I have been sitting on the notes for this post for a while. It seems with the global COVID-19 pandemic, the keeping a routine only becomes more relevant. With the disruption of our typical lifestyle due to shutdowns, it is more important than ever to establish a solid daily routine to keep sane.
What you chose to focus on in your routine is up to you and is a deeply personal decision. I am going to focus on the methodology and how you pick and stick to your routine over time. I will also provide a few ideas on activites to include that will build up your capacity over time.
When trying to design your lifestyle, perhaps as part of FIRE, there are many considerations. It will take some effort to be intentional about creating the lifestyle you want. Over time, having a solid routine will look like a life-hack from the outside.
By creating and sticking to a routine you are able to create momentum. Lets imagine you are in a funk. You are not getting anything done. You are procrastinating. Maybe binging on every netflix series ever created. How do you get out of this?
The first thing to do is to take the first step into something productive. Anything productive. This is where it is possible to fall into the trap of trying to achieve something too challenging right off the bat when you have no energy.
Maybe the first step was going on a walk, working out for a bit, reading a book. It doesn't really matter.
Then the next step is to build on that. The next day, or in a little bit, add in another growth oriented activity.
The thing about momentum is that you are either pressing on and creating more momentum, or it is sliding away. In my experience, there really is no such thing as just maintaining status quo with momentum.
As you build momentum on positive items, you will likely naturally start seeing yourself having more energy and more ability to focus on some of the things that were causing you to procrastinate away from before.
Since we have limited resources of time and attention, choosing what we want to focus on is an important aspect of lifestyle design. Not being distracted by the ever present stream of push notifications, emails, and soclial media is easier said than done, but it is a key if we have any hope of being able to create a meaningful daily routine.
Paula Pant of Afford Anything often says you can afford anything but you cannot afford everything. What this means is we have to be intentional about what we are going for. Focus is a limited resource, and while it can be improved, it is still limited. So we should be intentional with how we focus on things and what we focus on.
The Eisenhour Matrix describes a scenario that is important to intentionality. In it Eisenhour states that what is important is usally not urgent, and what is urgent is usually not important. By being intentional, you can focus more on what is important, and get distracted less by things that are urgent.
This is very apparent when thinking about most people's attitudes toward exercise. At one level, it is understood that it is important to routinely work out. But at another level, there is no urgent pull begging you to exercise that day. It is something we have to be intentional about prioritizing because we know what the long term benefits are.
Miracle Morning Routine
In the book The Miracle Morning, Hal Elrod discusses how to build a "perfect" morning routine. In it, he crams in pretty much every recomended self care activity into a morning routine. Basically running with the theory that there is no magic bullet to fill your tank back up, but if you try a little of each thing every morning, the net result should be a positive boost to your day.
He created the "Savers" acronym for Silence, Affirmations, Visualizations, Exercise, Reading, Scribing.
“Strive to make everyday the best day of your life, because there is no good reason not to.” - Hal Elrod
The basic theory is that if you are able to get so much acomplished in the first hour of your morning, that momentum will carry on throughout the rest of the day.
“Why is it that when a baby is born we often refer to him or her as ‘the miracle of life’ but then we go on to accept mediocrity for our own lives. When did we lose sight of the Miracle that WE are living?” - Hal Elrod
I tried his 30 day challenge, and I enjoyed many aspects from it. I struggle to get to bed and then to get up early enough not to feel like I need to jump directly into work. The biggest problem I had with doing it is it takes a decent amount of energy and sometimes I felt like the routine itself left me feeling a bit exausted. Kind of goign against Gary Keller's The One Thing, where the most productive portion of the day should be spent on the most important thing of the day.
Activities That Move You Forward
- Working on the hardest thing
- Working Out
My friend Katie Kensy over at Always-Adventure has a great article of Healthy Activities You Can Do at Home to Improve Productivity. Be sure to check it out for more ideas of healthy activities you can incorporate into your day to build a solid routine.
Activities That Move You Backwards
- Staying up late
- High sugar diet
Staying in Shape
It is hard to understate the value of working out and staying in good physical shape as part of a productive routine.
Without experiencing this firsthand, it will sound like an enigma. The more energy exerted working out, the more total energy goes up. This happens on both the day of the workout, but most importantly over time. Through training, your heart and lungs get into better shape and can work more efficiently when doing typical daily tasks.
Exercise has been shown to improve mood, sleep, and anxiety. The part of the brain that influences those things, the prefrontal cortex, actually grows from a period of routine exercise.
Workouts funamentally fall into two categories. There is cardio and there is strength training. Blending the two usually gets poor results in both.
Wendy Suzuki, in her Ted talk discusses some of the benefits of exercise on the brain. Some of the transient effects of exercise are improved ability to focus and improved ability to shift focus from one item to another. These effects last up to two hours after the workout.
The truly great thing about exercise is the long term effects it has on your brain. Long term exercise actually creates cells in your prefrontal cortex and hippocampus. It improves memory, increases focus. Because of the increased volume of the hippocampus "you get long-lasting increases in those good mood neurotransmitters."
This ties back into momentum. Exercise creates an enviroment where you will have more energy, be in a better mood, and have more ability to concentrate. Though to get these benefits you need to maintain a routine that has sufficient exercise. Wendy recomends 3-4 sessions of 30 minutes of cario exercise a week.
Just like other things we have discussed increasing momentum on to improve your lifestyle design. You can start off small. Perhaps walking 15 minutes at a time 2 times a week. Then increase it to 3 times a week after 2 weeks. Then add in taking the stairs everywhere, cycling, or other activity once a week. Maybe after a month or so increase it to 20 minute sessions, then 25, then 30.
After a few months you will have created enough momentum where your body expects spending the time and now you have improved mood and focus to where you are naturally able to focus more on other important things in your lifestyle.
Setting a Schedule
Once you have an idea of the activities you want to have in a day, it is time to put together a schedule so you can start to develop the habits to make the routine a reality.
Some parts of your schedule you might want to have specific times. For instance, if you have to get to work at a certain time every morning, scheduling a tight window for when you wake up, eat breakfast, and do productive activities in the morning is a good idea.
Your evening schedule may be a little more lax and free form. It may be more aproximations of when you will get home, when to eat dinner, and when to read, work out, or do whatever you would like to get acomplished each evening.
Beware of Distractions
Distractions that can pull you away from your routine can come in many forms. Some can seem well meaning but utimately distract you from your goals.
Perhaps your routine is really a set of routines. Weekday routine, weekend routine, work from home routine, work travel routine, vacation routine. Each of these has different goals and constraints that should be taken into account.
By realizing that your routine is not necessarily supposed to be hyper rigid, but more of a rythem that keeps you moving forward, you allow some flexibility in.
In order to be intentional about how you handle routine, setting goals is going to be an important determination of your success. Setting an ideal routine and sticking to it is going to take some time to get used to. So setting goals on where you want to be, and how much to bite off at a time is a great way to work into it.
"I want to wake up to it. I want to go to sleep to it and I want to dream with it...I want to write my goals down before I go to sleep at night because they are important to me, they are valuable to me and I get to wake up to them again tomorrow." -Grant Cardone
Grant Cardone recomends writing down goals twice a day. Once in the morning, and once at night. He recomends keeping a notebook by your bed so you can jot your goals down each day right when you wake up.
Setting Goals in the Evening
A great time to set goals for the next day is right before you go to bed. Usually the evening is an introspective time and the morning is usually more rushed. This allows you to be more intentional the next day.
The intentional thinking from the night can carry forward into the next day.
“Your first thought in the morning is usually the last thought you had before you went to bed.” - Hal Elrod
Building up a successful routine is full of challenges. There are many different things trying to pull focus from the main thing. Usually the most important thing to acomplish is not screaming for our attention. This is why it is important to be intentional and put weight to things that you know have long term value.