Why are routines important to us? What makes a good morning routine? Or a bad evening routine? Inherently, nothing is good or bad about any given routine you may already have, but some routines hamper our ability to get moving quickly during the day. Or allow us to properly wind down at night and prepare ourselves to fully relax, knowing that we're already beginning to get prepared for the next day.
We all have routines, or rituals, throughout the day. Whether it's setting the alarm to go off at a specific time, eating breakfast, making sure we get on the road before rush hour gets bad (OK, a fair amount of us have moved to working from home, but most of us still have a certain time to be in front of the computer so others know when we're available to chat). For good or ill, these are the routines that shape our morning. If we wake up late, it may throw off our whole morning. It might even put us in an irritable mood when dealing with other inconveniences (that normally would have just washed right off of us). Our routine then shapes what are morning might be like, and to some degree, what the rest of our day may be like.
So how do we create those routines that help start us off on the right foot, so to speak? Which ones help us? Which routines might be hurting us? I’m going to go over some of my favorite morning routines and then talk about some of my end-of-day routines that help prepare me for the next day. This is roughly in order of what I currently do.
I know, I know it is so cliche to be putting breakfast here but it is something that I have learned over the years is truly beneficial to me in a number of ways. Having at least something that is:
- Not full of sugar
- Will fill you up at least a little bit
- Not caffeinated
The key that I'm trying to get at here is that you want to put decent fuel in your body to start with, primarily because of the third thing on my list. I am not trying to tell you how to eat in general, merely pointing out that by having something that provides good fuel for a workout (protein or something that takes a while to convert to energy like oatmeal) will help energize your body and mind in the morning.
After I've finished noshing on some oatmeal (I also like to put in some hemp hearts and chia seeds for added protein and Omega-3s), I pull out my laptop and check my email. Strike that. Nope. Nope. I do my absolute best to avoid the following:
- Social Media
I go straight for the tab I have open that is 750words.com. Why this site? And what do I do exactly?
I'll go into Morning Pages in a later post but it is something I learned about when reading "The Artist's Way" by Julia Cameron. Morning pages are simply this: 3 pages of handwritten, stream-of-consciousness writing that you do as early as possible. These 3 long-form pages roughly translate to 750 words. I've done my Morning Pages both handwritten and on the computer. In general, I prefer the typed out version because it is a bit more natural to me, and it allows me to easily search past entries.
Morning pages are my dumping ground. They help me to get all the little things that might be nagging me in the back of my head out onto the page for me to truly dig into. Or they just may be a list of all the stuff I want to get done that day, or over the next few days. In short I will sit down at my computer for 30 minutes and try and get as much of what's going on in my head out and onto the paper.
This helps me vocalize (in the form of having a written dialog with myself) things that are on my mind and process them externally rather than stew on them for days on end with no real resolution. By doing this, even if it isn't something that is resolved, you are helping your subconscious think through all the possible solutions and further refine your response.
I personally find morning pages to be extremely helpful in planning out projects, thinking through programming problems, interpersonal relationship issues, or just simply working through something that is bugging me.
Next up is exercise. Now, for me I really have to do my workouts in the morning because, if I don't do it then, I will find some excuse as to why I can't do it in the evening. For other people, they may not have the time to do it. Here are some of the benefits of working out, even as little as 15 minutes, in the morning:
- It helps boost you emotionally and physically to get ready for the day.
- It helps boost you cognitively.
- You stay more focused on your workout since you haven't started tackling your daily todo list.
- It helps to energize you for the rest of your day.
- For me, at least, it helps me start with a little boost of confidence or feeling of accomplishment.
Next up, I typically start my planning for the day. This includes planning out in 15-minute increments what I need to get done for the day. Here’s what it looks like for me:
- Review my todo list
- Write the major things I want to accomplish that day
- Look at my calendar
- Review my email for any updates
- Schedule out my day with meetings and food breaks first, then slot in calls and blocks of time to focus on bigger tasks
- For this I tend to use Pomodoros as my measuring stick 3 - 4 Pomodoros for bigger tasks (1 - 2 hours)
- Then fill in some 15 minute breaks
- Finally I fill in one or two 10 -15 minute meditation blocks
Having time in there for breaks is important. And I've been using meditation recently to help me refocus and re-energize in the middle of the day.
Now you can start to get into your Slack notifications and see what is happening, check in with team members, do a 15 minute standup, whatever your normal morning check-in might look like. I like to check email and Slack first before I do my standup so that I know if there's anything big going to be discussed or brought up during the meeting.
When it's time to finish up for the day I like to spend about 15 - 20 minutes reviewing the things that I got accomplished, writing down things that I might try and tackle the next day, and reviewing my calendar for appointments. That way there aren't any surprises in the morning and I can figure out any adjustments I might need to make before the next day starts.
By doing this it will help give you that little endorphin rush for achieving a small goal and help you get to the next one. If it were me just starting out, I'd start with a good breakfast at a specific time. For me that’s around 7 in the morning; my daughter is off to school and I'm ready to get my own day started.
Once you have successfully mastered doing one small habit you can "stack" another on top of it. Maybe you really want to start working out in the morning shortly after you eat. Great! Again, I would start small so you aren't overwhelming yourself and just say "I'm going to go for a 10 minute walk after I eat breakfast." Then, once you've finished breakfast, you put on your shoes and go for a walk.
Sometimes that 10 minute walk may look extra intimidating some mornings. You might be saying "Uggh, I need to find my walking shoes. Then I should find a jacket because it's cold outside." You are introducing friction into your routine. This will prevent you from actually executing on your plan. How do you get rid of this friction? At night, make sure you have your shoes or workout clothes, whatever it is you will need in the morning, all set out and ready. You now just have to do that before you even go to the living room, get dressed and ready.
As you get more small successes under your belt, now you can expand on them. Instead of just a 10 minute walk, maybe it's a 15 or 20 minute walk, or you're ready to start going for a run or some weight training. Build it up and incorporate it into your routine.
Is something working really well for you? Want to do more of it? Or are you at the right amount? Do you like the feeling you get from exercising but you haven't found the one you are in love with? Keep trying different ones. Is there a habit or routine that isn't working for you? Try shifting it to a different part of the day or see if there are other changes you can make to it that benefit you. Everyone has their own set of routines and not everyone is the same.
When it's all said and done, the best piece of advice is to be consistent. By incorporating some or all of these into your own daily routine, if you are consistent you will start to see better and better results from them. Consistently exercising will help your body and mind improve, consistently scheduling out your day will help reduce your anxiety levels, consistently writing down your thoughts will help you become more creative and introspective.
I’d love to hear what your favorite daily routines are in the comments below!
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