How to Build a Productive Daily Routine

An effective daily routine is the cornerstone of personal productivity that allows us to stay focused on achieving our larger goals. How do we get from our current daily routine to a more effective one?

Changes in routine are best done in small increments. We start where we are, make small adjustments, then once those adjustments become routine we can make more adjustments.

1. Design and "Ideal" Daily Routine

Start by designing an ideal daily routine, but don't worry about sticking to it yet. Just make sure it has all the elements that will help meet your goals. Start with self-care (sleep well, eat well, exercise, be mindful) and build from there.

Example "Ideal" Day

I want more time to be creative, plus I need to exercise more, so here's my ideal day which incorporates both:

TimeActivity
06:00AMExercise
06:30AMGet ready for the day (shower, shave, etc)
07:00AMHealthy breakfast
07:30AMUninterrupted creative time
09:30AMWork / be productive, move during short breaks
12:30PMHealthy lunch
01:00PMWork / be productive, move during short breaks
04:00PMFollow-ups: Email, missed chats, meeting notes
05:30PMPersonal enrichment - learning, hobbies, etc
06:30PMDinner with the family
07:30PMCleanup, housework, chores, etc.
08:30PMRelax, watch TV, browse social media, whatever
09:30PMScreens off, get ready for bed, read
10:00PMLights out, sleep

2. Track Deviations

Once your routine is designed, go about your usual routine but the ideal in mind. Stick to the ideal routine where you can, but don't make a big effort. Your goal isn't to stick to the routine, it's to understand why you won't be able to stick with it long-term. Keep a log of for one full week of how and why you deviated from the routine.

At the end of the week, compare your idea daily routine with your typical daily routine side-by-side.

3. Make One Small Change at a Time

Pick one item from the ideal routine where just having the intention isn't enough to stick to it. Brainstorm ways you can make it easier. Can you make it smaller? Easier? More convenient? More fun or rewarding?

For example, if your intention is to exercise for 30 minutes each morning but you haven't been able to do it consistently, then make your intention to exercise for 5 minutes each morning.

Once you've decided on a small adjustment to your daily routine, set a reminder with your phone's alarm or calendar app to remind you to focus on this part of your routine each day.

4. Repeat

Once you're able to stick with a small change consistently for a month, go back to step three and make another change. If you're feeling motivated and a monthly pace seems too slow, go with it! Make more small changes, or a few bigger ones. When your motivation wanes, cut back, reset, and start again at step 1.

5. Revisit

Every 3 - 6 months, or at least once per year, re-visit your "ideal" day. Even if you've only made a few changes, noting the progress will help supply motivation for a few more moths. Now may be the time to map out a new "ideal day" based new insights and goals. Change it as needed, and keep going through the steps. Slow and steady wins the race.

Additional Tips for Building a Daily Routine

Not every waking moment must be dedicated to some maniacal vision of success as we often see in "productivity porn" and "hustle culture". It's okay to take breaks and it's okay to recharge. Willpower is a reservoir that has to be replenished. When your routine is disrupted or you fall back into old routines that don't serve you well, go back to step one and take things one day at a time.

Example Deviations: Problems and Solutions

DeviationSolution(s)
Sitting at my desk for too long throughout the dayTry the pomodoro technique, get a standing or walking desk
Meals aren't very healthyBatch-cook meals ahead of time
Checking social media too muchTurn on Airplane or do-not-disturb mode
Meetings keep me pinned to my deskGet a nice headset and go for walks during meetings

Broader Topics Related to Productive Daily Routines

Personal Productivity

Tips and resources to improve personal productivity

Productive Daily Routines Knowledge Graph