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How to design an effective schedule during stressful times

Your routine may be disrupted, but your life can still maintain its normalcy.

How to design an effective schedule during stressful times
[Photos: Joshua Hoehne/Unsplash; Fotoplanner/iStock; milindri/iStock; vejaa/iStock; tiler84/iStock]

Under normal circumstances, maintaining a schedule is a helpful tool to create a greater sense of calm and order. I’ve seen this in the lives of my time management clients for many years.

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But under the abnormal circumstances we find ourselves in now, having a schedule isn’t just helpful, it is essential. It will mean the difference between feeling like you have no grounding and sense of direction, leading you to waste huge amounts of time each day, and developing a sense of clarity, purpose, and productivity.

Almost all of the normal structures that drove your time—train schedule, school schedule, activities schedule—have disappeared. Now you need to construct your own structure to stay on track.

To help you realign your time, here are five key building blocks to designing an effective schedule in this stressful climate.

Sleep

Given the huge increase in news, which can have a direct impact on your life, and the disappearance of the normal commute and work/school schedule, there is a high risk of your sleep schedule derailing. You may find yourself staying up later than usual while engrossed in the most recent latest headlines. This scenario does not need to become your reality.

In fact, no commute can be an opportunity for you to rest better than ever. Not only will this help you become more productive, but it will also boost your mood and immune system.

To figure out the proper sleep schedule for you, follow these steps. First, determine when you will need to get up to begin work, taking into account your now reduced number of morning commitments. From there, work backward. For example, if you normally aim for seven hours of sleep and need to wake up by 6 a.m., plan to get to bed by 11 p.m. at the latest.

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Moreover, give yourself one hour before bedtime to wind down and prepare to sleep, meaning you’re off your phone, computer, TV or other screens by 10 p.m. If needed, set a recurring alarm on your phone to begin priming your mind for sleep.

Work

If you can, I highly recommend that you keep your work schedule as close as possible to what you were doing when you were in the office. For example, I tell my clients to start and stop their workdays at the same times as the day before. I also recommend you try to keep the surrounding activities as similar as possible. For example, if you walk to work and walk home, go on a walk around your neighborhood to mimic that habit. If you had lunch with a coworker, eat lunch with that coworker over a video call. Whatever you can do to keep a similar cadence, do it.

The reason for this is that even if you’re in a different place, your mind already has deeply embedded patterns. Keeping the same schedule allows you to take advantage of already established ways of doing things, while creating new habits puts you at risk of becoming distracted and shifting your schedule later and later.

Childcare 

If you’re not only working from home but also have your kids at home, you’ll need to build a new schedule for both yourself and your family. Kids thrive on structure, so developing routines similar to the ones they are used to at school and at daycare will help prevent behavioral issues and promote harmony at home. You can do this by setting aside specific times for meals, physical activity, learning, and play.

If your children are old enough to take care of themselves, then work together with them on planning a schedule to make the best use of their time. For example, if they really love sports, help them come up with a strength and conditioning plan. If they have academic pursuits or hobbies, work with them to brainstorm ways they can still learn and grow, even when they’re kept from their normal activities.

If your children are young and need a great deal of attention, then you’ll need to work creatively to get your work done and ensure your young ones are safe and cared for. If possible, split time with your spouse or partner. Organize your childcare into separate shifts, where one of you takes the morning through afternoon, while the other takes the afternoon through evening. This type of schedule can allow both of you time to work, without worrying about the kids getting into uncontrollable mischief.

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Finally, if you’re unable to split shifts with your significant other, make the most of your time before your kids wake up in the morning, before their nap times, or after they go to bed. Then do the less challenging work, like answering emails, when your kids are up and about.

Exercise

In some respects, fitting in physical activity can become easier with the elimination of commute times, but the practical and safe application is much more difficult. Our typical routines were often built around access to gyms, studios, and pools. Now, these spaces that we depended on to achieve our fitness goals are either barred or completely shutdown.

For myself, I am having to come up with an exercise plan from scratch, when before my system was automatic. In these times, I encourage you to think through what you still can do. Do workout videos, do strength-training with free weights, and go move around outdoors within a reasonable distance. Even if you’re not able to practice with your sports team, you can work on techniques, like kicking a ball or shooting free throws.

Physical activity with others is one of life’s greatest joys, and to be without it is difficult. However, there are still ways we can, and should, stay active. Not only is exercise great for your physique, it is a tremendous way to stay healthy and reduce stress.

Recharge

Given the huge amount of uncertainty right now, setting aside intentional time to recharge is essential. I encourage you to limit your time on social media or watching the news. Instead, try to find something each day that brings you true relaxation. It could be exercise, praying, reading, listening to music, spending time with your family, or doing a creative hobby. For one of my clients, her canceled weekend plans meant she could finally work on her artwork, one of her greatest passions.

I can’t give you any guarantees of what will happen in the future. However, I can tell you that by creating a schedule, you can make the most of the present.

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