I have spent countless hours foraging through an endless stream of articles from those who have cracked the code and found a way to unlock super-human levels of productivity and focus. Sound familiar?
Maybe I can find that killer morning routine, that one productivity hack, that golden nugget of information that will transform me into a supremely optimised, fully motivated, hyper-efficient, upgraded version of myself.
I hardly ever read those morning/evening routine/workflow articles anymore. Eventually, I realised that it is a waste of time.
Actually, there is one thing to note about the routines and habits of others.
These people have found a system. They figured out something that works for them.
That is actually worth knowing because it means that you can do the same.
Everyone is different. We live and work in places with different rules and different opportunities available to us. Some of us like to travel, some of us want to stay at home. Some of us have kids, or dogs, or elderly relatives to care for.
See your constraints as your foundations, and build on them.
Thinking about workflow and routines as a way of improving performance is all well and good. But as you have probably discovered, it is not as easy as just reading about how (insert name of admired person here) does it and then trying to implant that into your own life.
The reality is that their solution is probably not going to work for you. Why would it?
Their routine is not designed to work around your constraints. It is designed to work around theirs.
You should take a custom approach to your workflow. The first step is to think about the shape and structure of your own day to day life.
There are only two different kinds of constraints. Those that are imposed upon you and those that you impose upon yourself.
Some constraints exist because of other people, like that meeting that you just have to be at every Thursday afternoon. Yes, you may be able to negotiate around some of these engagements, sometimes. In the end though, there are going to be some things that you just have to do. Or that you just cannot get out of.
For those of you running businesses, you may be fortunate enough to have more flexibility than most. Still, you will have commitments to your network, your friends and relatives and others. There will be things that need to be done at particular times for all sorts of different reasons.
Maybe you have made a commitment to your family that you will always have dinner with them at 6 pm every day. Self-imposed it may be, but that is not really relevant here . Hopefully, you enjoy having dinner with your family. In which case, this is a constraint that will probably help you to rejuvenate, or at least rebalance your day towards your more important priorities.
Regardless of whether or not you chose to be constrained; or how much control you have over these circumstances, constraints are just a part of life. They are real. We need to make peace with that.
The point is that your constraints will absolutely not have been factored into that killer routine you just finished reading about.
Maybe you work best in the mornings — complex, heavy thinking in the afternoon is a struggle for you. A constraint. Perhaps you have found that two hours is the most that you can spend each day doing deep work before you start to feel tired and your motivation dwindles . Another constraint.
These are very individual factors that give you valuable information about when your investment of time and effort is likely to pay off and when you would be better off doing something else instead.
How to break free from your constraints
You probably can’t. Of course, if you have a bad back that limits how long you can work sitting down, it may well be worth you investing some money in a better chair that will give you an extra hour before you start feeling uncomfortable. If you can take action to modify, improve or remove unhelpful constraints that you work under, then go for it.
For a lot of these things, there will be little that you can do. Or you want to keep them in place as they have a positive impact on your life. Instead, you need to refocus and think about how you can be productive within your limitations.
Constraints can actually help you to achieve more balance when you embrace them. They can help you prevent overworking or wasting your effort. By considering them positively, you can start to get a sense of what you can change and what you would be better off just accepting and working around.
You are not a superhero. The good news is that you don’t have to be. Work to your strengths. Don’t waste your precious time and energy pushing against stuff that isn’t likely to move.
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