5 Reasons I’m Bringing Structure Back to My Life After a Few Months Off
Summary: Some sort of structure is beneficial. However, oversubscribing yourself to too much leads to fatigue and unsustained results. I found that there is an optimum amount of structure to make me as productive as possible, too much though sends me into a rebellious month-long fude.
After indulging a little too much on self-help, I’d suffered from a self-help coma. I didn’t know whether my morning routine was optimised enough, whether morning yoga was really the best way to start my day but at least I didn’t get to the point where I was considering taking cold showers.
I’ve always been a morning person. Since I was 14 and had to get up at 6 am in order to get to work at 7 am, waking up early has played a big role in my productivity. Mid-lockdown I had this routine thing sorted, I was firing out articles left, right and centre, work was good, life was good. But then I overdid it, a little like getting too excited and trying to a lift a weight heavier than your muscles can cope with. You are ambitious until you’re regretful.
That’s what happened to me and structure.
The self-help industry’s obsession with routine and structure
“An idea can only become a reality once it is broken down into organized, actionable elements.”— Scott Belsky
The self-help industry loves the idea of structure. The sheer thought of organisation, colour-coding or creating a routine sends shivers down productivity guru’s spines. It’s the mecca of productivity hacks and I would bet that the majority of self-help writers have touched on the subject of structure in some form of another.
And I know it to be true. I’ve seen the benefit of adding structure to my life over the past year. This time last year I’d written a handful of articles and could never quite get a handle on how to find the time to produce more. Now I work a 9–5, ping out a few articles a week and I’m studying for an MSc. And that is mostly down to the fact that structure has given me more time.
You can overindulge in the structure hype and become derailed
“The mother of excess is not joy but joylessness.”― Friedrich Nietzsche
But you can, and I did, overindulge on this idea of structure. All of a sudden after a few too many articles and a few too many hours spent watching the productivity gurus of YouTube you fall into a productivity coma. You spend hours considering whether it would be a better use of your time to start the morning with writing, reading or yoga. The trouble is, when it gets pretty bad, you spend your entire morning contemplating your use of time over using your time to do anything productive. At that point, you are well and truly in a place you don’t want to be. At that point, you need to get out.
That’s the point I needed a break and had a few months off. I had a few months away from all the productivity hype and just did what I wanted for a bit. But after a few months off, I’m back to structuring my days. Here’s why.
1. Structure allows you to not to spend thinking time on what to do next
“An hour of planning can save you 10 hours of doing.” -Dale Carnegie
This has always been a huge problem for me. I find myself thinking continuously about how best to spend my time and what to do next. The trouble with that is two-fold. First off, you won’t know how best to spend your time until you actually start spending your time. It’s a little like practicising any sports, it’s not until you’ve swung the bat 700 times that you realise the ball goes further if you adjust your elbow slightly. That’s the same for productivity. You can repeat the same activity over and over and only by the 65th time you realise that you could shave time off by tweaking one element. But that insight is only found in the doing.
Repetition allows you to see trends. Once you’ve identified trends you can work on tweaking different parts of your routine to get it to work better. Importantly though, like any good experiment, the test needs to be fair. One day is not enough data to give you a conclusion. You must persevere. By spending time doing you will be more productive. There is nothing more productivity than the actual doing.
2. Structure ensures you are spending your time in the right buckets
“Someone’s sitting in the shade today because someone planted a tree a long time ago.”― Warren Buffett
We’ve all got a lot on. The likelihood is that you are juggling a job, family life, maybe even a side-hustle. Life gets busy fast. And yet we still find time to worry about how productive we are being, weird right? Well structuring your time allows you to allocate enough time to the right buckets.
On a Sunday I will sit down and write out everything I need to do for the week ahead. It’s usually a mix of Uni stuff / work stuff / writing stuff and any house bits that need doing. With this list I can start to think about how to divide that up across the week so I’m getting everything I need to get done completed and that I’m allocating enough time to each individual part of my life. It’s a juggling act for sure but it does save time at the start of the day when you sit and think “err what am I meant to be doing today?”
By knowing what needs to be complete for the week you can chip away at each activity for the week and hopefully allocate enough time throughout the week to get what you need to do, done.
3. Structure brings a sense of comfort and reduces worry
“Let our advance worrying become advance thinking and planning.” — Winston Churchill
And ain’t that the truth. Spending time worrying about where you will be in ten years, if you will be as successful as you’d hoped, if you’d have that nice house that you desperately wanted. All of that is a waste of time. I’m not saying dreaming is a waste of time, quite the contrary, I think it’s quite a luxury to dream about your hopes and ambitions. But worrying, worrying is a different kettle of fish altogether. I’ve always been a worrier and I can truly say that very little benefit has ever come out of me worrying.
What comes from worrying is feeling like the world is going to collapse and you are the cause of it all. The reality is that the majority of the stuff we worry about never happens anyway, so why waste the brain space. Having a structure means you don’t need to worry about whether you are being as productive as possible, because the answer is simple. Yes you are. You are because you’ve sat down the week before and planned what needs to happen and that’s all your trying to achieve this week. If you’ve done that and you stick to your structure, well then you’ve achieved your goal.
4. Structure means your more likely to succeed
“By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail.”― Benjamin Franklin
Structure means you have a plan. A plan means you’ve sat down and carefully thought about what needs to be true in order for you to achieve what you set out to do. You’ve written down all the thoughts, you’ve got an idea of what needs to happen every week in order for you to achieve what you want.
So success is just a matter of time. It’s always curious to me that overnight success is idolised, the slow-burn is much more admirable. Someone, somewhere is spending years chipping away, day by structured day, to try and achieve their dreams. And that’s where the real magic happens. Magic happens in the ordinary. It’s the repetitive nature of chipping away, compounding effort overtime that leads to real success.
Once you’ve got your structure, concentrate on executing to the highest standard you can. Consistently adhering to your structure will inevitably lead to success.
5. Allows you to actually start doing
“Wealth is more often the result of a lifestyle of hard work, perseverance, planning, and most of all self-discipline.” — Thomas J. Stanley
The results come from doing. It’s not the planning, not the sitting down and thinking. It’s the work. It’s the writer, reading, creating, making, building. It’s the verb. There is really no substitute for a day’s hard work, there is certainly nothing more productive.
With structure you concentrate on cracking on and getting stuff done. If you have days where you know you need to write you can crack on and write. If you have days where you know you need to email book publishers and agents, you sit down, read your to-do list and crack on. Actually doing will be the difference between succeeding and not. The work is where the success is.
Structure is a good thing. It allows you to spend time doing and not worrying, it allows you to allocate enough time to each activity that you need to complete and it increases your likelihood of achieving success. Structure gets a big thumbs up from me. However, there is a word of caution. Like anything, all things in life are good in the right doses. Anythings can become a poison if the dosage is incorrect.
Structure can become a poison as well. Structuring your days to ensure you achieve what you want in each day is one thing. Structuring every minute of every hour is stifling and incredibly stressful. It’s a balancing act. But if you get it right, it can lead to great things.