For many of us, high school feels like a distant memory. Walking down the hallways going from class to class, hanging out with your friends and dying for your lunch period to arrive. There was a set schedule, a dress code, the curriculum was decided upon by your teachers, and vacations were built in before the year started. It isn’t much different than post-graduate life, so why do millennials have such difficulty adjusting?
I recently connected with many recent graduates who find they are uncomfortable with the daily work routine. Unfortunately, college spoiled us into having classes a few days a week and at the times when we wanted them. Our days were built to accommodate our lives.
College wired us to approach our days very differently than what we experience in corporate America and in offices around the world each and every day. Even with the latest shifts in company culture, most of our work days are dictated by company policy and flexibility varies. However, we can structure our day to optimize our productivity in the same way that high school was.
Structure Your Work Day like a High School Student
1. Break your day off into periods
By understanding your attention span and your bursts of productivity, you can create a set schedule to tackle your to-do list in a designated time periods. The average adult has an attention span of 20 minutes. This may not seem promising for a working professional with a million things to do. However, giving yourself short-term deadlines to accomplish tasks will help keep you focused.
For example, identify five priorities for that day and assign hour blocks to them with 10 minute breaks in between. To accommodate for the tasks that might pop up throughout the day, allot a sixth period for that. By creating this schedule, you can focus your energy on one task at a time and get more crossed off your to-do list instead of trying to simultaneously handle multiple projects. Multi-tasking is actually more distracting than you realize.
2. Breakfast and lunch are non-negotiable
Whether you ate or not, lunch and breakfast were part of your day in high school. Make it a priority to take your breaks to fuel up on food as well as give yourself a mental rest. Take a walk outside, connect with your college friend that lives across the country via phone, or just sit and eat somewhere that is not at your desk. By stepping away and engaging in a completely different activity, you break up the monotony of the day and feel refreshed and rejuvenated when you return.
3. Become involved in extracurricular activities
No matter how much your day might have dragged on, you usually had something to look forward to after school. Whether it was a sport, club, meeting, or even just grabbing a bite to eat with your friends, you had something to look forward to. Now as an adult, you should look to become involved in an activity that also gives you something to look forward to. Take a class at the gym, schedule a date with a friend or significant other, join a professional organization, or participate in your company’s affinity groups. If all you have waiting for you at the end of the day are errands, you will approach your day much differently.
Recently, there have been a lot of different perspectives on women having it all, leaning in, and achieving work-life balance. The reality is that finding equilibrium between your job and personal life is something that women spend a majority of their careers trying to do. Working long hours have become the norm and becoming burnt out can happen quickly if you do not know how to adjust to the change in your schedule and lifestyle. Remind yourself to take short breaks between tasks and carve out pieces of the day for yourself. You really can become comfortable in the daily routine while maintaining your sanity. All you have to do is find a structure and system that works for you.
Ask Megan Smyth, Co-Founder & CEO at GoRecess, Inc., how she structures her day to optimize productivity.