We all have routines. They can include everything from what time we get up to how we end our days at work. Routines provide a structured guideline to how we spend our days.
Thankfully, routines develop naturally, but if you decide to use your routine as a tool, they can help you ensure you get the most out of your day. The idea is to set routines up so that you are taking care of the activities that are most important to you in an automatic way. Once a habit is embodied, tasks that might be more difficult to accomplish happen without having to think about doing them.
Establishing a Routine
List Your Priorities
You probably already have a routine that supports you during your day, but chances are there are activities you want to add or changes you want to make. Before analyzing your routine, I recommend listing the main components you want to include in it. Some may already be there, like work and reading. Others may be new, such as a new exercise habit. Examples of areas you might want to include are:
Health: Exercise, healthy eating, sleep
Work: Priority projects, new endeavors, procrastinated tasks
Family and relationships: Room for deepening or developing important relationships
Other activities: Time spent with your hobbies and other interests, such as community-based commitments and team-based activities.
Next, analyze your schedule to see what is working and what isn’t. Perhaps you don’t have enough room for exercising, or you feel like you are not leaving enough time for winding down after a long day to have a good night’s sleep. If you were to select one important alteration to your routine to achieve this balance, what would it be?
Add the New Routines to Your Schedule
If you have a basic schedule that includes everything that is important to you, start adding new routines. Try implementing one change into your schedule at a time. Begin with that one item that you want to add or modify. Find out what time slots work best for this new activity in your week. For instance, you may prefer to exercise in the morning.
There may not be enough time in the day to do everything you want to do. If you’re not getting enough sleep, there’s no use filling your day with work and exercise. In that case, organizing your weekly schedule is a good exercise because it will help you see the reality of the amount of time you have. You can then reprioritize or think creatively about how you want to handle your week.
Setting up a routine well takes time. Some newly introduced activities may take much longer than others to become a habit. I’ve found some changes were easy, such as drinking tea instead of coffee in the morning, but other modifications, like getting into the office earlier to write, have been a lot more difficult to implement. You may spend months building one single item into your routine.
Don’t despair; keep going. Once something is safely ensconced in your schedule, it is more likely it will stay there. When you feel like that new activity is part of your life, try adding the next one.
Sometimes, it takes some trial and error to see what activity works best at what time. You may prefer to pack your weekdays with activities and leave your weekends free so you can rest, or you may favor spreading all the items in your routine evenly throughout the week. What your routine looks like will be unique to you and your needs.
You may notice that you are not making any progress as you work on a special project. If you have the proper amount of motivation, it’s probably a matter of finding the best place in your routine to work on new projects. Try the mornings and, if that doesn’t work, you can try the evenings. Or instead of sitting down for an hour a week to work on a project, you can try splitting it up into four 15-minute slots throughout the week. A playful, experimental mindset is helpful in these situations as you explore to find what works best for you.
Prepare for Changes
Life changes occur. Whether it is a new job or a new baby, your routine is bound to evolve and shift. Have patience as you experiment and adapt it to the new circumstances in your life. What your routine looked like before a new job or baby compared to what happens after may be wildly different.
I believe, though, it is especially helpful to have a routine when you have pressure due to new circumstances in your life. It is at these times when you can use your routine as a tool to help you accomplish all you want to achieve and to try to balance your life. Your routine may change twice a year, or it may be different depending on whether you are traveling or at home. The more you work with it as you adapt it to your life, the more it will help you take care of what is important to you.