Making a Daily Routine (And Sticking to It)

When you were working, your schedule was mostly set by your employer. You knew where you need to be, and what you needed to be doing, almost any time of the day. Your meetings, meals, and probably even bathroom breaks were determined, directly or indirectly, by your work and workplace. Sometimes it was a drag to have to stick to someone else’s schedule, but in a way it was also kind of comforting.

Now that you’re unemployed, there are still things that you know you need to do on one hand, and things you would rather be doing on the other. With no one but you to hold yourself accountable, how do you keep on task?

Divide and Conquer

When you wake up in the morning (or afternoon, since you’re not on anyone else’s schedule, after all), the next sixteen hours or so can seem like all the time in the world to accomplish whatever you need to do. But minor tasks, errands, and that worldwide distraction factory known as the Internet can eat away at the minutes until its bed time and you look back and wonder where the day went.

The best way to make use of your time is to break it up into dedicated blocs. Set aside a certain amount of time to look for work, a certain amount to prepare and send out resumes, and a certain amount to following up on jobs you previously applied for. Try to tackle your regular tasks at the same time each day. That way they eventually become habits, which require less effort and motivation to take on.

Set Deadlines

There are two reasons that editors, project managers, and other people in charge set deadlines: to motivate unenthusiastic people to buckle down and work, and to keep perfectionists from overanalyzing their performance.

If you hate filling out applications, sending follow-up emails, and all the other little tasks associated with looking for work, you’re not alone. But dreading the work can lead to procrastination, which eats into your productivity and can mean missing good opportunities. Setting a firm deadline for finishing a task helps you focus so that you get it out of the way that much faster.

Voltaire (almost) said, ‘The perfect is the enemy of the good.’ If you sit down to write an absolutely perfect cover letter, you can end up obsessing over what to keep and what to drop, how to phrase, and even what font to use. Nothing you produce will ever be perfect, and you can find the flaws in anything if you look long enough. Your best bet is to produce a good first draft, revise it, and send it. You can avoid overthinking by imposing a strict completion deadline for every task you take on.

Change It Up

Doing too much of the same task all in a row can become monotonous, which makes concentrating, and even caring, difficult after long stretches. Break up this monotony by changing directions entirely after finishing a task. Just finish a cover letter? Go take out the trash! Just cleaned the kitchen? Spend some time on job boards! By changing the parts of your brain that are engaged in an activity, you can keep yourself from getting in a mental rut.

Reward Yourself

Part of being an adult is being able to work toward long-term goals, getting back into the workforce, for example. But we still retain that youthful desire for immediate gratification, which is why the flip side of setting goals is giving yourself rewards. It doesn’t have to be anything big or expensive. But it should be something that you enjoy, and something that can genuinely motivate you to finish your task. When I was unemployed, I would schedule an hour of video game time between my morning and afternoon application sessions. It gave my mind some time to relax, while at the same time making a day that could otherwise be filled with stress and anxiety a little more pleasurable. But whatever your pleasure is, in order to be truly motivating, it needs to be a genuine reward for accomplishment. That means that if you don’t finish your task, or you do a sloppy job, or you miss a deadline, you don’t get to do it.

Daily routines provide a sense of structure, assurance, and comfort. Knowing where you should be and what you should be doing frees your mind to focus on the critical question of how to get it done. Being unemployed means having to figure out both what to do and how to do it. If you establish a solid routine for yourself, you’ve eliminated a good chunk of the mental work you need to do every day. 

[Go Back]    [^ Back to Top]