“The strongest principle of growth lies in human choice.” – George Elliott
I’m going to talk to you about some things that I’ve learned in my journey most from experience, some of them I’ve heard in passing, many of them I’m still practicing, but all of them I do believe are true.
Life is not easy! It is not! Don’t try to make it that way. Life is not fair, it never was, it isn’t now, and it won’t ever be. Do not fall into the trap, the entitlement trap of feeling like you are a victim. You are not. Get over it and get on with it.
So, the question that we’ve got to ask ourselves is what success is to us, what success to you. Is it more money? That’s fine, I’ve got nothing against money. Maybe it’s a healthy family. May it’s a happy marriage. Maybe it’s to help others. To be famous. To be spiritually sound. To leave the world a little bit of a better place than you found it. Continue to ask yourself that question. Now, your answer may change over time and that’s fine. But do yourself this favor.
Whatever your answer is, don’t choose anything that will jeopardize your soul. Prioritize how you are, who you want to be, and don’t spend time with anything that antagonizes your character.
Be brave, take the hill, but first answer that question, “what’s my hill?” So, first we have to define success our ourselves and then we have to put in the work to maintain it. Make that daily tally. Tend to our garden keep the things that are important to us in good shape.
Where you are not as important as where you are. It is just as important where we are not as it is where we are.
Look, the first step that leads to our identity in life is usually not “I know who I am.” That’s not the first step. The first step is usually “I know who I am not.” The process of elimination. Defining ourselves by what we are not is the first step that leads us to really knowing who we are.
You know that group of friends that you hang out with that really might not bring out the best in you? You know, they gossip too much or they’re kind of shady they really aren’t going to be there for you in a pinch. Or how about that bar that we keep going to that we always seem to have the worst hangover from? Or that computer screen, right? That computer screen that keeps giving us an excuse not to get out of the house and engage with the world and get some real human interaction. Or how about that food that we keep eating? That stuff that tastes so good going down but makes us feel like crap the next week. When we feel lethargic and we keep putting on weight. Well… those people, those places, those things stop giving them your time and energy!
Just don’t go there! I mean, put them down! And when you do this, when you do put them down, when you quit going there, when you quit giving them your time, you inadvertently find yourself spending more time and in more places that are healthy for you, that brings you more joy.
Why? Because you just eliminated the who’s, the where’s, the what’s and the when’s that were keeping you from your identity.
Trust me too many options I promise you too many options will make a tyrant of us all. So, get rid of the excess. The waste of time, decrease your options. And if you do this, you will have accidentally, almost innocently, put in front of you what is important to you. By process elimination.
Knowing who we are is hard. It’s hard. So, give yourself a break. Eliminate the who you are not first and you’re going to find yourself where you need to be. Instead of creating outcomes that take from us, let’s create more outcomes that pay us back. Fill us up. Keep your fire lit, turn you on for the most amount of time in your future.
We try our best, we don’t always do our best. Our architecture is a verb as well. And since we are the architects of our own lives, let’s study the habits, the practices, the routines that we have that lead to and feed our success, our joy, our honest pain, our laughter our earned tears. Let’s dissect that and give thanks for those things.
And when we do that, guess what happens? We get better at them! And we have more to dissect. Be discerning. Choose it because you want it. Do it because you want to. We’re going to make mistakes, you’ve got to own them. Then you’ve got to make amends. And then you’ve got to move on.
Guilt and regret kills many a man before their time. So, turn the page, get off the ride, you are the author of the book of your life.
– Matthew McConaughey
“If you rest, you rust.” – Helen Hays
I have start of the day and end of the day routines. At the beginning of each day I look at what I’ve planned the night before to see if the priorities are still the same and adjust if something happened overnight that would be cause for adjustment. At the end of the day, I review what I did and compare it to what I had planned. Then, I look at what needs to get done the next day and set that down to review and execute the next day. These routines allow me to know what was done & set myself up for success for the next day. It also provides me a time for reflection, planning, and adjustment as I work towards my goals.
Reasons I have a beginning and end of the day routine:
Beginning of the day
- Gets my mind into a “ready for the day” state.
- I know what to expect and can better respond to incoming request that might adjust my schedule and plans.
- I have direction.
- I can ensure I’m working towards my goals.
End of the day
- It frees my mind – I don’t continually return to those things that need to be done in my head.
- It transitions my day from “working” to “family time” so I can be more present.
- Overnight my subconscious can work on the tasks I’ve scheduled for the next day.
- I have direction.
- I can ensure I’m working towards my goals.
My end of the day routine is pretty simple. I review what I had planned and compare it to what actually got done. My task management process exists as a combination of handwritten tasks and notes similar to the Bullet Journal, Todoist to keep track of everything I need to do, and a couple digital calendars. My notebook is the source of what I review each day because it contains any tasks that need to be created, notes I need to process, and thoughts I need to follow up on. So, the process:
- I review the tasks that were completed and update Todoist to match. Any task that wasn’t completed just stays in Todoist to be evaluated later.
- Then I create any new tasks that came out of the day.
- Review any notes that I had made and enter my time in my “time” digital calendar if I hadn’t already entered it.
- I review my tasks in Todoist, prioritizing any new tasks and picking out the tasks that need to get done the next day.
- Review my work and personal calendar for any events for the next few days making note of the next days events in the notebook.
- The tasks that I choose to do the next day are written into my notebook under the next day’s heading and I block out time in my calendar for these tasks based on their type. See my “Scheduling Your Day” post for more on that.
That’s it! Six steps and it usually takes me anywhere from 10 – 20 minutes depending on the kind of day I’ve had.
The start of day routine is much simpler. I have my tasks and priorities set from the night before, so all I really do is check if something happened over night to change those priorities and/or tasks. If that does happen, then I see what task “gets bumped” for the new, incoming thing. It may sound like things are all over the place, but it works out well for me. This is for working weekday, my days off are much more relaxed and less structured.
This is becoming a habit for me, it’s not one yet, but I think I’m almost there. I’ve added in some ritual to help strengthen the habit. Something I’d strongly suggest for you to do too if you’re going to start a routine like this. In the morning, I make coffee, grab a cup and sit down with my tools and begin my day. The end of day process doesn’t happen until later in the day. My wife and I have to get our son to one of his many sports practices, so I use that to “end” my day. This has also chopped up the end of day routine a bit. I’ll usually review the things I did that day, and fire off any emails or follow-ups that came from my notes before heading out (basically steps 1-3). Then usually before bed I’ll take 10 minutes to plan the next day ( steps 4-6).
This has been working well for me for the last few weeks.
Do you have a daily routine? If so, what’s your favorite part?
We all have the same 24 hours in a day, what you do with them determines where you end up in life. So what do you want to do? What do you want to be? You need to make sure you’re planning your day accordingly so you can do and be what you really want. The important word here is “plan”. You must take the time to plan.
Don’t let the hours control you. You control the hours.
I can’t tell you what is going to work best for you. I can tell you what has been working for me. I say “working for me” because everything changes based on needs and goals. So for now the following is my process for planning.
First I need to know what needs to get done. That is based on a few broad categories:
The goals I have fall into one of these categories. Tasks come from those goals, so keeping these in mind while planning your day is important. I try to keep things balanced. Not easy to do when work tasks seem to take over most of my day. It is good practice to keep these categories in mind though. I keep track of my tasks using a combination of Todoist and a notebook, but use whatever system works for you.
The following in a simple process I use to plan my day. I try to keep it simple and only spend 10-15 minutes at the beginning and end of each day – you’ll see “Start of day process” and “End of day process” below – planning my day. I also only plan 1 day at a time. For me planning more than that worked out.
The analog version:
Get a piece of paper and number it 1-12 & 1-12 again. Here is an example of week and weekend days:
- Aidan to school/Start of day process
- Pick up Aidan & Sports
- End of day process
- Work (if any)
- Work (if any)
- Free Time
- Free Time
- Free Time
- Free Time
Each bullet point is one of the 24 hours you have in the day. Take 5 minutes and fill in each of hour with the things you do each weekday. I also do this for the weekend days, just so I’m consistent with the habit of planning my days. I also create some “Free Time” for anything that pops up or if I just want to do nothing.
You can also use an analog or digital calendar for this, I actually use a Google Calendar so I have it with me at all times on my phone. Don’t try to get too detailed, that is a waste of time and effort. Block out time for general things like “work” or “entertainment”. That way you’re not overthinking your day, but you are leaving room to do the things you need to and want to do. You can narrow the type of work that you need to do though. Something like “Easy Work” or “Hard Work” can help to identify those items that might take more energy or focus to complete. You can then place these in your schedule at the most appropriate time. Also notice the “(if any)” I have in the list above. You can qualify your time blocks of time to allow them to be more flexible. Remember, this is your schedule. It will change, but if you plan, you have more control over those changes and how you spend your time.
Another trick you can use is to track your actual day against your planned day. On your numbered piece of paper, or in your calendar, or even in another digital calendar track what you do each hour of the day. I like doing this for 2 reasons. One, it helps me plan future days, and two, it allows me to account for where my time went. I do have to remind myself to do this. So, I have an hourly alarm on my phone that beeps to remind me to create an entry for the previous hour. The Pomodoro Technique seems like it’d be a good fit here. I’ve never been able to keep to the practice, maybe someday.
At first, time scheduling may not be very accurate. Over time though, you will be become more accurate at scheduling the blocks of time to accomplish all the things you need to get done. So keep at it, plan and track your days, then do regular reviews to see where you’re at. Compare the plan to the actual. Note any discrepancies, unused or misused time, tasks that blew out their time blocks, anything that didn’t “fit” and use that information to plan better next time.
What do you think? What works for you? What doesn’t?
Yesterday I wrote about routine and how it can help you to move forward towards your goals instead of floundering through the day without accomplishing anything. In addition to routine, or action arising from convention or habit, ritual can plan a big part in your success.
Merriam-Webster defines Ritual simply:
Something always done in a particular situation and in the same way each time.
Always doing something in a particular situation is very similar to routine. I brush my teeth morning and night and always in the same place, the bathroom. It doesn’t matter if I’m traveling or at home, the ritual of brushing my teeth happens in the bathroom morning and night.
Brushing my teeth also happens the same way each time. I put the toothpaste on the brush the same way, in the same amount. I follow the same pattern while brushing. I don’t have to think about it. I don’t have to plan for it. I’ve been doing it for so long my mind if free to think about other things while I do it. This is pretty much the only multi-tasking that I’m able to do well.
The importance of ritual is two-fold:
- Always doing something in a particular situation creates habit.
- Always doing it the same way frees your mind from the mundane to focus on more important things.
Used mindfully ritual alone is a great time and energy saver. Combining routine and ritual can make for automatic success, or automatic mediocrity. A routine of rituals where you complete tasks and create action will feel like automatic success. A routine of rituals where you look for entertainment and non-action will keep you where you are and you will be automatically mediocre.
What do I mean by used mindfully? How many times have you gotten into the car at a specific time and started heading to the store or school automatically even though your actual destination was the opposite direction? Being mindful is actively understanding the ritual you are about to begin so it is executed in a useful manner. Creating a ritualized habit of watching TV all day won’t build a business or make you a better parent. So be mindful of the rituals and habits you create.
Another powerful aspect of rituals is that they become triggers that set your day up for success. Weather it is laying out the clothes you exercise in or putting those exercise clothes on as soon as you get out of bed. Both of those rituals lead to you making sure you get your exercise in for the day. I’ve come to enjoy the little things like this that I do. My coffee making in the morning, updating my to do list in the evening, and reading a few pages of some book before I go to sleep are all rituals that I’ve added to my day that I enjoy. They are also triggers to accomplish the things I want to:
- Making coffee leads me to review and plan my day.
- Updating my to do list clears my mind for the evening so I can be present with my family.
- Reading a few pages prepares me for a good night’s sleep.
Think about the things you do throughout the day that could be turned into a ritual. Weather it’s sitting down at your desk first thing in the AM to write, or making a cup of tea and staring off into the distance as a little meditation. Ritual is something that should improve your day and free up your mind to focus on important things.
What are your rituals? I’d like to hear about them in the comments.
(of an action) arising from convention or habit.
Routine is important because it gives structure & direction to your days. When you have work that has to be done, the routine easy and provided for you. What happens in your free time when you don’t have anything pressing to get done? What do you do? Routine is the framework that your days, weeks, months, and years are built upon.
I’m not saying you will only ever have a single routine. Routines change with you as you grow, realize who you are, what you want to do, and what you are meant to do. You add and take away pieces of your routine. Some pieces may stay forever, others only a short time. Your routine drives the things you get done, your goals, your aspirations.
Let’s look at the most basic of routines. All of the things you have to fit into your day create the most basic of routines:
- Working or learning
The first 3 items will take up a good block of hours each day. Let’s say you sleep 8 hours a night work 8 hours a day and spend 2 hours total for breakfast (30 min), Lunch (30 min) and dinner (60 min). That leave you 6 hours a day during the week to do the things you want. That doesn’t seem like a whole lot does it. The routine you fit into those 6 hours is very important.
A routine that includes 2 hours of TV leaves you with 4 hours to accomplish your goals.
In addition, a routine with 1 hour of exercise cuts that down to 3 hours.
What are you going to do with those 3 hours? How are you going to spend them?
If you have to think about this, then you’re eating into those 3 hours. A routine is a tool you can use to waste less of this precious time. A routine isn’t necessarily a prescribed set of steps you take or the same tasks you do every day. It certainly can be, and part of it will be – check email, do laundry, brush teeth – it is also the way you go about things. Let me explain.
There are things you have to or want to get done each day. Those things fall into certain categories – work, play, necessities – the way you approach each of these things can be part of your routine. When it comes to work, I work from home, so I have a specified work spot in my house that is for work only. When I’m there, I’m working. When it comes to play, I’m not in my work spot. This kind of “routine” helps me to separate from and not be distracted by the work things. Saving me time from distractions that would be caused by being in the context of work when I wan to play.
Knowing what you need to do, want to do, and their priority should be a part of your routine. Use some sort of system to capture your need tos, want tos, and plans so you can turn them into explicit tasks. The system doesn’t matter, the tools don’t matter, as long as you can trust both of them. When I say trust I mean you are comfortable knowing the things you put into your system will be there for you when you come back to your system. You also know that you’ll be reminded of the high priority things and when they need to get done.
I’m not going to get into the system or I use to keep track of my things. I’m also not going to outline my routine. Partly because I don’t want to prescribe anything, but mostly because I want to hear what your routines are. Routines are so important that I’m sure you have some even if you don’t realize it. Take a minute and let me know in the comments.
My wife and I are into wine. No, not the look-down-your-nose-wine-snob kind of into wine, the kind where we like to drink wine. We like good wine, and we like to try different types of wine. So, sometimes we get a bad one. That is part of the experience though, getting the know the good from the bad by experiencing different wines. The other night over a very good glass of wine (or, two) we were having a discussion about people that we know and our friends and how well they got along with their spouses. We’re lucky enough to know some great people. We’re also lucky enough that we get along with both of the people in their relationship.
Balance, yin & yang, or whatever you want to call it is a very important part of why I think many relationships work so well. One person picks up where the other leaves off. For example, I suck at finances, Sara, my wife, kills it in regards to finances. I used to stress out about being better at finances, thinking I need to be as good as her at it. I don’t do that anymore. I let her handle it. She’s much better at it than I am. The point is I’ve let go of something I know she is better at than I am. She does the same thing.
Letting go and focusing on balance:
- Removes tons of unneeded pressure in the relationship.
- Frees up both time.
- Frees up energy.
- Allows each person to focus on what they are good at.
- Allows each person to focus things they each want to do.
- Increases trust between both people.
Everything in moderation, including moderation.
― Oscar Wilde
The point I’m attempting to make is “balance”. Don’t go all out dropping anything you think you’re no good at. Communicate, evaluate, and think about the things that cause you stress or anxiety, and see if there is something both of you can scale back on, change, or yes, drop. Then focus that freed up energy and time on something that you know you’re good at or on something you want to do. The interaction between the two of you figuring whatever it is out, and then planning what you’re going to do about it is itself something that not many people get to experience.
Just like wine, you’re going to get some good ones that work out great, and you’re going to get some bad ones that don’t work out at all. The important part is you get the experience and now know what you will and will not do. Good luck, have fun with it, & cheers!