I have always wondered how to stick to a routine over a long period. Making a daily routine has always been fun for me, but the other part – actually committing to it for a long period, has been a struggle.
We have heard about the importance of making routines for our whole life. As children, we were put into other people's routines for example at kindergarten, school, university, etc. Routines are important to organize activities, make our lives easier and help us get things done.
Because we as humans love stability, routines make difficult tasks easier over time and make us more efficient by allowing us to focus on doing things instead of thinking too much. Following a process feels good!
Whether you do sports, practice a musical instrument, want to learn something new or just to be more efficient – you need to put in the time to make it happen.
Over time I have found, that some ways of structuring a routine into my life have been more effective than others. I hope that the following ideas will help you understand how to stick to a routine in a better way so that you can live a fun and productive life.
1. Form a healthy mindset
Many people (including myself) sometimes feel that following a daily routine is taking away their freedom. If you have that kind of mindset, it makes sense that you won’t want to stick to a routine. We all want to feel free from the “chains” – right?
For me, it was extremely helpful to define what freedom means to me. For me, freedom in daily life is the opportunity to commit myself to all the things I love with passion and great detail.
To be able to do that, I need to be healthy (physical activity, good nutrition, relationships) and be on good footing financially. Only then can I have the proper freedom to explore different ideas and hobbies.
I know that by forming a routine for my physical health and nutrition, I take care of the two important aspects needed for my freedom.
Planning workouts and meals every single day would be exhausting and wouldn’t have the continuity needed to see good results. Doing so would also take way more time, which I could use for doing other things I love.
Relationships and income are aspects of life that are not so easily planned, but even in these, it’s possible to make life easier by adding some routine elements.
Perhaps you can find a consistent day in the week, where you do something special with your loved one? The planned day can serve as an anchor amidst everyday chaos and keep you closer, even in tough times.
Regarding your way of making a living, perhaps some activities keep you on top of your game. Maybe you can schedule a weekly “review” day to make sure you have everything covered?
Thinking about core elements like these will very often help you to stick to a routine more efficiently.
2. Make an MVR (minimum viable routine)
A thing I quickly found out about sticking to a routine is, that more often than not, less is more. If you overbook your days, you are going to feel overwhelmed pretty quickly – especially if living by a routine isn’t your everyday thing.
What helped me is a thing I call a minimum viable routine. What this means is, when making a routine, start with the most important activities to you and when I say most important, I mean THE most important ones. Those are the main key activities you know you have to do every day to stay on track.
Create a core routine that you can follow without too much effort – you can expand it later in the future.
What are the key activities?
This is individual to every one of us, but some examples could be:
- Doing sports
- Doing sales calls/outreach
Having a minimum viable routine will keep you from getting overwhelmed too quickly and you can always return to it. Keep in mind, this should be something simple enough so that you can follow it even on the hardest days. It won’t be easy to stick to your routine If you only follow it occasionally.
3. Reward yourself
Rewarding myself is something I often overlook because it seems silly at first glance. I mean, isn’t successfully following a routine already a reward by itself? I am doing this for myself after all.
Rewarding yourself doesn’t mean you have to buy a new outfit every time you brush your teeth or walk your dog. It could be as simple as allowing yourself to have some more rest after a hard day of work or perhaps treating yourself to something that you like.
What I understood over some time is, that you can’t treat yourself as a slave – otherwise you will self-sabotage at some point. I was forcing myself hard even when I didn’t feel like sticking to my routine and that ended up by starting to have these mini-procrastination moments. That means I started to check the time often and began finding small excuses to stop doing whatever I was working on.
What happens then is you fall out of the flow of doing things and everything begins to seem like a chore. And when following your routine feels like a chore, of course, you won’t stick to it.
That is why I believe it is important to have balance, especially when you are starting to do things that don’t feel comfortable in the beginning.
4. Tackle the hardest things first
Plan your routine so that you tackle your hardest tasks as early in the day as possible.
Some people believe in the theory of limited willpower according to which, every person has a willpower battery that depletes with every choice they make.
I personally just enjoy the feeling of accomplishing things early in the day. The same feeling of accomplishment usually drives me through the day to do other important things as well.
Doing your hardest tasks as early as possible will also help you stick to your routine because you will have more energy early in the day. The most important thing in following a routine is consistency!
5. How to stick to a routine - be consistent
If you have set a routine, follow it to the best of your ability - it will only get easier over time. The funny thing with routines is, when you happen to break the habit, it is much harder to get back into the flow. When we get used to certain things, they don’t feel as difficult.
The best thing you can do to stick to your routine is, paradoxically, sticking to it! If you are beginning, keep going through it and don’t stop too early. You could be close to the point where it stops feeling tiring and starts to feel like a part of your life.