"DISCIPLINE IS JUST CHOOSING BETWEEN WHAT YOU WANT NOW AND WHAT YOU WANT MOST."
I've been reminding myself of this quote lately. Something I've never really been great at (ok terrible) is sticking to a routine. Sure, I've made progress in my personal and professional goals over the years, but it was always done in a haphazard inconsistent way. By nature, I rebel at the confines of a routine. I love spontaneity. I default to late nights getting lost in my writing (or out on the town in good conversation) and over sleeping the next day. I'm notorious for setting deadlines then being the first to nod and say 'Hell yea, I'm in!' to whatever comes up.
Though that might of held up in my early twenties as I crashed around NYC, in the last few years it's left me feeling off-balance and overwhelmed. I realized it's time for me to stop going the instant gratification route and commit (there's that word again) to a routine that allows me to work towards my long-term goals AND leaves room for a bit of spontaneity, of course.
After months of working and reworking what that looks like for me and a lot of trial and error (heavy on the error) I’ve finally found my rhythm. And it feels great.
Before I go any further, I want to note that this routine works specifically for me - my lifestyle, my goals, my preferences, my personality. That’s going to look so different for each one of us. My hopes is that you can find some inspiration in what’s worked for me and apply it to the design of your own daily routine.
My (ideal) Daily Routine:
I like to think of my day as a bell curve. Ramping up my mind and body as the day goes on, peaking late afternoon/early evening, then winding down until bed. Following this tempo has been enormous for my health and wellbeing.
I try to wake up at the same time everyday to set my body’s rhythm. I leave the window open in the bathroom of my little studio apartment so that the natural light comes into my bedroom (yes, my apartment’s that small) - usually waking me up before my alarm. If not, I use Sleep Cycle, an app that analyzes your sleep and wakes you up during your lightest phase. It also uses a softer gradually increasing sound to wake you up instead of jarring you out of deep sleep like most alarms (and shocking your adrenals first thing in the am).
I prop myself up on the pillows, turn the lights on the lowest setting, and grab the notebook/pen from my nightstand. I free write for just a few minutes on whatever’s coming up. Edison used to do this to access his subconscious mind (he did alright). There’s something magical about writing in that space between sleep and being fully awake. Your creative mind is alive and active at this time but still processing all of the downloads you had during the night. And, if you’re anything like me, it’s starting to race with a million thoughts. This is a great way to dump all of that clutter and clear space for the new day. A lot of people call this practice Morning Pages, coined from Julia Cameron’s Book The Artist’s Way, I like to call it Morning Purges. I’m trademarking that so don’t even think about it!
Post purge I grab a glass of room temperate water then move into my little checklist for the next hour. If you watch my stories on the ‘gram you’re well aware of Move, Meditate, Mangia (eat in Italian). Also trademarking this (*wink emoji*). Move can be anything from a quick walk to light stretching/yoga for 20 mins. Sunlight first thing in the morning does so much for our hormones and sleep cycles. I like to play my Morning Light playlist as I walk. The point here is not to workout, just get the body moving. We are still warming things up - mind and body. After I’m warmed, I sit down for a few mins of mediation. 10 at most (and even that’s hard so I feel you). I like to use the free app Insight for guided meditations or just use the timer and freestyle medi. I end my meditation with a reading from Yung Pueblo’s book Inward. It’s a great way to set the intention for the day. Post traveling inward, I make a smoothie. It’s never the same because I would die of boredom, but I stick to this template and keep it interesting.
Work Day - Part 1. I sit down at my desk and look at texts/social media for the first time. This is big. I used to wake up - scroll, double tap, and try to answer everyone right away then wonder wtf happened to my morning. Oh and my mind. I give myself 3 hours to do all of those misc. tasks like emails, smaller to-dos, and social media updates. I also try to schedule any of my calls/meetings for this time. All of that little shit that I used to put off all day then get distracted by as I tried to do the deeper work. I know this is counterintuitive to what we’ve learned about getting the big tasks done and out of the way first thing in the morning but my wild mind needs to kill the clutter first. So kill it. Flow awaits you.
My Morning Siesta commences (Trademark. It’s getting expensive). I used to think the Europeans were crazy for taking a 3 hour siesta in the middle of the day, now I’m quite sure they were onto something. This time allows me to break from the administrative stuff and transition. I have a small snack then head to the gym. It took me awhile to settle on this odd gym time, I defaulted to the idea that we should pick morning or evening, but I find I have the most energy at this point/am ready to move after all of that tedious task work.
I come home from the gym, shower and get ready.
I make lunch at home with my prepped ingredients (in short, I chop up all of my veggies and cook any protein/grains beforehand so I can mix and match healthy meals quickly). Again, like the smoothie, allowing for variety but convenience. Maybe it’s the Italian in me, but I like lunch to be my biggest meal of the day. Sticking to that bell curve, this is also the time our digestion is at it’s highest and my post workout state sets me up for even better absorption.
Work day - Part 2. I head out to a coffee shop for deep focus creative work. No phone. No email. No distractions. This is my time to work on projects I really want to move ahead. Changing locations from my home environment to new coffee shop (I like to try different ones) keeps my brain stimulated and the ideas flowing. I’ve also found that I’m a lot more productive working in natural light or outside, one of the reasons I made the switch from NYC to LA. My goal is to enter a complete state of flow and forget that I have to pee, that I want to spend $9 on avocado toast, and that my right leg is no longer with me because I’ve been sitting on it for 90 minutes. This isn’t always the case, but I set the stage for it to happen. I also try not to work more than 60 to 90 minutes at a time so I don’t lose my right leg completely.
I head home, check in on social media, and go for an evening walk before dinner. This is my time to call family and friends back on the East Coast before they all enter the subconscious realm of sleep. Since I work from home, I was fielding calls from family/friends throughout the day and missing a lot of my working hours. Letting them know I’m available after 6:00 pm and on weekends allowed me to set some healthy boundaries while making space for deeper conversations in a relaxed setting. If I’m not walking and talking, I’m out at an event or seeing friends still in the conscious realm of LA.
I make dinner at home most nights. I like to keep it simple and light (and usually plant based) allowing my digestion to power down for the night. I noticed a difference in my sleep when I stopped having large carb/animal protein heavy meals in the evening.
I get ready for bed (I’m not going to bed yet, I’m not that boring!). I like to put my jammies on, wash my face, and brush my teeth before sitting down to relax. This allows me to take it off my plate early and get zen AF. I turn my diffuser on, dim the lights down, light some candles, and press play on my moody Moonlit Waves playlist. I have this time written on my calendar as Write & Manifest. I’ve just spent most of my day handling present matters - email, social, phone calls, projects, etc. This is my time to do something I enjoy and think about the future. I can default to thinking about the future ALL DAY, making me anxious and flighty. This designated time has helped me stay more grounded.
I close the laptop of future visions and put my phone on airplane mode. I crawl into bed and might read, pray, or reflect on the day. I haven’t hopped on the gratitude journaling train but I just try to think about things that went well that day. If 8:00 - 10:00 is my time for the future, this is my time for the past.
Lights (all the way) out.
1. Divide your day into thirds. I used to see the whole day as one big blank canvas to get things done, i.e. not enough structure. Dividing your day into morning, day, and evening allows you to visualize and compartmentalize. It also allows you to reset if you fuck up the morning and oversleep, miss your gym time, or blow off a scheduled project. I used to throw the whole day when that happened. Now I just remind myself to forget it and focus on doing the other thirds well.
2. Set yourself up for a great day the first hour of your morning. I repeat this little check list; Move, Meditate, Mangia (eat in Italian). Each one is less than 20 minutes.
3. Cap your day with no tech an hour upon waking and an hour before bed. I had no idea how much screen time up until the moment my head hit the pillow was affecting my sleep. It also pays to focus on you first thing in the morning before checking in with the rest of the world.
4. Work in no longer than 60 to 90 min stints. Most of our minds start to fatigue after this mark. Just taking a few minutes to get up, get a drink, and reset can do wonders for your productivity.
5. Put your routine on a Google calendar so you see it everyday. I like to write mine out and stick it on the fridge as well as pop it into digital format on my calendar.
6. Most of your day should be spent in the present. To allow that, setting designated times to think about the future and the past makes that more feasible (or you'll default to one or the other while trying to stay present, sending your mind in a tailspin). It also allows you to move forward with your goals and reflect on your progress. Two keys to living well.
7. My last takeaway is the most important one. Give yourself some room to hone in your routine. My biggest mistake was setting a routine, rebelling against my own routine, then cracking the whip to reel myself in more the next time - leading to guilt, shame, and defeat. Those things are all pretty shitty. You are not a slave to your routine. It’s not a prison. It’s your path to freedom. Once you see yourself making measurable progress towards your goals, that reward fuels the routine. In the meantime, don’t beat yourself up when you only get 50% of it right, or hell 40%, it’s a practice. Just reset and shoot for 41% tomorrow. We are all our own worst enemies and behavior change is hard, but with enough patience, compassion, and willingness - it’s transformative.
Life by Design was born out of a need for my own self-healing after decades of unresolved illness. It wasn’t until finding the courage to look within that I discovered it was my own belief system holding me back from experiencing a truly thriving life. We all have access to that thriving life. We just need to rediscover our power and ignite the healing-self. Only then can we unapologetically live a life by our own design.