I used to take massive pride in my lack of routine. I thought it signified that I had ultimate freedom.
But real freedom comes from discipline. The discipline to not be a slave to your whims and fancies.
Having so many options for when to do things creates a paradox of choice which makes hard to commit and leaves you feeling like there may of been better options when you eventually do commit.
Even worse, not having restrictions on my time meant I could just keep on putting uncomfortable tasks off in to the unknown future. That’s the ultimate form of procrastination.
Why should my days even follow a structured routine?
We know that a task will expand to take up all of the time allocated too it (aka Parkinson’s Law). A routine is the macro equivalent of timeboxing. You can timebox the major parts of daily life.
This makes you consciously aware of whether you are diversifying your life to a degree that will lead to happiness.
It also gives you a great excuse to get out of boring coffee meetups “oops sorry, routine says I should be on my way now…”.
A routine is an artificial demand on your time. We can use this make-belief demand to improve. When you don’t have external demands on your time (no kids eh?) it’s easy for your days to merge in to one long day called itswhataday?
The routine helps you to use time, this forever diminishing resource, more effectively.
It also helps keep you accountable to consistently doing the things in your life that make it better: exercise, socialising, learning, creating.
It removes uncertainty and gives you a basic control over your time. Knowing the exact amount of time you have every day helps you to not over-burden yourself with commitments you can not keep.
Most importantly, if you are trying to build healthy habits, it removes the decision making process (the enemy of habit building!). If the routine says it’s gym time on Thursday at 11am then who am I to argue? Smart Chris made the routine, lazy Chris doesn’t get to make an excuse to follow through.
In other words, and don’t believe me until you try it, but a structured routine will make you a happier person.
Step 1: Understand how much sleep you need to be effective.
Sleeping 4 hours is not a badge of honour to proudly wear if it leads to low effectiveness and eventual burn-out. You are not impressing the adults with that camel-like attitude.
I’m an 8 to 9 hour guy and I factor this in to my routine.
Ultimately there are only two things you can control in your day. What time you wake up and what time you get in to bed. You can’t force yourself to sleep, but you can choose to call an end to the day and get in to bed.
[Struggling to sleep? You might be thinking about it wrong.]
So you start by picking a time you will wake up each morning. Then you work out, depending on how much sleep you need to be the best version of you, what time you would optimally be asleep from.
Then you decide what time you will get in to bed to make this a reality.
- Work out how much sleep you need.
- Choose a time to wake up.
- Decide on a time to be getting in to bed.
You now have a defined amount of time each day in which you can fill with activities.
SO MUCH TIME FOR ACTIVITIES!
Step 2: Identify what you want to repeat on a weekly basis.
I knew I wanted to eat breakfast, go to the gym, spend 4 hours per day at the office and I wanted to spend time with my Girlfriend each evening before it was time to sleep.
Your essentials become your core activities and everything else will fit around them.
Maybe you have hobbies or scheduled commitments – no problem – your routine can be built around those.
- Identify things you want to do on a repeating weekly basis.
- Identify how much time these things require.
Step 3: Put it in a spreadsheet.
This was the easiest way I found to quickly build a structured routine. You can use my template on Google Sheets.
Google Sheets app will give you a way to have your routine on your phone.
I break down the day in to 15 minute blocks. I have used different colours for different types of activity. These gives you a great overview.
I easily can see that I have 34 blocks of commuting. That’s 8 and a half hours of commuting per week. What a waste. Can I optimise?
I get to spend around 25.5 hours (102 blocks!) every Monday to Friday with my girlfriend and nearly 22 hours at the office.
So get blocking.
Once you have a routine that meets your commitments and also meets your need, you run with it. And next week you ask yourself “Did it work? Was it too much? Was it too little?”
Version 1.0 of my routine was very structured with after work hobbies and activities that never really materialised. Now after work is just a block of time called “Rest” and I’m free to decide what to fill that time with on the day. You’ll make tweaks like this as you go along.
By being able to visualise my whole week I can easily see if I am allocating reasonable amounts of time to things. It quickly becomes apparent if you are neglecting important parts of your life.
Do you ever break routine?
Most days. Life will get in the way. I understand that there are only two things I can control. When I wake up and when I go to bed. I aim to do everything else in my routine but I don’t beat myself up when life gets in the way.
Over time you learn what works and what doesn’t and then you tweak.
Bonus Step: Let’s get Meta
Morning routines are covered on many productivity blogs. Mine used to be simple: wake up, drink water, wash, dress and leave.
After reading a book called the Miracle Morning I started to experiment with more effective versions of a morning routine.
I wanted my routine to do a few things:
- Remove that groggy feeling.
- Help me feel happy.
- Leave me in state of mind that made me ready to face the day.
Here is all you need to remember: S.A.V.E.R.S
Wake up, drink water, get up. If you can head, out in to the sunlight.
S – Spend the first 5 minutes in Silence. Meditating. I continue to feel unaccomplished in this area so instead I sit in silence and think about happy thoughts and fake smiling. It works and meets one of my morning routine goals.
A – Find a sentence you can say to yourself 30 times. An Affirmation. You have to say it out loud. You will feel silly. Just remember that where your thoughts go your energy will flow.
V – Run a movie in your head (Visualise) of the best possible version of the upcoming day. Everything going right and you doing the best you can.
E – Now get up and do 20 jumping jacks, 10 press-ups and 30 seconds of stretching. Get that blood flowing and you’ll feel 100% awake. (I actually do this first, but for the sake of the dam acronym, stick with me).
R – Pull out a non-fiction book and read a few pages. You will learn something every morning if you do this. Pick out one idea from those pages and see how you can apply it today.
S – Lastly, jot down any thoughts in your little notepad. Scribe them down so you don’t forget them. No thoughts? Write a list of 10 things you are grateful for.
The “Too Long, Didn’t Read” Version:
- Work out how much sleep you need.
- Work out the important things in your life you want to repeatedly do.
- Write down your routine (use my spreadsheet template).
- Get meta and apply a morning routine.