Here’s the thing: I’m not good at routines. Or at least, that’s what I always told myself. I don’t like rigidity in my schedule. I’ve spent most of the last ten years freelancing specifically because I love having a flexible schedule. In fact, not being in charge of my own time was the #1 thing I hated at my last “real” job (which was still supposedly flexible-ish and remote).
But a couple of weeks ago, I decided I needed to get my business and freelancing back on track and get myself into a routine of sorts. And guess what? It worked. Because I created a routine that works for me.
Here’s what my daily routine looks like:
- Get out of bed and dressed by 9am. I’m a night owl for sure, so trying to wake up and be functional earlier than this doesn’t really work for me on an ongoing basis. I can do it if necessary here or there, but why force it if I don’t have to?
- Make coffee (French press + bulletproof), take care of my pets (dog and rabbit), and have a mini dance party to get the blood flowing. This usually happens from about 9 till about 9:20ish. Music makes me happy in the morning. Dancing around like an idiot also makes me happy, though sometimes it alarms my animals. And taking care of them in the morning means letting my dog out to go to the bathroom and letting my rabbit out of her cage, making sure they both have water and that the bunny has her breakfast.
- Deal with email. I often do this while my coffee is steeping in the French Press, though sometimes I wait till I’ve actually poured a cup. I used to check email in bed but never really did anything with it. Now, I try to only keep important emails in my inbox and archive everything else. I also unsubscribe from things on a regular basis. This helps reduce my overall email volume. I don’t do a ton of work via email, so there’s usually little that needs reply. But if anything does need a reply, I take care of that. I’m pretty much always done with email before 10am.
- Tackle quick, small tasks for a half hour. This includes checking social media accounts, making sure my social posts for the day have been queued, or doing any quick admin tasks that need to be done (like sending an invoice, balancing my checkbook, etc.).
- Tackle my first big thing of the day. I start this by 10:30 every morning. This is the most important task of my day. It might be client work or it could be working on my own projects. In the past week it’s included writing a chapter for the re-release of Internet Famous, researching an article for a potential regular freelance gig, and outlining a presentation. These are the things where even if I get nothing else done on a given day, if I’ve completed this task, I consider it a success. And one thing they all have in common: they’re directly related to my creative work.
- Break for lunch. My goal here is to actually get away from my desk, but that doesn’t always happen. I do take a break to fix lunch and relax a bit, though. Sometimes I’ll run to the post office or the book store during this time.
- Tackle two other “big things”. These are less big than the first big thing, but still important tasks. They could include writing a blog post for Step Three Bliss (or Medium), filling up my social media queue with fresh content, running a particularly important errand, looking for new clients, or the like.
- Check email again. This is generally my last email check of the day, where I clean out my inbox once again. I also look for anything that’s come into my email that will need to be added to my to do list.
- Set up my to do list for the next day. This is my last task of the day. If I didn’t finish something from the current day I’ll move things to the next day and shuffle around the priority of tasks. This lets me relax once my work is “done” for the day and not worry about anything I’ve forgotten, since I know what’s been crossed off for that day and what needs to be done the next.
This routine has been working really well for me. I shuffle things around as necessary (Asana boards set up with the days of the week have been super helpful for managing my to do list).
So, how do you go about setting up your own routine? One that allows for creativity?
Here are my best tips:
- Don’t try to force a schedule that doesn’t fit your natural rhythms. When I stopped trying to force myself to be a morning person, everything just sort of slipped into place.
- Start with the big things. Make sure you fit them into your routine first, or you may find that you don’t have enough time to fit them in.
- Build triggers into your day. For me, this means that when my coffee is ready, I know it’s time to get down to work. I know when my first big thing is done, it’s time for lunch.
- Be realistic with how much you can do in a given day. It’s easy enough to add something extra to your to do list if you finish your work super early. But if you don’t finish your to do list, you may feel like a failure.
- Schedule time for yourself to recharge every day. Burnout is the enemy of creativity. You can’t go at 100% for 16 hours a day. So schedule in breaks.
- Cut yourself some slack. You aren’t perfect and some days you aren’t going to finish everything on your to do list. Sometimes something will come up that will interfere with your routine. That’s okay. Don’t beat yourself up over it.
If you have no idea where to start in creating your own routine, here’s a great process you can use:
- List everything you need to accomplish in a day.
- Identify the things that cause you stress each day and the things that become giant time sucks (*cough* Facebook *cough*).
- Figure out how to simplify the stressful things and cut back on the time sucks. This will free up more time and mental energy to focus on the creative things.
- Make creative time your priority. This should be scheduled in when you’re at your most productive.
- Be as rigid or as flexible as you need to be. For me, keeping flexibility in my schedule is important. But for other people, sometimes a more rigid routine is preferred. Do what works for you.
One of the best parts about a routine is that it frees up mental energy, which can make finding your creative spark a little easier every day. When you stop having to think about your schedule every day, you can get into a better flow. Keep tweaking your routine until you find one that works for you!
Also published on Medium.