How to achieve your goals in 2020? Setting a routine that works for you
Disclaimer: This article is made for you if you have already thought about what you want for 2020. If you haven't done it yet, I recommend you start here.
Introduction: Why am I writing this article?
Many of you have asked me to write a follow-up on this article, about how to keep track of your goals and your routine. For this reason, I decided to tell you a bit about my experience and learnings in the past year.
When did it all start?
One year and a half ago, I moved from the Netherlands to Belgium.
Apart from living in a new country, I also started a new job, and moved in my partner. I knew I needed to re-build my routine from scratch, and so I went on this journey to find out what works for me
Over this period of time,I have tried different strategies. Some of them were successful, some not really. However, I have learned a lot on this journey, and that's why I would love to share some of my learnings with you.
First of all, what is a routine?
According to Oxford's dictionary, a routine is "a sequence of actions regularly followed."
This is not to be confused with a habit. A habit is an outcome of a routine, or a repeated behaviour, and it usually is attached to performing a specific action with little or no conscious thought.
Why is it important to have a routine?
The main benefits of having a routine, to me, are:
- Keeping consistency in your actions, potentially leading to (positive) habit-building
- Achieving your goals in a structured manner
- Reducing anxiety over what's gonna happen the next day - for an anxious person like me, that's a great benefit!
Some of the results that building a routine brought me:
- Being able to fit more things into my schedule, because I was able to bundle similar tasks together and to reduce the amount of waste on my day;
- Feeling less tired, because I don't have to think about what I have to do all the time.
For example, if I meal prep for the whole week, I simply don't have to waste my energy thinking about what I will eat every single day over the week.
- Weight loss (due to a better/healthier lifestyle)
- Increase in productivity: Working less hours and achieving the same results as before
"Ok, Dafne, but how do I do that? What's the secret to this amazing routine of yours? It sounds too magical to be true!"
One last disclaimer before we get there: there is no secret or magic. Building a routine is about trying and improving every day.
That being said, time to get to the point:
Some of the things I've tried that did not work for me:
If you haven't heard about Richard Branson, well then you should google the guy :D.
He is famous not only for being the founder of Virgin Airlines, but for being extremely healthy at the age of 60+.
I have tried to follow Richard's steps in terms of his routine, which consists of the following:
* Waking up at 4:30am
* Going through e-mails
* Hitting the gym/going for a swim
* Getting to the office
I tried this routine for 2 weeks, when there was a peak time at my job. It didn't work for me because I would indeed get up at 4:30am, but then I wouldn't stop working until 8am or so, which made me miss my workouts.
What did I learn about myself?
I realized my brain doesn't turn off from "work mode" if that's the first thing I do when I wake up. So, the experiment failed.
Ariana Huffington is a famous entrepreneur who advocates for sleep and work-life balance. She decided to change her life after going through a burnout, and one of the key aspects of her routine is how to finish the day. Here's how her evening routine looks like:
* Get home from work and take a bubble bath to wind down
* Go to bed at 9pm
I tried this once or twice, and the bubble bath had no benefits to me. I just didn't enjoy it.
What did I learn about myself?
That I find bubble baths very boring and pointless. I'd rather meditate or read a book. Also, sleeping at 9pm is just impossible to me given my current schedule.
Robin Sharma is very famous for his book, which is called "the 5 am club".
Instead of reading his book, I tried doing the 60 day program of Robin Sharma on Mindvalley.
How does the program work?
In a nutshell, the program states that if you become part of what is called "the 5am club", you will become more productive and achieve whatever you want in life. The program itself goes step by step to build a morning routine, and it looks a bit like the picture on the left side.
Even though I adopted quite some parts of this routine, this didn't work for me because it was just too much at once.
Also, I felt like the program was too "stiff": Robin tells you what to do and how to do it, with no flexibility to change aspects that might be relevant to you.
What did I learn about myself?
I learned that I don't like people telling me what to do and when to do it. I feel like this program pushes you to follow a "magic formula" that will transform your life, but it doesn't give you space to understand what you enjoy and what works for you.
So, what really worked for me?
The truth is, things started working out for me when I understood the following points:
- Understand what you want to achieve:
Why do you want to build a routine for yourself in the first place? What do you want to get by doing that? Make sure to go through this reflection, as it will help you map out the most important aspects to you.
- Define your priorities:
Based on what you want to achieve, and looking at your life currently, what are the areas that need the most attention? What do you want to focus on? Once more, if you haven't done this, take a look at my former article about setting goals for 2020. It includes a framework to go through the areas of your life and assess them.
- Pick your boundaries:
What is non-negotiable to you? For example, it can be that a non-negotiable to you is to meet your friends every Wednesday for drinks. Or maybe you are a night owl, and your most productive time is at night. Whatever it is, start by what matters to you the most, and then plan your routine based on these points.
Some non-negotiable points to me are hitting the gym first thing in the morning, because it just makes me think better. That means I have to wake up earlier than most people do, and also to plan my morning meetings for 9:30am or so.
- Take it one day at a time:
Do not try to change your life completely at once. You will need to adapt, and that requires taking the time to reflect on potential improvements.
Starting your routine 101
This is what I call the "Build, learn, measure" method. Since I work with lean startup, I will steal Eric Ries' methodology , which based on the scientific method.
Starting on the weekend:
List out all the elements of a routine that you believe might work for you
Put them in order of priority
Take the most important ones, and now look at your week ahead: what are your goals? What is on your agenda?
Make a detailed plan for the upcoming days
Make the necessary preparations (example: cook food, prepare clothes, etc)
Then, try following this schedule for two days. By the end of day 2, look back and make small adjustments to your routine.
By the end of the week, take at least 30 minutes to go through the following reflection:
What went well?
What didn't go so well?
What have I learned?
What can I improve for next week?
Some tips and tricks:
Keep a journal, or a calendar, or a tracker - whatever works for you!
I personally keep a bullet journal, which looks like the one on the right side. However, if you prefer to do this on your phone, or somewhere else, feel free to do so as well.
Document your progress
I have already talked about the importance of documenting your journey on a visual way. It is an excellent reminder of your goals, and also it helps you to look back and see how much you've achieved when times are hard.
Revisit your schedule every night
I know I have already mentioned the importance of planning ahead, but I would like to repeat it: even though you can have an overarching routine, and also roughly plan your week on Sunday, it helps if you double check your plans every night.
The reason for that is simple: I haven't met many people who have the same day, every day. My weeks, for example, vary a lot, based on where I am, how my job is going, which projects I am running, etc. it is just impossible to be the same every day.
On the left side, you can find an example of how I plan my day, every night.
If I could summarise this whole article in two points, they would be:
1. You have to work for your routine, but your routine also has to work for you
Often times, we tend to believe there is an absolute truth about building a productive routine. However, the best routine is the one that works for us. It is something individual, that can't be copied.
2. Building a routine is about being 1% better every day
Again, there is no magic secret for a routine, and you will not become 100% satisfied with it from one day to another. Therefore, I recommend you follow the 1% rule: improve just 1% each day.
The idea is that if you do this, practice will come with time.
Stop focusing on the end result and start paying attention to the process, because that's what matters. And if you don't trust me, below's how valuable tiny gains are:
“We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.” - Aristotle
I hope you enjoyed reading this article as much as I enjoyed writing it!
If you did get something out of it, please do share it with the people you believe it could positively impact.
Also, here are some resources/suggestions that could be relevant to you: