Organisation and productivity

How to set up a weekly routine that you can actually stick to

When asked what they look for in senior managers, I once heard a CEO say that the most important thing to them is someone who can build a sustainable team. People who can ‘just get things done’ are plentiful, but sprinting towards deadlines and putting people under pressure to deliver is not practical in the long term, and not how they wanted their business to be built.

Building a sustainable work pattern is what business leaders are looking for, and this ethos can also be applied to building your weekly routine. It should be able to be sustained even during weeks when you’re not feeling particularly energetic or when other commitments come up. At the same time, you need to build a routine that delivers on long-term outcomes.

So here’s my five steps to building a sustainable weekly routine, that sets you on the path to achieving your personal goals.

  1. Map your goals to your weekly schedule

Think about your goals that align with your life values. Most goals are not achieved in short bursts of concentrated effort, they require sustained and consistent attention. Mapping your annual goals to your weekly schedule is a really useful way of deciding exactly how you are going to achieve them. It also helps you assess whether or not the goals are too ambitious and if you have too many goals going on at once.

Here is where I have decided what regular actions I need to take to achieve annual goals. Some might not be in place forever and can be modified as your goals change.

  • Annual goal for saving money
    • Set aside time to complete a fortnightly budget
  • Annual goal for establishing an exercise habit
    • Go to gym classes three times per week
  • Annual goal for eating a healthy diet
    • Having a rough weekly meal plan
    • Establishing when meals will be prepped
    • Finding a regular time to go grocery shopping
  • Annual goal for travelling/exploring/adventuring
    • Plan trips and activities for weekends
  • Annual goal for maintaining organisation and life-admin
    • Have a time to review the week ahead
    • Setting a time to complete weekly chores
  • Annual goal for changing job to one that I find more meaningful
    • Regular job vacancy search
  1. Start putting the regular tasks into your week

Start populating your weekly schedule with your planned tasks, and add in any other weekly tasks or commitments that you want to continue but are not part of your goals. I colour code my tasks according to the goals, so I can see where the most time is being spent.

As you start to map out your week, consider whether or not what you have in mind is actually achievable and remember that you will need to factor in how much free time you want to have to do whatever you want. I started out with the aim of going to gym five times per week, but quickly reduced it when I realised that it wasn’t going to be feasible for me (at the moment anyway). As I don’t work for myself, I blocked out 9am-5pm as dedicated work time that is usually dictated by someone else. I tend to use habits rather than a schedule to optimise my work, as it can be fairly reactionary and I don’t find planning down to that level of detail useful. The only exception is my 9am Monday morning planning time, where I block out a regular session in my calendar for me to review and plan the upcoming week.

Also, think about any other weekly plans or routines that might not necessarily need time scheduling in, and include any setting up or preparation tasks. For my healthy eating goal I planned out how many times per week I wanted to bring my lunch to work, which nights I was going to eat meat, fish and a vegetarian and which nights I could get a takeaway, and how much bulk prep I wanted to do. This could then flow through to my regular shopping list.

  1. Optimise your schedule

This might take a couple of months of actually trying out the schedule to see what fits best for you and how you are most likely to be successful. Try to identify what might add a barrier to completing a task, and where you can be more efficient. 

For example, I know that I am much more likely to go to the gym if I take a class (rather than just using machines by myself) and if I go in the evening straight after work. I know that a job vacancy website for a company I’m particularly interested in gets updated every Thursday morning, so I schedule my job search for Thursday lunchtime. I set up my budget time for the same evening that I get paid. I do my grocery shopping on Friday mornings when the market is nice and quiet. I don’t include one-off tasks in this schedule, these go into the ‘Next Actions’ list of my Getting Things Done system

I found it better to start off with the most important tasks to me, and then add in others as they become established so that they don’t compete against one another. As my planned schedule became routine, I also found that a lot of other habits started click into place. I started re-packing my day-bag as soon as I got home from work so that I could be prepared for the gym the next day, and would have my lunch with me. It was easier to save money because I had my meals planned, and I was able to relax a lot more when I knew that I had time set aside for chores.

I also started to link activities. I wanted to make sure that I took a quick walk every lunchtime to break up a long day of sitting at a desk, but I also combined it with some physio stretches for my neck and shoulder, and listening to a podcast. Rather than feeling like a chore that would be easy to avoid, I had the reward of a new podcast and the added bonus of completing my physio in a really simple way (no special equipment or special location needed).

Finally, I also recognised that I really needed Sunday afternoons and evenings to be wind-down time. I needed to relax before Monday morning and get a really good night’s sleep. I specifically set aside this time to unwind and not to do any chores or stressful thinking or planning.

  1. Lock in your schedule

Figure out anything that you need to do to reduce the chance that you will skip actions. A big one for me was agreeing with my boss that I would need to leave at 5pm sharp three times a week to go to the gym. I could set up the expectation that I wouldn’t available to stay behind to work during these times, and also agreed to come in a bit earlier on those mornings. I then blocked out my calendar with ‘out of office’ times to make sure no-one else scheduled late meetings and would know that I was unavailable if they were trying to contact me.

Setting this kind of clear boundary was really helpful, and I could completely avoid any conflicting feelings about wanting to do well at work but not wanting to skip my commitment to going to the gym. Telling someone else about it also made me much more accountable, particularly when I felt that they had accommodated a request specifically so you can do the activity!

  1. Continuously review

Any system needs regular review. Check for any ‘hacks’ that you could introduce to make things easier, and check that the tasks that you are committing to still align with your values and goals or are things that you just want to do. Can you simplify your weekly routine in any way? Do you need more unscheduled, free time than you thought?

I have a mini-list of activities that I haven’t yet found an easy way to schedule into my week, but want to at some point. I don’t try and force them in until I can know what the location, method and timing is that will make me more likely to do it. Regular meditation is one of those. I have a free podcast (so I know the method that I’ll use), but I haven’t yet pinned down what the best timing is for me or the best location. So for now, it’s on hold along with a few other ‘maybe’ items.

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