How to Create an Intentional Daily Routine
For a long time I thought there was only one way to have a productive day. The way numerous blog posts and magazine articles had told me. Wake-up at the crack-of-dawn, meditate, exercise, shower and dress in clothes that definitely aren’t yoga pants. Eat a healthy protein-rich breakfast and drink a fortified green juice. All, somehow, by 8am. Get to work, and continue straight-through until 5pm, taking only a twenty-minute lunch break to eat something protein-rich (what is everyone’s obsession with protein??), and a few five-minute “power breaks” to get yourself re-energised.
I thought that was what a productive day had to look like. I thought that the key to being a successful freelancer or small-business owner, was keeping to a daily routine that mirrored “normal” office-hours.
Over the past few years I’ve tried many times to follow a similar routine. To wake-up to a brutally early alarm, and race through a minute-by-minute plan to get my day off to the right start (yoga, meditation, drinking lots of water, journalling etc.). I’ve also tried to make myself sit at the same desk all day, work for eight hours straight, even if that means, in the UK winter, not seeing the sun all day. And each time, as I would sit with my pencil and notebook working it all out the night before, I would think: “This is a proper routine!This is going to make me productive! “
But it never did.
Almost without fail my fancy morning routines would be followed by a wildly unproductive day. I would feel stressed, and under pressure, tired and not fully awake, but mainly just grumpy! I would resent the pace at which I had to move to get everything ticked off, and the energy all the other stuff took would mean I’d have little available for my actual work. And because of this they never stuck, and within a few days I would be back to muddling through again.
None-of-this is to say that I don’t need some sort of routine, some sort of structure to my days. It’s so easy, otherwise, to just float from day-to-day without really accomplishing anything. The problem was not trying to follow a routine as such, rather trying to follow someone else’s routine, or the routine I felt I should follow. I was trying to work against my natural tendencies, rather than with them.
Gradually, over the years, I’ve been going a little easier on myself, and since moving to Frome a month or so ago, I feel like I’m finally edging towards a daily routine that really does suit me, and encourages me to be as productive and creative as possible. It’s still very much a work in progress, and, obviously, what works for me now, might not work for me in a couple of months, but it is getting there. It also looks completely different from a nine-five, and I’m unapologetic about that.
How I created my own intentional daily routine.
The first couple of weeks after I moved to Frome I didn’t force myself into any routine, I just let my days unfold. This ended up being the best thing I’ve ever done for my productivity, as it allowed me to see how I naturally work. The only thing I did was pay attention to when I was most productive, when I started to feel restless, what sort of work I liked doing when, and what parts of the day I really enjoyed. I’ve known for a while now, that getting outside every single day is a non-negotiable for me, and during the winter, with our short daylight hours, this means taking time out in the middle of the day for a long walk.
Here are a few other things I realised:
- I’m actually quite good in the mornings if I wake-up naturally, and don’t have to get in the shower and dressed right away.
- The light in my flat in the morning is magical (it faces south-east), and nothing gets my day off to a better start than watching the sun rise with a mug of coffee.
- I’m most creative in the mornings. My first couple of hours work are, always, my best, quality and quanity wise.
- I’m restless. I can’t work from the same place all day and stay productive. Three hours is my maximum before I fall down a social media hole I can’t get myself out of.
- I don’t like feeling rushed.
- I like having the time to make myself lunch and listen to a podcast.
- I need quiet to write, background noise to edit, and other people working around me to do the being boss stuff!
- I don’t mind working in the evenings after its dark, if I’ve been outside when it’s light.
- I hate sharing my stuff online, and I need to do this right before I leave my desk so I don’t obsess over it.
- I like practising yoga in the evening when my body is warmer. It’s a nice way to end my working day.
What my daily routine actually looks like:
This is only a very rough outline. There are often things like driving lessons (yes, I’m only just learning), and Skype or #IRL meetings which means I have to adapt it. Plus it’s what I aim for my days to look like. Sometimes, because of deadlines, I do have to spend longer at my desk. But it gives you an idea.
7.15am: I wake-up naturally around this time (I leave one blind open in my room at night). I get up, make coffee, put Radio 4 on, watch the sunrise or sit quietly on my windowsill for a few minutes. I sometimes read a chapter or two of my book as well.
7.45am: Still in my pyjamas (!) I start work. I always start with something creative, either my own content, or first drafts of client copy or content. I usually make myself breakfast sometime after 9am, and eat while I work.
10am: Shower, dress, meditate (truthfully, not all that often, working on it) and walk to my co-working space.
11am – 2pm: Work at my co-working space, or sometimes a local coffee shop. Usually writing and editing client copy or content. I do any social sharing right before I leave my desk.
2pm: Walk home, picking up any food shopping I need on the way, make myself lunch and listen to a podcast.
3pm-5pm: Go for a long walk in the fields and woods around Frome. Come home and change if muddy (usually), make myself a hot drink and settle back down.
5pm: Do another hour or so’s work, finishing off whatever I need to.
6pm-ish: Practice yoga for half an hour or so. End of working day!
Questions to ask yourself when creating your own intentional
- What are my non-negotiables? What do I need to do everyday for my mental health and general well-being?
- When am I naturally most productive? How can I make the most of this time?
- When am I naturally most creative? How can I make the most of this time?
- What moments do I enjoy the most throughout the day? How can I protect these?
- How many hours a day do I want to work? How many hours a day do I need to work?
- How long can I, genuinely, concentrate for?
- What are the different sorts of work I do? What conditions do I need to do each of these the best I can?
- Am I structuring my day how I want it to be, or how I think it should be?
I always try to remember that the goal is to be productive, to get shit done and to do my best work, whatever that looks like for me. Just because one routine works for someone else, doesn’t mean that it will work for you. We all need to find our own way of working and living.
Do you have an intentional daily routine? What does it look like?