5 Steps to Create a Personalized Daily Routine
Elizabeth Larkin is a professional organizer with a strong interest in productivity, time management, and process refinement. She used her organizational skills and effectiveness to pen articles with helpful information on cleaning, organizing living spaces, and decluttering.
Setting up an organized work routine takes a little time to set up. You need to figure out what you need to get done and when to do it. Learn how to make a schedule for your daily tasks and activities. It will help you form good habits and break bad ones for a more productive, happier life.
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.
Step 1: Let your priorities lead
When the future is uncertain, we need our priorities to be blazingly obvious to us all the time. Otherwise, we spin our wheels on tasks that might be priorities for others but not for us, or that might be easy to do but not that important. Without clear priorities, we often become overwhelmed by all there is to do. To avoid that, we need to decide on our top priorities and then spend 95% of our time doing only those activities, saying “no” to everything else as much as possible.
Spending 95% of my time on these top priorities leaves only about five hours a week for other things—the other 5%, the things that aren’t real priorities, but often need to be done. Most days, my 5% time is mostly spent answering emails and doing administrative work that is unrelated to the above priorities.
Step 2: Create structure for yourself
One important key to both productivity and stability in this crazy age is to create structure for yourself. If you’re working from home but missing your office (or even your commute), you might be missing the structure that the workplace used to provide: a clear start and end to the workday, built-in breaks, time to socialize. If the daily routine you’ve fallen into during the pandemic isn’t working for you, create one that does.
Design your “ideal day.” Begin by designing your ideal day (you can use this free template). All the habits I’m trying to start or keep repeat daily on my schedule: reading, exercising, meditating, tidying up—even measuring my habits. Some of my routine tasks occur only once a week, but they automatically repeat on my schedule, as well. (For example, every Friday after lunch I do some bookkeeping, and so that is already in my planner template.)
Before I set up my ideal day, I was constantly negotiating with myself about when I’d do the things I needed to do. Should I do my daily planning before or after breakfast? Should I shower at lunch to break up the day? Before the pandemic, I probably never would have considered these things—I had existing routines that worked. Now, though, the possibilities are endless.
Making decisions, even little bitty ones like these, taxes the part of our brain that we need to focus, and uses up the energy we need for more important things. And these days, focus and energy are often in short supply. Better to decide once.
Even if your work is less flexible and a large part of your day is already spoken for, it can still help to create clear morning and bedtime routines. Try to build activities into your schedule that tend to go undone unless you explicitly make time for them, like exercise and a pause to unwind.
Pre-deciding when we will do routine tasks also helps us establish new habits and shortens our to-do list. For years, I had repetitive tasks like “deposit checks,” “clean out email,” and “plan meals for the week” as recurring to-dos. This needlessly lengthened my task list, adding to my sense of overwhelm. Now, because I know when I will do these recurring tasks, I don’t need to write them down or nag myself to get them done.
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.