If being flexible was easy, we’d all be master yogis! But the truth is that being flexible, physically or mentally, can be very challenging. Below are a few tips to help you improve your mental flexibility with some small adjustments to your schedule.
1. Time Frames vs. Set Times
Routines are helpful for both kids and adults. However, the rigidity of a routine can cause crankiness, boredom, and burnout. For a more flexible schedule, try implementing a time frame for an activity rather than a specific start time. A great place to start is the morning. Instead of sticking to a 6 am wake up time, a more flexible schedule would have a 6-7 am wake up time frame. Creating a time frame rather than a specific wake up time allows for a balance between structure and flexibility. If you normally wake up at 7 am, implement a 6-7 am time frame to add some flexibility into your schedule. When you have more energy and you wake up at 6 am, you could read a book or take a walk. If you feel more tired, you can sleep in until your normal wake up time at 7 am.
The purpose of the time frame is to give yourself permission to not be so stringent with your schedule, while still maintaining an overall sense of structure. The extra time provides space for exploration so you can determine what set time might work best for you.
Tip: When implementing time frames, pay attention to what rhythms improve your life, and what drains you. If there’s a noticeable improvement in your personal well-being when you read for 30 minutes in the morning, you could implement a set time of waking up 30 minutes earlier. Test and re-test what works best for you and your family.
2. Contingency Plans
Another way to include flexibility within structure is to have a contingency plan for anchor activities. An “anchor activity” can be defined as an activity that grounds you and is essential to complete throughout the day. It’s “anchoring” so to speak, in your routine or your life. A few anchor activities may include unloading the dishwasher, working out, checking your email, or taking your dog on a walk. There are often set times to do these activities. When you’re in a flow with a routine and everything is right on schedule, it works great! But when something is thrown off and the activity is incomplete, it may be simply forgotten later.
Anchor activities with contingency plans help you to be flexible with your planning. For example, you can plan to complete an anchor activity in the morning, but if something throws your routine off, you have a contingency plan to complete the activity at a specific time later in the day. Having this forethought allows you to be flexible with what time you complete something, but ensure the task is still finished.
Tip: A contingency plan helps you expect the unexpected and prepare for the challenges life might throw your way.
3. Schedule “un-scheduled” time
Leaving margin rather than scheduling every minute of the day creates space for you to be spontaneous. There is nothing more flexible in a schedule than an open schedule. So often, the natural inclination is to fill our schedules (professionally and personally) to the brim. What would having an open day on your calendar do for you? What might you discover or accomplish during a morning without meetings on your work schedule? Life is busy, so it takes intentionality to block off time that is “unscheduled” for any specific activity or meeting.
Try to make unscheduled time, actually unscheduled time. Don’t attempt to complete your entire to-do list or finish cleaning your whole house. In the spirit of flexibility, be in the present moment and see what needs your attention most – rather than focusing on something you had previously scheduled.
Tip: Unscheduled time looks different for everyone. You may let your mind wander to solve a new business idea or spend quality time with your family. Perhaps you have a conversation with a friend that you had put off.
Adjusting your schedule to be more flexible than rigid will take intentionality, but the benefits are well worth the effort. And if you’re skeptical of the benefits, don’t knock it ‘till you try!