What is it about making new habits that’s so hard? And I’m not talking about New Year’s Resolutions. Those are destined to go nowhere. If no one has let you in on that secret yet, then I’m sorry to be the one to break the news to you.
I hope we can still be friends.
I’m talking about those normal maybe-today-I-can-be-a-better-person habits. Like, why do we as humans naturally seem to suck so badly at those? What makes them so ephemeral?
I can’t seem to maintain a new system for longer than a few days — a week, at best, if there’s nothing good to binge watch on Netflix.
At least, I was that person.
After reading countless articles (literally I lost count and went down a Pinterest rabbit hole on more than one occasion) on the topic of forming and maintaining healthy habits, I took bits and pieces here and there (as you do) to form a system that’s been working better than anything I’ve tried in the past, so I thought I’d share it with you. Let me know if it helps you out.
You may want to grab a pencil and paper to write this stuff down. Or a snack, if you’re anything like me.
Before I jump straight into my system, let’s get some things out of the way first. I believe the reason why many struggle to form any sort of permanent routine and create an intentional daily schedule is because they have an addiction to their bad habits — and you might have one to yours. I know this is true for me.
I like doing whatever I want.
I like sleeping in way too late and fooling myself into thinking every day is Saturday. Sometimes, I seriously enjoy procrastinating. Hey, I got through college just fine, so what’s the harm, right?
I like binging on trash reality shows. It’s a guilty pleasure, what can I say?
I like staying up until 4 in the morning reading and taking quizzes to determine what color my personality is. Where my fellow night owls?
These are my bad habits. I know they’re bad, and while I get satisfaction from them momentarily, they’re costly. Feeding into these habits on a regular basis means I sacrifice a lot, honestly. I sacrifice my time, which means I can’t do the things I should to have a productive day. I sacrifice my peace of mind because I’m stressed to the max, wondering how I accomplished nothing in an afternoon — all because I decided it would be a good idea to watch 6 episodes of Friends. And sometimes, I even sacrifice my relationships. For instance, if I’ve procrastinated until the last minute on a blog post that needs to be written, I don’t always have time to meet with friends for dinner or I don’t always want to take that phone call to catch up with my old college roommate — I suddenly don’t have the time.
But realizing all of this is enough to change. Because duh. Because obviously. Because who would know all this and then not strive to make a change?
Does this sound familiar?
Okay, but that’s crazy, right? I mean, if you know where you’re screwing up, and you (sort of) know what to do to fix it…then…just DO it?
But wait. There’s another step in there. I may understand how my habits are detrimental to my success — and sanity! — but I don’t do anything differently. I stay stagnant.
Because I’m comfortable being uncomfortable with my bad habits. They’re what I know — it’s a comfort zone thing. Because there may be a little fear there. “What if I change my routine, and I still can’t accomplish anything?” Then I’ll realize I really do suck.
Because I may be a little lazy. That one’s hard to admit. I think when we allow ourselves to just “do whatever we want”, a lot of times, our natural tendency is toward laziness.
No type of boundaries were set up in my day to day work life, and as a result, my productivity, my relationships, my successes suffered. I was working on different projects, but I felt like I was getting nowhere; I felt like I was making zero progress. That’s when I knew I had to freakin’ make a change.
Have you been here?
Knowing you have the passion, the drive, or the skills to work at something you love, and also knowing you’re the one sabotaging everything, every step of the process, is seriously no fun, dude.
So what do you do?
Create an Intentional Daily Schedule That Makes You a Productive Badass at Life
Step 1 | Make a list of your current “bad” habits
I made a list of some of my more annoying naughty habits, from staying up way too late and not getting enough sleep, to procrastinating the bigger, not-so-fun parts of running a blog, to working in that “busy” mindset instead of that productivity flow. I made a list, and I promised myself that I was going to be brutally honest.
You don’t need to write down every habit you’d like to change; just jot down the ones that have the most effect on your efficiency.
Keep your list at around 5 to start out and try to write down at least 1-3.
Step 2 | Make a list of “good” habits you want to adopt
Next, I made a list of the better habits I wanted to adopt into my schedule.
You best believe getting at least 8 hours of sleep was a top priority. See, I’m not a morning person by nature, and even grotesque amounts of caffeine don’t help me if I’m surviving on only 6 hours of Zzzzs.
I also wrote down that I wanted to incorporate some form of exercise and/or nightly yoga into my routine at least 3 times a week. I wanted to eat healthier, too.
And if we’re being completely honest here (which I am) I can also be pretty guilty of negative self-talk, so I wrote down on my list of “good habits” that I wanted to use positive affirmations throughout my day.
Again, write down 1-3 items. Baby steps, people.
Step 3 | Establish boundaries
After I was done with those two lists, I chose several things that were the most important to me that I accomplish, and I started setting boundaries for myself and “creating” more time in my day.
Hold up — you “created” more time? What kind of weird joo-joo is this?
No, that’s not actually possible, I know. I’m not crazy. I mean, I have my moments…
But when we don’t set boundaries for ourselves in our everyday lives, we waste a lot of precious time that could be spent doing other things, like spending time with family, catching up with friends, or just enjoying some quality “me time.”
I know all of us at one time or another have had the most honorable intentions, the most carefully laid out plans for our day, only to be startled out of a “busy” stupor at 5 o’clock and realize that we’ve literally gotten nothing done.
How does that even happen?!
Let me introduce you to…boundaries. Boundaries are your friend, friend.
Boundaries in your schedule make it possible to get up early, knock out a killer gym sesh, go to work, run errands, cook dinner, and binge watch several episodes of your guilty pleasure, if you feel so inclined.
All in the same day.
For some people, this comes naturally. I AM NOT ONE OF THOSE PEOPLE. If you’re reading this, you’re obviously not one of those people, either. That’s okay. Who needs ’em, anyway, with their haughty perfection and “LOOK AT EVERYTHING I GOT DONE TODAY”-ness. Ew.
For some of us, it’s more of a struggle, but it’s not impossible. I swear. If I can do it, you can do it. And I know people say that phrase all the time, but seriously. I was a goner. If I made this work, I promise you, you can too. That’s how badly I suck at forming healthy habits: I start making promises to people on the Internet.
“Boundaries” isn’t just that word that kept getting thrown around in your sex-ed class. When you create a daily schedule, you’re setting a routine and intentionally filling your day and planning everything out. It’s basically just a clever way of tricking yourself into having more time. You have more time because you made time for things that were a priority.
Why do I love doing this so much? It makes me more excited about my day because I have a definite time when my work day begins and ends which = less stress = less cray cray moments of me pulling my hair out. And I have great hair, so you could see how that would be a major bummer.
It’s a win-win, really. I’m not angry all day, pissing people off in the Starbucks line, and my hair grows. BOOM. Yay.
I also find that it’s harder to burn out this way. On a good day, I’m not up until 3 am, reading blog posts on vegan brownies on Pinterest. I’m not wasting time checking my email every 15 minutes because I’ve set a boundary for that to only check my email twice a day; I don’t have to think about it at any other time so I’m free to work on other, more important things, like eating and stalking Nicole Richie’s Twitter.
Step 4 | Create morning and night schedules
I began by establishing a morning schedule first. How I intentionally create a schedule might look a little different to others; for one thing, it’s pretty strict. I set a definite time to wake up (much, much earlier than I used to); I set a specific time frame for breakfast and small morning chores; I set a time to work out. I gave myself a lunch break, a time to check social media, do some design work, write. I even set aside time for a quick snack in the afternoon because, ya know, munchies.
You don’t have to be this anal. This just worked for me because I felt like I was so far gone on the procrastination struggle bus that I needed a very strict routine starting out to keep me motivated and accountable, if only to myself.
That morning routine became a sort of basic template because every day looks different, but most of my days follow that same sort of pattern.
Next, I got to work on my nightly schedule, a list of things I needed to do before I got myself to bed in order to have a better, more relaxed and productive morning.
My night routine included: making a to-do list for the next day, setting a strict bed time, some nightly stretches, and setting aside time to check my phone once more and then put it away until the next morning. I’ve realized that the longer into the night I’m looking at a bright phone screen, the more restless I am when I’m trying to achieve that sexy, elusive REM sleep. There’s actual studies on it, guys. It’s science-y.
When making my morning and night schedule, I only listed the things that were a top priority on my healthy habits list, such as incorporating clean eating, exercising, blogging, and sleeping.
Did you know?
Now, I can make a daily to-do list and actually accomplish the things I set out to do. Pretty cool, riiiight?
My to-do list is a hot mess of random things that pop into my head at 1 in the morning, like running errands, scheduling social media, laundry, doctor’s appointments, and writing blog posts like this one.
Now that I’ve got my morning routine (which actually stretches all the way to 5:30 pm — it ends right where my night routine picks up), I just plug in my to-do items wherever they fit. If I have a blog post to write, I start on that before lunch, take a break, and then continue on into the afternoon. I schedule social media posts for about half an hour in the morning before I start writing. Because I set aside a time period to work on blog stuff, I can get a sizable chunk of work done before the afternoon in case I want to meet up with friends or run errands.
This system works well for me because I’m not constantly wondering what I should be working on next, or spending too much time on Instagram and then running around like a chicken with my head cut off when I realize I have a deadline to meet that I forgot about.
Step 5 | Tips on how to mindfully create a daily schedule
Write it down, ya’ll.
Don’t use a productivity app. Your Notes app on your phone won’t work either. Or one of those fancy programs online, such as Trello. And this is coming from someone who does use Trello for other things, bloggy things.
I can’t tell you the amount of satisfaction I get just from writing something down on actual paper, with an actual pencil. After you complete something, you can cross it out and everything. It’s pretty rad, I know. And just think, you’ll be able to tell your grandchildren, “Back in my day, we used to write our schedules down, in planners! And we could mark things out on our to-do lists after we’d finished them! Ohhh, the satisfaction.”
It’ll be great, I promise.
Take it slowly.
‘member when I said to write down about 1-3 things that you wanted to change in your routine? Yeah, I said that for a reason — the more stuff you try to change about yourself all at once, the more stressful/mildly depressing/infuriating it is.
And the more likely it is that you’ll just call it quits, which is no bueno. But in case you do feel like throwing in the towel…
Don’t give up.
If you need to hit me up on a cellular device to talk you through this process, I will. So, call me, beep me — if ya wanna reach me.
It’s a myth that it takes around a minimum of 21 days to form a new habit; don’t get discouraged if your new routine falls apart within a few hours…or minutes. I still have days where I can’t stick to my new schedule, even if my life depended on it, but I think that has more to do with a personality flaw. #ohwell
But I try, really hard. And those days when it works…it really works.
If you’ve tried to establish some sort of routine in the past and struggle to create an intentional daily schedule, I hope that this style of setting up boundaries in your day will work for you, too.
Do you like the idea of creating a more detailed routine? Have you tried one like this in the past — what worked and what didn’t? Do you have any tips for me that would make my process better?