Elon Musk breaks his day down into 5 minute chunks of time. Oprah Winfrey doesn’t use an alarm clock. Michelle Obama somehow squeezes in a workout at 4:30am every single day. Successful people, it turns out, often have routines built into their lives. Athletes, entrepreneurs, leaders of industry, celebrities; their days are often heavily regimented. They live according to structure, and it’s that structure that helps them achieve big things.
So what is a daily routine? Why is it important? And how can it help you become successful?
Why are routines useful?
Ask anyone who’s ever set a New Year’s Resolution, self-improvement is hard. The problem is, we often have quite lofty goals for ourselves. These goals are often vague and ambiguous, we don’t break them down into specific, achievable steps. This is where a routine can help. By incorporating small habits into your everyday life – a healthy breakfast, an early morning workout, a walk around the block, 30 minutes of reading, saving 10 per cent of your paycheck – you can build success, or health, or wealth, over the long term. Studies have shown that routines can be linked to all sorts of things, from resilience in a crisis to social skills and academic success.
What makes a good routine?
This is going to be different for everyone. It depends on what you’re trying to achieve – start a busines, grow a business, learn a new skill, get healthy etc. – and what sort of person you are. Do you work best with regimented boundaries? Do you need more flexibility in your routine? The best daily routines are the ones that start as conscious, but eventually become unconscious. This takes time. Routines are always hard to stick to in the beginning; our brains tend to default to the path of least resistance. But over time, your routines get baked into your daily rhythm, to the point where you don’t have to think about them. When that happens, it’s hardly effort at all. You even begin to look forward to your routines.
What does it take to set a daily routine?
Commitment and discipline are the first things you’ll need. Keeping a routine going isn’t easy (at least in the beginning). You have to work at it. The next is structure. Set aside units of time to complete certain tasks, and try to optimise these based on your energy levels. For example, if you concentrate best in the morning, schedule your important work before lunch, and save the afternoon for mindless tasks (we’re looking at you, emails and data entry). Finding useful diary, calendar and task manager apps, or using physical notebooks, will help you stay on track. If you can’t plan your routine, you won’t be able to stick to it.
What are some routines of successful people?
You can find examples all over the internet. Successful people tend to wake early, around 4:30am or 5:00am. This gives them more time in the day to squeeze in exercise, reading, meditation or work (we recommend starting with mediation). If 4:30am seems cruel and unnatural, try setting your alarm 15 minutes early. Successful people also tend to stay healthy and exercise, and they deliberately make time for these activities in their daily routine. The key point is: self-improvement won’t happen incidentally, or by accident. You need to consciously set aside the time for good habits. Those weights won’t lift themselves.
Try to think of your routine like a chain. A chain that can’t be broken. “I’ll do it tomorrow” is the death of any routine. If your goal is exercise, try to fit in at least something, anything, even a 10-minute workout, every single day. Breaking the chain, and breaking the habit, makes it that much harder to pick up your routine and keep it going. If you manage to do this, you’ll find that, over time, your routine becomes second nature. All you have to do is identify your goal, and then take one small step towards that goal – here’s the tough bit – every, single, day.
Keep a journal
Keeping a routine journal might sound like a chore, but it’s a great way to help you stick to your goals. The journal doesn’t have to be long, or overly complicated. Simply listing your achievements that day, or patiently cataloguing your progress, will help you build momentum in your daily routine. This might take the form of a food journal, or a business diary, where you record your sales figures and plot your growth, or maybe an exercise notebook, where you track your progress in the gym. Take note of your achievements, but also any potential obstacles or setbacks that might harm your routine.
Most people’s lives can’t be run like Swiss clocks. Things come up, plans get changed, emergencies happen, and all those things will probably disrupt your daily routine. And that’s okay. The best routines have daily consistency, but also flexibility built in. Got an early morning meeting? Try and squeeze in a quick run after work. Going out for a boozy lunch? No problem. Just cook a healthy dinner when you get home. Too tired to work on your side hustle? Take a break and chip away at it later. The word we’re really looking for here is ‘adaptable’. Your routine requires iron-clad discipline, but it also needs to adapt to everyday life. And everyday life tends to be messy.
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