In a perfect world, I’d create the ideal daily schedule, full of all the productive things, and stick to it without a hitch. I’d fill each minute of each day with only good things that help me press forward towards my goals.
…In a perfect world.
Alas, the world is not perfect.
I’m not perfect.
I’m not a robot.
Neither are you.
We’re all complex humans with complex emotions, dealing with varying degrees of distractions and daily stress that throws a wrench in our best laid plans.
We cannot, as complex humans, realistically fill our days with minute by minute productive activities.
Color Coded Scheduling from Hell
There was a time I bought a planner program that had me schedule every day down to the nearest fifteen minutes, as well as schedule my family’s days like that too. Every family member had a place on my vast color coded schedule chart.
I used to live for that kind of thing. I love color coded charts more than I probably should admit.
Then I floated between being irritated with my family members and angry at myself for not sticking with the program scheduled down to the nearest 15 minutes. Our family could be perfect and doing great things if only we filled every minute with productive things, amirite?
Now that I’m older and presumably wiser, I see the folly in this thinking.
It’s just not realistic to think you can stay on task to that degree all the time.
We can however build healthier, balanced habits and routines in our lives to help us inch towards our goals.
What do I mean?
Case Study: My Morning Habit Needed a Change
Here’s an example of what that looks like in my own life, with a recent change I made.
During the pandemic I fell back into a bad habit I had broken years earlier where I started my day sitting on a stool in the kitchen, headphones in, jamming out to music and daydreaming about nothing in particular. This is okay once in a while, in small doses, but I would easily sit there for two hours, coffee in hand.
For several years before I got sick with COVID at the start of the pandemic, I was up at 5 am, working out. In fact, I had been working out at the gym every morning before work, which I think made hell freeze over at some point. I finally saved up some money and slowly bought some exercise equipment to move into my daughter’s old room in the basement after she got married, and I continued to work out until I got sick.
A Body at Rest Stays at Rest, and other realities of middle age
A body at rest stays at rest, as Newton discovered.
So I fell back into the old habit, staring into space while listening to music. Don’t ask me why that’s a thing.
I would do this for hours, trying to find the mojo to get on with my day while nursing a coffee.
Then, suddenly, it was time to get to work and I had to rush around to get moving. I was working from home at the time, so it felt like I had more time than I actually did.
After I lost my job, I started freelancing again, which meant I didn’t have a specific start time. I just started whenever I started. This was also not good.
Scheduling every minute of your day is bad, but being so relaxed you spend a few hours sitting with headphones jamming out to Joni Mitchell is also not great either.
So, I wanted to get back into the habit of having my cuppa, then doing some basic, light exercise before coming back upstairs for breakfast and getting to work.
In James Clear’s book, Atomic Habits, he mentions figuring out your trigger for your habits—what triggers the action you take that you’re trying to break. For me, I had my headphones charging right there next to my glasses, which were next to the coffeepot. And the stool was right there in my little corner I would sit in.
One Simple Change Helped a Better Habit Form
I put my headphones in the basement, in the cupholder of the treadmill the night before, and took the stool out of the kitchen.
Since I already walked all that way downstairs, I might as well put my gym shoes on, do some stretching or weight lifting or maybe even walk on the treadmill while the coffee is brewing, before going back up to the kitchen, right? I mean, I’m already in the basement. I already kitted out my weight room back when I was working out regularly.
Bonus—I also find this new habit helps me keep on top of the laundry, since I have to walk past the washing machine on the way to the exercise room.
The fun thing about this habit is how much more energy I have at the start of the day. At first, I’m exhausted. I try not to overdo the exercise. I promise myself ten minutes, but I usually go longer once I get going. But after getting into the habit of it, I find I enjoy the way I feel when I work out lightly. I’m not running a marathon or lifting a hundred pounds.
I’m just gently moving my body in the morning rather than staring into space.
Hot Take: Don’t try to Do it all
So, how do you apply this to your own life?
Don’t try to do it all, for one thing.
Find just one habit or routine you want to change up and improve, and think about it.
- Why do you do it?
- What triggers this behavior?
- How can you make a change in the routine more convenient than doing what you’ve always done?
Work on your problem area. Don’t work on all the things. Just work on this one, small, bite sized part of your life and build a new habit over the next few weeks.