I don’t know about you, but sometimes–okay, a lot of times–I feel like a chicken with their head cut off. There are a billion things I’m supposed to juggle, and it doesn’t feel good when I fall behind, be that at work or with my laundry. I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about how to feel less frantic and more peaceful, and so today I’ve put together my process for establishing a productive daily routine.
Get to know yourself.
I feel like this sounds super out there, but it’s an important starting point for establishing a productive daily routine. Not everyone works the same way. For example, I’m most productive and focused before lunch, but I have friends who are total night owls. Some people love listening to music while they work, while others find it totally distracting. I love working in coffee shops, while other people might find they get so caught up in people watching that they get nothing done. So your first assignment is to sit down and make a list of all the things that work well for you. Not for your co-workers, not for your sister, not even for the version of yourself you’re aspiring to be. That means if you’re not a morning person, don’t plan on getting up at 5 am to work out, because we both know that’s not happening. Be honest with yourself about your abilities, preferences, resources, and limitations. It will make the rest of this so much easier.
Get clear on your priorities.
Want to know a secret? No one has it all together. Some people might seem like they do, but I promise there’s at least one area of their lives they wish they were doing better in. The goal isn’t to give every area of your life 100%. The goal is to focus on the things that are most important to you and give those specific things your all. Being an adult means your focus is split in a million directions. Your next exercise is to get clear on your priorities. What I like to do is make a list of my top five priorities and then really focus on those things. Here are a list of the top five things I like to focus on on a daily basis, definitely not in order of importance.
- Nurturing my relationships
- Maintaining my health
- My personal creative work
- My job
- Creating a peaceful environment in my home
Your priority list may look extremely different from mine. Maybe your day job is just a way to pay the bills, maybe you don’t mind if your home descends into chaos every now and then, maybe you’re an extreme introvert who doesn’t need a lot of social time. All of that is totally fine and normal. Just be really thoughtful about what you want and need to prioritize, and write down those five things. I promise this is part of establishing a productive daily routine, just stick with me!
Okay, you’ve checked in with yourself and made a list of priorities. Now let’s get super specific about what those things mean to you. What is the bare minimum you can do and still make your priorities happen? This will help you create a realistic productive daily routine. Let’s go through my list again, but this time being more specific about what that looks like on a daily basis.
- Nurturing my relationships: every day I need to spend quality time with my partner, a friend, my family, or my pets. I need several social events planned throughout each month, regular text check-ins with people I care about, and a few evenings per week where I spend time with my spouse and our three dogs on the couch.
- Maintaining my health: every day I need to take my medication, and I need to move my body regularly, regardless of if that’s a full-on workout or a casual 15 minute walk. I know I feel best if I eat a high-protein diet with a lot of veggies, and I need to stay hydrated. I need to keep up with doctor appointments, therapy appointments, and going to the dentist (even though I hate it.)
- My personal creative work. I’m a novelist, and although I don’t write every day, I need to regularly spend time being creative. This can mean working on my book, thinking about my book, talking to my creative community about my work, or otherwise setting time aside to focus in on my writing.
- My job. Well, I’m lucky enough to work at a progressive, independent film production company with my BFFs, so obviously work is a huge priority for me. What this looks like for me is that I show up every day on time and work hard while I’m at the office. It also means I do stuff that helps me succeed at work, like going to bed at a reasonable time, taking my ADHD medication, and putting in place systems that help me maximize my productivity.
- Creating a peaceful environment in my home. Is this a fancy way of saying cleaning? Yes and no. Cleaning is definitely a big part of this; when my home is a mess, I’m a mess, TBH. Throughout the day and week it’s important to me to do things that keep my home clean and organized. However, this also goes beyond day-to-day chores; I love decorating my house, thrift shopping for homewares I need (or just want,) and I take a lot of pleasure in using my kitchen to cook delicious meals or lighting a candle at the end of a long day.
Okay, your turn. Take your priority list and get really specific about what that means to you.
Make your plan for your typical work day.
As filmmakers, it can be really difficult to think about our typical day, so maybe you need to map out your ideal day when you’re thinking about a productive daily routine. I work in an office, so while things get changed around when we have a shoot, I’m still able to think about my average day and create a plan. Regardless of what option feels best for you, it’s time to break down a plan for your work days that feels possible, reasonable, sustainable, and takes into account what you know about yourself and what your priorities are. Let’s take a look at mine. Here’s another reminder that what works for me might not work for you at all.
Pre-work: let the dogs out, make my bed, get ready for work, and enjoy a cup of coffee and a healthy breakfast with my spouse. During my commute, I like to zone out to my favorite music or listen to a podcast about writing.
Morning: I get to the office at 9 am and settle in with my coffee and a ridiculous amount of sparkling water. I have our morning check-in, which helps me get focused and feel connected to my colleagues. Then I take my ADHD meds and dive into my work for the day. I try to tackle the tricky, tedious, or labor-intensive stuff in the morning, since that’s when I’m the most focused and productive.
Afternoon: I always try to eat a protein-packed lunch that leaves me feeling energized and ready to finish my day strong. This is where my focus starts slipping, so I try to do easier things after lunch. I also utilize focus hacks, like walking on my desk treadmill or lighting a scented candle, to stay focused during this time.
After work: After work I like to head to the gym for strength training, or, if it’s a rest day, I head straight home. I get started on dinner early while my spouse is finishing up work. Then we eat together and do a few quick chores.
Evening: I have a few options here. I can veg out with my spouse and watch TV (currently really into Taskmaster), get together with friends, or work on my writing.
Okay, your turn. Take the time to think about your whole day from start to finish. How do you fit your five priorities into your daily routine?
Get even MORE specific.
Now it’s time to think about your creative time. Maybe you are a full-time artist, or maybe you cram your creative time into the early mornings or late nights. Regardless, make a list of things that will help you maximize your productivity during the window of time you have set aside for creativity. Here’s my writing routine: I shut myself in my office and forbid my family from bothering me. Then I light a scented candle and do a tarot pull to help my mind shift from the business of the day to the current moment. After that, I get to work. It’s a simple little routine, but it works for me. So think about what works for you. Do you need to go park yourself at a coffee shop? Do you like to do body doubling with friends? Do you like to blast music while you work?
Be ready to pivot.
If you’ve done the exercises I’ve suggested, you should be walking away with a pretty decent daily routine meant to maximize productivity and center your priorities. However, it’s important to be ready to pivot. Things are going to go wrong, schedules are going to change, and your priorities may shift depending on what’s going on in your life, especially during this very chaotic time of year. So be ready for all of that! If you know yourself well, and you’re clear on your goals and what you value, you should be equipped to handle any change of plans and change your routine to fit your life. Remember, establishing a productive daily routine is a tool you’re using to make the most of your time, NOT an edict that you must follow, even to your detriment. Stay flexible, adjust as needed, and use this tool in a way that works for you!