Simplifying the Work Week

Now I know why my aunt always crashed at the end of a workday. Photo circa 1970.

As we drove by a strip mall this morning, Mari said in a disappointed voice, “Oh, that says School of Music. I thought it said School of Magic.” I was disappointed, too. I’d love to have a place to learn time dilation without the constraint of relativistic conditions.

The best trick I’ve found is minimizing everyday decisions through routines. Although it’s hardly a substitute for magic, it can stretch the hours and keep my brainpower available to more important tasks.

I spent nearly 3 years in a job with long days, a long commute, and expectations of being available by text evenings and weekends.  I had no time or energy to do anything in the evenings, and because of my work schedule bedtime was a serious priority, even on the weekends.  I didn’t see many of my friends during the entire time I worked there.  I have changed jobs now to achieve better balance and lower stress, but any full-time job plus personal responsibilities results in many hours consumed.

I learned to prioritize every minute that was available to me outside of work. I gave up  a lot of perfectionism around the house and in the kitchen. Weekends are precious and I minimize errands as much as possible. In addition to stretching my time, this has an added bonus of decreasing spending. I created many routines to minimize the constant decisions and to smooth my exhausted transition daily from home to work.

Summer break is winding to a close now, and I need to revisit these routines in the coming week to lessen the shock that I will feel very soon!

Routines that work for me:

Car: I fill the gas tank on weekends, even if it’s half full, so that I never have to think about stopping for gas during a commute.

Clothing: Sometime on the weekend when I am putting away laundry, I  assemble 5 hangers of clothing for the week, based on the weather. All clothing items and accessories are there for each day, ready to be grabbed from the closet when heading for the shower.

Food: The night before workdays, I plan the next day’s food and ready lunches for packing. I don’t want to think about “what’s for dinner?” when I’m driving home. I have so much to say about food routines that I will save other ideas for another post.

Workday morning: I do exactly the same things, in the same order, every morning. Specifically, I grab my hanger of clothing, put it in the bathroom, run downstairs and start the electric kettle, take a shower, make my tea, care for the pets,  pack my meals, tea, and water bottles, wake Mari for school, and leave. I keep my work badge in the same place in the car so that I don’t need to remember it in the morning. For 2 years, I left the house at 5:30AM.  I was usually tired and did not want to awaken anyone else in the house earlier than necessary.  I leave in the daylight more of the year now, but this keeps me on track every day.

At work: I do particular tasks at certain times of the day, and always make a rough plan for the next day before I leave in the afternoon. I take copious notes, both written and electronic, to make follow-ups easier whether the next day or the next month.

Exercise: I prefer activities such as gardening, hiking, kayaking, biking, etc., but short, frigid, and icy winter days preclude most of them. When I have a break at work, I run up and down as many stairs as I can, and I walk after lunch. When I get home, we always walk Ms. Beagle, and this is a good winding down routine. Sometimes in the winter I take a Zumba class – it does wonders for my mood and back.

Sleep:  Relaxation time is mandatory relaxation in the hour before I go to sleep.  For me, this is reading with a purring cat on my lap, usually alongside Mari who reads or does homework with another cat.  I often have insomnia in the middle of the night and the next work day is difficult, but manageable if I get to bed on time to get a critical solid few hours of sleep before I’m awake.

There it is. Life, scheduled. Some may find it too regimented, but I find that planning the necessary tasks leaves me more time to enjoy.

How do you streamline your work days? I’d love to hear your strategies!

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