How to Establish a Routine
One of the biggest things that changes when we transition from our teenage years to young adulthood is the lack of external structure.
No longer are we told where to sit and made accountable by signatures in our agendas for how much homework we did last night. Our parents don’t sign our permission slips to go on field trips and arrange the rides any more.
It’s all on us, and that’s both a tremendous boon and a gargantuan responsibility. I know I’m not the only twenty-something who struggles to stay on top of everything on a day-to-day basis: we had a piece on GenTwenty not that long ago about the necessity of routine, and it highlights just how beneficial routines can be in keeping you from going off the deep end.
We know they’re crucial to our success; we know no one is going to implement them for us; so how do we go about this whole routine thing?
Step 1: Figure out what needs to be routinized.
Think of your life in terms of categories, such as health, career, relationships or organization, and list out what’s not working. What needs to be changed in your life?
Your turn: What goals do you have in each area? Write it all down.
Next up? Spend a day writing down everything you do, in fifteen minute increments, for an honest look at how you spend your time. Authenticity is crucial. It’s for your eyes only and will provide invaluable information for step three.
Your turn: Take a journal, piece of paper – whatever works for you – and write down what you’re doing every 15 minutes. Set an alarm on your phone to remind you.
Take a look at what you’ve written down. If you’re anything like me, you’ve got a decent-sized list of things that need to change. Pick three of them – yes, three. No more, no less. These are going to be your guinea pigs for the Great Routine Experiment.
Throughout this article, I’m going to use one of my own areas that needs an overhaul for the sake of example: my propensity to let emails languish, often unread (or briefly clicked and just as quickly remarked as unread), in my inbox.
Step 2: Decide what kind of routines are necessary.
When something’s not working, it’s a great use of time to try and figure out why.
Why do emails pile up in my inbox for days, sometimes weeks at a time, particularly the personal ones? I’m more on top of my business correspondence, though that needs some attention, too. One thing I’ve noticed is the further behind I get, the more overwhelmed I feel and the more I avoid my emails, which provokes a vicious cycle.
Once you have an idea of what’s not working, work backwards: what foundation steps need to be taken on the way to your goal? How can you break those steps into even smaller steps? Keep going until you’ve created the kind of steps that can be taken on a daily basis.
Your turn: Work backwards from your goals. List out the steps you need to take to get into a routine.
For example, I want to be able to reply to all of my emails and keep my inbox empty. In order to do so, I need to check my emails periodically and respond to them right away. Doing so may require me to dedicate time to emails everyday. My first step in doing that would be to dedicate a 30-minute window once a day to reply to all of my emails.
Another way to craft a routine is to look at your intended goal and ask yourself what’s keeping you from reaching it. Sometimes what stops us is when a goal isn’t easily quantifiable.
Maybe we want to get in better shape but it’s not about losing ‘X’ amount of weight or running a half-marathon by a certain date. You can still establish a routine to help you toward this goal: brainstorm actions you could take, like biking whenever weather permits rather than driving or taking the bus, and carry those into step three.
Remember to be specific and keep it simple or it won’t happen!
Step 3: Schedule and implement your routines.
Now that you know what you need to do, you need to figure out when to do it, and this is where your insight into your daily schedule from step one comes into play.
Utilize some of those blocks of time where you were watching TV, mindlessly surfing the internet or playing games on your phone during your daily commute to institute your routines. Routines can be daily, weekly or monthly, or all of the above, but ideally you’ll be doing something every day to be consistent.
One way to approach this is to set weekly goals and decide on daily priorities (any more than three a day and you’ll overwhelm yourself) that further your progress to that weekly goal.
If we think of our goals, both long-term and short-term, as jigsaw puzzles, routines are the outer border that give foundation and structure to the rest of the pieces.
Your turn: What can you do daily, weekly, and monthly to help you reach your goals?
One more thing when it comes to scheduling your routines: generally speaking, morning routines should rev you up, while those in the evening should settle you down, like a yoga session or a few minutes writing in your journal. I’m not about to start tackling my emails when I’m winding down for sleep – all that precious REM sleep will be spent composing responses in my head!
Step 4: Having the discipline to stay the course.
Thinking about and planning routines is the easy part – some might even say fun! Sticking to them, though, that’s where things start to get a bit iffy. We have to persist with our routines even when we don’t feel like it, even when it’s Monday, even when Krispy Kreme is having a sale. There’s a bit of leeway when we’re ill, but we have to stick to our routines however and whenever possible.
If you need a kick in the butt, reflect on why you wanted to establish these routines in the first place, what was detrimental in your life. Do you really want to go back to that?
Now think of the payoffs of sticking to your routines.
Visualize it, journal it, draw it, whatever you need to do to fix it firmly in your head. That’s what you’re working for. Don’t give up on that.
Part of discipline is not just plodding through the motions but keeping a careful watch on your progress. Regularly reflect on what’s working and what’s not with your routines, and tweak accordingly. Few plans are perfect from the get-go.
Your turn: What method is going to help you stay on track to reach your goal and set your routine?
Step 5: When everything starts to fall apart …
No matter how carefully we plan, things happen. We get sidetracked, or the local transit line goes on strike, or our family goes into crisis. While our routines may get knocked off course, the important thing is to get back to them as soon as possible. After all, without these routines, we’re losing out on some major boons to our productivity and well-being!
To get yourself back on track, retrace your steps. Assess how you’re spending your time and see where you can tweak things. Don’t get down on yourself about falling behind but don’t let yourself off the hook, either!
And remember, if it was a relatively lengthy hiatus, you probably can’t jump in right where you left off. Do a quick self-evaluation to see if your goals have shifted in the interim, and adjust your routine accordingly before leaping back into action.
While it can be tempting to channel all our efforts and enthusiasm into the part of our lives that has fallen out of balance, we can very easily overdo this and, in getting one part of our life sorted, knock another off-kilter.
Be moderate in your approach and remember, slow and steady wins the race!
GenTwenty readers, let’s make a pact – we’ll each of us follow the steps I’ve just talked about to establish a new routine. I can’t wait to see where we are a few months from now! What routines would you like to establish in the days, weeks and months to come?