There are tons of blog posts, articles, and even whole books about the importance of establishing a daily routine. I find it fascinating to see how other people manage their day to day lives, especially people in the same field as me. But like many other people, I was more of a voyeur–I loved to hear what other people were doing, but could never really seem to get motivated enough to come up with something that I could stick to. It’s only recently that I really got into a routine that I feel good about, so I’d like to share what that is exactly, and how I finally arrived.
The most important thing to remember that the whole purpose of having a daily routine is to be able to have the mental capacity and attention to expend towards achieving the goals that are most important to you. To rephrase, your daily routine is your time to put yourself first so you can focus on the important work.
Daily routines help you to establish a pattern that you can follow without thinking, so you can avoid decision fatigue. If you’ve never heard of this phrase, I’d suggest reading The Power Of Full Engagement by Jim Loehr. Essentially, we all start each day with a limited amount of energy to use towards focus. Each decision we make, whether that is what outfit to wear to work that day or advanced level calculus, requires a certain amount of that energy. When we’ve depleted that energy, then our real focus is essentially gone until we recharge (usually through rest and relaxation). But when we establish habits, our bodies and minds go on autopilot and use up a lot less of that focus energy. This allows to keep that energy to use throughout the day to deal with tasks that require a greater level of concentration.
When trying to develop a daily routine, it’s important to keep several things in mind. First, it’s good to try a lot of different tactics, but you shouldn’t be afraid to abandon ones that don’t work for you. If it costs you more energy to perform part of your routine and doesn’t provide a significant positive impact on your life, then you should ditch it. Second, it’s much easier to start with one keystone habit and gradually add in additional tasks (called habit stacking) than it is to try to start a handful of new habits and burn out because of the energy required to actually create the habit. For me (and a lot of people), that keystone habit was exercise, which I talk about below. Finally, know that your daily routine will morph over time, and that’s OK. As you begin to have new priorities and goals in your life, you may find that you need to tweak your routine in order to better accomplish those goals.
The first step in establishing a routine is to know the why–exactly what goals are you trying to achieve, and how will your routine help you reach them. For me, those goals include spending more time with my family, getting healthy, and working on my personal business projects. Your goals may be completely different. The key thing is that you have a goal to focus on that is big enough and important enough to motivate you, otherwise you’re not likely to follow through.
So, here is my current daily routine.
- Drink a glass of water immediately upon waking. Your body has been at rest for at least 7-8 hours, so drinking water will not only help wake you up, but it also helps to flush out toxins in your body that have built up overnight. I fill a glass with water every night and leave it on the nightstand next to me, so when I shut off my alarm I see it there and can immediately chug it down.
- Spend time with my family. My girlfriend and I usually spend a few minutes chatting in bed before we actually get moving in the morning. I make us coffee and feed our cats while the girls get ready to go off to work and school. I hang out in the kitchen and help make lunches while everyone eats breakfast, and then I see them off. It’s a great way to stay connected with my family and start the day off on the right foot.
- Journaling. There are many different ways to do this, and my methods have changed many times. I’m currently using a method similar to morning pages, but in the past I’ve also tried some more structured approaches as well. The most important thing is to get what you are thinking onto paper. It’s very cathartic, and has helped me to focus on what is going well in my life and what things I’d like to improve upon.
- Run. This is something I thought I would never, ever, ever do. I avoided running like it was the plague. My girlfriend was the person that finally inspired me enough to change my mind. I went to a couple of her races and talked to some of her friends that were long-time runners, and it all seemed very exciting to me. She recommended an app called Couch to 5K, which I highly recommend for anyone that wants to get started. It creates a very low barrier of entry by mixing walking with short periods of jogging. Those periods of running grow progressively over the 9 week training program, and by the end you’re running a full 5k. Running turned out to be the habit that made it easier to start other new habits–besides the endorphin rush that running creates, it also gave me a sense of accomplishment. I knew that if I could go from no exercise to running a 5k, then everything else in my life seemed way easier.
- Eat breakfast. This is a no-brainer. If you’re not eating breakfast every day, you’re not giving your body the fuel it needs to make it through the day, or proving your brain with enough glucose to make important decisions. Plus, if you are running or doing some sort of physical activity, it’s even more important to give your body the fuel it needs to fulfill the faster metabolism your body develops when you exercise. I usually stick to a protein based breakfast like eggs, sometimes with a protein smoothie to supplement.
- Shower, brush teeth, and get dressed. Even though I work from a home office, I still get ready each day as if I were going off to work in a traditional office. When I get dressed and head towards my computer, my body knows that it’s time to get to work.
- Meditate. Similar to journaling, this really helps me focus throughout the day. I tried meditating unsuccessfully many times, mostly because I didn’t see the value in it. Then someone explained meditation in a way that changed my perspective–it’s a way of training your brain to shut out the many distractions around you so you can focus on a single thing. Our attention gets interrupted hundreds of times throughout the day, and each of these interruptions costs us some of that precious mental energy. Meditation has taught me how to focus on a single task for longer periods of time, which leaves me more mental energy throughout the day. There are hundreds of ways to jump in to meditation–I use the Headspace app, and love it. It’s a guided meditation that gradually increases in length as you become more comfortable. I highly recommend this if you want to get started.
- Work on my most important task first. This was the hardest habit for me to establish, and one that I continue to struggle with. Because I do have a regular day job, it’s easy for me to feel obligated to jump right in to doing that work and put off my own personal projects until later in the day. However, at the end of the day I often didn’t have the mental energy left to focus on this deep creative work. By working on these things first, I am always working towards accomplishing these goals. I’m still feeling mentally sharp and energized from the earlier parts of my daily routine, so it’s easier for me to be creative and work at a much higher level of focus that I would otherwise. Has this affected work at my day job? Not at all–in fact, it’s made it better. Because I actually have less time in my day to devote towards my day job, it’s forced me to make faster, better decisions. There’s also a sort of mental high that you get from knowing that you’ve made important steps towards goals that are important to you personally, so it energizes me for the rest of the day.
So that’s my morning routine in a nutshell. Throughout the day I deal with my regular job, and the ups and downs of everyday life, but having this established routine helps keep me focused and always moving towards achieving the goals that are most important to me.
What does your daily routine look like? Leave a note in the comments below.