The more time I spend studying goal-setting, the more I’m realizing one key theme: It all comes down to your daily routines. Specifically, whether you have positive and productive routines, or mindless or damaging ones.
In fact, most highly productive people have a series of daily routines that they’ve consciously formed in order to get the most out of their time, every day. There’s multiple benefits to having daily routines, not the least of which is the advantage of efficient time usage.
But it can be easier said than done, in the sense that forming these routines often means breaking down old ones and building new habits. And doing both of those at once can lead to decision fatigue and frustration.
Not the most productive way to go through your day.
So here’s your pain-free guide on forming new, positive and productive daily routines for your best life.
1. Approach Your Time Mindfully
If you’re anything like me, you likely have ‘dead spots’ scattered through your day – little periods of 5-20 minutes that fill up your schedule, but aren’t actually used for anything in particular.
This isn’t entirely a bad thing.
Humans need a little bit of dead time in our day – it’s how we process, gather breathing room, give ourselves a moment to think.
But humans also have the tendency to want to fill that time instead of using it for those reasons. So we check Facebook and Instagram, watch TV, or blankly scratch our heads while we stare into the void (or is that one just me?)
Start by identifying these dead spots in your day, and try to identify ways to better use that time.
If you do feel the need to decompress, doing so mindfully while sitting with a cup of tea is much healthier for your brain than spending ten minutes falling down a rabbit hole on social media.
Sometimes those little chunks of time are systemic – as in, they’re time that fills the gaps in our schedule every day. The time in between you getting to work, and actually starting work. The time you spend waiting for transit. If you’re a student, you’re probably familiar with those weird gaps in between classes sometimes where you don’t have enough time to actually do much, but too much time to just sit and wait for class to start (university was the worst for this – by the time I really fell into a great routine that fit into my schedule, the semester was half over and I’d have to start over every few months).
2. Find New Habits
This is the fun part!
Decide on new habits you’d like to form that can fill in some of those time slots instead. Jot down a list of things you’d like to start doing and the estimated amount of time they will take.
If you don’t already have some ideas, you can brainstorm certain habits that you know work for other people.
Even something like a 15-minute yoga practice, done daily, can cause a ripple effect of benefits in your life.
If you’re working on big goals that you’ve broken down into simple steps, some goal work can be a very productive use of your time, especially in those systemic dead spots we identified earlier. Forming positive daily routines around even small chunks of time builds consistency, and therefore results.
Near the end of this post I’m including a brainstorm of my own for healthy habits to build into daily routines that fit into five, fifteen, and thirty minute timeslots. Give them a try and see if any work for you!
3. Get Creative
Some habits, or some chunks of time, might seem at first glance like they’re not a good fit. You can’t necessarily fit a fitness routine into that one hour you spend on your commute, for example. But you can read, study, and learn, if you’re taking public transportation, or even listen to audiobooks while you drive – try it out with a few months of Audible to see if that works for you!
You don’t have to fill every moment of every day with action – that way leads to burnout. But you can turn empty chunks of time into dedicated self-care or personal growth moments, in a healthy way that helps to balance out your day.
Getting creative with your daily routines can lead to some surprising places.
Even think of it literally – get creative. When is the last time you drew a picture, painted something just for fun, or wrote a story? Even keeping a journal can be a powerful tool for self development and change.
I used to work with a lady who used her breaks to finish Sudoku puzzles – she would go through a new book every month or so. She said it kept her sharp and gave her something to do with her brain, in a job where so many of the actions become rote and mindless after a while it was nice to have to think about solving a problem. I think she was on to something.
4. Rethink Old Habits
It’s easy to look at how full your day already is and think, there’s no room for any more stuff! I get it. These days we’re all about as busy as we can handle being! But time for positive daily routines doesn’t have to come out of thin air.
Look at some of the things you do now to fill your time. For a lot of us, it’s TV and social media and just a general consumption of entertainment in a way that neither improves or affirms us or our lives.
If you enjoy watching YouTube videos for an hour in the evening, you don’t have to stop! However think mindfully about the content you consume. Is it truly rewarding? How does it leave you feeling?
When I noticed how much stress and negative emotion I was left with after an hour of social media, I realized I needed a detox – I wish I could say I quit social media entirely, but that hasn’t happened yet! However, I did tweak quite a bit in order to change what kinds of content I saw. For me, a constant stream of political opinion and bad news leaves me drained and feeling hopeless, so I block as much of that as possible from my experience.
I made an effort to follow content creators that align with my intentions for my life, and consume only content that I find enriching in some way, and it has made a huge difference in my day-to-day mood.
5. Move Through Your Day With Intention
The basis of positive, productive daily routines is that to form habits that benefit you in some way and enrich your life. Whether you’re looking to take better care of yourself or trying to fit more action into the time that you have, it ultimately comes back to beneficial behaviors repeated frequently.
A lot of what we do, we don’t think about why we do it. Especially if you’ve fallen into a pattern of behavior that doesn’t serve you, it can be incredibly freeing to start to take an analytical eye to our current routines and ask, “Why does this seem like a good idea? How is this serving me?”
Forming new, better daily routines requires you to be fully present in your actions and truly move through your day intentionally. You have to fold laundry whether or not you want to – but being present while you do so can help you make decisions about the best way to use that time. Can this be a task you batch, meaning you do it all at once at set periods of time? Or does it work better in your life if you do a little every day?
The most positive daily routines are the ones that work best for you. Try doing basic things differently for a while and see if you can make improvements on your current method. You might find efficiencies you hadn’t thought of before.
6. Make Time For What’s Most Important
If it’s important to you, you’ll find a way. If not, you’ll find an excuse.
(The above quote has been attributed to so many people over time I have no idea who originally said it – if you have a definitive source, I’d love to see it!)
The way we choose to spend our time says a lot about what we value in life.
Yes, there are a bunch of things that you have to do, like housekeeping chores and going to work. It doesn’t mean you value work over your passions, or that washing dishes is your calling in life.
But in the moments where we can choose our actions – during downtime, during our morning routines, our evening routines – those are the moments where our values shone through.
Are you truly committed to your goals? Do you really value your family and friends and being a great partner? What’s most important to you in life?
If your actions are out of alignment with your values, you’re going to struggle with your meaning and purpose.
It can be very easy to get caught up into a guilt-shame-escapism cycle, and hard to break out of.
Being mindful of where you choose to invest your time and energy – and funneling those into the things you care about most – is one of the most rewarding things you can do for yourself.
6. Some Ideas for Positive Daily Routines
If you have thirty minutes:
Quick workout routine (you can find plenty for free on YouTube!)
Plan and prep a healthy meal for later
Connect with a family member or friend
Read a couple chapters of a book
Take a walk around the block
Tired? Quick power nap, or just rest your eyes
Declutter an area that is often overlooked. If you’re away from home this can even be your purse or wallet
If you have fifteen minutes:
Make and enjoy a cup of tea (or something else if you prefer)
Find a new recipe to try later
Do some quick calisthenics (jumping jacks, pushups, crunches) to get your heart rate up
Make a plan for tomorrow
Delete unimportant emails from your inbox and file ones to read later
If you have five minutes:
Write down three things you’re grateful for
Relax your body with some light stretching
Repeat a mantra or affirmations
Get outside and breathe in some fresh air
Mark your to-do list by priority
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