Men are animals of habits. The current trend of “change management” consultants shows how hard it can be for people to change their behavior.
Daily routines actually take advantage of this pattern.
Are you enjoying a 9 to 5 job and many socials activities in the evening? As a result you may feel like you have had no time to do meaningful things over the past year. It all boils down to you changing habit patterns, while keeping your daily schedule.
However you may say that you never managed to stick to any new habits more than a few days or weeks. That is where a proper process for daily routines comes.
Here is a summary of what I learned after 6 years of testing and improving my daily routines, while creating several companies, from TotalYmage to Wiine.me and now Next Morning Design.
What is a routine and how efficient is it?
Routines are daily scheduled and not work-related tasks. They can be about learning a new language, living in a healthier way or even hacking your mind to be more focused. We tend to forget that our body and mind are like muscles, it requires training and repetition to memorize patterns.
The goal after some practice is to be able to improve your personal life effortless. The magic comes from daily repetition, like you’ve been doing your entire life with your sleep schedule (that can also be changed). You feel tired at midnight, because you’ve trained your body and brain to go to sleep around this hour.
It is highly efficient after a period of weeks (or months for tough assignments) if you stick to it with discipline. Actually the first take-away of your new daily routines will soon be a better discipline, the first step towards achieving anything.
To build lifelong habits practice step by step. The Internet is full of articles about habits of successful people, but reading and dreaming about those habits won’t help you, they’ll simply frustrate you. There is only one way: practice, adjust and repeat.
Pre-steps actions to setup daily routines:
Step #1: Reduce useless time
You may think your day is not extendable and already pretty full. Think again.
How many useless actions are you taking each day? From randomly checking your phone, to sitting in endless meetings or scrolling down your Facebook feed during transportation.
Figure the periods of the day during which you end up losing most time, and imagine what you could really do instead. Then identify the most stable and repetitive hours in your daily schedule, because routines need stability.
For me it turned out to be:
- morning (6am to 8:30am) before reaching my job
- morning (9am to 9:30am) right after I started working
- After lunch (1:30pm to 2pm)
- In the evening at 7:30pm
Step #2: Dig deeper & get inspiration
Now starts the dreaming part. Imagine what you really want to do in life, if you had no money issue, time issue or relatives to take care of. Write them down in your notebook. You’ll have to come back to them every 90 days, I’ll explain later why.
Now cut the bullshit. Remove everything that obviously seems like social recognition and that will not make you really happier: making $1M, buying a Porsche, dating that beautiful girl / guy…
Take an evening or a Sunday to go through the list and get inspiration from others (you can also use my no chit chat trick at the end of the article).
Once you came up with your list, it’s time to set priorities. As an entrepreneur I use a simple system with 3 indicators ranking from 1 to 3.
Rank = Time x Cost x Difficulty
Example to learn German:
Time (3 | quite long) * Cost (1 | very cheap) * Difficulty (3 | German is a complex language) = 3x1x3 = 9
The smaller the rank, the better it is to start with.
Step #3: Define your mid-terms goals
Routines are daily works you assign to yourself without having to quit your job or leave your wife and kids to live as a hermit. It is only about making a better use of the free time that you can actually allocate.
To define your mid-terms goals, split your main goals into small objectives that can be achieved in 90 days. I already see you coming: do not attempt to keep a mid-term goal like “Transform my beer belly into nice abs” or “learn Spanish”. It is fundamental that anybody could actually believe that with some proper work you could achieve this mid-term goal in 90 days.
Examples of mid-term goals:
- Take the habit of working out every day (you don’t need to set a physical benchmark)
- Review German grammar rules
- Meditate effortless 20mn per day (useful for different goals: anger management, focus or relaxation)
Step #4: Pledge your engagement to other
One of the strongest drivers in life is social recognition, so if you start telling your friends and colleagues that you are sticking to daily improvement routines, it will act as a social pressure reminder. I used this trick to remain at an 11-day Vipassana silent mediation retreat few weeks ago.
You can also use social media to setup a 90 days challenge with some of your friends.
Step #5: Start today
Since we are talking about making your life happier and more fruitful, why waiting tomorrow?
The first habit is to stop thinking, follow the schedule. Whether you are tired, hangover, stressed, it does not matter, follow your schedule without even thinking about it.
How to stick to a routine schedule?
Too much, too fast
This is the first day, your motivation is through-the-roof. But what happens after the first week? The first mistake you’ll make (remember that 80% of drivers think they drive above average…) is to overcharge your daily routine schedule.
Limit yourself first to a maximum of two routines a day and never practice them twice a day (you may even get injured if you run or workout too much). After the third day review quickly your daily routines schedule and adjust the duration of each task. Then really stick to it… for 90 days.
The 90–90 rule
To stick to your schedule you’ll need a deadline. Indeed, as a comparison, it is easier to quit smoking for 90 days than forever. But anyway after 90 days your body will stop craving for a cigarette anyway.
The 90–90 rule means that you shall stick to your daily routines plan without any modification for 90 days. After 90 days spend at least 2 hours reviewing what went right and wrong during that period, and plan the next 90 days.
If a daily routine worked well, you shall keep it, adjust maybe the time spent on it, and add a new routine on top. Don’t jump straight to your next mid-term goal before that specific routine really becomes a behavioral pattern.
Forget about fancy routines:
A routine should be practicable anywhere. Do not involve tools or specific locations in your routines.
For example: a workout session with weights is not sustainable everywhere, use your own body weight. Going to the fitness center is not a routine that can suffer no exception. A computer or a book should be the only tools allowed.
Deal with frustration
Of course some days, training will be a nightmare or simply impossible. In that case don’t beat yourself. It will only lead to frustration, and your brain will start finding excuses to compensate the frustration. This is the best road to quit, and it happens often.
Everything changes in life. Happy moments fade out, as well as bad moments. It is called impermanence. Stick to that thought and treat each day as if it is unique.
Smaller is better than nothing.
At first you’ll really have to force yourself to maintain your schedule. I’ll explain some tricks later. But if for any (good) reason you cannot do some of your daily routines, try to catch up during the day, even for a smaller period of time.
Keep track of your schedule
Use the same notebook where you wrote your main goals to establish your weekly schedule. At the end of each day, review your day and hold yourself accountable.
Here is an example of my weekly table.
What are the best routines that worked for me?
After more than 6 years as an entrepreneur, discipline and self-training have played a great role in my life. It was built step by step, with a lot of mistakes on the way.
Some of my daily routines:
6am: Waking up at 6am (it took me several weeks to get to used to it, my mid-term goal is 5:30am)
6:15am: A cup of tea, then a 15min workout session (I started with the app Bodyweight).
6:30am: shower and breakfast with the news.
7:30am: 45min of Vipassana and Anapana meditation (my mid-term goal is 1 hour)
8:30am: leave for work with some German vocabulary in public transportation
9am: send one email to somebody in my network (bringing value to him), or connect to somebody new.
1:30pm: learn something new for 30min in the field of philosophy or science (I use Feedly, an app with a curated feed of my favorite sources to avoid social media noise)
7pm: German language grammar or meditation or nothing. It is my bonus time.
11pm: Bedtime and prepare the next day with a task management system called Sendtask.io. It is a great way to brain-drop those thoughts in a To-Do list, to stop worrying about it at night.
Some of my next mid-terms goals:
- Learn about 5 main philosophy movements
- Reflect by avoiding screens 2 hours a day
- Focus better with meditation and by refining my work periods during the day
- Determination with meditation and sticking to daily habits
Tips and tricks for great daily routines
- Start your first routine after a simple cup of coffee/tea. Don’t wait after your shower/breakfast. It will make the second and third routines easier.
- Wake up earlier. A lot of articles have been written already on this topic, but extra time on the morning is a great asset for better routines. Waking up at 5am/6am is a daily habit that can be trained as well.
- Use To-Do lists to avoid being constantly thinking about your next task. It will free your mind and some time as well.
- To go deeper in your life, stop all chit chat with friends and colleagues. Instead use open questions that will broaden the conversation. It may feel a bit weird at first, but after few shots and some calibration, you’ll be amazed by the meaningful conversations you’ve sparked. It will also feed your quest for new goals.
- If you want to learn about a topic, whenever you find something interesting during the day, don’t read it straightaway, but add it to your Pocket. Open you Pocket application only when it’s time for your daily learning routine, and simply read the articles you’ve saved there.
- Put your cell phone on silent mode most of day (you can always call back people) and especially during your routine periods.
In conclusion remember that the process itself matters, not only the mid-terms goals. Indeed the habit patterns you’ll create will make you better at achieving your goals, effortless.
Over the years I’ve also discovered that minimalism has helped me focus more on daily routines. This process of reducing what you own is freeing some space and time in your life. But it should be the topic for another article. Now stop reading, start practicing.