhythm doesn’t mean going slowly, nor does it mean always staying the same speed. Rhythm means creating smooth pacing throughout the day. When I am successful at this, I am both more content and more effective.
What are ways to find your rhythm?
Start your day right – The beginning of the day often dictates the tenor of the whole day. Choose to begin with time to reflect and plan, instead of waking and immediately rushing at full speed into the activities of the day. I find that this one change enables me to gain focus, establish priorities, and reduce my angst about the day ahead. This affords the possibility of increasing efficiency while enjoying the pace. Yes, it requires a little discipline to change our early morning habits, but the change is well worth the effort.
Know your best time for best results – Every person has their most effective times of the day and their less productive times. Know your best time and plan your days accordingly. Personally, I have learned that mornings are my best for writing and my afternoons are best for meetings. I plan my day for this reality.
Plan rhythm into your day – Look to keep rushing out of your day. Give margin in between meetings. Arrive a little early to appointments. The few minutes that are sacrificed by infusing rhythm into our day are more than made up by the quality that comes from the slower pace.
Batch your tasks to create rhythm – When you plan your day, batch tasks together. Set a few times to email, a few times for telephone calls and a few times for meetings. Not only will you be more efficient by operating this way, but the batching will make the work more pleasant.
Plan your week – A week is a good unit of time in which to make meaningful progress. When I clarify what my priorities are a week at a time, and review those priorities daily, my days go smoother. I worry less about a day filled with busy work when I know the next day will be when I leap ahead.
If possible, vary your speed throughout the day – When I have a full day of back-to-back meetings, I end the day exhausted. Sometimes that can’t be helped. But if I plan my week well, I can usually vary the pace of each day with some thoughtful, some relational times. Some intense and some more relaxing activities. This allows me to be very productive over a full week without totally exhausting myself.
Avoid multitasking whenever possible – Singular focus without distraction should be the norm. Multitasking should be saved for when we are doing two mindless tasks, like watching TV and looking at social media. Even then we will find ourselves more relaxed if we are not filling every small free moment with as many activities as possible.
Slow the day down – The busier I am, the slower I go. Whenever I find myself tensing up and speeding up, I take a deep breath and consciously slow down. To this day, I have never felt like this reduced my effectiveness. On the contrary, slowing down makes me work at my best.
End well – Pay attention to your evenings, particularly the last hour or so before bedtime. An enjoyable evening can overcome a hectic day. Also, a good evening sets the stage for the next morning to begin well.
Rhythm doesn’t happen by accident. Great rhythm is the result of spacious beginnings and gentle endings that allow for great middles. Allow for occasional idling of your internal engine. It’s okay to go fast at times as long as those periods are balanced with slower times.