Growing up I never had many routines.
My mum was a great parent, she raised my brother and I pretty much single-handedly. But when it came to setting down regular bedtimes, meal times, or rituals to get ready for school, she wasn’t very successful. For whatever reason, she never really told us what to do or when to do it. To be specific, she never told me what to do. Being the eldest I seemed to get away with more, and being her only daughter probably helped a bit too. It was pretty great when I was a kid; I was given quite a bit of freedom and I never really got in trouble.
Now that I’m a ‘grown up’ I realise that I probably could have used a bit more structure.
So over the last few years I’ve tried numerous ways to set down routines for myself. These have had varying success – I still struggle to get up at the same time each morning, but I have managed to begin building some habits into my day to day life. That’s all a routine is really, a series of habits strung together in a particular order. To make something routine, you have to make it a habit, or do you have to make it part of your routine for it to become a habit? Either way, I have made a vow to get better at making and following routines this year. I say that every year, in fact when I was in secondary school I remember writing lists of everything I needed to do in the morning to get ready for school, and sticking them to my mirror. The difference now is that I’ve done some research into habit formation and productivity methods, and I’m also using a few tools to help me.
The first thing I’ve learned about habits, is that it’s important to start small.
Instead of trying to follow my entire ‘ideal’ morning routine straight away, I’ve broken it into steps, and then made each step smaller until it’s stupidly easy to do. In his research James Clear found that this greatly improved his chances of following the habit. By building up from something tiny until you get to a level where you’re happy, it’s much easier to commit to changing your behaviour. If you want to write 1000 words a day, start off writing just 10. It sounds almost ridiculous, 10 words in nothing. This sentence has twelve words in it and took moments to write. You are not allowed to write more than 10 words the first day. On the second day make it 15, and keep increasing every day (Clear explains more about this in the link above). Eventually you’ll build up to a habit which feels doable for you, but is still helping you towards your goals.
Clear also found that, contrary to popular belief
it can take anything upwards of 30 days to form a new habit.
This means that it is important to commit to the process, not just the end goal. If you’re looking to exercise regularly, you need to find a form of exercise which you enjoy doing, otherwise you won’t want to keep doing it week in week out. Similarly if you want to read every day pick a book you think you will enjoy (unless it’s for coursework) and the experience will be one you want to undertake.
Another useful tool in building routines is a habit tracking app.
My favourite one at the moment is The Fabulous which helps you to cultivate daily routines, which they call rituals. The app offers you suggestions for habits and tips to stay on track, as well as letting you add your own habits. You can also set timers for any habit. Say you want to jog for 20 minutes every day. You can customise the ‘exercise’ habit which is pre-loaded onto the app, then add it into your routine. When you trigger the habit a timer will count down for the allotted amount of minutes. The app suggests a few habits to get you started, and you can add or remove them as you go along.
The main reason I find this app effective is because it holds you accountable.
I find when I’m not relying solely on my own willpower (which isn’t always the best) I’m more compelled to follow through with stuff. The gentle reminders are the little kick up the bum I need to keep going, and the shiny graphics and ‘well done’ messages spur me on too. It’s good to have validation that I’m on the right track, which helps motivate me to accomplish even more. I put a screenshot of my ‘morning ritual’ at the top of this post, so now
let’s take a more in depth look at The Fabulous:
The home screen of the app is bright and colourful. You can customise this, and it features the picture of your current routine at the top. It shows you any challenges you’re currently doing (in this example to drink water every morning for 3 days) and all of your activated rituals, and shows how you’re progressing with them in a nice visual format.
This is my morning ritual. It’s got 12 habits here but I’ve since edited it down to 9. This page gives you a more detailed look at your ritual, and you can see what habits you’ve completed so far that day.
Here’s one of the habit pages. When your ritual launches (the app gets you to set an alarm which gently reminds you to start your ritual) the first habit comes up as a page like this, and some pleasant background music plays. My ‘drink water’ habit has a timer on it so I can make sure I’m drinking enough water to wake me up.
When the timer finishes the habit is complete, nice visuals are also shown to track your recent progress.
My ‘drink tea’ habit doesn’t have a timer – I simply tick it off by touching the button when I’ve completed it (Usually once I’ve made the cup of tea as I know I’ll drink it!)
This is the page to edit your rituals. Here you can change or remove the timer function from each habit, delete habits, reorder them, or even rename them. You can also change a rituals’ time, name, or background.
As you can see, it’s a very comprehensive app, but I found it pretty straightforward to set up. When you first begin you are given a series of prompts, and suggestions for starter habits too. I’ve been using it for a couple of weeks now, along with some tracking in my planner, which I’ll be talking more about next week.
Using the principals of starting small, committing to the process, and holding myself accountable, I am already seeing improvement.
Where before I struggled to clean my teeth every evening, didn’t always have a shower or get dressed in the morning, and spent most of my time messing about on the internet, I’m now developing new, healthier routines. I get up and dressed pretty much every morning, clean my teeth every day, and am getting a lot more stuff done. It’s still early days in my productivity plan project, but I am feeling and seeing positive results so far.