In the past eight years of my working life, I observed that how you do the task at hand is not the only measure of productivity and satisfaction. Your living style, priorities, patience, and certain keystone habits such as discipline, good social behavior, hard work decide how good you perform, how well you live your life, and how stable your relationships are.
All these things — living style, priorities, patience, discipline, hard work — could be practiced as habits. As Charles Duhigg said in his book The Power of Habits, “More than 40 percent of the actions people performed each day weren’t actual decisions, but habits.”
Humans live by habits. Dissolving these important things into habits and routine — that is what we would focus on in this article to make a schedule that works for us.
When I refer to schedule, I don’t just refer to work schedule. I refer to the schedule of your day, night, and week. What you do outside work, the healthy habits that you practice daily, and the work schedule that you stick to.
A schedule or a routine puts you in an automated mode rather than having to reinvent the wheel every time.
As I mentioned in the working from home article, the best sportsmen of the world also have a set routine for the competition day. They practice the schedule over and over. On the competition day, they just follow their routine. The main fight or a swimming race is a regular part of the schedule where they beat the opposite competitor— rather than focusing that the day is special and their careers depend on it.
Charles Duhigg wrote, “On the battlefield, every command that’s issued draws on behaviors practiced to the point of automation.” Routines are so strong that even at the war front the soldiers repeat their learned routine under fire without inventing anything new.
Our brain is lazy so it prefers picking up known habits and routines rather than creating something new. Even under pressure, we can trigger our behavioral routines. They make us feel complacent and in control.
Now let us look at the different schedules and daily habits that are key to success.
The Trigger Routine — The schedule that prepares you for the day.
What is a trigger routine?
You might already have a trigger schedule or a pre-work routine. You run in the morning, have toast and coffee, shower, and drive to work while classic rock from the 70’s blasts in the car.
Your brain is habitual to this trigger — a series of energizing, fun, and de-stressing activities. And when you go through them in the same sequence every day — the mind feels safe and complacent. This routine puts you in your happy and calm place.
When you finally sit at your desk with a cup of coffee, switch-on your computer for the day, text your partner that you have reached to the office safely, you are ready to dive into work. More than being happy — you are peaceful, composed, and ready. You feel that there is nowhere else you would be.
Trigger routine puts you in the right mindset.
As Josh Waitzkin, a chess and a Tai Chi Push Hands world champion, said in his book The Art of Learning, “The point of creating your own trigger is that a physiological connection is formed between the trigger routine and the activity it precedes.”
The trigger transitions you smoothly into the activity — your work.
We all do certain activities that relax us. Before a test, even children sometimes prefer a light breakfast, wake up earlier than usual to lazily shower listening to Bob Dylan — these activities set their mind right and relax them.
We are just not aware of our trigger activities. A few of them put together could form a relaxing trigger routine that sets us on the peaceful path. And instead of special occasions or stressful times of the day, what if we followed this trigger routine every morning?
Imagine. How relaxed and peaceful we would feel.
This routine could be a combination of activities when you feel most relaxed and focused. Like taking a bath, jogging, swimming, listening to classic rock, reading, cooking. Something that energizes you and de-stresses you.
This is how my trigger routine looks like —
1. A run or a one-hour yoga
2. A hot shower listening to my meditation music
3. Making breakfast and ginger chai
4. Having breakfast on the balcony while looking at the kites gliding in the sky
5. Bringing back the ginger chai to my desk as I dive into work and writing.
Even on a bad day, my trigger puts me in a known, peaceful mindset with which I can handle the distractions of the day. When I am done with the trigger routine, I feel that I have already accomplished so much. Then the rest of the day follow the same successful pattern.
Trigger routine would be different for all of us. You could build it slowly by adding one activity after another. If you start falling short of time, omit some of the activities or reduce the time that you spend on an activity.
Trigger routines could trigger your best performances. If you don’t have one, set a trigger routine for yourself.
Mentally and Physically Healthy Routine Activities that make life better.
To be successful, you need to integrate healthy patterns in your daily life. These healthy patterns not just help you live better but they also help you pull out of a bad situation rather than giving up.
Making my bed, brewing a cup of tea for myself and my cleaning lady, a run in the park — are some of my healthy habits. These activities seem small and you might ask that how could they matter or make a difference on a bad day?
Tiny, healthy things that we do come back to us during the day and make us feel better.
If I am struggling with an article, an overflowing laundry, unpaid bills, a chaotic bed, a small argument with my cleaning help in the morning — would haunt me further. But because I don’t let these chores pile up or my relationships sour, the only problem is the article. Not the things around it. Amidst the chaos, the made-up-bed makes me feel less chaotic.
I give a cup of tea to my cleaning lady every day. So even on a bad day, when I share the tea, I feel that everything is normal. The mundane keeps us grounded and reminds us that the world is not falling apart.
These regular healthy habits keep the system running.
Some of the healthy habits that you can include in your schedule to make life better —
1. Sleep early and wake up early — If you sleep early, you wake up early, naturally. If you wake up early, you can finish your trigger routine and start your work day in a relaxed manner. No rush. Sleeping early would be difficult in the beginning but with practice, you start falling asleep on time.
2. Sleep 7-9 hours on average — Scientists have established that if we do not sleep an average number of hours, our mood, productivity, physical and mental health, and patience — all get affected. On an average, adults should sleep eight hours each night.
3. Work out — As Josh Waitzkin said in his book The Art of Learning, “Physical flushing and mental clarity are very much intertwined. There was more than one occasion that I got up from the board four or five hours into a hugely tense chess game, walked outside the playing hall, and sprinted fifty yards or up six flights of stairs. Then I’d walk back, wash my face, and be completely renewed.”
Fix your workout time. Your body would then pester you to leave your chair and sweat. If nothing else, climb up and down the stairs of your building. Physical exertion helps rejuvenates, cleanses, and refreshes our mind.
4. Shower — A hot shower relaxes our body and mind. Redundant thoughts dissolve away in the water and go down the drain. Try it.
5. Dress up well — Even when I work from home, I never work in my pajamas. Our appearance and surroundings affect our mood. If we look nice, we feel better about ourselves.
6. Meditate — Even a few minutes of meditation can give you immense clarity. Meditation is like an instant powerful mind cleanser and energy booster.
7. Never miss breakfast — Psychologist Daniel Kahneman explained in his book Thinking, Fast and Slow, “Effortful mental activity appears to be especially expensive in the currency of glucose.” A big breakfast provides you the energy to settle into your day but it also keeps you going through the long continuous work hours when you can’t get up. You don’t end up feeling hungry and frustrated.
8. An end of the day family or social activity — I walk at the end of the day with my boyfriend. I go out of the home and into the quiet streets shadowed with blossoming Jacarandas and Mango trees. Do an end of the day social or fun activity with friends or family. The activity’s duration doesn’t matter. But it would rejuvenate you and keep you connected with your loved ones.
These are some of the everyday habits that have made my life easier and richer. The tiny ones such as making your bed in the morning, drying your towel, keeping your desktop arranged are specific to each individual. Find yours that would pick you up in your low moments and make you happier in your high ones.
Work Schedule —
Design your own work schedule.
Make a task list. Place the most important task against the time slot when you are the most energetic during the day. I write in the morning as that is when I am the most energetic. Maybe, coding or product designing or doodling is core to your work. Place it in the high energy zone of your day.
Here is an outline of a possible, efficient, healthy work schedule —
1. Pick up the first item on your priority list. Work on it until you finish it.
2. In between, fill your coffee cup or have a tea to re-energize yourself.
3. If the task overshoots lunch, take a lunch break — remember you have to work every day. You cannot eat lunch at 3 or 4 every day because you could not get up. Fix a lunchtime and take a relaxed lunch break. Make taking care of yourself and eating lunch on time a habit.
4. Continue with your task list.
5. Eat an evening snack or have another coffee.
6. Continue with your task list — Work for the number of hours you had thought of. Or till you have the energy. Or stop when you think you have taken care of the important tasks for the day. Try finishing work before dinner.
7. Prepare a task list for the next day — When you are done with your work for the day, prepare a task list for the next day. Then the next day you don’t stare at the computer’s screen for 10 minutes like I used to. You know where to begin.
8. End of the day work — Maybe your work involves some reading or learning. You can do that before sleeping. After my evening walk, I come back and read. Whenever I can.
Don’t try to do everything at the same time. Whenever I have tried multitasking, I ended up restless and exhausted by the end of those activities. I felt like I was juggling, without no good reason. Don’t multitask.
Work peacefully. Tell yourself you have enough time. Only then you would be fast and calm.
More important than completing the tasks is how you complete them. Were you patient and calm and mindful amidst the chaos of your day and family and colleagues and meetings? If you can confidently say yes, you are doing good. This peace and stability show in your work.
But if you can not say yes to this question confidently, you have the scope to improve. The restlessness shows, not only in your work but in the whole ensemble of your life. Observe yourself to see where you can improve. Take help of these schedules and daily habits.
Don’t think of what has already happened. Take care of the future.
You know yourself the best. Harness those insights and create the schedule that works best for you.
Let me know what is your trigger or your daily healthy routine activities. What does your work schedule look like?
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