Many successful people credit their achievements to following a daily routine. Howard Schultz cycles with his wife each morning at 5.30am. Richard Branson always has muesli and fruit salad for breakfast. Oprah Winfrey makes sure she sits in silence for 20 minutes twice a day.
A daily routine can help you not only get things done, but take control of your life and its direction.
But doesn’t routine take away excitement and spontaneity?
Going to bed whenever you want, sleeping in until lunch time, then playing video games until you can’t keep your eyes open anymore might sound like a life of freedom; but the reality is that it’s the furthest from free you can be. Follow this pattern for a while and you will become aimless, and less likely to do good work. If you’re a highly ambitious person, this way of living is going to get really old, really fast. And the same goes for those of us who want to lose weight or get fit at the gym. If you’re hoping motivation is going to get you out of bed every morning, think again – it’s a routine that’s going to get you out the door and onto that exercise bike.
According to Dr Joann Lukins, Director of Peak Performance Psychology and Associate Professor at James Cook University “40% of our daily behaviours are routine. We are typically creatures of habit.” It seems any behaviour we repeat can turn into a habit, including good habits!
What a daily routine does is add structure to your life. It doesn’t take away your freedom or excitement; it simply allows you to do all the things you say you want to achieve. It’s about incorporating self-discipline into your life to become the person you want to be.
Top 3 benefits of a daily routine
A structured day means you know what you have to get done. You can have a flexible structure if that works best for you, but it’s important to get up at the same time every day to get your body into a rhythm. After a while, this rhythm becomes a habit and getting up becomes less of a struggle. Structure can also help prioritise important tasks as well as allow time for much needed breaks.
The only reason you got up every morning to go to school was because your parents said you had to, because that’s what all kids do. When you become an adult, no one’s telling you what to do and when to do it. Many of us struggle with procrastination and doing everything we need to in a day. Self-discipline is a key component of a daily routine, it means doing things even when you don’t want to. Perhaps you don’t feel like doing a load of laundry, or getting up at 5am for a gym session. Successful people don’t rely on what they want to do, but rather what they have to do. Self-discipline is about a long term commitment to your goals, not instant gratification.
When something becomes a habit, it becomes almost like second nature. It’s not something you have to think about, it simply falls into the routine of how you do things. We all have habits we want to kick, and that’s no easy task. “The challenge”, says Dr Lukins, “is for us to regularly reflect on what our habits are and whether they are going to get us what we want.” Forming a good habit can be just as challenging, and it will definitely take a while to develop. Research suggests it can take anywhere from 2-8 months depending on how tough the habit is to incorporate into your life.
Three lists to get you started
Anyone who is organised will tell you lists are a great way to visualise your tasks and goals. There are three lists that will help you stay focused and aid your routine; the task list, wish list and the goals list.
This is a list of all the tasks you have to do from today onwards. Every night before you go to bed, make sure you have a sufficient list of tasks prepared for the next day. It’s much easier to get out of bed in the morning when you have a full day of work to do. Your task list can include things like “finish introduction on project XYZ”, “complete a one-hour gym session” or “write 500 words for media assignment”.
If you are someone who needs rewards to get motivated to complete tasks, a wish list might not be a bad idea. A daily routine shouldn’t be a chore, it should make you feel good about yourself. It also helps you stay on track, by having something to look forward to after completing tasks.
In this list you want to write your goals for the future, for example “to have three more clients by the end of the year” or “complete the beginner level Spanish class”. Once you have achieved those goals you can cross them off the list. If your goals are fitness related, make sure they’re specific enough so that you can identify when you have achieved them. You should refer to your goals list from time to time to ensure your tasks are helping you reach those goals.
If you’re embarking on a business venture, goals are of even greater significance. According to Open Colleges’ trainer and assessor Danny Crouch, one of the most common mistakes new business owners make is failing to set goals both in the short and long term.
How to keep your daily routine
So you’re now well aware of the benefits of a daily routine and you have made your lists to get you off the ground running; what’s next?
Seize the day
If you start your day early, you’re more likely to get things done quicker and of course, you also have more time to do them. One study has suggested that late risers are more likely to be procrastinators. There are plenty of night owls out there who swear by a night time routine, so it’s up to you to find out how you work best.
Don’t neglect your health
Being healthy means getting enough nutrition and exercise to function at your best. It’s very easy to fall behind in your routine if you simply don’t have the energy to get through the day. You don’t have to train at the gym everyday if that’s not your thing, but make sure you put in some time to stay active and don’t use the excuse that you’re “too busy to eat lunch”! You’ll get more done in a day if you fuel your body with the energy it needs.
Find a way to measure your productivity. If you rely on word count goals stick to them every day. If you have a number of assignments due in one week, prioritise them and create a realistic schedule to complete them within the timeframe. If you work from home, consider utilising productivity apps to motivate you to stay on track with your daily tasks.
Utilise your calendar or planner
Whether you use good old fashioned pen and paper or your phone calendar, it’s really important to know where to dedicate your time. A calendar helps you stay on top of deadlines and plan for the week ahead. It is one of the best ways to stay organised. Allocate items on your task list to your calendar first, and then follow through adding items from your wish and goal lists. Decide whether you want to reward yourself once a month for goals achieved, or bigger rewards every three months to keep you motivated and working hard throughout the year. When you can visualise your months in advance, a routine starts to become much less daunting.
Clean up and declutter
How many times have you felt overwhelmed by the amount of junk in your room? Or maybe you have so many files on your desktop that you often can’t find what you’re looking for.
It’s a proven fact that clutter can mess with our mind and mood. Our external environment has great influence on our stress and productivity levels. Take some time to tidy up your work area and you’ll see what a difference it makes to your overall output. A clean space is also a huge motivating factor because it improves your physical environment.
Improve your self-discipline
Creating a routine may very well be the easy part. Sticking to it however, is the true test of your self-discipline. The important thing is consistency, don’t give up but don’t beat yourself up either. If you struggle to keep it up on your own, consider approaching a mentor or life coach. Their professional expertise means they can guide you personally through these steps. Remember, self-discipline isn’t going to come easy until you make it part of your daily thought process. Dr Lukins suggests starting small and reminding yourself why you want to do the behaviour, rather than what you have to do, she also stresses the importance of self-monitoring – visualising your progress is a great motivator.