Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Part One: Routines

Photo by Jon Swanson
I've always thought of routines as a tool typically used by the anal retentive. 
  • Get up at 7:07 AM. 
  • Take five deep breaths. 
  • Roll your eyes to the right two times. 
  • Fart.  
  • Cough four times. 
It seemed entirely too restrictive, narrow focused, and left too little room for free will.  Thinking about it now, I wonder, is that a bad thing though??

Routines are for the Get Stuff Done breed.  In interview after interview, book after book, and article after article featuring _______ (*insert any random multi-millionaire business mogul here*), one thing is crystal clear:  they follow a routine, usually several, every single day to get their goals accomplished and, ultimately, achieve their dreams.  Routines are vital for success no matter how you define it.  Without some form of structure, how can you hunker down long enough to do what is needed?  

Over the course of my life, I've been a wild child when it comes to my time.  I dole it out and squander it freely.  Procrastinate runs rampant in my world, which causes rushing around and barely making deadlines or missing them altogether.  Somehow or another, I think I've reached my breaking point.  Through my own experiences, I've learned that there is a better way to get things done without feeling like you're drowning.  My layer of rebellion has been penetrated.  There is hope after all!!  

Life is full of things that we don't really want to do, but we need to do them to get to the next level and keep things moving along.  How many of us genuinely like working out?  We may not like to do it, we may even hate it in fact, but the benefits can't be denied.  Other activities like making your bed, stretching, and waking up early are also things that we don't care to do.  However, turning it all into a routine puts you on autopilot thus helping you get it out of the way on a consistent basis.  Routines take help you fight the urge to toss it aside for a day or time that will never come.  It's a way to reap the benefits without forcing it.  You get to be in control.

The two most important routines are morning routines and evening routines.  Morning routines are important because they set up your day.  If your routine makes you feel energized, in control, clear, happy, and at ease, then no matter what happens, you feel prepared and are more equipped to handle whatever gets tossed your way.  Evening routines are meant to help you decompress and sleep well, which also prepares you for the next day.     

We all have a routine whether we know it or not.  Some routines are more simplistic than others: we all wake up at a set time.  Maybe we have coffee or eat breakfast.  We shower/wash, brush our teeth, and get dressed.  In the evening, we eat dinner, watch our favorite programs, and go to sleep.  More elaborate routines include exercise, meditation, checking email, or feeding pets.  If you're anything like me, you have a pretty simple routine that just isn't working in your best interest.  Now, you've realized that it could be optimized to help you be your best self.  

To get started, we'll have to answer three questions first: what, why, and how.

What:  What does "Your Best Self" look like?  List the characteristics.   Organized.  Timely.  Healthy.  Go even further into the details.  What does it mean to be healthy, for example?  Does healthy mean that you are a certain weight?  Does it mean that you can do a certain activity, like 100 pushups?  Does it mean that you can do an activity in a certain way like climb that flight of stairs at work without getting winded?  Be specific!  

Why:  Determining the why is important.  The goal here is to find the reasons that will keep you motivated to stick to the routine.  For each characteristic that you listed, ask yourself, Why is this important to me?  Then keep asking that question for every answer that you give.  This allows is to drill down to the base level need.  Why is it important to be organized?  Being organized makes it easier for me to find things.  Why is it important for you to find things easily?  Finding things easily means that I won't waste time in the morning.  Why is it important not to waste time in the morning.  It's important not to waste time in the morning, because that means that I can spend quality time with my family during breakfast.  What's the base level need here?  Quality time with your family.  

By finding your why, you are gathering ammunition to fight off those excuses that you know are going to come up.  Make sure that you get to the base level need.  If you asked why only once, the dialog would be, I need to hang up these clothes, because it would make it easier for me to find things.  No, duh...  But I don't really feel like it right now.  It's been a stressful day.  I can hang them up in the morning.  There is no sense of urgency or consequence here to get it done.  Making it easier to find things does not appeal to my needs.  With the other example, you know that by not taking the time to hang up your clothes now, you run more of a risk to miss breakfast with your family in the morning.  If taking 5 minutes to hang up your clothes means that you will be able to spend quality time with your family in the morning, you are more likely to do it.

Notice, that we haven't even gotten to the routine yet.  First, as with anything, we start with what you want.  If you are not clear about what you truly want, then happiness and achievement are a shot in the dark.  If what you want means doing things that are not natural to you or they are things that you don't want to do, then determining your base level need will help you climb any obstacle to get to what you want.  Now for the next and final question.

How: How can you get closer to the things that you want every day?  What can you do daily that primes you for what you are wanting?  Let's go with "healthy".  My Best Self is healthy.  That means that I am able to jog up 2 flights of stairs to get to my work desk without feeling like someone kicked me in the chest.  This is important, because this gives me the boost of energy I need to handle my duties and be productive throughout my day.    

Now ask yourself, what can I do daily to facilitate this?  Try some things out to see what works for you.  Make sure to time it.  You'll definitely need that to put together the routine.  Let's say, that through trial and error, you determined that doing spending 20 minutes on the rebounder is the quickest and most optimum activity that you can do every morning for you to achieve your goal.  You find it to be beneficial and since it's fun, it's pretty easy for you to do it.  Make a list.  After you have all of the activities listed along with their times, you can start to arrange everything.  

It's easier to work backwards.  Let's say that you are creating a morning routine.  The first question to ask is what is the purpose of this morning routine?  If the purpose of the routine is to mentally, physically, and spiritually prepare you for the work day, then the routine would probably to take place before you get to your office.  If the purpose is to help obtain high productivity and manage deadlines at work, then the routine probably won't start as soon as you wake up.  It may start when you get to your desk.  

Use the information to help you determine an end time for the routine.  I want to get to work by 8:30 am.  I want to wind down my work duties by 4:30 pm.  From there, you can work backwards, filling in activities that you can do daily, weekly, monthly, or how ever often to get the job done.  

Once your routine is created.  Take a long hard look to see if it could work for you.  Does the order of activities need to be rearranged?  Maybe it makes better sense to feed the cat before I exercise, because she is not going to patiently sit in the corner while I do my morning yoga and get my zen on.  Do the time frames need to be changed?  Hmm... 2 hours of morning meditation is simply not going to work, especially since my work day starts at 4 am.  Can activities be moved to another period of the day or week?   Instead of picking out my clothes every morning, I can save almost an hour each week (10 minutes a day) by picking out my outfits for the week on Sunday night after the Housewives of Atlanta.  Tweak the routine.  Take it for a dry run and see how it fits.  Notice if it is making any difference at all.  Keep tweaking and testing as necessary.

Once your routine is finalized, figure out if there is an easier way to complete the routine.  My sister finds that keeping her kettlebell in the bathroom next to the sink reminds her to do her swings after brushing her teeth and before hopping in the shower.  She can't miss it when it's in her way.

We'd like to know: do you have a routine that works for you?  What are some results that you've experienced from doing a regular routine?  We would love to hear from you and as always, your responses are very helpful to our audience.  

As a reminder, next week, we'll get into the second part of this discussion about rituals and how they can be used to guard against burnout.  

Thanks everyone for your patience and I will see you back here next week Wednesday!  Enjoy the rest of your week!


  1. Morning routines are definitely so very important for setting the day up the right way. My routine is pretty fluid, although I'd like to do more work to structure it - many thanks for some of the questions in this post on how to do that. I know, for sure, that if I don't take time to start my day slowly and at peace - if something starts it suddenly, with time pressure and reacting to other people's expectations - the whole day is stressful until the close of the day. Taking time to centre myself, even just when making breakfast, or getting ready slowly with care, sets the day up as one of calm :)

    1. You sound like you are pretty disciplined with your routine. I'm sure that you will get it to work exactly as you need it. Thanks for your comment, Lucy! :-)