Part of my inspiration for this post was discovering the My Morning Routine blog, so check it out if you find this topic interesting.
Last fall was a season of upheaval for me. I finished thesis, lost my beloved Knightley and started a new job, all in just four months. It was emotionally exhausting. Every routine and habit I had as a grad student pretty much flew out the window, and I was in “survival mode” through most of the winter.
Things are better now, and I’m starting to settle into a new normal. So I thought it might be a good time to post an update on my rhythms vs routines post from last year. Back then (August 2015), I was working on my thesis both on campus and at home, and my schedule was entirely my own creation. At the time, I found it impossible to stick to routines and the looser rhythms worked much better. While I still believe in everything I wrote back in 2015, my life has changed. Working in an office means basing my day around a much more rigid framework (although admittedly my job is about as flexible as they get). In this context I’m finding the structure of routines, their very repeatability, far more appealing and useful than I did last summer. It has taken several months, but I’ve finally established routines that work well for me and that I can follow with relative ease.
Like many decidedly-not-morning people, my evening routine is the most crucial part of day. I do a lot of prep for my day the night before, and skipping any step has a far greater impact on my day than any lapses in the morning routine. This may explain why I have an easier time following the evening routine – the stakes are higher.
- Drive home from work. I work from about 10-6, although those hours can flex depending on meetings and evening commitments. My commute is about 30min so I’m usually home by 6:30 (later if I run errands).
- Optional: Errands (grocery, library etc). I try to do as many errands as possible on the way home from work so I can stay out of the car on the weekends.
- Make dinner. I am always hungry. Seriously, I get teased all the time by my family. My solution is to eat as much protein as possible, and divide my meals up into small portions throughout the day. The first thing I do when I get home is start making dinner started. Since January I’ve been making a weekly meal plan so I just pick a meal from the list and get cracking.
- Unpack work bag. Everything gets put away as soon as possible, because otherwise I will forget about it and find myself at midnight with a lunchbox full of dirty containers.
- Eat dinner. At the table, with a book. Usually fiction, since I can’t handle anything to complicated at the end of the day. I used to watch TV with every meal, but I would get stuck on the couch for hours and my whole evening would disappear.
- Clean up dinner. This should happen right after dinner, but it doesn’t always. It definitely has to happen before I go to bed. I stay motivated by watching a particular video podcast that I only watch while doing the dishes. I also don’t have time to do dishes in the morning anymore. I still have trouble on the weekend and often end up with a huge pile to get through on Sunday.
- Make lunch for next day. Right after washing the dishes. There are only a few fast food places near my work and I don’t really like any of them, so making my lunch is my only option.
After that, my evening is wide open. I’m still working on reducing my volunteer commitments so most of my evenings are spent on the computer working on that stuff. Or writing blog posts! I also often spent 1-2 hours in the evening on the phone with my boyfriend (he lives in Montreal) or my friends and family in Toronto.
Ideally I get to bed by midnight, but it often more like 1am by the time I turn off the lights. I get a second wind around 11pm and that makes settling down difficult. Getting to bed at a reasonable hour is something I have struggled with for a long time.
- Wake up with multiple alarms, light and sound. I have an equally difficult time actually waking up in the morning, probably because I seem to need a lot of sleep and I’m always pushing the boundaries. It often takes me an hour to wake up completely.
- Two Spanish exercises on the Duolingo app. This is one of my favourite additions to my routine. I love learning languages and Spanish is my latest kick. The two exercises take less than 10 minutes and its fun to start the day with something “pointless”. I’m sure it will be useful knowledge someday. I often cut back on this if I sleep in too much, but then I make sure to make up the exercises later in the day.
- Shower. This doesn’t really need elaboration.
- Make my bed. I have never made my bed regularly, in fact I always thought it was a waste of time. Then, one day I just started doing it out of the blue. I’m not sure how long this kick is going to last, but I’m getting a surprising amount of satisfaction over having a nice clean surface to throw all my clothes on to throughout the day.
- Push-ups. My first attempt at morning exercise, and a great example of one of my favourite habit tricks: start so small that you would feel ridiculous skipping out. I started with two knee push-ups. Just two! And I could barely manage them. I’m up to 12 now – a 500% increase! The rate of improvement has slowed slightly, so I’m experimenting with sets that allow for rest in between. In total this is still under 10 minutes.
- Make breakfast, assemble lunch and make tea. I take the tea with me to work.
- Eat breakfast. Again, at the table, and again, reading. Non-fiction this time. Spending my day coding leaves so much more brain power for reading than I had when I spent my day reading and writing academic papers. I love getting back to my bookworm self.
- Get out the door. I aim to get to work around 10am. I’m not always that successful.
I also have a (short) lunch routine:
- Read non-fiction. The same book as at breakfast, usually. I keep debating whether I should eat lunch in the lunchroom with my coworkers but I really value the quiet time to myself.
- Go for a 15min walk outside. This is much easier now that the weather has improved. I notice a big difference in my mood and energy levels when I skip this so I do my best to stick to it.
And those are my routines! There are, of course, a few things I’m working on adding:
- 5 minute breathing meditation
- 10 minutes of yoga
- regular journalling
Right now I need to pick one to start with, because I know adding all three of those at once would be doomed right from the start. I also signed up for a 3K race in July so I need to get running again! I have no idea when to fit that in.
Spelling out my routines like this makes it seem like I’m trying to cram a lot of very different things into one day. In fact, everything on this list is either a daily necessity (meals, showering, cleaning dishes) or under 10 minutes (push-ups, Duolingo). Sticking to these routines has had a tremendous positive impact on how I feel day-to-day. I’m always tweaking the routines and trying new things, so it doesn’t feel stale or prescriptive. I’m also enjoying going on “autopilot” sometimes so I don’t have to make decisions when I’m low on willpower. Following the routines also somehow makes me feel less rushed in the morning.
My biggest problem right now is balancing volunteer commitments with keeping up with family and friends, and just finding some time in there to just relax. I’m trying to cram too much into my days and that just isn’t working. The only solution is to simplify, and that is going slowly at the moment. For now, my routines make sure that I get the most important stuff done first, and the rest just has to fit in the time available. Hopefully in another few months I’ll have gotten a little closer to a better balance.
A postscript: I use the online game Habitica to keep track of my new habits and to help me to stay motivated. It was especially useful in the beginning as a habit reminder. It’s a free game, although you can subscribe to unlock extra features. And you can play with friends – the boyfriend and I play together. I just thought I’d throw that out there in case it might help you stick to your habits too.