Last week I posted my new daily routine, which I reworked following a few changes to my day to day circumstances.

This week, I’ll dive into some of the principles I used to go about constructing my daily routine. Many of these are from James Clear’s Atomic Habits (Disclaimer: affiliate link), which I found as a really good source of ideas if you are trying to rethink your routines and habits.

Make it obvious

Atomic habits talks about combining good habits with something you already do (‘habit stacking’), or something that is part of your normal routine.

I used this principle to pair Skype meetings with using my sit stand desk, and with drinking water. Any time I have a meeting I stand up at my desk and use the time to sip away at my water. It’s habits that don’t interfere with the main task, and actually help me focus more on the meeting as I’m not looking at my email or browser at the same time.

I also use my commute time as a trigger to drink water on the journey. My partner is usually driving (we carshare) so it’s a good use of this ‘dead’ time whilst still being able to have a conversation.

Make it attractive

I’m not a natural fitness junkie, it’s not appealing for me to go and work out. To help make it more attractive I listen to podcasts whilst I’m in the gym, but it’s the only time I allow myself to listen to them.

My favourites are The Minimalists, and Aussie Firebug and The Mad Fientist, but I only get to listen to them if I go to the gym.

I also do this with ‘deep work’ sessions, by not trying to combine these with using my sit stand desk. My ‘reward’ for doing deep work is that I can stay sat down for the entire period.

Make it easy

This principle is about reducing any possible friction that might stop you from performing a habit.

For me, this is mainly about packing my bag and preparing my gym clothes the night before, and getting an early night. Even the smallest thing can make a big difference at 6.45am when my willpower is at its weakest. I have everything ready in my workbag (see my previous post for my workbag checklist), my lunch packed and ready to be grabbed from the fridge, and my gym clothes right next to my bed.

On Sundays I batch prep my lunches (see my previous post for five recipes for heathy batch cooked lunches) so that the easiest option during the week is to take whatever I have pre-prepared.

Make it satisfying

James Clear talks about creating an immediate reward that accompanies good habits.

The main way I do this is by creating tasks for each of my habits in my weekly work diary, that I then get a buzz of satisfaction from checking off (yes, I’m very type A!). I make a daily task for using my sit stand desk in the AM and PM, and for reaching 1L of water drunk by the end of the work day. My weekly gym sessions are a bit more flexible, and go on my weekly personal task post-it note.

I also use this principle when eating a healthy lunch, deliberately recognising and appreciating my improved energy levels in the afternoons, which is the immediate benefit.

Identify where the choice is

Something that is talked a lot about in Atomic Habits, but is not part of the ‘checklist’ is identifying where or when the choice is made to go through with a positive habit, or give in to a negative habit. This made me think a lot about when my willpower is strongest, and what small barrier I need to overcome to go ahead and practice my habits.

For the gym in particular, my decision is made when I get changed. I never ever get into my gym clothes and then not go and do a workout, so I know that I need to make getting changed the easiest part of the process.

For any evening habits, I know that once I have eaten dinner I want to sit and relax, so I eat slightly later and get ready for the following morning and work on my personal projects beforehand.

Eat the frog first

This is Mark Twain quote, which means doing the thing you dislike the most, or find the hardest, first. With habits, I’ve found it easier to stay consistent by doing the hard but important ones earlier in the day.

Mornings are not my best time for working out, but it is the best time for building a consistent workout habit, as evening workouts are at the mercy of whatever happens during the day. If things happen and I need to work late, I give up my workout even if I’ve started work early. If I’ve already done my workout before I begin, I can stay late if needed without feeling guilty about missing my habit.

Similarly, doing ‘deep work’ first allows me to make at least some progress on bigger projects before I get sidetracked with responsive work, which includes emails. I have two sessions scheduled into my ideal daily routine, although the second session only gets fitted in on a couple of days, making the first session very important.

Include time for everything

Apparently Elon Musk divides his entire day into 5-minute blocks. There’s no way I want to be that granular, but in creating my daily routine I did make sure that I included enough time for all elements of tasks no matter how small.

This meant giving myself enough time not only for a gym session, but also to take a shower and change afterwards. My lunch break includes the time it takes me to heat up my food, eat, and to wash up afterwards.

It’s not just about performing the habit once, is also about resetting ready for the next task.

Trial and error

Like most of the productivity approaches I try, I always review and revise what i do, and my daily routine is no different.

In general it takes me about a month to establish a new routine, or find ways to incorporate a new habit. During this time I try the habit at different times of the day, using different types of activity, continuing to identify the highest point of friction and removing it, and weighing up whether some habits are even worth it.

Have you had success with any of these principles in building a daily routine?