Part Three: 5 Steps for Creating a Routine that Works

I’m a planner.

This surprises exactly no one that knows me, but it’s still fascinating to me. I’ve spent copious amounts of time over the years researching this part of myself. I’ve learned I’m a One on the list of Enneagram personality types and a Myers-Briggs INFJ, but I was also trained by old school project managers who live and die by, The Plan. Whether a result of nature or nurture, planning and organization are two traits that are deeply ingrained in who I am.

I value productivity and get a boost from accomplishing something challenging. It why I chose to write about cultivating healthy habits in this blog series. I’ve seen the benefits of establishing a routine that elevates a creative practice. I’ve put in the work and seen the results. And yes, I may be the kind of person that gets giddy over the prospect of testing a new organizational tool, or whose calendar looks like a rainbow exploded, but – even if you’re not a person who operates this way – maybe you can at least relate to the pride that comes from closing the book on another one of your creative projects.

It’s a high like no other, and one I want to experience over and over again. It’s so easy though, to get sidetracked by life, to get distracted or bogged down by the details.

Almost four years ago, that was me. I was working full time and struggling to carve out enough of my remaining waking hours to focus on my passion. I knew what I wanted: To write every day, and I’d done enough research to know how and where I was spending my time. Now, I just needed to rearrange the puzzle pieces in a way that fit.

Part Three: Declutter

When I say, “declutter” I’m not suggesting that you physically clean out your office, bedroom, or basement. Well, maybe I am, but my point is, you don’t have to adopt a minimalist attitude to start a routine. You just need to think about your schedule of events, not as a series of disparate competing forces designed to ruin you, but as a synchronization of the right activities at the right time. You know, a place for everything and everything in its place.

For example, I mentioned in a previous post that I’m a morning person. I’m most focused early in the day before the inevitable barrage of life stuff makes deep work challenging. Unfortunately, at the time I decided I wanted to commit to writing every day, I was spending my weekday mornings commuting to the office. Before that, I was at the gym. Rising early to workout was a priority then, and now. Even though I wasn’t exercising every day, that part of my routine was working and wasn’t something I wanted to change.

Instead, I locked myself in a conference room during my lunch hour so I could work and eat at the same time. Each floor in my office building had private cubby rooms that were first come, first served for employees that were almost always vacant during the lunch hour. On the off chance they were all full, I would reserve an empty conference room for an hour and dig in.

I did that for an entire year. Rain or shine, that hour was sacred. I made it a point to grab morning coffee with a couple co-workers, so that I wouldn’t miss out on socializing with my team, or we’d go to happy hour or out to dinner after work. Lunch was around 12pm on most days. Some days that would change, but it didn’t matter because, regardless, I knew how I would spend that hour. It wasn’t a morning hour, but it was still one that arrived every day, and time I could use to work toward my goal. Discipline. I know. Even though I’m a romance writer with enough dirty words in my repertoire to make the average person blush, that word strikes a chord all its own.  Just hearing it said aloud can cause feelings of trepidation, shame, or even outright panic. Some of us are more regimented than others (control freaks for the win!), but even though a developing a habit does require deliberate action on your part, you can start slow. It’s like riding a bike…with training wheels.

Timeboxing is one of the most effective methods I use to build any routine. It’s literally a visual depiction of intent, the ultimate system to use for decluttering your schedule and eliminating the waste. It’s also consistently ranked one of the most useful tools in any productivity toolbelt. Blocking time on your calendar to engage in certain activities gives you control over your schedule and the confidence you need to get things done. And, it looks pretty, too.

There’s something about seeing that color-coded box on my digital calendar that drives me to focus on one thing at a time. Weird, I know, but still true. I use this method in work and life and – even though I maintain separate calendars for both – it never fails to keep me on task.

So, what does a timeboxed calendar look like? In preparation for this post, I consulted my Google Calendar from 2019, when I was just beginning to experiment with this technique. Here’s what it looked like (from the Schedule view). You can see that large chunks of time were still dedicated to work but getting that email notification at noon everyday reminded me it was time to take my lunch and switch my focus to writing. I also blocked time for a writing class I was taking at the time and for exercise.

After a particularly rough week, it’s great to be able to look back at my calendar and remind myself of what I accomplished. Not only that but, in looking at my schedule this way, I discovered I had even more time than I thought I did. For example, have you ever given much thought to how you spend your time in a doctor’s office waiting room or on a train platform? Or how about in line at the grocery store the weekend of Super Bowl Sunday (just say no, my friends)? Once I started timeboxing, it became much easier to recognize these opportunities and I found myself using even this time more wisely.

Another tip: if you’re a social media fan and tend to spend precious minutes scrolling through your feed at the expense of being productive, why not schedule it in? Timebox that time. If 15 minutes is what you want, then 15 minutes it is! It’s not about depriving yourself, but about making your schedule work for you instead of the other way around.

Have you tried timeboxing before? If so, how did it work for you? How long it takes to fully develop a habit is variable and, I believe, subjective but I’m betting that it’s still more than a day. Try it for a while and see how it goes.

Of course, the only constant in life is change so, in my next post, we’ll discuss how to shift a routine to fit a change in intention or lifestyle.

Happy Timeboxing!



2 thoughts on “Part Three: 5 Steps for Creating a Routine that Works

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