Morning Routine For the Busy Mind
As I briefly touched on in my previous post, finding a routine that works for you is crucial to being a more productive and altogether better, happier person. But speaking from experience, it's not always easy to rally when your mood is off or when your mental health goes untended. This quarantine might have given most of us plenty of "free" time, but for many it also brings the kind of fear and anxiety that can be completely paralyzing.
I've learned that a lot more goes into an effective routine than just the habits of which it's comprised. In order to get external results, you've got to start with the internal. Building a routine that you can stick to even in times of stress is a very personal, individualized process. It may involve some trial and error, but a proper routine is sure to do wonders for both your mental and physical health. Below is a list of (what I consider to be) key elements to creating a routine that truly works for you:
1. Write It Down
Whether you use a planner, a to-do list, or a sticky note on your mirror, have a written outline of your routine. I try to steer clear of using my phone for this, but obviously go with your own judgement. Something about the physical act of writing things down not only makes me feel more clearheaded, but also improves my memory and helps me stick to what I've planned. Something typed out can be easily erased, so this way it's almost like a contract I'm signing with myself. Be as detailed as you'd like or go for shorthand. Just make sure this is something you look at regularly in order to stay motivated and hold yourself accountable.
Personally, I'm a devoted Passion Planner user. My current model is this one which my boyfriend gifted me for Christmas. It's done wonders for decluttering my brain and has helped me stick to my goals in earnest. A favorite feature of mine is the monthly reflection, which lets you break down each month and consider how you spent your time. If you're the planner-owning type, I can't recommend this brand enough.
2. Track Your Progress
Whenever I decide to shake up my routine or form a new habit, I find it extremely helpful to keep tabs on my progress. The aforementioned monthly reflection is a perfect example of this. I'd recommend writing some kind of daily debrief for yourself in the first couple of weeks of starting a new routine. Doing so will help you stay honest and find areas in need of improvement, as well as encourage consistency so that you can stick with your routine in the long term. I would again encourage you to physically write this down, but to each their own. Regardless, the point is to have something you can refer back to as needed; a place to let out disappointments, celebrate victories, and hold yourself accountable along the way.
3. Be Realistic
It sounds simple, but this has definitely been one of the biggest game changers for me. If you're looking to make real progress, you have to start by being honest with yourself. For example: Try as I might, I've never been someone who can jump right out of bed in the morning. Instead of beating myself up for this like I used to, I simply adapted my routine; waking up fifteen minutes earlier gives me that time to lounge before officially starting my day. You have to be realistic with yourself and understand what will actually be required in order to meet your specific goals. When I was holding myself to other peoples' standards and trying to get out of bed right away, I felt like a failure. Starting each day with that kind of mentality completely killed my productivity. The best way to alleviate this pressure and get quicker results is to take time to understand what works for you, rather than following blanket routines created by others.
Another element of this tip is to manage your expectations. If you've spent most of your life living one way, it's not as simple as changing those behaviors overnight. An effective routine is made up of smaller, actionable habits. These are what allow you to start seeing results. Remember that consistency is key, but also that you can only do so much with one day. Don't expect rapid change without first taking the time to understand yourself and the behaviors you're looking to cultivate.
4. Beware Your Internal Monologue
This one is another biggie. Our thought patterns and how we speak to ourselves impact our lives far more than most people realize. Changing how I respond to myself and the world around me has been huge for both my mental health and my productivity. Part of this goes hand in hand with managing expectations; again, change is not as simple as snapping your fingers or drinking a magic potion. But the other part is accepting your limitations alongside your abilities. Instead of getting down on yourself for not working out, you could compromise and go for a walk around your neighborhood. Instead of tearing yourself apart for binge eating, you can accept that today wasn't your best and choose to start fresh tomorrow. No routine is one-size-fits-all, so it's important to be patient with yourself.
This is the step that takes the most effort, but also brings the greatest reward. Your thoughts matter because they become words and actions, and those are what life's all about. I promise it's worth taking the time to observe your thoughts, most especially how you react to disappointment, mistakes, and failure. Next time you experience these negative feelings, turn inward and listen to what your brain is telling you. Dissect these thoughts and consider whether they're doing you a service or holding you back. Do this enough and you'll begin to see just how big a role our internal monologue plays in our external day-to-day.
5. Take Breaks
This has been absolutely essential for boosting my productivity and my motivation. If you're anything like me, your attention span rarely allows you to focus for huge chunks at a time. I'm a big proponent of doing one hour "sprints" of work, followed by a 20 or 30 minute break. Of course, this schedule can be adjusted depending on what works for you and your brain. Some people may work for three hours and only need a five minute break, some may need an even 30 minutes on, 30 minutes off. The point is finding your sweet spot and sticking with it. This isn't a perfect science, and will likely require a bit of experimenting on your part. Once you've factored in your personality and ability to stay focused, you might also consider your workload, upcoming deadlines, and any personal commitments you might have to adjust accordingly.
6. Find a Good Reward System
On a similar note, I've also found it helpful to reward myself in between sprints of work. For me, this usually means a bit of mindless Twitter scrolling or catching up on Youtube subscriptions. Maybe for you it's a cup of coffee, another episode of that show you've been binging, or eating ice cream directly from the container. Again, it's about finding what works best for you. Creating a solid reward system gives you something to look forward to while you work, thus motivating you that much more. When it comes to these last two tips, it's about remembering to find a bit of harmony and avoid killing yourself over one task or work assignment. A good routine is not just a personalized one, but a carefully balanced one.
I'll leave you with this: your journey is about you and no one else. Try not to let external factors weigh you down or sway you from your goals. Remember what you can control and harness that power instead. Achieving your dreams starts with you and you alone- so when it comes to finding the right routine, nobody else's opinion really matters.