Throughout history, accomplished women and men have been sharing their daily schedules with the world in hopes that others will be just as successful. Their audience is broad and stretches from the young adults learning how to manage their first full-time job to managers and business owners looking for life hacks to shave an hour off their work day. Over the past few years, authors such as Timothy Ferriss, Chris Guillebeau, and Mason Currey (as well as many bloggers), have compiled lists of rituals and routines into books that have become bestsellers. Some of the advice are good reminders for past routines we have fallen out of, and some of it is just downright odd:
In an article on Slate.com, Mason Currey notes that Thomas Wolfe (1900 – 1938) typically began writing around midnight, priming himself with awesome quantities of tea and coffee. (And would) unconsciously "fondle his genitals”.
Mason Currey also wrote that if Igor Stravinsky (1882 – 1971) felt blocked while composing …, he might execute a brief head stand, which, he said, “rests the head and clears the brain.”
John Locke (1632 – 1704) said in his book Some Thoughts Concerning Education: And, Of the Conduct of the Understanding Then I guessed, that if a man, after his first eating in the morning, would presently solicit nature, and try whether he could strain himself so as to obtain a stool, he might in time, by a constant application, bring it to be habitual.”
In this post, I will lay out the basics of rituals and routines, explore why they are important, and suggest how you can use them to your advantage. In addition, I will share with you the routine I have found that works for me.
Remember, individual routines vary, but the structure is more or less the same. Feel free to explore what works best for your body and mind.
If you are interested in reading historical “ritual and routine” accounts of famous and successful people, check out Mason Currey’s blog Daily Rituals. He recently published a collection in a book. I think it is worth checking out of you are into biographies and enjoy reading a few pages at a time. You can find the audiobook here.
We are what we repeatedly do. - Aristotle
A routine is something that has minimal engagement. It is not a “meaningful” part of the day, but we do it because it needs to get done. Examples of these are brushing your teeth, shaving, cleaning, and cooking.
Side note: If you practice mindfulness, you already know that every task can be a meditation. For the purposes of this blogpost, these tasks are “low stress”, so I am calling them routines.
Keep these tips in mind when you are putting together the routines in your schedule:
- Go to bed and wake up at the same time every day
- Eat your meals around the same time every day
- Exercise at roughly the same time every day
- Take prescribed medications at the same time every day
Daily rituals, especially walks, even forced marches around the neighborhood, and schedules, whether work or meals with non-awful people, can be the knots you hold on to when you’ve run out of rope. - Anne Lamott
Rituals are important because this is when you are fully engaged and intrinsically motivated. This is the time when you are in your prime, working with “laser focus”. Examples of activities that are rituals are goal setting, meditation, engaging with a work project (most of the time), spending time with friends, and reading.
Here are some quick tips to get the most out of your rituals:
- Prepare yourself for the day by focusing on the day’s intentions, mentally preparing a to-do lists. Align yourself with your daily tasks. Doing this will push you forward instead of working against you. I find that listening to myself is key. If something feels heavy, I stay away, if it feels light, I go for it, and the world does its part pushing me forward. If that’s too “new-agey” for you, think about it this way: by preparing yourself for the task at hand, you mentally prepare your conscious mind and lower level consciousness, so when it’s time to be productive, you are less likely to have a distraction.
- Your night ritual should compliment your morning routine. This will mentally prepare you for the next day, reducing stress and anxiety (great in the evening before bed).
- Set out your clothes for morning the evening before
- At dinner, set some of your leftovers aside for lunch
- Make a list of your next day’s objectives (so they are in your notebook, not in your head—this will clear your mind before bed)
- It is important to “play”. Spend time with friends, move your body, laugh. Make a joyful sound. Read if reading makes you happy. Watch a TV show. Grab a cup of coffee, tea, or drink with a friend.
Make your routines, rituals, and habits part of your lifestyle
Your body, believe it or not, likes to have a rhythm. If you sleep in on the weekends, it is going to be hard to wake up on Monday and Tuesday morning.
- If you wake up at 5:30am every morning (weekdays), wake up no later than 6:00am on the weekends. Sleeping in, changing your diet, and irregular exercise throws off your body. Instead of building and repairing, it is recovering from the day before, trying to stabilize and find homeostasis.
- Agility is important too. If a meeting comes up, you need to be able to adjust your schedule accordingly.
- Listen to your body. Be sure to acknowledge when something is hard. It is likely because you are changing for the better. Think: growing pains or detox pains versus pain due to injuring your body.
My Rituals and Routines
This is my current schedule. See if you can identify which activities are routines, which are rituals, and why I have structured my day in this particular order.
- Wake up with the sun (no alarm clock, naturally wake up)
- Oil Pulling for 10-15 minutes while I check my email/social media/text messages
- 1 tbsp Heart Juice followed by 1-2 glasses of water
- Run 2.5-4 miles (depending on day)
- Finish tea while reading over daily objectives
- Daily Task #1
- Tea and walk
- Adjust to-do list, set focus on afternoon goals
- Daily Task #2
- Cross training or yoga
- Set next day intentions (what I like to call “tomorrowing”)
- Evening walk
- Quiet time
- Community (spending time with friends)
Lifestyles are important. Just like dieting, if you want to sustain your health, you can’t “crash diet”. Real change comes from a lifestyle change. Think about when you were in school--you may have been able to pull an all-nighter from time to time, but that was not sustainable. Your routine needs to be practical and repeatable. In some cases, you may work up to an “ideal routine”, adding new things each week, such as exercise or reading a new blog.
You may find yourself falling in and out of your routine. That’s fine, do whatever is best for you. In the artist/writing community, it is taboo to judge another’s creative process. If standing on your head works for you, great! Do it! Try routines on like you try on clothes. If one doesn’t work for you, don’t wear it. The goal of rituals and routines is to be productive while enjoying your work. Find something that works for you, and stick with it :-)
Andrew J. Wilt
SEI Junior Consultant