While I very much value having a routine, I also struggle with the concept. There’s something about a self-inflicted schedule that feels so stringent. But in a world of busy and bloated schedules, it’s all too easy to lose sight of time, and the “busier” we get, the faster the days slip through our fingertips.
Have you ever had a moment where you realize a week, a month or—god forbid—years have passed and you still haven’t done the thing you said you wanted to do? Yes. I don’t even know you and I know the answer is yes. We all have them. Why? Jack Kornfield says, “The trouble is, you think you have time.”
In reality, time is the most finite resource there is.
Crafting a routine isn’t about rigidly confining your day, but rather about optimizing it. It’s about carving out time in the quiet crevices of the day that are all too easily wasted. It is in these abandoned hours that major transformation can happen. Think of your routine as a gift to your present and future self. Here are a few ways to approach making and integrating your own.
You would never debate yourself on whether or not to brush your teeth, or say, put on pants, before going to work. When you remove the question of whether or not something will get done and how you will execute it, tasks just get done. Automating them in this way preserves brain power for bigger, more important decisions. From meals to wardrobe to setting aside a specified amount of time for journaling or meditating, try automating a few habits and see what happens.
Productivity gurus argue that routines are a game-changer. This is true because success begets success. Starting the day with a series of small wins sets in motion a day of bigger, more important ones. The first and easiest win of the day? Making your bed. This is not a novel concept. Your mom said it. Tim Ferriss said it. Admiral McRaven said it. That initial, tiny victory is the positive inertia you need to set the tone and win the day.
A successful morning routine does not have to start at 5 a.m., unless, of course, that’s your jam and what you prefer. The best routine is one that you can stick to and works seamlessly into your life to optimize the way you’re already spending time. If you’re a night owl and find your most creative and productive hours are spent under the moonlight, set a morning routine that reflects that. Designer Debbie Millman talks about the power of manifestation through visualization. The more specific you get with what you want, the more likely you are to achieve it. So, get very, very specific with your routine. Instead of just saying, "I want to meditate, journal, and walk the dog every morning,"—slot and allot each activity. For example:
6:00 a.m. Meditate
6:20 a.m. Journal (free write)
6:25 a.m. Make the bed
6:30 a.m. Walk the dog
7:00 a.m. Make breakfast
Routines are often associated with the morning, but the reality is, a successful morning routine hinges on a mindful evening one. Each night is a chance to reflect, reset, and wipe a clean slate for tomorrow. Give yourself a bedtime and stick to it. If it helps, set an evening “snooze” 30 minutes or an hour beforehand to let you know it’s getting close to bedtime and to start powering down.
Where routines get thrown out the window is when variables change. Make a schedule that accommodates different types of mornings you regularly have and follow accordingly. Say you have weekly carpool duty or an early morning workout class twice a week—those mornings will probably look a little different than the others. Create a special routine for those days, so you don’t find yourself derailing just because one factor has changed.
Like all things, the more appealing they are, the more likely you are to do them. The same goes for a sticking to a routine. Create sunrise and sunset playlists that help you both ramp up for the day and then wind down later. And whether it’s lighting Palo Santo in the morning or having a cup or herbal tea before bed, “accessorize” your routine with things that will help you look forward to them. And above all, have immense gratitude for your routine—it may be one of the greatest gifts you give yourself.