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Back to Work: How to Set a Routine That Sticks

Back to Work: How to Set a Routine That Sticks
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Box up the bikinis and break out the books. As the aisles of Staples fill with stampedes of protractor-wielding students, it’s the time of year when even those of us who aren’t entering Mrs. Goodman’s third-grade class start to panic.

After weeks or months of summer vacation, it can be challenging to get settled into a daily routine again. But we’ve got a few simple tips to make the transition easier. Just hit the hay a little earlier, set up some snazzy Gmail folders, and you’ll be (happily) swapping those poolside margaritas for pencils in no time. But we know it's not really that easy.

Back to the Books — The Need-to-Know

There’s no need to get depressed when those summer days (and that summer tan) start driftin’ away. The beginning of the academic calendar year is actually a perfect opportunity to start fresh and plan for productivity. And while pre-planning every bathroom break might be a little obsessive, it’s important to set up a system for meeting specific, realistic goals; for example early deadlines for final papers and planning sessions for group projects [1].

And take a break from freaking out: A solid schedule can give us a little peace of mind. Just knowing we have a schedule in place for the day, the week, or the whole semester can make us feel calmer and more in control of whatever tasks we need to tackle [1]. Start planning now with these strategies for success.

Pencil Me In — Your Action Plan

Work may have snuck up on us, but there’s no need to tearfully wave goodbye to the beach. These five tips will make the transition back to real life a breeze.

  • Seize the day. Make a daily calendar with everyday events and obligations, like answering emails, hitting the gym, and even chowing down. It’s one more step toward efficiency, since it won’t be necessary to make the same to-do list every morning. A daily schedule helps keep us on track, too: There’s no worrying about sneaking in exercise (and no excuse for backing out!) if, for example, every morning from 8 to 9 a.m. is yoga time. For scheduling experts, do the same thing with a weekly calendar (Sunday is laundry time, Wednesday’s for paying bills, etc.).
  • Think inside the box. Prepare for the inevitable onslaught of “welcome back” emails by making the school or work inbox an organized space. Set up folders for different classes or projects so that non-urgent messages skip the inbox. Returning to work after a break? Keep the out-of-office message on a few extra days and leave some time to sort through emails. All these e-tips help us prioritize the most important tasks and avoid getting trapped in front of the computer screen for 12 extra hours.
  • Hit the reset button. Sometimes the hardest part of getting back into a daily routine is just getting up. For those used to sleeping in late, try gradually adjusting the internal clock instead of going cold turkey. Every day try going to bed and waking up about 15 minutes earlier so that the 7 a.m. alarm doesn’t send a jolt through your system on the first day back. Get outside pretty soon after waking up to remind the body that it’s daytime [3].
  • Take it slow. We’re all just itching to resume our daily routines, but don’t hop right off the beach and into the cubicle. If possible, ease the transition and don’t schedule meetings for the first few days back at work. And avoid panicking over a mile-long to-do list by tackling small tasks first, even ones as simple as responding to emails or scheduling a few appointments.
  • Just do it. Planning to write a paper is one thing; actually writing it is another. It’s important to record due dates for papers and ideas for projects, either in an old-school notebook or a digital gadget. Having concrete steps and deadlines will help the task(s) get done on time and without stress. That same strategy applies to any major or ongoing task, such as arranging gym dates with a pal or organizing a study group.

Are you worried about getting back into the school or work routine? What are your favorite tips for easing the transition? Share in the comments below.

Works Cited +

  1. Time management for today’s workplace demands. Thomack, B. Matrix Absence Management, Phoenix, AZ. Workplace Health & Safety 2012;60(5):201-3.
  2. Time management for today’s workplace demands. Thomack, B. Matrix Absence Management, Phoenix, AZ. Workplace Health & Safety 2012;60(5):201-3.
  3. Internal clock desynchronization, light and melatonin. Touitou, Y. Bulletin de l'Académie nationale de medicine 2011;195(7):1527-46.

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