Getting some structure in my life
December 31, 2008 7:08 AM   Subscribe

I would like to get some more structure in my life. How do I go about it?

Since I was a kid I was someone who relished freedom and lack of structure, typically not enjoying having to do anything. Somehow I've managed to still get this to work for me as I am fairly driven when left to my own devices and my general survival instinct seems to operate okay, overcoming this resistance when necessary.

In some respects, I've now reached the pinnacle of this tendency. I have my own business (with some partners), doing what I/we decide to do. I work from home and don't need to be somewhere at any particular time, dress a particular way or live up to other externally mandated criteria... and we're doing relatively well.

My life though has started to become a blur, with one day blurring into the next with it not always being clear what I did one day or the next. I've become less efficient, more slothful, and less focused. It seems that I've gotten too much of what I've wanted and now I'm kind of drowning in it.

I would like to try to get some structure in my life now. I think structure will ultimately reverse some of whats been going on and make me more grounded. I don't really know how to start and how to make it work for me though, especially considering my innate tendency.

Have you dealt with similar things? Do you have any resources you could recommend?
posted by blueyellow to Health & Fitness (17 answers total) 84 users marked this as a favorite
These articles are from a college study blog, but they're short, excellent and broadly applicable:

I hate this book, but lots of people love it, apparently. It's about routine and rhythm:

I think the basic idea is that smearing everything together is wildly inefficient and draining, and the longer you're on task the worse your effectiveness. Boundaries and breaks means you do less work overall with better quality. And, if you set up your breaks and boundaries ahead of time (and tweak them as you learn), you don't have to constantly monitor your energy levels.
posted by zeek321 at 7:26 AM on December 31, 2008 [6 favorites]

Jogging every day will change your life. Do at as the sun goes down and it will split your day, make you feel better than any prescriptions, and it will give you time to think. A lot of people run at dawn also. Whatever works for you.

For getting stuff accomplished I've been using Remember the Milk in combination with my iPhone and I get stuff done a lot more efficiently.

Also, travel as much as you can - new experiences are like waypoints.
posted by plexi at 7:28 AM on December 31, 2008

It sounds cliche, but I think getting an appointment calendar does wonders. Then, fill it in! Find a local website or newspaper to find things you'd like to do, or write down errands or tasks. Check it frequently. You don't "have to do" any of the things that you write down, but having things listed for each day is something I've found helpful in distinguishing one day from the next and ultimately makes me more focused. Good luck!
posted by lunit at 7:32 AM on December 31, 2008

I lead a similar life, running a business from home. I don't have any particular routine (eat and sleep at odd hours) but I think my life is quite structured for the most part. I could definitely see how what you're experiencing could happen though.

Do you keep a calendar? One thing that might help is to keep track of time and what you're going to be doing in days to come (I use Google calendar for this purpose). I also tend to keep lists of things to do and make sure to do them according to priority, and tick them off as I go. You might also find it useful to keep a diary of what you've done and write in it at the end of each day.

I also wondered if you're often spending each day doing much the same thing and maybe you need a bit of variety, maybe you might need to do some spontaneous things sometimes, i.e. just go out and do something new.
posted by Eastgate at 7:43 AM on December 31, 2008

I once heard that if you do something every day for three weeks it becomes a habit. So why not try imposing some structure on your life and maintaining it until it becomes just what you do. I'd suggest something casual along the lines of "Okay, I'll have a coffee break at 10 am, I'll make dinner at 7pm, I'll set my alarm to wake up at 8 am" etc etc. Perhaps you'll have more specific and useful things to do daily, but even setting arbitrary times to do repetitive things may help you feel less free-floating.
Good luck!
posted by big open mouth at 7:48 AM on December 31, 2008

Start small, slow, and simple. I crave structure but find it difficult to implement. My problem is that I approach it with an all-or-nothing perspective. I schedule my days down to the last detail and then get discouraged when it's 5 pm and I haven't done half the things on the schedule. Get into ONE habit for a week. Put this on your calendar. Maybe this is going to the gym from 9 to 10 am. The next week, put another thing on your calendar: work on project from 12 to 2 pm. Slowly your days will become structured and productive.
posted by desjardins at 7:58 AM on December 31, 2008 [2 favorites]

Volunteer. It will change your life. And the change will start to happen when you start to think "volunteer doing what?" You'll meet new people, have new experiences (ones that you'll actually participate in, rather than be a short-time observer, which is primarily what travel gives you). You'll have real appointments to put in that appointment calendar, places to be where other people are counting on you to be there, on time.

I've had to struggle with that "smearing together" effect myself, and have helped other people with the same problem -- although never forget it's more of a luxury than a problem. The one thing I'm sure of is that attempts to impose structure or meaning from the outside never work for long. You need to be getting that structure as a result of something you're trying to do.

Many places have volunteer centers that list opportunities. But you can call almost any organization and ask them if they need volunteers. You can help the sick (hospice volunteer) or the poor (shelters), or the old (Meals on Wheels), or children (tutor), or people who are learning English, or learning to read. You can help theatres or art museums or libraries. You can clean up parks or build houses. You can walk dogs or help disabled people ride horses or rehabilitate wild birds. The Red Cross. Your local blood bank. Your county political party. They may welcome skills you already have, or they may teach you new skills. Try lots of things; one of the wonderful things about volunteering is that you can try something, and then simply say "this isn't a good fit for me" and move on, with no hard feelings.

Good luck!
posted by kestralwing at 7:58 AM on December 31, 2008

Wow, that first article from the college study blog is really excellent. I can't say I've read anything else that seems quite so good on time management.
posted by jayder at 9:29 AM on December 31, 2008

Seconding the appointment calendar.

Journal. Use a structured method if writing in a blank book is too overwhelming.

As you lie in bed before you go to sleep, mentally go over your day, starting from the moment you woke up, tracing your path through the day, to the time you got into bed.
posted by Arthur Dent at 9:30 AM on December 31, 2008

"it not always being clear what I did one day or the next."

When you start keeping a schedule, calendar, or appointment journal, add a weekly appointment (Friday, Saturday, or Sunday works well for me) to review the week. Use this time (15 or 30 minutes) to go over what you accomplished during the week. This gives you a sense of what you've achieved and can help you focus on what will be most productive and fulfilling during the coming week.
posted by kristi at 10:11 AM on December 31, 2008

Set a goal. If I have no destination in mind for my life, drifting is as good a use of my time as anything else. Your dissatisfaction with your present situation is evidence you need something to work toward.
posted by davcoo at 10:53 AM on December 31, 2008

I'm also self employed, and I think I know what you mean here.

I recently took a class at the local university. It was awesome! Much structure, I was interested in the material, had assignments to turn in (yay competitive spirit), and I accomplished something. And it got me out among people. Yes, it was weird being among 18-year-olds, but kind of cool, too.

I highly recommend this strategy. I didn't do it for the structure; I did it for a kind of adventure, but the more vivid days was a happy side effect.
posted by amtho at 11:43 AM on December 31, 2008


When I feel myself mistaking motion for progress, it's a pretty clear sign that I've become (as you mention) slothful in maintaining the physical environment. I'm the furthest thing from a neat freak, but I am more productive when I've tidied up my immediate surroundings, and minimized the crap within arm's reach and my field of vision.
posted by Emperor SnooKloze at 12:42 PM on December 31, 2008

Response by poster: Thanks for all the great advice and empathy! I'll definitely look into everything you guys have posted from organization techniques, reflection on days, weeks, how to be more productive, goal setting, pacing yourself, extra work activities, including sports, volunteering and taking classes.

I think having some external thing to enforce structure might also help me .. I guess a calender/ todo list keeps things in front of your eyes and you can see your commitments.

Have a happy new year!
posted by blueyellow at 12:50 PM on December 31, 2008

Watch Tony Robbins' presentation at Yes, Tony Robbins, I know, but there are related videos which are very impressive.

Also, throw out waste.
posted by mistertoronto at 8:57 PM on December 31, 2008

I have found that waking very early and going to bed early has dramatically changed my life for the better. When you are awake three hours before the rest of the world, you might as well be on the moon. No one to bother you. Just you with yourself. You can do work, or run, or write, or read the paper, or whatever. But it is somehow different being alone as you do these things. I try to go out with my computer once in awhile to a place that has wi-fi (usually panera bread co.) and do some reading with coffee out before my 8-4 job. I feel more prepared for my day and somehow more relaxed.

This naturally has helped me sleep better at night. I'm not really old or anything, but I go to bed early as they do, and it seems to bring a sense of peace. Good luck.
posted by boots77 at 4:36 AM on January 1, 2009

I used to rebel against routine and structure for years. Solved it really easily.

We got a puppy. He has to be fed at certain times, walked at certain times, slept at certain times. all of a sudden my life has been organised and structured beyond belief, because it HAS TO BE for the sake of the puppy.

Added bonus: I get a lot of exercise, unadulterated love, and chicks stop me in the street to give him a stroke.
posted by gonzo_ID at 4:44 AM on January 2, 2009

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