Are you feeling frazzled? (Like ALL the time?) Are you stressed out? Do you have a hard time with day-to-day consistency? Maybe your goal is to get the kids into bed by 8pm every day, but half the time dinner isn’t even done until 8pm, so by the time everyone gets down it’s 9pm or later.
Routine is hard. I know.
A short time ago, a friend asked me for some help establishing healthy daily routines. Well, he wanted me to help him “get his life in order”—and to be successful, a huge part of that was helping him create a regular schedule.
Here’s the thing about creating a daily routine: all those little actions add up to become habits. It takes about 30 days to form a habit, but I swear, from Day ONE you’ll start to see real changes in how much you’re accomplishing and how you feel every day.
From Stressed to Satisfied…
When my friend came to me, he was unhappy and stressed out in a lot of areas of his life. He wasn’t accomplishing things. He wasn’t healthy. He felt like he was overwhelmed, behind, and even depressed.
But, just like I told my friend, once YOU begin to establish life routines and plan your time, each day becomes a little easier. All those little to-dos become automatic. You’re getting stuff done and you’re kicking butt!
The hardest part about setting up your daily routines is getting started. The second hardest part is when you get frustrated and overwhelmed, or when you run into something unplanned…so you give up.
Instead, I want you to try something different this time.
Rather than doing a total life overhaul, I want you to just take on a couple changes at a time. Maybe even just one change, for now. I want you to add those one or two changes to your routine, then build on it from there. Eventually, you’ll establish a successful daily routine!
I’m going to break it all down for you, just like I did for my friend. As soon as he started to establish some easy daily routines, he was able to feel more control over his schedule. He was suddenly able to get more done and see results…leading him to feel happier, healthier, less stressed, and more fulfilled.
On a weekend night (assuming you work weekdays), sit down and start your plan for the week. Within 6 weeks, you’ll have established a whole set of regular daily routines!
You can do this!
Routine Week 1: Establish the Framework
For the first week, all I want you to do is identify the areas you want to work on. Which places in your life make you feel upset, overwhelmed, or sad?
If you’re a working mom, your list might include:
- Fitting in time for exercise/fitness
- Spending more time with your spouse
- Spending more quality time with your kids
- Keeping up on household chores
- Leaving work at the office
- Not being late to work/feeling rushed every morning
- Getting a handle on your finances
- Getting more sleep
Don’t focus too much on the details (like “wish we had a weekly date night” or “we spend too much on entertainment”). Instead, aim for general areas of focus.
For week one, that’s all you’re going to do. Just figure out what areas you need to work on or what you’d like to get a handle on.
Routine Week 2: Create a Daily Schedule
This week, you’re going to tackle creating a daily schedule. Plus, you’re going to start working on at least one thing on your list from Week 1.
Again, keep it simple. So often we think, “Well, it’s 6:05am and I missed my alarm, so now I can’t work out.” A 10 or 15-minute workout is still better than nothing. Just pencil it in—and tell yourself you’re going to do it, no matter what.
I want you to get a cheap planner or calendar, or print one off. (You can use an electronic calendar if you like, but I find the act of writing things down solidifies them a little more.)
Your biggest enemy right now? You’re probably going to try to get everything done perfectly. So instead of stressing out about it, simply pencil in what your “ideal” daily routine would look like. Again, don’t aim for anything over-the-top right now—like “scrub the floors daily” or “join a gym and go six times a week.” If you’re starting at zero let’s make this attainable.
Your ideal daily routine might look something like this:
- Get up at 6am to walk/run.
- Eat breakfast.
- Take lunch to work.
- Be on time to work.
- Unplug when you get home from work.
- Help kids with homework.
- Warm up/make dinner according to a meal plan.
- Eat dinner as a family.
- Do all the dishes and run a load of laundry.
- Get the kids in bed by 8pm.
- Review and take care of paperwork for the day.
- Spend at least an hour doing something for myself (reading, watching a movie, blogging, etc.).
- Do a quick run-through pick-up of the house before bed.
- Set out work clothes and workout clothes for tomorrow.
- Be in bed by 10pm.
Your list should be NO LONGER than 12-15 items. This isn’t a step-by-step outline of your day, just a rough guideline. This should be your normal “weekday” routine. (Your weekend might include more chores, shopping trips, etc.). If you have items on your work calendar, those shouldn’t be on this list. This is about establishing daily routines to help you balance your work, life, and family time.
If you work from home, you’ll make a similar list and simply block out your work time, naptimes, etc.
Now, I want you to pick one or two items on your routine. Those are going to be our focus for the week. For this list, I’m going to pick number 1 and number 9.
For the next week, commit to doing just those two things regularly, during the allotted time. So, if you’re getting up at 6am to walk/run, that’s going to be your focus. If you get up at 6:10am or even 6:20am, I want you to still put on your gym shoes and go for a walk. Even if you can’t get the full routine in, it’s about establishing the basics.
It takes 30 days to establish a habit or make something into a daily routine. Even if you can’t be perfect, going through the motions will help it set in your mind.
As far as laundry and dishes go, these two household chores are the cornerstones of being able to “keep up” on housework. These basic life skills can make all the difference between feeling overwhelmed and giving up, and feeling like you have a handle on things. Every single day, run the dishwasher (or wash your dishes as you use them). Find three baskets to sort your laundry (whites, darks and colors) and put your dirty laundry in the baskets. Don’t wait until the load piles up. Just take care of it as you go.
If you do those two things, then you’ll start to immediately see results. I promise. And seriously—committing to regularly doing the dishes and laundry will change your LIFE. You can do this!
Week 3: Establish a Pantry
So now we’re on week 3. You’ve tackled a couple of items from your list, and if you’re doing them each day, you’re probably starting to see a difference already! Really give yourself props for what you’re doing. Change isn’t easy!
When I was helping my pal figure out his routine, one of the things I knew about him was that he was struggling with finances and time management. He was eating out quite often, which was hurting him weight-wise, too. And, since he wasn’t planning out his meals, he was spending tons of money going out to eat, plus wasting tons of time going to the store all the time because he needed “stuff.”
To solve this, we established a “Walmart” for him, right in his home. This might be your pantry, your storage room, or a closet. This is going to be where you’ll house your six-month supply of basics: toothpaste, diapers, and toilet paper. You’ll also need some quick-and-easy pantry meal items like peanut butter, crackers, pasta, salad dressing, tuna fish, canned chicken, rice, beans and vegetables. You may also want to stock up on powdered milk, some breakfast bars or cereal, and easy dinners like mac & cheese, spaghetti, or Hamburger Helper.
This at-home Walmart is going to be your go-to spot to keep you from running out to the store all the time.
Sit down and make a list of all the “basics” you usually end up running to the store for—plus all the items you could use to make a quick meal in a pinch. You don’t need to have everything you use regularly (like fresh foods, special facewash, treats, your makeup, etc). Just the things to keep you from unexpected store trips. You’ll want to eliminate those weeknight disrupters when you have to run out for something to eat or when you realize you’re out of TP at the last minute.
Make your list, then go to the store and stock up. This trip might be a little expensive, yes, but trust me: get what you’ll need to stock your pantry because it’ll save you in the long run. If you’re trying to get a handle on your finances, this might seem counterintuitive, but look at it this way—over the course of the next couple weeks, you’ll probably spend at least this much money (probably more) on unplanned trips to the store, where (admit it) you’ll probably buy extra stuff you don’t really need each time.
Continue to do your Week Two routines—yet now I want you to add one more item. Maybe it’s to eat dinner together as a family. That doesn’t mean you have to eat every meal at home (because that isn’t the item you’re tackling yet). You just need to be together. Maybe you all eat together at home two or three nights this week, and then go out two or three other nights. Baby steps.
Week 4: Establish a Meal Plan
By now, you’re probably starting to see some actual changes in your life! You might be feeling better about the exercise you’re getting every morning. Your house is feeling cleaner because now you’re keeping up on laundry and dishes regularly. You’re eating together as a family and establishing a routine. GO YOU!
One of the best ways to help you save money on your groceries, get a handle on your finances in general, and even make progress with losing weight (if that’s one of your goals) is to establish a meal plan.
You’re going to take a page in your calendar, planner or notepad, and write down 10 or 15 quick, regular meals your family likes to eat. Don’t worry about how healthy they are or anything other than if you can make it at home and quickly—even if it comes out of a box or goes right in the microwave!
For the next week, you’re going to try to plan your dinners. Now, that doesn’t mean you can’t go out to eat—just plan it! Aim for eating a meal at home at least half the time. Even more often is better, but don’t tackle more than you think you can be successful at.
Look at your list and pencil in the dinners on the days, as they fit with your schedule. For breakfasts and lunches, choose something very easy, like cereal, a breakfast bar, or a sandwich. If you regularly go out for lunch, try packing sides and snacks, or see if you can bring your lunch two weekdays.
For more on meal planning, check out my meal planning beginner’s guide to get started—but don’t try to do it all right now. Just taking the first steps will start you off in the right direction.
Now pick one more item from your list (in addition to eating at home). If you were following the list above, I’d choose item number 13—each night before bed, you should do a quick run-through of the house.
Set a timer for 10-15 minutes and right before you brush your teeth, wash your face, or put on your PJs (whatever your pre-bed routine), do a quick walkthrough of the house. If you have a two-story house, keep a laundry basket at the bottom of the stairs.
Carrying the basket with you, pick up all upstairs items and put them in the basket as you go along. Take the basket upstairs, put them away, and do the same thing—pick up anything that’s out of place, put it in the basket, and take it down. Wipe off countertops or clean up any spills or food that’s out. Take out the trash if you need to. Repeat this each night.
If you’re ready to “next level” this one, I want you to also put together your lunch (either leftovers or a quick sandwich) the night before, and throw a breakfast bar in your bag, or put the cereal by the coffeemaker. The idea is to make your morning go a little more smoothly so you can get out the door happy. You can even take a quick glance in your closet and put out your outfit so you’re sure you’re ready to go in the morning. Look! Now nothing can stop you!
Week 5: Practice Self-Care
So you’ve been working really hard at all of your new routines! Even if you’ve had some slip-ups or if you haven’t done everything perfectly, if you’ve followed the plan and only taken on a few items each week, you should start seeing some major changes in your daily routine!
This week we’re going to focus on self-care. Exercising and eating regular, planned meals is probably making a difference, but you and your family also need to get a good night’s sleep.
Each night this week, aim to keep up on your routines, but also keep a consistent bedtime. This might be a shock to your kids and even your spouse if you haven’t been on a regular schedule, but you need to be getting enough sleep so you can recharge and feel your best.
I also want you to tackle, “taking time for yourself.” For some of you, the reason things got so out of control is because you sat around on the couch watching TV every night—not because you were relaxing, but because you were totally overwhelmed. So by now, things might look a little different.
When you take time for yourself, really enjoy it—enjoy watching your favorite program, reading a book, or relaxing during the time between when you put the kids to bed and when you take ten minutes to pick up the house and go to bed yourself. Even if everything’s not “perfect” yet or if you still have a laundry list of stressors to tackle.
Continue, of course, to do the regular items you’ve established so far, but don’t skip ahead or ignore your own needs—having time to yourself IS part of establishing a successful daily routine! Unplug from work when you get home. Take time for yourself each night. Put the kids to bed at a regular bedtime and follow a regular bedtime yourself!
Week 6: Figure Out Paperwork and Finances
Here you are at the end of your six-week daily routine boot camp! If you’ve really followed the plan, you’ve probably established some great habits. You’re probably seeing an impact in all areas of your life.
The biggest takeaway from establishing a successful daily routine is that little habits add up over time. Rather than trying to tackle every single thing at once, you’re just doing a few little things each week—little changes to your routine that add up to big successes. Maybe your own goals are a little different than what I’ve outlined above. Maybe you can fit in a walk during your lunchbreak at work or perhaps you enjoy going to a gym. Maybe you work from home, but still have a hard time finding those daily routines to make you successful.
Every time we do something repeatedly it becomes a habit. They can take some time to form, but if you really try to fit in one small change, and then master the next change, and the next, you will be successful.
This week, we’re going to look at paperwork and finances. I know this is an area many people struggle with. If you’re eating at home regularly and using a meal plan, you’re probably already seeing some savings. If you’ve established your “home Walmart” and you have some items on hand, you’re avoiding those expensive mini-trips to the store.
You’re already making progress. Awesome.
Now, each night, after dinner, take a few minutes to go through the mail of the day. Do a quick sort into three piles: to pay, to follow-up, to file. Establish somewhere you will keep these piles, like a folder or box on a desk. Each night, take those few minutes to go through whatever came in and sort it. Throw away any junk that’s accumulated on the counter.
On the weekend, block out some time to go through your budget and start to figure out how to get a handle on your finances. Now that you’ve established a system for everything that comes in, you won’t have to sort through your handbag, look on the coffee table, or search for missing paperwork when you’re trying to figure it out.
Since you’re now putting things away each night and the house is picked up (and free of dirty dishes and piles of laundry), you know there isn’t anything lurking around.
Now that you’ve established a meal plan and you have an idea of a grocery list, you can expand your repertoire and even consider cooking some make-ahead meals to “hack” your weeknight dinners and make them more delicious.
The great thing about setting up successful daily routines is that now, you have a handle on stuff. When something unexpected happens, you might go off routine, but you know those 12-15 things you need to do each day to keep life running smoothly.