“Life is like a box of chocolates…” If work was like a box of chocolates, you’d be the chocolate box. You only have so many chocolates to give until you’re just cardboard and plastic. And if you’re running on empty, are you doing anybody, especially yourself, any good?
We know that was a lame reference, but our point is – if you’re not finding a work rhythm to balance your demands, everyone involved is losing out.
We’ll tell you why.
But first, what is a work rhythm?
What is a work rhythm?
A work rhythm is…
your natural physical and emotional capacity for effective work, which fluctuates throughout the day. (tomedes.com)
It’s no secret that some of us can’t even string two words together in the morning while some of our colleagues have already finished half of their to-do list. And then at 2 pm, those same colleagues are spacing out at their desks while we’re powering through our work.
A work rhythm isn’t just when you tackle your recurring tasks, but also the times of days where you may or may not have the attention or energy to give to harder or simpler tasks.
What influences your work rhythm?
Many things can influence a work rhythm: sleep, diet, exercise, caffeine, stress, and more.
That of course is on top of the actual fluctuations in work on top of your weekly to-dos: getting a new project, being asked to help a coworker, having to go through training.
It’s almost mind-boggling to think with all those variables that we could even come close to finding a work rhythm. But it is possible because humans love routine.
We love rhythms
A rhythm is…
a repeatable, predictable patterns that not only brings about a physical comfort, but an emotional and mental one as well (performance.com)
Rhythms make us feel good holistically. So if work is making you feel burnt out you have to find your work rhythm. We’ll let you in on a little secret – there is no work/life balance, it’s all just life. If you aren’t managing your work, it will become your life.
Let’s explore what value having a work rhythm can bring to your life.
4 reasons why having a work rhythm matters
Having a Work Rhythm requires you to manage your time well. It’s tetris. Getting into a good work routine requires you to prioritize, optimize, and reset, to fit all the pieces together. As you create habits, tackling more difficult work will become easier as you resist it less. With improved focus and less procrastination, you may even find yourself spending less time on tasks that used to take you hours.
If you’re completing your work with only deadlines in mind, how do you know what’s actually important to your role, your career, or your value as an employee? Prioritizing by deadline or urgency, while important, lets you forget the “why” of your role. Why do you matter? Why does your work matter? When you have a work rhythm, you have to know your why, because you can’t do it all. Finding your rhythm means letting go of tasks or work that doesn’t fit with your purpose.
3. Great for uncertainty
There aren’t many things we can control in this life, only how we act and react. So in times of uncertainty, like let’s say a global pandemic, staying true to your work rhythm (or finding a new one, like for example if your whole company went virtual) brings a level of normalcy and psychological safety to your life.
What happens when you wake up on a Wednesday, your motivation completely zapped? You have a long list of to-dos, a full inbox, and a pinging slack. You lean into your habits.
Habits are, “acquired modes of behavior that have become nearly or completely involuntary” (Merriam-Webster). Maybe your morning coffee gets you moving, or maybe you pick your most mundane task that you save for your low-energy days. Whatever you choose, you rely on those involuntary actions that don’t tax your already depleted motivation reserve.
So why are we talking about habits? Habits help us create rhythms and vice versa. We’re always looking for more time and more motivation. But the truth is you have to make both. Creating rhythms and thus habits, helps you do more with less motivation.
You’re probably wondering, “Great, how do I create my work rhythm?” Let’s talk about it.
5 steps to creating your own work rhythm
It comes down to time management and intentionality. Work rhythms have to actually, well, work. So read more on time management (and making a tequila sunrise). And follow these five steps:
1. Be clear on your purpose
You need a North Star. Something you can hold each task up against and ask, is this taking me in that direction? Maybe it’s a goal, maybe it’s a set of values, maybe it’s job description, or maybe it’s a combination of all three. Either way, put it on paper. From there start figuring out your priorities down to the task, what’s most important for you to accomplish to stay true to your purpose?
If you’re saying, “I’m just too busy,” we have a hard truth for you. You’re not too busy, you’re just spending your time poorly. By that we mean, you’re lacking clarity on what’s important in your life and not off-loading tasks and responsibilities accordingly.
There will be some sacrifices to finding your rhythm. Part of finding your work rhythm is deciding what beats to dance to. Go back to your purpose and your list of priorities and look for where you can bring in help. Can someone cover a meeting for you so you can get 30 minutes back to work on an important project? Can your teammate take a first pass at something and you take the second?
Once you know what to take off your plate…
3. Cut down your time
Give yourself less time to do the task at hand. More often than not you’ll find you were spending 25 minutes of that hour allotted for work checking your messages, surfing the internet, or switching to another task. When you set a time limit, you’re forcing yourself to focus. It’s not a perfect science, so it may take some experimentation for how much time you set for each to do. But try shorter time periods and see how much time you get back.
4. Take breaks
You HAVE to take breaks. It’s an important part of having a rhythm. There needs to be periods of rest and restoration. And there’s even science that shows you’re problem-solving even when your attention is elsewhere (healthline). Look at Einstein, his Theory of Relativity came to him in a dream about cows. If Einstein can sleep and come up with his greatest creation, you can eat lunch away from a screen. Remember there is no work/life balance. Just life. So actually make space to live outside of work.
5. Track progress
With finding your work rhythm, you’re taking the time to set up processes. But how do you know your processes are working? You track the results.
While thinking about how you want to prioritize, delegate, and make time for tasks, also set up how you’ll measure success.
Is it the number of tasks completed? Is it a weekly review of your to-do list? Decide what works for you. It’ll help you fine-tune your rhythm to best suit your needs and show you that the effort you’re putting in is paying off.
Finding your rhythm takes trial and error, but we promise it’s worth it. Take back balance in and outside of work. And also give yourself more space to do the things you love. Keep your chocolate box full by finding your rhythm and savor your life because even with the ups and downs, it’s still pretty sweet.