Finding a work-life balance is an ongoing endeavor. It’s hard to find it in the first place and requires constant effort to maintain as your career develops and life circumstances change. Our obligations at work and our personal responsibilities always seem to collide. We’ve all taken a “quick call” or replied to emails during family time, and yet we’ve felt guilty about handling a personal obligation during working hours and not working enough.
This post won’t ask you to wake up at 5 AM, pre-cook all your meals, or not touch your phone first thing in the morning. Top performers on our team tell us they scroll through Instagram in their bed, and that hasn't affected their productivity. The key for them is being realistic about their daily goals and planning
We'll give you a simple, step-by-step framework that is based on fundamentals and not hacks, so it should work for you — whether you are an entrepreneur, an employee, a manager, or an artist.
6 Steps to Create a Practical Daily Routine
Write down everything you need to get done
The simplest and the most under-rated way to reduce stress on your brain is to create a to-do list. Our brains tend to remember unfinished tasks better than completed tasks & create cognitive tension (called the Zeigarnik effect). Get those tasks out of your head and into a list so they don’t eat up bandwidth.
When creating a task list, include your work items, calendar meetings, and personal errands. If you use project management tools like Trello or Asana, fill in your tasks from there.
If you are tech-savvy, your work involves collaboration, and you have multiple devices where you want to see your list, use a digital planning app like Sunsama. Check this post if you can't decide whether to choose a digital or paper planner.
To build a habit of daily planning, it's helpful if you do it at the same time every day. Creating this list at the end of the day can act as a separator and give you permission to end the current workday, making evenings feel more relaxed. But if your priorities depend on new information you receive at the start of every day, then plan your day in the morning. Read this post to see if you should plan your day in the morning or evening. It’s helpful to create a recurring event on your calendar to remind yourself to do this.
Prioritize, delegate & delete
Prioritization is first about mindset and then about the skill. Embrace the fact that we don't have unlimited time or energy to get everything done all the time. Don’t hesitate to get rid of things that don’t move your goals forward.
Rank all your tasks with the most important and urgent ones on top. Then comes the not urgent & important work. Finally, at the bottom, you will have urgent & unimportant, and not urgent & unimportant. It's the Eisenhower framework, just in the form of a list instead of a matrix.
First, delete the last pile of urgent & unimportant tasks. Delegate the urgent & unimportant to the right person on your team.
Now, it's time to align the tasks left to you with the limited time you have in the day.
Practice time blocking
Time blocking is the practice of dividing your day into big blocks of time. Each block is meant for completing a specific task or group of similar tasks. For example, take all your meetings from 2-4 pm, & review the submitted work from 4-6 pm. You can change the duration of each block depending on the load that day.
Timeblocking reduces context switching as you intentionally set aside time to get deep work done. When you set clear limits on how much time you’ll dedicate to 'shallow' work, you are able to handle it efficiently without letting it dilute your high-impact work.
Estimate your work
We, humans, have a notoriously bad tendency to underestimate the amount of time it will take to complete a task, which psychologists call the planning fallacy. This tends to overload our plate, ultimately leading to disappointment when we can't get through our checklist.
You can avoid that by taking advantage of Parkinson's law, an old age adage that the amount of work expands to fill the time available for its completion. Basically, pick an ambitious but not absurd timeframe to finish the task.
2 tips that help when estimating time are —
- Account for underestimation by adding 20% to how long you think it will take you to something
- Break down a big task into sub-tasks, so it's easy to estimate & keep track of progress
Knowing how long things can take you and embracing the time available in a day can help you make good decisions about prioritizing high-impact work, controlling the scope of projects to include only the essential things, and delegating effectively.
Set (& keep!) boundaries
Whether you work from home or the office, shutting down your "work-brain" can almost make you feel guilty… even if you've checked off everything on your list. Once you set a hard stop to your day and are intentional about shutting down, your brain learns to enjoy life outside of work. It helps if it's the same time every day.
If you use the Sunsama app, you get an in-app nudge to shut down for the day when that time arrives. This opens the space for the daily shutdown ritual. You can review your work, reflect on your wins, and share it on slack. Then you pack up and go home (or step away from your desk).
Learn to manage your time
Just putting down the tasks and marking them on the calendar won't actually get the tasks done unless you give them attention and focused during that time block.
Seneca was right — “…we are not ill provided but use what we have wastefully. It is not that we have a short time to live, but that we waste a lot of it.”
To manage time & stay on track, you can make three changes in your life: avoid multitasking, get rid of distractions, and use techniques like Pomodoro to stay on track.
Test Drive Your New Routine
Take your new routine for a test drive with Sunsama. You can add your own list or pick easily from Notion, Trello, and other project management apps. Drag your meetings from Google Calendar or Outlook. Get a 14-day free trial here. No credit card or lengthy setup process is required.
After 14 days, see how you feel. Does work still make you anxious? Did you stick to your deadlines and enjoy your days? Are you getting enough time to focus on your growth, family, friends, or health? Tweak anything that's not working.
Take the first small step of putting down everything on your mind on a task list. After that, all you need is some momentum to keep making daily progress.