How to Create a Daily Routine That Sticks
Allow me to paint a picture for you.
It’s 4:45 am, the sun is barely at the horizon, birds are just beginning to sing, and the air is crisp. Before the alarm goes off, another keener springs out of their bed, a look of determination and vigor mixed on their face.
They’re convinced a few hours of “rising and grinding” before their competition wakes up will be the key to total domination.
Sound familiar? It should. Every time you listen to a business podcast, read up on your favorite entrepreneur or scroll through Instagram, you’re bombarded with this exact morning routine for success.
But is this really the way you want to live?
For the majority of you, an alarm blaring in your ear before the crack of dawn is the polar opposite of motivational – it’s enraging. Forcing yourself to see the sunrise won’t create a daily routine that lights you up, enhances productivity, or develops the sticky habits needed to transform random rituals into daily practice.
What will create a daily routine that sticks? It’s all about creating the right habits.
The key to a daily routine that sticks is pretty simple
I don’t know about you, but my history with strong willpower isn’t exemplary. So, when I first went about creating a daily ritual, I wasn’t holding my breath it would stick.
Then I discovered the extraordinary power of habits.
“If you believe you can change – if you make it a habit – the change becomes real.”
― Charles Duhigg
When you establish positive habits, you no longer have to rely on willpower and motivation alone. You can build a structure that creates momentum to carry you forward – even on days when you’d rather stay under the covers.
Following a daily routine of your own creation can also help you narrow in on what matters, minimize procrastination, and improve your health.
The first step is to focus on activities that’ll work for you. It can be tempting to mimic how Tim Ferriss starts his morning, or how Sarah Blakely finishes her day – but these routines might not work for your life. Think about what activities resonate most with you – the ones that’ll push you to become the best version of yourself – and focus on them.
As an example, if you work Tuesday – Saturday with a start time of 1 pm, it’s unlikely a 6 am date with your trainer is priority one. Look at your lifestyle first and then continue forward. The key to creating a daily routine that sticks is getting into regular and consistent patterns to form habits.
The best daily routine for success is YOUR OWN
Here are the four questions you should ask when setting up your daily system:
- Are you prepared for the rest of your day?
- Does it get you closer to a value or goal that’s important to you?
- Is this something that makes you happy?
- Can this activity be sustained?
An effective daily routine can be found in the answers to these questions. Ideally, you’ll combine all four to create the ultimate day.
Why I gave up my membership in the #5amclub (and never looked back)
Before we dig into the essential parts of a daily routine, let’s put an old debate to bed. Over the past few years, word on the street has been that early risers are the “disciplined ones.” Bounding out of bed each day at 5 am to go for an eight-mile jog (#chasingsunrise), high-fiving passersby with joy and motivation.
Night owls and late(r) risers, on the other hand, filter through a different lens. Lazy, directionless, and disorganized are just a few of the gems thrown around. However, getting enough sleep and waking up according to your body’s natural rhythm can ignite a far more productive day than forcing yourself out of bed hours before your brain is ready. That there’s a recipe for burnout.
It also sets the stage for disappointment. A night owl can’t force themselves to wake up before the sun regularly without backlash from their body. To give yourself the highest chance at building a habit, you want to work with your natural rhythms, not against them.
If you’ve always been more productive in the evening, stop fighting that impulse and instead adjust your routine to take advantage of your most creative hours. Set aside time to work on your drawing, diversify your skill set, or spend time on a hobby.
The epic rise of the night owl
Late risers can find comfort in the productivity of Reddit’s founder Alexis Ohanian. Not getting to bed before 2 am most nights, he’s rarely up before 10 am. In spite of that, Ohanian made it to the Forbes 30 Under 30 list two years in a row, and at last check, Reddit valuation is $1.4 Billion (not too shabby).
If that’s not enough reason to embrace your night owl tendencies, recent studies have found we’re:
- More intelligent
So, the next time a friend asks what time you got up in this morning don’t be ashamed if it’s after 5 am – you’re doing just fine on your own rhythm.
Time to get your mind on the right track
“The mind is just like a muscle – the more you exercise it, the stronger it gets, and the more it can expand.”
If you analyze productivity experts’ daily routines, you’ll find a few things in common. Almost all have an element of focus on the big picture: goals, gratitude, and targeted planning.
Without clarity of mind, it’s challenging to focus on even the smallest task. Let’s look at three ways you can narrow in your laser with these daily routine examples:
The reason a tech-free morning will set you up for success
Picture this: The sun is shining in, you’ve just woken up, and for a moment you’re basking in the quiet peace of the morning. You reach over to grab your iPhone, and the spell breaks – emails, texts, DM’s – you’re thrust into someone else’s schedule. When the first thing you do after you wake up is reach for your phone, you become reactive – and what we’re striving for is proactive.
Begin your day focused on yourself by staying unplugged from the online booking that came in overnight, the drama playing out in your text messages and the world according to Twitter (it’s never good news anyway). At the very least, wait until after you’ve gone through your morning routine.
Close your eyes and let your mind run wild.
There’s no better way to start your day than visualizing how you’d like it to unfold. Be as detailed in your mind as possible and stay positive. If you struggle to picture how you want your day to turn out, whip out a notebook, and write everything down instead.
Visualization works alongside your subconscious mind, a powerful connection that’s eager to soak up your vibe (good or bad). The more often you focus through this practice, the easier it becomes for your mind and body to align on your goals.
Your new daily routine maker is in your junk drawer right now.
Pull out that $1.29 BIC pen you tossed into the drawer and dig out the journal you bought intending to write in (someday). Taking the time to write every day improves your skills as a communicator makes you more creative and can increase happiness. Whether you want to list five things you’re grateful for, knock out ten big ideas or free flow, the goal’s getting into the habit of putting words on the page.
Let’s prepare your body for battle (ahem, work)
“The successful warrior is the average man, with laser-like focus.”
— Bruce Lee, actor, and martial artist
You might not see your daily workout as an essential habit to create. The struggle to pull yourself out of bed can feel like an uphill battle, let alone having the first person you interact with be an overly enthusiastic spin instructor.
Know that you’re not limited to the bass-filled Soul Cycle room or action-packed Muay Thai class to see benefits – you simply need to move. After a night of sleep, you’ve been inactive for hours, and it’s time to get the blood coursing through those veins. Send a shock-wave to your brain to signal hibernation is over.
Here are two ways to get your body in fighting form that doesn’t involve the gym:
Breathe the air in, breathe the stress out
Your body (and brain) cannot function without your breath, and the more you can train yourself to control its rate, the easier it’ll be to:
- Reduce stress
- Recover from a hard workout
- Sleep better
- Improve your focus and clarity
There are several breathing exercises you can choose from, one of the most popular being the Win Hof Method. Practicing the following sequence helps to release more energy, influence your nervous system, and change various physiological responses.
According to Win Hof, “You are inducing voluntarily a short stress response which ultimately will lead to more resilience towards everyday stress, mentally and physiology and feeling more in control.“
Here are the steps:
- Get comfortable
- 30 Power Breaths
- Retention after exhalation
- Recovery Breath
For full details, you can check out the Win Hof Method breathing exercises here.
To wake up refreshed you need to stick to a nightly ritual
Your key to a rewarding daily routine that sticks begins the night before. While there’s no “perfect” amount of sleep (everyone is different), the National Sleep Foundation has recommended a window of 7-9 hours sleep for those between the ages of 26-64.
Many indicators will let you know which side of the scale you fall on – are you happy and productive after seven hours, or do you nod off on the way home from the shop? Either way, to get the optimal amount of shut-eye for your body, you need to practice good sleep hygiene (and I don’t mean having a shower and brushing your teeth before you go to bed).
Let’s look at what you should do to set yourself up for a smooth transition to dreamland:
- Try to stick to a sleep schedule, even on weekends (at the very least get up at the same time daily, bedtimes can vary).
- Practice a chill-out bedtime ritual that doesn’t involve Netflix.
- Exercise daily.
- Make sure your bedroom is cool, dark and quiet (no sleeping to the calming sounds of Law & Order).
- No lumpy mattresses and ten-year-old pillows.
- Nix the alcohol and caffeine well before bedtime.
- Ban electronics one hour before you turn out the lights.
Round out your daily routine by taking a walk on the spiritual side
Before you skip this section (We see you rolling your eyes over there). We’re going to cover your spirit in the broadest possible sense, no mention of religion or discussion of the afterlife. Instead, we’ll look at three ways to live in the moment and find focus before you take on the day.
Do some bicep curls for your brain
“When you have one foot in the future and the other in the past, you piss on the present.”
– Dan Harris
It can be terrifying to begin a meditation practice. The idea of sitting quietly with your thoughts for even five minutes is intimidating. Your mind can go to places you didn’t even know existed.
One moment your thinking about when the “big one” might hit and the next, you’re wondering what level of Mario Kart you beat in seventh grade. Keep in mind this is just in minutes one through four. However, if you persevere with meditating, it can lower your anxiety, help you become less reactionary, and give you time to be still.
You may struggle with the idea of sitting down, closing your eyes, and trying to figure out how to start. What do you do when a thought pops up? Are you supposed to focus on your breath? Starting with a meditation app to guide you and take away some fear of “not doing it right” can be a helpful transition.
Here are a few popular apps:
Be thankful for the seemingly insignificant things
How often do you sit down and reflect on your life? It’s a practice many of you may not prioritize; however, writing five things you’re grateful for daily for will do a few things:
- It helps you appreciate those things in your life you may have been overlooking.
- You become a more positive, mindful, and attentive person.
- You realize how fortunate you are for what you have.
- It amplifies positivity in your life (the more parts of your life you’re thankful for, the more positivity you draw in).
You can choose to combine this practice with your meditation (here’s a good gratitude meditation), or with your writing if you’d like to reflect with a physical reference.
Amelia Boone is a corporate attorney, obstacle racer, and ultra runner who’s a certified badass. Amelia also posts her daily gratitude journal on her Instagram stories. Check out some of her posts for inspiration if you’re feeling stuck getting started.
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Shift your mindset on creativity
We all start with the same 24 hours in our day; it’s how we use them that’s the differentiating factor. If you spend your morning in a whirlwind; dashing from your bed to the car then to work without so much as a thought about yourself, you’re missing out on an opportunity for growth.
What inspires you? Music, art, a great novel? Carve out time in your routine to fill yourself up with your chosen medium. If you stop learning, you cease to grow, and no one wants that. Don’t look at creativity as an indulgence, but as the get-up and go that’ll inspire you to greatness.
Your best daily routine for success will be forever changing (roll with it)
You aren’t the same person you were last year. Heck, you might even be a different person than you were last week.
Don’t put pressure on yourself to keep your daily routine the same as you grow, take on new challenges, and uncover new goals. If your daily routine feels like forcing a square peg into a round hole – make a change — Sub in another activity that makes you feel empowered and stoked to get into your day.
Your best daily routine for a healthy life is personal to you. Don’t let yourself be tempted and thrown off course by the latest trends or well-meaning celebrity advice. Cultivate your own daily rituals and use them to live out your best life.