The freedom of structure. Sounds like an oxymoron, right? Those two don’t belong in the same sentence, or so I used to think. But over the past several years of managing sales teams and sales pipelines, starting companies, and studying personal growth, I’ve realized there truly is nothing more freeing than structure. Here’s why.
When we think of the term “freedom” what do we think of?
Lying on a beach?
Being on a road trip?
Running through a wide open field?
Whatever we individually think of, it most likely ties back in some way to being unshackled. One of the many definitions of freedom is: the state of not being imprisoned or enslaved. And so you and I, being rational human beings, paint the picture in our heads that freedom equates to not having something: a boss, a job we have to go to every day, bills, so on and so forth.
But what are we really imprisoned by in today’s society? It’s not our bosses. It’s not our jobs. It’s not our to-do list. It’s having no clue how to manage it all. We are inundated with information, distractions, responsibility, and stress more than ever before. We want to flee from it when it becomes overwhelming, but maybe it’s not that we need to take something away. Maybe we actually need to add something. Enter structure.
Picture this non-structured scenario:
You have 57 things on your to-do list.
You sit down to start your workday and find yourself mumbling “How the heck am I going to get all of this done?”.
You start doing one of the easier tasks on the list just to build momentum and get something done.
Then your phone vibrates with a new email. It’s a client, so you feel like you better get back to them immediately.
You open your email to find 11 other emails that need attending to as well.
You spend an hour and a half pouring through your email before getting back to your to-do list.
Your phone vibrates again. This time it’s a Twitter notification. You go to Twitter to reply to the tweet, and see an article that a colleague of yours has tweeted out. It sounds interesting so you give it a read. 25 minutes later you’ve finished reading that article as well as 2 others that caught your attention while on the site.
Back to the to-do list.
Your boss pops their head at your desk. “Got a second to chat?” 30 minutes later you’re back at your desk after talking about a non-urgent client issue with your boss.
You look at the clock. It’s almost lunchtime. You’ve completed a single easy task on your to-do list and nothing else.
Overwhelming stress is compounding, and we think of the freedom of not having to do any of this.
Has that been your story before? I know it has been mine, and I would guess it has been most people’s reading this. So what would this day look like if we used structure as our guide?
Now picture this scenario but structured:
You have 57 things on your to-do list.
You understand how hectic your day can become, so you wake up 20 minutes early to map out how your ideal day will go.
Out of the 57 things, you choose 2 that if you completed would make the biggest difference in your day. You move those to the top of the list.
Next you start mapping out your day, hour by hour. Any standing meetings you have get added first.
Then you take your top 2 priorities that you marked for the day, and you add them to your calendar with enough time to complete them.
After that you start adding the rest of your to-do list to your hourly schedule providing enough time to complete the tasks and not overwhelm you.
Anything that doesn’t make the cut that day simply stays on your to-do list for the next day. When it’s important enough it will move it’s way up the priority list.
Your day is mapped out and you sit down at your desk. You get to work on priority number 1.
Your phone vibrates. It’s a client. The issue appears to be non-urgent so you set your phone to the side and get back to work on priority number 1. You will get to the client’s email during your “email catch up” time which you already have slotted on your schedule.
An hour and a half later you’ve completed the task and you breathe a sigh of relief. What a great feeling. Your day could end now, and you would have still made a good dent in it.
Your phone vibrates. It’s a Twitter notification. You set your phone aside knowing that you have your lunch break for eating and catching up on social media, news, etc.
You instead get to work on your 2nd most important priority.
An hour later you’re almost done with your 2nd priority when your boss pops their head at your desk and asks if you have a minute to chat. Since your schedule is already set, you can honestly say no. So you ask your boss “If it’s not urgent is it okay if I swing by here in a few minutes on my way out to lunch? I’m wrapping up a project and want to finish up this last bit.” Your boss of course says yes, that’s fine.
You get back to your work, wrap up your 2nd priority, look at the clock and it’s almost lunchtime. You’ve finished your top 2 priorities for the day, you have wasted virtually no time, and your afternoon is setup for success to crank through the rest of your to-do list.
That is the power of structure. In today’s hyper connected and hyper “busy” world, our definition of freedom needs to change. It is no longer the absence of something, but instead it’s the presence of something else – structure – that allows us to approach our life and days with a clear head. That is structure. And there is freedom in structure.