Oh, routines. Tell me more about how boring your life is. But wait! It doesn’t have to be so. When you complain that you don’t have time to exercise or eat healthy it just tells me that you suck at time management. And (a good) routine is the king of time management.
As I was travelling last week I once again realized how important it is to have a routine to get things done. Maybe some people can “wing life” but I am lost when I don’t have my routines in place.
I find that without routines I am just reacting to the stuff that happens around me instead of proactively reigning the day. And goddammit, as my wife would tell you, I like reigning (that’s a joke). Go ahead and call me a control freak. Whatevs, I like knowing what’s coming at me.
WHY ROUTINES ARE IMPORTANT
Building life around positive routines will allow you to focus on what’s important and worth doing. We waste countless hours each week deciding on what to wear, what to have for breakfast or what to do in the gym. These decisions take away from the actual time that we should be using for something that truly matters. Such as spending quality time with loved ones, exercising with a purpose, making healthier decisions with food or just generally having a good time.
This might sound like a boring life but I believe that if you are relying on small and useless decisions to bring excitement to your life, you are not getting the big picture. By having structure and streamlining the small decisions you’ll open space for bigger things to come.
Having routines allows you to focus on what’s important, avoid the decision fatigue, and make better choices with the parts of your life that actually matter. Making tens of tiny decisions each day gets exhausting and you’ll reach decision fatigue quicker. Which in turn leads to poorer life choices. Like heroin.
Here’s some ways that I’ve streamlined my life the past few years:
1. MINIMALIST WARDROBE
I used to be terrible at deciding what to wear. Now it takes me about 5 minutes, flat. On a bad day.
I decided to only wear black 98% of the time. The 2% is dark blue. Now every time I go shopping (which I don’t do this year) I will only look at black. What goes nicely with black? Black. I never have an issue of a certain shirt not going with a pair of pants. Everything in my wardrobe goes with everything. This allows me to have a minimalist wardrobe instead of million different combinations of clothing that never gets worn.
Yes, there is still some color there from my old wardrobe but these items will phase out as the time sinks its teeth in the fabrics.
The next time I’ll have to update my wardrobe I’ll search for a plain, high quality and well-fitting black t-shirt and buy a dozen of them to save me from any decisions at all. Hardcore yes, but I know what I am comfortable in. Besides, black is always in fashion.
Side note, wearing black is a lot less confusing for someone who’s colorblind.
2. ANNUAL WARDROBE CLEANUP
Every six months I’ll go through my wardrobe and pile up any item that I haven’t worn at least five times the past six months. Then I take that pile of clothing to charity. It’s liberating to eliminate clutter.
3. GETTING UP 5AM SIX DAYS A WEEK
I don’t set the alarm for Sundays but I usually get up by 5.45am, at the latest. Unless I’ve had one too many single malts the night before.
I’ve written about my morning routine in the past. It’s something that I always tinker with to see what works the best for me. This routine allows me to read and write each morning before Colleen gets up. I write and think better when it’s dark and quiet when everyone else is still asleep. Some people can work and write in cafes but I need peace and quiet.
4. ONLY BLACK COFFEE FOR THE FIRST 4-5 HOURS AFTER WAKING UP
“OMG Joonas, don’t you know that breakfast is the most important meal of the day and that every time you skip a breakfast a puppy will die!” Before sending your handwritten hate mail, let me explain why I do it.
Not-eating during the first part of the day has taught my body to control blood sugar better. I am better at making food choices even when hungry because I can make rational decisions instead of eating whatever is in sight.
In the west, we live in a world where food is available to us 24/7, we’ve forgotten how does it feel to feel hunger. It’s good to remind ourselves every once in a while that it’s ok not to eat. I am not going to die if I don’t get to eat every three hours. It’s about conditioning your body.
The second reason is that this allows me to focus on reading or writing in the morning either instead of worrying what to eat. I feel like I think clearer with just black coffee in my system first thing in the morning.
And by the way, this has nothing to do with calorie control (but it can for you, if you want to) since I eat plenty during the rest of the day. Trust me.
If you are used to eating every two to three hours, start by adding a bit longer spaces between meal times. It might even make you healthier. There’s plenty of research to back it up.
Word of caution: this doesn’t necessarily work with everyone. Some women especially seem to react poorly to prolonged fasting. And if you have a history with eating disorders, approach fasting with caution.
5. BED BY 10PM EVERY NIGHT
Unless I’ve been out seeing a gig or something else special. I’ve written about this in the past. I know what helps me to get to sleep the best and what gives me the most energy for the next day. This is more or less the same as my morning routine, but in reverse.
6. MONDAY AFTERNOON IS FOR COOKING
Depending on the week ahead, this might be an hour or closer to three. No, I don’t always enjoy cooking and yes, it’s time away from other more enjoyable tasks I could be doing but it all pays dividends throughout the week. We know what we have for lunches and dinners and we don’t have to spend an hour to cook after a long day of work. Besides, the better we eat, the better we feel so this is worth our time every week.
I go a step further here and usually have few different dishes for lunches that I rotate from week to week. I don’t mind eating the same meals for lunches when it’s convenient and healthy. Dinners can then be more exciting or at least something different.
If you know how to cook some healthy, quick and easy meals and they taste decent, why not stick to them instead of trying to reinvent the wheel each week. You can even cook massive batches that’ll last you two weeks. This way you only need to cook every fortnight.
If we fail to cook before the start of the week we’ll be chasing our tail for the rest of the week.
THE BEST COOKING ADVICE EVER
“Leftovers” is my favorite meal because it means I don’t have to cook. Here’s what you want to do: buy a dozen or so Pyrex containers. Each time you are cooking for a meal quadruple the recipe and save the leftovers. Just keep the veg on the side and cook it fresh each time you reheat a container of food. Unless soggy vegetables is your jam.
7. ALWAYS HAVE TRAINING PLAN (NOT SO ODD)
I do the same warm up each time. Parts of it change as I evolve but the big rocks stay the same: reset with a breathing drill, open up the joints, move in all three planes and bring up the tissue temperature. That’s it.
I start each new program with a basic template of what’s planned each session. This has flexibility built in it depending on how my body feels on that day. I know some people who can rock up, wing their training and have a great workout but it doesn’t work for me. I need the structure or I’ll end up doing a bit of everything without really progressing on anything. A routine keeps me in check. Here’s a training plan if you don’t have one.
8. ONLY CHECK EMAIL TWICE A DAY
I used to open my email about twenty thousand times a day to check if there is something there. Now, I am no mathematician but this shit add up over time! I was wasting time reacting to non-urgent incoming messages when there was more important tasks that I had to get done. It would constantly stop my workflow. It would also pull me away from what is important when I used to do it between seeing clients.
Now I check it mid-morning or noon and once in the evening, unless I am waiting for something extremely urgent to come through. Not to cliche it up too much but this a game-changer.
9. LIMIT FACEBOOK USE
I’ve turned of all the notifications and alerts. The reason being the same as with email.
I do use Facebook with our habit coaching group though so it takes a bit of strength to only check-in with the group and not get sucked into scrolling the news feed. Which eventually leads to cute cat videos, which leads to YouTube, which leads to an hour or two of aimless net surfing.
If something important happens among my friends or family I usually hear about it eventually, even if I miss the Facebook post. That being said, I do open the app and check the notifications on most days. On some days I might even scroll the news feed. But definitely not in the morning as I used to.
10. DON’T WATCH OR READ THE NEWS
I’ve been slipping with this as of late, and there is a TV blasting on the gym floor at work.
I can tell that all news does to me is build up anxiety and worry over things I can’t control. As is with Facebook, if something important happens that I need to know about, I will hear about it. It’s a fact of life.
Stop complaining that you don’t have time and instead do something about it. You will not only improve your health but you will be more present with the people you’re with since you don’t always have to be thinking the next thing. Routines will take care of that for you. Start by doing a time diary and find out what things you can routinize.