As we head into the fall, you might find that it’s the perfect time to revamp your work routine. Around this time of year, many of us swap PTO and summer vacations for meeting-heavy days and crunched deadlines as we strive to meet our year-long goals. When you add sending the kids back to school or kicking off a new college semester, it’s no surprise we might feel in need of a new, refreshing routine.
Here’s the good news: With the help of time management coach Anna Dearmon Kornick, you can craft a productive and fulfilling fall work routine. Kornick told us that workers are the most productive during the last four months of the year—but how do you manage that level of production without crashing and burning? Here are Kornick’s best tips for resetting after a vacation-filled summer and finishing the year off strong.
1. Head into fall with a fresh perspective on your routine
Fall tends to signal the start of a busy work season across industries and roles. With only four months left in the year, the pressure is on to get through daily to-do lists and year-long goals before the holiday season. “One of the first things that come to mind about heading back to work in the fall is Parkinson’s Law which states that work expands to fill the time allotted,” Kornick shared. We enter a bustling season to make up for the slowness of summer. We adopt a sense of urgency at work, which can be overwhelming and exhausting.
Kornick’s advice: “Go into this busy season with a fresh perspective on your routine. What served you well in the spring and summer may not necessarily set you up for success in the fall.” Some areas to start thinking about improved routines in are your pre-work routine, your lunch break, and your recurring meeting schedules.
2. Adjust your workday around the time change
It’s easy to dread the time change—unless you’re lucky enough to live in a place that doesn’t practice daylight savings. An easy way to combat feelings of dread and anxiety is to use the change to your advantage. “Turn the change into something positive. ‘Fall back’ is a good time to transition to an earlier bedtime because of the light shift. Consider letting natural light in through your windows in the mornings,” Kornick said.
As you adjust your personal routines around the time change, think about how to navigate it at work. The reality is that it’s a tough time for everyone. What can you do to help your coworkers and yourself adjust? “During the week surrounding the time change, be mindful that the change is coming. Shift your meetings later in the day to be kind to your team and yourself,” Kornick suggested. (I’m making a mental note to shift all my meetings by at least one hour that week.)
3. Plan your schedule around your chronotype
If you Google “chronotype,” you’ll stumble upon different biological chronotype models, all of which speak to each person’s unique circadian rhythms. For every season, but particularly as work picks up in the fall, Kornick said knowing your chronotype is a game changer. “Knowing which chronotype you are can help you decide how you spend your time during the day and what you put into your work schedule. It also helps managers and team members know not everyone feels the same way at the same time of day,” Kornick said.
Not sure which chronotype you are? We covered Daniel Pink’s chronotype model in a recent article. Find out if you’re a morning lark, third bird, or night owl. Then, revamp your fall workday routine accordingly.
4. Understand what you need versus want in your routine
Fall is an excellent opportunity to shift into a new routine. Before making any changes, Kornick recommends identifying your needs and wants. Then, reverse-engineer your schedule. Below are some questions to ask yourself:
What do I need to do every morning?
Kornick said to think of these actions as the “non-negotiables” for a successful morning. For example, do you need to get up and have a cup of coffee to function throughout your workday? Do you need to wear real clothes for your Zoom calls to avoid uncomfortable conversations with your manager about your attire? Do you need to send your kids off to school each day?
What do I want to do every morning?
After you’ve determined what you need to do every morning, consider what you want to incorporate into your routine. Adding 10 minutes of reading, a visual meditation, a light workout, or a morning walk can be invigorating ways to start the day.
Once you’ve made a list of your needs and wants, reverse-engineer your schedule to determine when you should wake up. Suppose you must be at work (in-person or online) at precisely 8:00 a.m., and you plan to shower, make breakfast, read for 20 minutes, and do yoga before your workday. Then, you’d figure out what time you need to wake up to accomplish all of those items by 8:00 a.m. Additionally, ask yourself if there are any tasks you can cut, condense, or move to another point in the day.
Exercise is a priority for me, especially during busy seasons at work. In my pre-pandemic life, I woke up at 5:00 a.m. and went to Pure Barre before heading to work for the day. My workdays look different now that I work from home, but initially, I tried to force that same 5:00 a.m. exercise schedule. However, after doing Kornick’s reverse-engineering exercise, I realized I could adjust my schedule. I bumped my workouts to 4:30 p.m. (immediately after work) and built a new routine.
5. Set goals for Q4 and try quarterly planning
We tend to think about our year in terms of the 12-month calendar. It’s not uncommon to set yearly goals at work as businesses work toward company objectives. However, Kornick said, “It can be easy to lose sight of our goals when we think about the year as a whole. We lose things in the ebbs and flows over a year.”
Since fall is a fast-paced work season, Kornick recommends shortening your goal-setting timeframe. Lean into quarterly planning when shaping your routines. “Shortening your timeframe and thinking about your work, life, and goals every quarter is a game changer. The three-month quarters coincide with the changing seasons of the year, which makes it easier to reset your routines with the changing seasons,” Kornick shared.
We build our routines around our goals and priorities. Therefore, it can be challenging to commit to a routine when our goals feel unclear. I recently adjusted my work routine to set aside focused work time every other Friday and avoid attending meetings unless I have to. Had I not been clear on what I planned to use this time for—which is deep work for my active projects—I likely wouldn’t have stayed committed to my no-meeting schedule.
When revamping your routine this season, identify and understand what you need to accomplish before the holiday season. Be realistic with the amount of time you have and what you need to get done. Consider moving non-urgent goals and priorities to the first quarter of next year.