How Structure Can Save the Day

How Structure Can Save the Day

Routine keeps things from falling apart when the going gets tough

By Amy Rosechandler, MS, LMHC

Do you have a flow?  Many helping professionals do. Direct care, documentation, advocacy and continuing education are just some of the responsibilities we juggle. My flow is about keeping routines and structure to manage my time and keep boundaries. The university where I work has a literal juggling club.  Watching the rhythmic throws and catches is peaceful because the artists develop a flow to their practice.  Healing professionals who have a trusted rhythm and flow may find it easier to develop self-care and balance.

Setting boundaries in favor of caring for one's own needs is tough in the helping professions.  After starting my lunch late, I notice my client checks in early at 12:30, and I feel the pressure to hurry up and eat. When I take a vacation, that’s 10 days my clients won’t be able to meet with me.  If my client calls in crisis at 4:55 p.m. and I have a meeting with a friend at 6pm, do I answer the phone?

As a new professional starting out, I was most floored by the constant demands handed to me from all directions.  If I left my door open after completing a counseling session, a colleague or supervisor would come to me with another tough case.  I sometimes tell a story about how a support staff came into the bathroom looking for me with a task she needed me to sign off on.  With these kinds of demands, imposing structure and schedule seems impossible.  In fact, we need flexibility and ‘found time’ to return phone calls, arrange a meeting, or complete paperwork.  I'm not saying we should never be flexible with their schedules.  However, having a structure in place might mean the difference between leaving the office care-free and leaving the office with overdue tasks. Routine keeps things from falling apart when the going gets tough.

Although there is no magic formula for organization, I do notice a connection between those healing professionals who know how to enjoy routines and those who make peace with the demands of the profession. Routines don't have to be boring or impossible to keep up with. They can help us look forward to things and connect us to the natural rhythm and order of life. Whether daily exercise with a friend or morning coffee, routines can help us balance and prioritize, improving our time management.  We can bring structure into our daily personal and professional lives to manage time more effectively.

Here are some ideas:

Prioritize to create structure

Take some time to think about the meaning and goals of your daily responsibilities.  Even the most mundane tasks have a role in your work.  If you struggle to find value in a task, lower its priority in your day-to-day schedule, or find a way to give it less energy.  Structure your time and energy around the most highly valued tasks and responsibilities.

Track your time

One concept presented in Laura Vanderkam’s  book “I Know How She Does It” is how logging time can give a clearer picture of how people actually spend their time.  Through her Mosaic Project, Ms. Vanderkam studied the time-logs of successful career women with children.  She points out that a week is made up of 168 hours. While most busy people schedule their time and devote most of the day to work, if we log our typical week and actually see the hours in front of us, the free hours emerge. Although our time is limited, we do spend more time enjoying life than what we hear in the dominant story of ‘busy’ and ‘back to back’ schedules.  

When in doubt, try sticking with your plan

Committing to your own personal boundaries and sticking to them can help you learn that the world goes on without you!  Notice what happens if you don’t do ‘that last thing’ you thought was the end of the day priority.  Or, if you wait on something or someone demanding that you respond urgently.  Most of the time, the world doesn’t implode.  Try scheduling a weekly out of work commitment for 5:30 so you have a reason to leave the office. Stick to your routine and see how ending the work day with a firm time limit can help.

Build reliability- people, places and things

To make the most out of routines and structure, stick with people, places and things you can count on.  Try getting out of the meeting or group that never ends up following through.  Notice if you get stuck in back-and-fourth planning for a meet-up that never happens.  When building routines, plan around the things you can count on.

Creating and sticking to routines is part of developing a rich and meaningful life. In the helping professions, it’s easy to live our day like an improvisational song.  When I first learned to play the flute, I tried practicing notes and solo ‘jam sessions’ (sorry family!) Although some improvisational musicians are experts and create wonderful music, most of us would struggle to craft a coherent jazz solo or freestyle rap. When we live life without a rhythm, our week can end up feeling chaotic and unsatisfying. When we are planful and structured about our time, we can recognize how to regularly fit in what sustains us.

Do you have a routine that helps you stay on track? Tell us about it in the comments.

Referenced:

Vanderkam, L. (2016). Manage Your Time. Retrieved at: http://lauravanderkam.com/books/168-hours/manage-your-time/

Click here to get a copy of Laura's book 168 Hours: You have More Time Than You Think

 

 

 

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