The Importance of Planned Structure
The idea of having nothing to do, of being able to drift through the day acting on our whims and working only when desire or inspiration strikes can seem very appealing. It would as if we were on a permanent holiday, free to act as we chose. Why wouldn’t that seem like a good thing?
The problem is that doing nothing tends not to be very good for us over the medium to long term – we can get benefit from taking rest days and holidays but life tends to require more purpose and structure than this.
This is also true at the opposite end of the scale. If you feel you have a lot of work to do, it can be tempting to go into the lab or office or into the field early and stay until you are so tired you just can’t work anymore.
Having a planned structure has numerous benefits for your wellbeing and for your work .
A regular routine can help you maintain your circadian rhythm, which is good for your physical wellbeing and particularly your sleep. Getting up, eating and taking breaks at similar times each day, can also provide you with a psychological sense of progress through the day and give your activities shape and structure. This can also reduce the sense you can sometimes get of being ‘lost’ with what you are doing ; .
Having a daily structure also helps you to embed helpful habits into your day. If your days are generally structure-less it is much easier to forget to eat, take breaks or miss important regular tasks .
A regular structure also creates a sense of familiarity and control that can reduce your stress levels and help you feel more in control of your time and life generally. Routine can also move you past procrastination, without you having to really push yourself through .
The students in our panel emphasised that ‘regular office hours’ had a significantly beneficial impact on their productivity.
However, different routines work for different people. If you are a natural lark and feel wide awake and full of energy first thing in the morning, you will need a different routine from someone who is an owl, who finds mornings a serious challenge.
Take time to plan and experiment in order to build a routine that works for you. Remember to plan in breaks, meals, opportunities to stay hydrated, step outside and speak to others, as well as work tasks.
It may help to begin your day with tasks that warm up your brain (reading, listening to a podcast or music – some people may even find that exercise will do this). It may also help to end the working part of your day with some wind down activities, so you can take a proper break in the evening (making a to do list for the next day, going for a walk, reviewing what you have achieved that day.)