How to Build a Daily Routine You Stick to Once And For All
A daily routine helps to create structure in your life so that you can focus less on all the things you have yet to do and more on what you’re doing at the moment.
With modern life demanding more of our time and energy than ever before, our day-to-day life can feel like a whirlwind of stress and competing priorities. Not to mention all the changes and adjustments we’ve had to make while living through a pandemic. So, it comes as no surprise that so many people feel disoriented and lost.
Without routines in place, we become reactive to what life throws at us rather than proactive and planning out how our days will look. A carefully crafted routine can help you establish control over how your day looks and feels.
As you have likely noticed over the past year or so, a sudden lack of structure can be off-putting. With the introduction of working from home and online learning for our children, many of us struggled to adapt to our new way of life or have found it difficult to be as efficient, motivated, or happy as we once were. Additionally, many of us quickly discovered that the constant isolation and lack of a regular schedule can be mentally taxing.
Whether you used to have a routine and want to get back on track, or if you never had one to begin with, this article will help you understand what a routine can look like and how you can craft one for yourself.
This article with cover:
- The benefits of routines
- The science-based formula for building a routine that works for you
- Tips for crafting a routine from the ground up
The Benefits of a Daily Routine
The most apparent benefit of having a daily routine is that it gives some predictability to your day. This predictability helps you anticipate what to expect and allows you to manage your time with more ease. As a result, you feel less stressed because you feel in control over how your day plays out versus letting spur-of-the-moment demands throw you off track.
As humans, we’re a very intuitive and instinctive species, but with the demands of modern life, we’ve become slaves to our jobs, finances, external pressures, and competing priorities. A routine allows you to organise your busy life and create some structure to ensure you tick everything off the list. A daily routine can also help you to set time aside to get back to connecting with yourself and your intuition.
Routines go hand in hand with forming good daily habits that allow us to feel healthier, happier, and well. A routine allows for you to make regular time to build consistency in your actions.
Finally, a well-built routine helps you feel more productive and focused as you learn to take advantage of your fluctuating energy levels and concentration abilities throughout the day.
Creating a Routine Around Our Circadian Rhythm
Our biological wiring
Before we get into the basics of formulating a solid routine, it’s important to understand how to utilise our biology to help us be the most successful across our day.
The human body follows a circadian rhythm, where our energy levels fluctuate over 24 hours based on hormone secretion. These natural rhythms cause us to be more effective in the morning and less so in the evenings.
Cortisol (our “stress hormone”) typically rises naturally in the morning with the sun; this increases our concentration and creativity. This rise in cortisol indicates that we should use the beginning of our day to tackle important or difficult tasks. As cortisol levels start to decrease after lunch, melatonin (our “sleep” hormone) increases in the late afternoon and into the evening. With the release of melatonin, the body becomes primed to wind down as the sun sets.
Occasionally, our circadian rhythm can fall out of balance, causing it to “invert.” This inversion happens when there’s an excess of cortisol present in the afternoon and evening (generally due to caffeine, stress, and blue light-emitting devices).
Using our physiology to formulate a rock-solid routine
Leverage your routine with biochemistry. In ‘The Science of Living,’ author Stuart Farrimond illustrates how we can use science to fine-tune our daily routines. With knowledge of our hormone fluctuations, we can begin to make considerations and optimise our day. As we now know, our creative juices and attentiveness are often at their highest in the morning. The period immediately after waking and the few hours following are the best for working on complex tasks.
On the other hand, your least productive hours are often in the afternoon or evening. This is due to a post-lunch slump and lowering natural cortisol levels. Whenever your least productive time is – accept it and tweak your routine to suit it.
How to Create a Routine You Can Stick To: A Weekly Formula
My routine formula is based on physiology with a link to overall wellbeing. While a routine is highly beneficial for productivity, it also gives you better chances of experiencing life satisfaction, good health, and happiness.
Therefore, a solid routine incorporates time to satisfy all eight dimensions of wellbeing – physical, emotional, spiritual, environmental, social, occupational, intellectual, and financial wellbeing.
1. Map out the week ahead
A rock-solid routine requires some foresight. I typically advise my clients to set aside time on a Sunday or early Monday morning to plan the week ahead. This process begins with blocking out any appointment times in a virtual or paper planner, and then you can begin penciling in time for work, rest, and play.
2. Set goals
The saying goes, “A goal without a plan is just a wish.” To add some intention, consider what you would like to achieve across your week. What are your goals for work, family, and you personally? For example, what work tasks are a priority? What do you want to do with your family this week? How many times would you like to exercise? Etc. These will help shape what to make time for in the coming days. Download my goal-setting resource here.
3. Make time to eat well
Map out when you’ll make time to break for meals and at what times you’ll prepare or cook your meals. Nutrition is our fuel and at the heart of our wellbeing; therefore, preparation and consumption must be a part of our routine. If we fail to consider it in our weekly plans, it is unlikely we will eat with much intention.
4. Map out time to exercise and/or get out in nature
We are a nomadic species designed to move. So, ensuring we plan time for movement and exercise is essential. In addition, spending time outside in nature helps us reconnect with our primal roots – much needed, especially if you live a chaotic city lifestyle.
5. Lock in time to look after your mental, emotional and spiritual wellbeing
Looking after our mental wellbeing is one thing that can easily slip out of our routine. I can’t emphasise enough how important it is that we make time for it! If we don’t take the time to soothe stress and meet our needs first, we can’t possibly expect ourselves to show up as our best in our professional lives, as parents and friends.
To soothe stress and improve your mental wellbeing, try the following:
- Gratitude practices: Each day, find a few things you are grateful for and reflect on why.
- Journaling: Brain dump the thoughts swirling through your mind or reflect on the day you had.
- Yoga: Connect the mind and body through breath and movement.
- Meditation: Find stillness and quiet, even just for a few minutes a day.
- Breathwork: Mindful breathing is extremely powerful for soothing the nervous system. Try inhaling for four counts, holding for 7, and exhaling for eight.
- Reading: Get lost in a fiction novel or read up on a topic that interests you. Either way, reading is a good distraction and break for the mind.
6. Plan time to connect socially
Historically, humans have always lived and gathered in groups. This is because socialising with others lights up specific parts of our brain, making socialising feel good.
When we socialise with others, the brain releases hormones such as dopamine, which makes you feel good, and oxytocin, which helps you form attachments. This is why in an age of lockdowns; our mental health is collectively deteriorating. Find ways to connect via a quick lunch or a walk with a colleague or family member, a video or phone call, or time with loved ones on the weekend.
Tip: Write a list of the people you want to get in touch with this week and reach out to lock in a time to chat or catch up.
How to Craft a Daily Routine
With some plans scheduled for the week, you can begin shaping your days. When you think about shaping your day, consider making the most of your best hours and making time for the things that lead to life satisfaction.
1. Wake up at the optimal time
Ideally, consider waking up when the sun begins to rise. The longer you are awake with the sun up, the more time you have to get things done. Better yet, this is the time when you have the most energy and alertness.
2. Plan or set intentions for your day
Before the day sweeps you away, review what you have coming up for the day and identify your high-priority tasks. What are your priorities, and how are you going to achieve them?
This time before you start the day is also optimal for journaling and connecting with yourself. Generally, this is a time free of stress which you may not have later in the day.
3. Take advantage of your most efficient working hours.
For most, this is the first few hours of the day. Your mental focus is the strongest during these initial hours, so reserve this time to complete the most critical tasks. Commit to working on your high-leverage tasks during this time. To make the most of this time, turn off all notifications and block out time in your calendar so you are undisturbed and able to work through without interruption. Then, go on and save the more “bitsy” and mundane tasks for later in the day. It would be a waste of your energy reserves to tackle those during your more productive hours while leaving your most important tasks for later in the day when your energy is lower. Check out my time management tips and resources here.
4. Create evening rituals
If you struggle to decompress after a long day and end up in bed wired, it may help to begin a wind-down practice in the hour or so before bed. Too often, we are surrounded by artificial blue light, which confuses our brain and keeps us awake as it mimics daylight. Turn off half the lights in your home to convince your brain that it’s approaching sleep time and put away devices at least 30 minutes before bedtime.
5. Get to bed at a reasonable time.
An evening ritual and routine can help set you up for a good night of rest—the quantity and quality of sleep matter. Researchers at Harvard University found that people who got adequate sleep were 33 percent more likely to be productive, manage stress, and form solid connections with others. Be sure to keep a consistent bedtime each night, allowing yourself at least 7-8 hours of sleep. Download my top sleep tips here.
As you’ve learned here, routines help create structure and stability, and they prevent our lives from getting too chaotic and out of control. Our bodies function at their best when we follow a predictable routine that aligns with our body’s natural physiological clock.
Don’t forget to schedule time each week not only for must-do tasks but also for the would-like-to-dos. Our routines should help us feel productive and also allow us to find pockets of time for fun and self-care. Balance, as always, is key.
Implementing a routine is part practical and partially about mindset; having a plan is just the first part, the second is the commitment you make to sticking to the plan.
Through one-on-one wellness coaching, I help clients develop a routine that fits in with their schedule and physiological clock. We then work together on the mindset portion of implementing their new routine. My goal as a coach is to act as your greatest supporter and gently guide you back when you fall off track, giving you all the tools you need to find sustained change in your life.
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