Flexible, Minimalist Productivity Systems for People Who Don’t Like -but need!- Systems
I have a slightly love-hate relationship with routines and systems. I need the structure, but I crave freshness and spontaneity, even if I’m not always sure what to do with it. Left to my own whims and random impulses, I invariably end up exploring the backroads. I may thrive for a while, but sooner or later I hit a few potholes and wheels come off.
For a while I have courted the sweet spot of structure between going completely free-range and feral — with it’s inevitable inconsistencies in my mood, energy, and productivity — and having overly rigid systems that invariably I jettison when they feel stiff.
My shift to freelancing and working from home — not to mention physical / social distancing — only intensified my struggle to find the right amount of structure for myself: a way to have enough of a routine to thrive without getting the stale feeling and push back that I know too well.
In my search for the sweet spot, I’ve found an approach to structuring my days that gives me just enough structure while maintaining the freedom and flexibility I crave.
Is this a familiar pattern to you? Do you find yourself knowing that you need structure, yet resenting the routine, and constantly pushing back at your systems, despite knowing that you flounder without them?
If so, have a look at how my Mexi-menu inspired way for creating my day.
I put together my day like I’m ordering a burrito.
The burrito joint down the street is great: they a choose-your-own-adventure style menu that allows me all the flexibility I want. On days when my mind is preoccupied, I can choose between some solid standard combinations on the menu that I know that I like. On days when I’m craving variety or want to mix things up, I can build my own choosing from what they have available.
Some days I just order the standard classic burrito with steak (and guac of course).
Other days I glance down their assembling line, with different choices in different categories, and I piece together what I want. I can decide if I want it rolled into a burrito or a bowl. I pick my style of rice and choose which type of beans. Pick a protein — chicken, chorizo, or steak. Then comes toppings and sides. Some of these decisions are foundational and set the tone of the rest of my experience, others I can take or leave.
For planning my day, I have a few solid, dependable combinations that always do the job and leave me satisfied. For days when I’m craving variety, I also have a ‘menu’ with established categories with some options I like for each one. I know if I cover my main categories, it always works itself out.
My ‘menu’ categories look something like this:
I give myself 3 or 4 choices for meditation, from using a neurofeedback device, to a few go-to guided meditation apps or recordings, to a good old fashion timer. While my default go-to choice seems to rotate around every few weeks, letting me flow into the start of my day, I can always change it up when I feel inspired or bored.
I rotate between short jogs, long walks, and kettlebell circuits in the backyard (I’ve got a small list of options for those I keep handy), qi gong, or going paddling. I tend to vary my choices here based on the weather and/or day of the week to makes sure I’m keeping things fresh.
Every day I prioritize some of writing or art making. Usually I write, but sometimes — especially if I need to get my creative juices flowing — I sketch or pull a card from my artist friend Katie’s Resistance Rebels kit (which is supercool and highly recommended).
I make sure I get outside in some capacity, whether it’s a walk by the creek, going for a run, paddling or going for an afternoon hike in the woods.
Good burritos — and good days — are more than the sum of the their parts.
These things give me a solid foundation. I tend to them first, as I know if I hit something from each list, I have the best chance of having a day I’m happy with. My creativity, mood and energy are all improved when I take care of the basics. On days when my categories overlap a bit, like when I exercise outside, I look at it as a bonus.
After I take care of the core elements, I sprinkle in a few other staples, like connecting with someone I care about. I look at the other things I add as tasty toppings or sides that add to my experience.
I’ve found that by building freedom and freshness into my routine, it’s easier for me to stick to it. I don’t find myself rebelling from the staleness or structure, and I have generally better days and get more done.
What does your menu of categories and choices look like for building your ideal days?