Getting started with a daily routine

A few years ago, I was fed up with the frenzy of realizing something important was due … two hours after I had missed a deadline. After much trial and error, and a little dragging of my feet, I’ve established a workable daily routine. For me, adherence to a routine is especially important. Since I work from home, I’ve only got six hours to myself while my wife and kids are at school, and enough work for much more than that. I keep it all manageable, in part, with a fixed routine. It’s all about knowing what’s coming, preparing ahead of time, and finding a “home” for key items and ideas.

The view from up here – knowing what’s coming

Before we get into the nitty-gritty of my routine, I must briefly address projects. I define a project as David Allen does: anything that takes more than one action step to complete. Therefore, “land the new client” is a project, but so is “give Jr. permission to go on the field trip.”

In Getting Things Done, Allen emphasizes the importance of dealing with your stuff “when it shows up, not when it blows up.” If you can get past the Doctor Phil-ness of that rhyme, you see the wisdom in it. Remembering Jr.’s permission slip is no good after he’s been at school for two hours.

With this in mind, I have a running list of what tasks need to be done. My list is a week long, and it lives on a bulletin board behind my desk (I’ve previously written about my search for the perfect bulletin board). Each Sunday, I review what must be done over the next week, write those actions on index cards, and pin them to the board.

Preparing ahead of time

It took me years to learn this lesson. Remember the kid who was always rushing last second to finish that paper in school?

Hello. Nice to see you again.

Today I’ve finally realized that I’m not an adrenaline junkie, and that last-second frenzy is not something I enjoy. As a result, my daily routine actually begins the night before. As evening draws near, I:

  1. Make sure the kids’ bags are packed for school and that all required papers, etc. are inside those bags.
  2. Ensure that clean, weather-appropriate clothing is available for school the next morning.
  3. Review the “home” calendar (I have a separate work calendar) for pressing to-dos (sign permission slips, special pick-up or drop-off arrangements, etc.) and act accordingly.
  4. Review what’s due at work tomorrow, make sure it’s written down, and any necessary materials are ready to go for the morning.

Your evening prep list might look different, but the idea is the same: review what’s due tomorrow — be it a PowerPoint presentation or snow boots and gloves — and get it as ready as you can the night before.

Finding a home

Being who I am (warning: one NSFW word in the title of the linked post) I tend to misplace things. Just like the sun tends to be hot. So, a part of my daily routine has been to ensure that everything is where it needs to be.

This isn’t the same as my evening prep. Instead, I’ve established a “home” for important items when they’re idle. For example, car keys are always in the Roscoe, New York, coffee mug on my night stand. Always. My coat and hat live on the second peg of the closet door. Even when I’m walking around, I know which pocket each doohicky should inhabit (phone is right front, every day).

Following these rules impacts my day significantly. I can’t afford to spend 10 minutes here and 15 minutes there looking for who knows what. I’ve done that and it’s not fun. An ongoing part of my daily routine is to put everything in its proper place as I go.

General guidelines

The website Personal Organizing has shared some good, general tips for establishing and, more importantly, adhering to a daily routine. Some highlights include:

  1. Make breakfast simple. Find something nutritious that you can routinely prepare without much fuss.
  2. Organize the kitchen and pantry cabinets. Meal prep is easier, and everyone living with you can answer, “where does this go?” all on their own.
  3. Have a good mail management system. In regards to paper mail, my wife and I have our own desks for processing this stuff, and that’s been a godsend.
  4. Get the pets on a schedule. It takes some doing, but it’s definitely worth it.

6 Comments for “Getting started with a daily routine”

  1. posted by Egirlrocks on

    Excellent post, Dave. And here’s a comment on your “being who I am” post: WOW! A real eye-opener. After years of testing and counseling, my son was finally diagnosed with ADHD in 7th grade. I say finally because I knew something was up since kindergarten but somehow he tested “within the normal range” via public school evals. I now have a better understanding of what he was going through. He even asked me to buy him a backpack that didn’t have so many pockets.

    Unfortunately he refused to accept the diagnosis and fought against the help that was offered. It was an EXTREMELY difficult time in both our lives, and we still haven’t healed our relationship. He’s been living on his own since 16. Now 21, he’s functioning well as far as I can tell, and learning to be a man on his own terms.

  2. posted by BeverlyDNP on

    Powerful post!! I have custody of my 7 year old grandson, who also has ADD, and Ritalin has been a godsend. He started out in life being told (at age 15 months) what a brat he was, which only escalated as time went by. He was known as the boy who was always in trouble. At age 5!! He did not believe he was able to be good (sit still, pay attention, do as he was told, etc). For the past year and a half, he has been happy, productive, and could teach everyone a few things about being organized. I wonder how many people in our corrections system have this disorder and are not diagnosed.

    Your suggestions, about breakfast and organizing the food stuff, are spot on. I would add one other: sleep. Go to bed at a reasonable hour and sleep. And one other: do not let perfection be the enemy of the good. Good enough is good enough.

  3. posted by Dave on

    Thanks, folks. Beverly, that’s a great suggestion! I’ve noticed that if I get fewer than 8 hours of sleep, I’m dragging by 5:00 – 6:00 the next day.

  4. posted by Laurie Buchanan on

    I enjoyed reading this great post — as a minimalist it resonated with me. I crave simplicity and neat-as-a-pin organization:

  5. posted by Caroline on

    Great advice! I’ve found that having a standard breakfast that I eat every morning saves me time and brainpower (in short supply early in the morning). The fewer decisions you have to make while getting ready, the better!

  6. posted by [email protected] on

    Agreed. Routines are SO important! My life has been crazy the last eight months and my routine has been MIA. As a result, I’ve been struggling. But things have settled down and I’m building a new routine. Aaaaah.

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