If you are ready to start crafting routines that work for you, here are some tips: 

Identify and Tweak Your Existing Routines

The first step is to identify the routines you already have. Think about what you do when you wake up and go to sleep, how you make dinner, what you do when you get to the office, and so on. Are there portions of your day that are stressful, chaotic, or take far more time than they are worth? Those are the areas where you can make improvements.

For example, if you can never find your keys, make a routine of putting them in the same place every day. If making dinner takes too long because your kitchen is a disaster, start a routine of tidying up every evening before you turn on the TV. By making small tweaks like these, you’ll make a big difference in your day-to-day satisfaction. 

Attach Change to Existing Routines

When you want to start a new habit, one of the most effective strategies is to attach the habit to something you already do habitually. For example, if you want to start flossing and you already brush your teeth each night, floss every day before you brush your teeth. If you want to start walking for 20 minutes each day and you already take the bus, start getting off one stop early and walk the rest of the way. 

Tackle Change in Small Doses

If you want to improve your health, fitness, and professional prospects, learn a new language, make all of your own meals, and maybe a few other things besides, don’t do them all at once.

Make a list of everything you’d like to do and decide on the one or two things that are most important to you. Start there. Now, think of one or two small tweaks to your day that will get you closer to your goal. For example, if you want to get more organized, start by tidying for 10 minutes before you eat dessert each night. Once you have successfully made one change and stuck to it for a few weeks, add another change. 

Choose the Motivation That Works for You

There are many strategies for motivating a change in routine. For example: 

  • Make an X on the calendar for every day you complete your routine, and try to maintain your streak
  • Tell a friend about your goals, and ask them to check in regularly
  • Compete with a friend, to see who can stick to a plan most effectively
  • Create a sense of identity around your goal; that is, see yourself as “a person who eats healthily” rather than thinking, “I have to eat another salad today, ugh…”

The key to using these strategies successfully is to recognize which ones work for your personality, and which ones don’t. For example, some people love nothing more than ticking an item off a to-do list. For others, a well-laid-out to-do list makes them want to run screaming in the other direction. Some people are very motivated when someone else holds them accountable, while other people are motivated by doing things differently from other people. 

When you are planning your new routine, be realistic about what motivates you, and plan your rewards accordingly. 

For more information about ways to motivate habits, read Better than Before, by Gretchen Rubin, which contains 21 strategies for habit formation. 

Be Realistic about How Long It Takes to Form a Habit

The internet is full of 21- or 30-day challenges that promise to kick-start a new habit in just three or four weeks. Yet, the reality is, it can take several months for a new habit to become automatic. For example, a 2009 study of habit formation found that volunteers took anywhere from 18 to 254 days to form a new habit, with the average being around 66 days.

If you are struggling because a new routine doesn’t feel like a habit yet, it helps to know that it’s perfectly normal for a habit to take time to develop. 

Always keep yourself on track

Once you’ve done the hard work of establishing a routine, it’s just going to carry on forever, right? Unfortunately, no. No matter how well established your routine is, sometimes life happens. You may get sick, go on vacation, have visitors, or just get tired and neglect your routine for a few days. It doesn’t matter why your routine was broken; the key is to get back to normal as soon as you can. Here’s some tips on how: 

Don’t have an all-or-nothing mindset. Sometimes, if we feel we have to do something every day and then miss a day, it feels like failure. Then, negative emotions can set in, making it much more difficult to get back to your routine. However, remember that life isn’t all-or-nothing. If you miss a day of your routine, it’s ok! Just get back at it tomorrow.

Tweak your routine. Sometimes, we stop following a routine because it doesn’t serve us well anymore. Any time you take a break from routine, think about why. If you realize that you stopped because something wasn’t working, adjust as needed and try again. 

Remember: sometimes a routine is a rut. While routines offer a way to get some of life’s busywork out of the way on autopilot, it’s important not to let everything be on autopilot. If you are so entrenched in your routine that you haven’t changed your hair in a decade, or you eat the same thing for dinner every single day, maybe it’s time to shake things up. Change your routine, try something new, and breathe some fresh air into your day. 

A routine is any set of tasks that we perform habitually, without requiring much thought. Because it’s easy to follow a routine without too much thought or stress, routines can be powerful tools for streamlining our days.

When we pick something that used to take energy – such as debating what outfit to wear or what to make for breakfast – and turn it into a routine (it’s Tuesday, so I’ll have oatmeal, and wear the navy suit), we free up mental energy for the important decisions in life. 

By identifying areas where your life could benefit from a routine, you can harness this power of routines to help make you more productive and less stressed.


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