I want to share a small tip I've been having some success with to help establish a daily routine- something I know is important, but have never been able to do until recently!
I would always set out with the best of intentions, plotting out to a tee how my morning and night would go and exactly what I would be doing. The sequence would spiral out of control like a cancer until I had my first three or four hours of the day plotted. Sometimes I'd even go so far as to plan out the entire day. And these wonderfully intentioned plans and planned routines never worked.
The problem I'd always have was that I'd mess up once and misspend the day. Guilt-wracked, by the end of the evening I'd have realized how unproductive I'd been and "binge-work", staying up till the wee hours of the morning to try and get as much of my backlogged work done as possible. But I never worked well after 2am anyway, and the next morning I'd sleep in and wreck my fledgling attempts at creating my own routine.
Thinking about what is different with my efforts now, I can see that I've had, or am having, a mindset shift away from this self-destructive work-bulemia. And one thing that helped get me there (or maybe a consequence of getting there, who knows?) was to start thinking of my day as a series of "checkpoints", like the save-points in a video-game.
Basically, I've chosen only three hard and fast times for my routine during the day. The idea is simple, and not new at all, but I think it is effective for reasons I explain below.
My three checkpoints are:
Here's why this works for me.
This reduces or completely eliminates the anxiety of having an entire day planned out to the tee. Three simple times to keep track of instead is totally manageable. Once those times arrive, I know I need to drop everything and move on. I suppose I could ignore the deadline, but only having three hard-and-fast times throughout the day makes that seem like a cop-out and like I'm cheating myself. It totally destresses the process for me.
It forces me to focus on what's truly essential for me to feel like I had a good day. I want to write, and really make a serious thing of my writing, but could never make a habit of it. The same with working out. Yet the difference between the days when I do those two things- write and exercise- and when I don't is frighteningly stark. In short, if I got to those two things during the day, it wasn't necessarily a good day but it certainly wasn't a bad day.
Finally, a big reason for my binge-working and my inability to create new habits or routines was really just because I couldn't ever go to bed on time. Voilà my third checkpoint.
I still have a checklist of routine things I want to get done each day that is more than three items- it's at 15 items, actually- but I try not to sweat it if I miss some of them in a day and instead focus on meeting the checkpoints. Because I know that even if I've totally wasted the day up to that point, if I can make a checkpoint, I'm more likely than not going to continue on track and start ticking off the rest of the items on my list.
Like a video-game checkpoint, these allow me to start anew and try again at having a good, productive day. In essence, I have three opportunities each day to turn a bad day into a good one, or at least a productive one. It's like building mini-periods of reflection into the day, mini-sprints of work/recovery that give me the psychological opportunity to renew myself a little bit with each checkpoint.
And even if I don't feel like doing the checkpoint, the bar is set so low that I know the easiest thing to do is just force myself to do it rather than deal with all the nasty regret and guilt. After all, I only have the three real commitments during the day, and they're pretty easy. Sit in front of my computer with Evernote open until 11. Put on workout clothes and walk outside at noon. Go brush my teeth at ten pm. Since motivation usually only comes after taking action, meeting those three checkpoints is like knocking over the first in a line of dominos. I'm back on track for the day and feeling great. Or at least better.
Zan Perrion provides some inspiration here in his book The Alabaster Girl. In it, he recommends a small ritual he calls Vespers, as in vespertine (occurring in the evening). The idea is that at some point before going to bed, we find a few quiet moments to ourselves to reflect and prepare for the next day.
One could imagine that daily Vespers is like a checkpoint in a video game. We are playing the game of Life on the ‘Hard’ difficulty setting, but because we saved the game at that point yesterday evening, because we reconnected with what is truly important, we can always fall back on that point again any time in the future.
Hope you found this tip to be useful!
Dillon Dakota Carroll
...sees much and knows much