Four Foundational Routines For Every Day

Because that morning routine of yours is all well and good til you realize you’re “useless” the rest of the time.

I love a good routine. I love knowing that when an alarm goes off on my phone i have a full glorious five minutes to let my brain change gears before moving on to the next part of my day. I love having the first few micro-steps of each part of my day already planned to help get me into gear for whatever thing is unique to today.

Basically, I love being prepared. That’s all. Just prepared to do the things that are planned and handle the things that are unplanned.

[cue Mister Rogers singing: It’s such a good feeling to know you’re alive!]

Now, there’s a lot of talk online about Morning Routines, and even a few on Afternoon Routines. But the truth is that some of us need to break the day into more segments. My day is split into Four Routines with 19 subroutines spread throughout.

I don’t know how many subroutines you‘ll need to get through the day and feel prepared for the unprepared things, but here’s the Four Routines that I think everyone should at least consider using to break up your time.

1 – Your Eating & Sleeping Routine

Okay, so this is the most foundational of your routines. Without this squared away all your other routines are on their way to hell in a hand-basket. Because the results are in and — apart from breathing — eating and sleeping are the two things you absolutely need to do to survive.

People go their whole lives without exercise and sex and friends and what-have-you. But — except for the rare “cases” of mystics subsisting on air in a perpetual state of meditation — there is no argument you can make against eating and sleeping that will be backed by science.

  1. Declare yourself a morning glory or a night owl, a morning person or a late riser.
  2. Write down when you usually naturally go to bed.
  3. Write down when you usually naturally wake up.
  4. Ask yourself how often, on the schedule you’ve just written down, you feel well-rested.
    1. If you usually feel well-rested on that schedule, move on to step 5. If you don’t feel quite as well-rested as you’d like, then
    2. cross out the bedtime you wrote and write out the time that comes fifteen minutes earlier, and cross out the waking time you wrote and write down the time that comes fifteen minutes later.
  5. Commit to maintaining a consistent bedtime and waking schedule based on the times you’ve written down. Turning off glowing screens half-an-hour to an hour before bed, and having a routine worth waking up for, are the best means for this.

Now, based on how much time you’ve set yourself up to be sleeping, you know then how much time out of the 24-hour cycle you’re spending awake. And this is the information you use for planning the best times for you to eat.

  1. Start with how many meals you plan on/prefer to eat each day.
  2. Divide your waking hours into that many units of time.
  3. Pick how soon or far into each unit of time to have your meal, scheduling snacks about halfway between each meal if they seem a bit far apart, but making sure that the meals themselves are evenly spaced (time spent sleeping notwithstanding).

Note, your eating schedule should be wholly accommodated by the next three routines. Because your routines are  meant to be activated by where you are in your daily schedule as if your schedule had not been disrupted. That way, if it does get disrupted for any reason you can ask yourself:

  • What time is it now?
  • Did I miss a meal or snack? (Please don’t, please insist on making sure you’re fed over the course of your schedule’s disruption. Otherwise, eat immediately.)
  • What routine is supposed to be in effect right now?
  • Do I have time before the next routine to do this one, or should I take a breather from the disruption before the next routine since it isn’t that far off?

Which brings us to other routines, about the which there are numerous articles, so I shan’t be going into too much detail here.

2 – Your Morning Routine

When you first wake up (regardless of the time of day) you are at your best for all the things: getting hydrated, getting fed, exercising, being creative, tackling something entirely new. You get the most bang for your energetic buck doing whatever you choose to do when you first wake up .

My advice? Take action where you want to see immediate results first and maybe incorporate a few items (like exercising) that you might not do if you aren’t doing them “first thing.”

3 – Your Afternoon Routine

About a third of the way through your waking hours is when you start to notice that your energy levels are going down. This why meals and snacks and napping (if that’s a skill you possess, and — yes — it is a skill and therefore learnable) are recommended and enjoyed world-wide at “midday.” But we’ve already discussed how you need nourishment scheduled throughout your damn day.

Here, when you’re still mostly clear-headed but you know your energy is definitely on the decline, is where you do a lot of the “routine”/monotonous/repetitive tasks that may require lower priority decision-making. (High-priority, especially life-altering decisions, should always be made shortly after breakfast.)

This is a good time for editing what you wrote this morning and checking emails and prioritizing tasks for the next day and doing housework.

4 – Your Evening Routine

You’d think that winding down and relaxing wouldn’t need any routines at all, but you’d be wrong. Because in the last third of your day you’re the most tired and least reasonable you’re going to be all day, it’s important to have a system in place that does most of the heavy-lifting in getting you from the end of your day to the start of your sleep.

The “rest of the day” is called rest and not remainder because it’s the time of day meant for resting. Build yourself a little routine/system of restful activities: watching television, then listening to podcasts or music, then reading from a physical book or magazine, then lights out (this sequence is just a suggestion that helps move you away from the glowing screens and toward your comfortable bed).

Sometimes it will be resting to go out from friends and cathartically release all the drama via a high-octane karaoke jam. Sometimes it will be resting to take a nice long bath where nobody’s allowed to barge in and ask you for sh*t.

All this is to say:

Take care of yourself. Give yourself every opportunity to give yourself your best. Because what the world needs is more people at their personal best.

Also published on Medium.