I’m obsessed with routines. For a long time, I thought it was weird that I was trying to plan each aspect of my day. But the more research I did into peak performance, the more I realised it’s a habit of the elite. This article will detail my dos and don’ts of routine creation.
Why Is Routine Important?
Routine creates space for creativity. When following a routine, your energy isn’t drained by thinking about what to do—that’s decided. Your focus is entirely on the how.
Well crafted routines will free your mind from the anxieties of forgetting. They allow time for all the necessary tasks and reduce the time for redundant ones. They create focus.
In my opinion, a morning routine is vital for optimal success and growth. The first hour of the day is often the most painful, but with a solid plan to follow, you can get a lot done while being on autopilot.
For me, a successful morning leads to a successful day. My aim for the morning is to look after my mind and body. I want early wins, confidence and motivation. Courage to attack the rest of my day.
As an intermittent faster, I don’t worry about food in the morning. I get up, drink water, clean my teeth, meditate and leave for the gym or pool. Once I’ve finished exercising, I do an hour of deliberate practice (Spanish at the moment) before going to the office.
Within the first few hours of waking up, I’ve taken care of my mental health, physical health and completed my extra-curricular activity! It’s hugely motivating to get so much done in a short amount of time. All that’s left to do is work and relax!
I highly recommend creating a simple morning routine if you don’t have one already. You can start by formalising what you do instinctively. This exercise will highlight where your time is going and allow you to streamline your mornings, eliminating any wasted time. You can then expand and add activities as you see fit.
Having a work schedule is excellent for focus. It will allow you to manage and use your time effectively. Work is also a prime place for flow states. A robust plan will dramatically increase your likelihood of getting in the zone.
To create a work routine, make a note of all the activities you have to do in a typical day. At this stage, batch them into categories rather than specifics. Examples are planning; emailing; meetings; marketing and client work. Once you’ve got your tasks, you can create a blueprint: plan my day, do 4 hours of client work, 2 hours of marketing then emails. Every day you should follow that outline.
You can then split those categories into “chunks”. My chunks are generally 25-minutes long (one Pomodoro). The first thing I do when I get to the office is write a list of what needs to get done, then assign each item a number of chunks. Then I colour in the blobs as I work.
Work is notoriously unpredictable though, so it’s essential to plan in space for those unknowns. Either by adding a percentage to each chunk (~10%) or by including a few “empty” chunks to catch up on anything that overruns.
I’m a big advocate for having a daily movement practice. Not just for the obvious physical benefits, but for mental health and performance purposes. Movement gets me out of my head and into my body, it’s a meditation.
Whether it’s yoga, swimming, hitting the gym, running or Tai Chi, pick a practice that you enjoy and will want to do every day. I recommend doing the same type of movement every day, but you can change it and have rest days if you need to. Just don’t leave it up to chance. Make a plan for the week and stick to it.
The point of the routine is to stop choice paralysis and save energy by not making decisions.
Evening routines allow the body to wind down after work and completely rest. Making decisions is taxing on the mind, and at the end of a long day, it’s particularly hard to make good ones. Automating the wind-down process will help you get the most out of sleep and therefore support your efforts to perform at your peak.
For more on sleep routines, check out my previous article.
How Not To Plan Your Day
I used to try and plan every minute of my day. I assumed that the more I planned, the more focused I could be. Unfortunately, the opposite was true.
Humans are notoriously bad at estimating time, and when a task takes longer than expected, it cascades down your whole schedule and throws everything off. This is not only annoying but can lead to unnecessary stress if you have time-dependent tasks.
It’s also important to plan free time into your calendar. Having flexibility is one of the best aspects of working for yourself, and you should definitely make the most of it.
Routines save energy by automating decision making. They reduce stress and increase performance. Make blueprints where it makes sense, and enjoy the space that is created by them.
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