Habits are powerful, but they're not easy to form—particularly good habits. Creating a schedule for your daily tasks and activities that you're able to stick to will help you to form good habits and break bad ones for a more productive, happier life.
Setting up a solid daily routine is a little bit art and a little bit of science. The science is figuring out what you need to get done, while the art is figuring out when to do it.
Make a List
First, write down everything you need to get done daily, both in your home life and at work. Don’t worry about how you organize this list; this is a brain dump, not a to-do list. Take 30 minutes with a notebook to jot down everything you do each day, as well as everything you should get done.
If you feel like it's too hard to remember all the tasks in one sitting, carry around a notebook and take notes throughout the day. In the beginning, no task is too small—if you want to work "brush teeth" into your routine, put it on the list.
Structure Your Day
Early birds get things done most effectively before lunchtime, while night owls tend to get their creative burst of energy in the evenings. Think about when you work best, and group your tasks into the time of day that makes the most sense for when you will best complete them.
- Mornings: Mornings are often about getting out the door, which can be its challenge. Group all your early tasks here, like feeding and walking pets, unloading the first load of dishes for the day, and putting dinner in the slow cooker. Once the morning rush is over, reserve the mornings for the tasks that require the most critical thinking and troubleshooting. There's a common saying, "Eat the frog," which refers to getting the task that you want to do least done first thing in the day, so it's not looming over you.
- Midday: This is a tricky time of day because your energy levels—and perhaps the caffeine from your morning coffee—have likely dissipated. However, this means you might be primed to do the boring, routine stuff that doesn't take a lot of brainpower. Use this time for tasks like answering emails, setting appointments, and running errands. If you are based at home during the day, use this time for routine cleaning, like emptying the dishwasher and scrubbing the bathrooms.
- Evening: Evenings work best when they're set aside for planning and preparation for the next day. Layout your clothes, pack lunches, and declutter the rooms where items tend to pile up, like the kitchen. If you follow the weekly organizing routine, you'll be picking up one room a day for 15 to 20 minutes.
Get Specific (Optional)
Within these loose outlines of each part of your day, you can get as specific as you want. For example, you might want to write out a routine for your morning that looks something like this:
- 6 a.m.: Wake up, brush teeth, and shower
- 6:30 a.m.: Breakfast
- 7 a.m.: Leave the house
- 7:15 a.m.: Drop off the kids at school
- 7:30: Arrive at the office
That's a very detailed schedule, but some people might feel more comfortable with that—at least until they get the hang of the routine.
Schedule in Time for Flexibility
Life gets in the way of even the most detailed of routines. The point is to harness your most productive times to use for your most challenging tasks, and your least productive times to do the more mundane tasks. There might be times when you have to go to a doctor's appointment during the hours you usually set aside for work, or your evening is taken up by a social gathering—a daily routine will keep things flowing smoothly, despite hiccups.
Test Drive Your New Routine
Take your new routine for a test drive for 30 days. How does it feel? Did you schedule your tasks at activities at times that make sense? Do you need to adjust things? Tweak anything that is not working on a case-by-case basis, and then assess after 30 days to see how your new routine is working for you.
Creating a daily routine seems daunting at first, but you will soon reap the rewards when your productivity soars, morning meltdowns are reduced, and you find you actually have pockets of free time throughout the day or week. Even better? Nothing is written in stone so if your daily routine doesn't work perfectly at first, simply make some tweaks until you find the ideal schedule.