Should you structure your day or go with the flow, or is there a middle ground? I just finished recording a podcast with Giulio Ayrton Gonnelli for his show The Highly Effective Conscious Humans where we debated this point, amongst others. This made me want to share with you what my experience has been and how I found balance.
From working like a machine….
Certain achievements in life require structure and discipline. Let’s be honest I didn’t get through Law School twice in 2 different countries by waking up at midday and asking myself what I felt like doing on that day.
Law School round 1 – France 1999 – 2004
When I was in my early 20s, I used to get up at 5:45am every single day to study before going to uni. I would study all day and late into the evening. I would clock off around 11:30pm, go to bed, sleep 6 hours and do it all over again the next day. That was the Monday to Friday routine. At the weekend, worked a full day on Saturday and from 9am to 1pm on Sunday as a cashier in a supermarket. I saw my friends on Saturday evenings. I would rest on Sunday afternoons.
That was my routine and I only deviated from it twice. The first time because I had to have an emergency surgery that took me down for a week. The second time was to attend a funeral.
The structure changed over those 5 years due to external factors. After a year I quit the supermarket job and worked in a law firm instead. This meant I had less time to study during the week and had to catch-up at the weekend. Then I moved to Montpellier to attend Business Law School and the structure changes again.
What did not change was my discipline and tenacity. I didn’t ask myself any questions. I just got on with it because failure was not an option. And it paid off.
Law School round 2 – UK 2008 – 2010
The pressure was just as high the second time around. This time I was doing this in a foreign language, I had to get a loan from the bank to pay the school fees and I was relying financially on my partner to live. So failure was not an option either!
And so I went back to creating a structure that worked. I got up at the same time every day, followed a daily structure, got the work done. I relaxed a little bit more at the weekend and made time for my partner. But the idea was the same. I set up a structure that was tough but realistic and it gave me results.
To allowing myself to work with my energy
I am still just as driven now as I was back then, but I now allow myself a little more flexibility. The reality is that our bodies are more resistant to the type of abuse I have described above when we are younger. Because it was abuse. I didn’t listen to my body at all. It took a very serious illness to get me to take a break and even then, I only took a week off!
Why did I make a change
Later in life, I got a couple of reality checks. When I was working 80h a week at the age of 34 chasing a promotion, I got seriously hit by depression and it took me 2 years to recover. And again, only a couple of years ago when I was pushing this blog too hard on top of my corporate job, I burnt-out. It took me 6 months to recover.
What changes did I make
The burn-out taught me an important lesson. My body was screaming at me to slow down. Since then, I have been careful to listen to my body and my energy. Your body is giving you feedback all the time. You just need to learn to listen to it.
I still have a plan and a structure, but if my body is complaining loudly when I wake up, I accept the message and adapt my day as necessary.
Because if I don’t listen, my body will make me listen by cooking up some illness and instead of needing a day off, I will need 2 weeks of sick leave or worse.
I go with the flow
I have learned now that my energy goes up and down. Especially since I gave up coffee over a year ago, I can now really see how my energy rises and falls throughout the day. Now I am aware of it, I utilise it to get work done when my energy is high, and to rest when my energy is low.
Finding what’s right for you
The good news is that you don’t need to hit rock bottom to make a change today.
Be a scientist
Understanding your energy is very easy. You just need to record it. Become aware of your energy during the day and write it down. There is detailed guidance on how to this in Routine = Results by Rob Moore.
You can also do an ayurvedic test to find out what your main dosha is. This will then guide you as to what the best routine would be for you. I took this test years ago in the book Perfect Health by Deepak Chopra. This was quite an eye opener as, at the time I took the test, I was literally doing and eating the opposite of what was right for me!!
Trials and errors
Once you have a better idea of how your energy work, try different things until you find what’s right for you. Sometimes you might even find something that works for you completely by chance.
In the podcast I tell Giulio how I joined a writer’s group by total chance only to find out that the 3 to 5pm slot on Saturday afternoon is the best moment for me to write!
Just be open minded, try things and see how it goes.
Adapting to working hours
If you have a 9 to 5 job, you will have to find a way to make that work for you.
Personally, I have noticed that I have more energy in the morning so if I need to do some deep work, I block a chunk of time in the morning to get that done. More often than not, I end up getting the task done faster than I thought.
I also know that I have a slump of energy after lunch, so I often book calls from 1:30pm and 3pm because they keep me alert. If I try to read emails during this time, there is a good chance that I will fall asleep at my desk. This has happened to me many times!
Watch your food
My last but not least tip on managing your energy is to pay attention to how you feel after eating. If I have a heavy lunch or certain foods, I feel more tired after lunch than if I have something lighter.
When I am on the elimination diet (Clean – Expanded Edition: The Revolutionary Program to Restore the Body’s Natural Ability to Heal Itself by Alejandro Junger) I have a lot more energy and that afternoon slump disappear altogether.
My energy is also a lot more stable since I have stop drinking coffee.
Should you structure your day or go with the flow – key take-aways
- Structure is important to help you achieve goals but if you are too rigid with it you will burn out
- Listen to your body or your body will make you listen
- Your energy flow changes over the years – go with it
- Find out what’s right for you
- Use your energy flow to structure your day – you will be more productive
- Your diet can help your energy
Try these simple hacks and let me know how you get on
Do you have other tips on how to bring yourself up when you feel down at work? What works well for you? I’d love to hear your stories. Let me know in the comments.
This article is part of the series Happier At Work, which you can find here.
And remember, happiness is a choice, and you are in charge!
1 thought on “Should You Structure Your Day Or Go With The Flow”
This article is full of useful tips! Thank you, Emily!
Since I’ve started a morning routine, I realise that I’m much more productive and it also allows me to take more time for myself.
I wake up a bit earlier and do the Hal Elrod Miracle morning that I’ve adapted to my taste and time.