“The right routine will set you free.” — James Schramko
Creating a daily routine that sets you up for success sounds easy, but for many people, it’s anything but. We all want to get the most out of each day — time with our family, looking after our health, doing our most important work and improving ourselves — but often it feels like there’s just not time in the day to do it all.
We know we need a solid routine to make it happen, but can’t seem to find a routine that sticks. Eventually, after falling off the wagon a few too many times, we come to believe that we’re just not capable of following a routine — that we’re not disciplined or organized enough.
But the problem is not discipline. It’s not that we can’t follow a routine. The problem is often that we’ve been using a one-size-fits-all approach that just won’t work for everyone.
How many times have you clicked an article claiming to have ‘the ultimate daily routine for busy entrepreneurs’, or ‘the perfect morning routine to boost your productivity’? We all do it, but these prescriptive articles just don’t get to the core of the issue: we are all different, and our routines need to be tailor-made to our lives to actually create the outcomes we’re looking for.
For example: if you own and lead a business, your daily routine is going to look very different to that of one of your junior employees. If you have children, your daily routine will be vastly removed from that of your single friends. If you’re an athlete, your daily routine is going to be structured differently to that of the artist who lives down the street. Each of us have different priorities, different demands on our time, and a different vision for what the perfect day looks like.
That’s why we all need to to experiment with different types of daily routines, pick up what works and discard the rest — even if it means diverging from the ‘perfect formula’.
There are three key areas to experiment with when you are building the daily routine that will work for you.
- High structure vs low structure
- Themed days vs real-time responsiveness
- Energy mapping
High Structure vs Low Structure
One of the most important things that Gary Keller and Jay Papasan talk about in The ONE Thing is time blocking. Once you’ve identified your ONE Thing (the activity that will make everything else easier or unnecessary) you plan a specific time each day to focus on that thing. You mark it in your calendar and stick to it, come hell or high water.
When you’re getting started, you might just start with a small time block — 15 or 30 minutes out of the day. That might be all your ONE Thing needs (though often you’ll find yourself wanting to expand this over time).
This single time block is one small element of structure you can add to your daily routine, and you might find that leaving the rest of the day flexible means that you can be highly responsive and effective with everything else that emerges throughout the day. This model often works well for people in high-growth or highly volatile situations, since you’ve already been highly productive by getting your most important work out of the way.
Or you might do better with a high level of structure, time blocking every part of your day. Now, your ONE Thing will only occupy one of those time blocks, while the other blocks might be allocated to specific activities that are predictable and need to happen on a regular basis. If you need to produce a particular set of results on a specific timeline this model might be more effective for you, but again — you need to apply the principle to your situation and see what works and what doesn’t.
Themed Days vs Real Time Responsiveness
Task switching — that insidious habit of jumping from task to task — is responsible for much of the lost time that accumulates over the course of the day and creates a huge drag on our productivity. We’re just not wired to try and do multiple things at once, and our brains work much more effectively when there’s only one task to manage. A singular focus means that everything gets done, and done better.
That’s why themed days can be such an effective tool. If you’ve got a lot to manage across various types of work, theming your days can save you significant amounts of task switching, making you more effective.
For example: if you run a business, after accomplishing your ONE Thing, you might reserve the rest of your time to do all your management meetings and business administration on Monday. Then on Tuesday, you focus on product development and supply chain. Wednesday could be for marketing and growth initiatives, while Thursday is for finance and Friday is for culture building, hiring and human resources. Grouping like with like helps you progress more quickly, and lets your brain relax, because it knows everything will get taken care of at the appropriate time.
Of course, themed days might not work for your situation. You might need to be highly responsive and available, in which case you might do better to schedule in two or three hour-long blocks throughout the day to do your most important work uninterrupted, while staying flexible and ready to move on anything that needs your attention in a hurry.
All of our bodies have patterns and rhythms that will impact how our daily routines unfold. Some of us are early birds, ready to jump into the day as the sun is coming up. Others love the night, and the peace and quiet they get when everyone else is asleep. Some of us have slumps in the early afternoon, while others get a surge of energy.
How you structure your routine should take your particular energy patterns into account. If you’re awake early (either naturally, or thanks to some little helpers), can you take advantage of that by prepping everything you’ll need for a smooth day? If you’re normally distracted or unproductive after lunch, can you go to the gym then instead, and then go back to work refreshed and focused? If you’re a night owl, can you knock out the most important work for the next day ahead of time?
It’s not just your physical energy that you should plan for, either.
Your mental energy also plays a critical role in how the day unfolds. If your mind is sharp in the mornings, take advantage of that to plan the day ahead after completing your most important work. If you’re more clear-headed at night, after completing everything on your list for the day, then plan the next day before you shut down.
Identifying your own patterns can take some time. It can be useful to take notes throughout the day for a week or so to keep a record of your physical and mental energy, your moods and thought patterns, and how you respond to different types of stimulus at different times of the day.
Once you have a clear grasp on the level of structure you need, whether you would do better with thematic or responsive days, and how your energy fluctuates throughout the day, you can build the perfect routine for you. You’ll be able to get rid of the frustration and self-doubt that generic routines have created for you in the past, and start building extraordinary momentum into your life.
Have your routine sorted out, and now want to make it stick? Join the 66-Day Challenge here to make it happen.