How do I do a daily routine?
December 10, 2015 4:16 PM   Subscribe

I have a fair amount of trouble getting work done (at work and at home), especially consistently. I think having a routine would help, but I’m not sure how to create, get into, and stay in a routine. I’ve never managed to do that for more than a week before, even for very small routines.

I work from home, so I need a pre-work morning routine and a post-work evening routine to replace the “default” routine of commuting. I work a tech job, so my work is entirely on the computer and very mental. I expect to need to take regular “moving around” breaks through out the day; this is a convenient time to do minor chores around the house. I also have some scheduled lessons/errands outside the house during the day, and need to get back into work when I get back from them.

* I work from home (complete control, but also little enforced/default routine)
* I currently have no routine sleep/wake time; my boyfriend and I go to bed anywhere between 11pm and 2am on a regular basis, and I wake up anywhere between 8am and noon. (If I get up before him, I have to limit what I do because he's a very light sleeper. Eating crunchy cereal is sometimes too much.)
* I have anxiety and depression, which are greatly improved by an antidepressant, but still affect my ability to consistently do things (i.e. some days/weeks are much better than others)
* I have a lot of trouble focusing on work, especially if I haven’t eaten regular meals that day
* I travel about 1 week per month (getting back into any kind of rhythm after traveling is rough)

I guess some specific problems that I expect to run into include:
* If you get home at “bedtime”, and you still need to brush teeth,etc how much of a bedtime routine do you cut out so that you can be in bed sooner? Do you adjust the wake up time to compensate for a late bedtime? What if you’re hours late to bed?
* How do you decide what to do in a morning routine and what order to do it in? Does it matter if showering or eating breakfast happen in the same order everyday?
* If you work at home, does leaving the house before starting work help as a “commute” to transition to work?

I feel like I don’t know what I’m doing, and I don’t know how to add an overarching routine to my day. I could really use some more stability and sensible defaults, but I’m pretty low on discipline, so I don’t know how to do that. I feel overwhelmed by the idea of making/keeping a routine. What do you suggest?
posted by triscuit to Work & Money (11 answers total) 44 users marked this as a favorite
The dog gets me out of the house 3-4 times a day. It's a nice movement break to the day.
posted by Ms Vegetable at 4:25 PM on December 10, 2015

Also, if I get home late, I don't wash my hair, but I do still take off makeup, shower if needed (I shower once/day, but it might be morning, might be midafternoon, depends on the day), floss/brush teeth, and have ~20 minutes of reading to wind down. I generally do not eat at that point, because I've probably had dinner several hours earlier. No beverages because that'll just wake me up in the middle of the night.

If I can, I sleep in the next day - but that doesn't always happen, in which case I can only do one late night a week.
posted by Ms Vegetable at 4:28 PM on December 10, 2015

Best answer: YMMV, but I think the first thing is to set a morning alarm, just like if you had to get up to go to work (But maybe not as horribly early. Eg 9am every day rather than 7:45 or whatever.)
Routine starts with getting up at the same time in the mornings. Soon your body will be in sync and you'll be waking up at the same time every morning.
Try to avoid adjusting wakeup time to compensate for a late bedtime, (or not more than twice a week anyway and not until your body clock is normally waking you on schedule). If you're getting enough sleep each night, your body should be ok with a bit less sleep one night - and it'll help get you to bed earlier that night.

You might want to work the same principle into other things; sure, it's nice to have the flexibility to stop to eat when you remember or want to, but it might be better to set a "lunch" alarm on your phone. Like waking in the morning, my body gets used to the structure and won't feel hungry until the times when I'm scheduled to eat.
If on any particular day you feel like you should override the lunch schedule because of XYZ that day, I'll do that, but I keep the schedule as my default plan for each day, so that my body keeps it as normal.
posted by anonymisc at 4:30 PM on December 10, 2015 [5 favorites]

If even crunchy cereal is too loud in your space, why not start your day at a coffee shop? Especially if you have a laptop, you can sign in and check emails while you wake up with a morning beverage. If not, just the routine of getting out of the house first thing will get you going. You can come back to the house at a later time ready to work/continue working and do chores after your boyfriend is awake.
posted by chainsofreedom at 5:07 PM on December 10, 2015

Best answer: Exercising first thing in the morning, showering, and then taking my laptop to a local coffee shop to work helps me with this. I know exercising in the morning can seem difficult, and it was for me, once I got into it, I love it and it wakes me up and energizes me in the morning. The coffee shop becomes like an "office" when I have to do work.
posted by bearette at 5:16 PM on December 10, 2015

Best answer: I coulda written this, so I'll be paying close attention to this thread.

First of all, don't beat yourself up over it if you are feeling bad about yourself. You've never had to make your own entire schedule by yourself with only yourself to keep you accountable. That shit is nearly impossible in my experience.

My best piece of advice is to start by just doing one thing consistently every day at the exact same time. Take 30 minutes and really think about what concrete changes you'd need to make to your day to make it actually go according to plan instead of getting derailed by what you always do. I'd make it going to bed at the same time and waking up at the same time.

If you can do it for a month straight, add in going out for a 10 minute walk (to get a donut, the paper, or just walk around the block) as soon as possible after waking up. If you get that down, start showering before bed every night. With just those three things, you've made it a literal billion times easier for yourself to get things done and feel more structured.

I also find it helps to do a little "getting ready to work" ritual. Mine's simple. I sit down at my desk, light a lovely smelling candle, and put on my headphones and start playing zone out music. Basically the only things I can work to (I also do a thinky tech job) are Soma FM's deep space one and drone zone stations and this and this and this from the Inner Islands bandcamp. I also have to recommend Dragontime as well if you ever feel like you can handle vocals. UGH it's so good.

Finally, I installed both Chrome and Firefox. I set up Chrome to open all of my work-related tabs on startup. It's so much easier to start work when you are looking directly at it instead of Google, which could take you literally anywhere on the entire internet so fuck that. Chrome is for work, Firefox is for fun.

Just know this isn't actually easy, and it's awesome that you're taking steps to set your work day right.
posted by moons in june at 5:48 PM on December 10, 2015 [14 favorites]

One of the best suggestions I ever read was to link a habit to something that is already part of your day. For example, I work in a very germy environment (a school) and wanted to remember to wash my hands more often. So I bought a water bottle with the times of the day marked off on them. It forced me to drink more water, which I should be doing anyway. And this made me go to the washroom more often. And after using the washroom, I would naturally wash my hands...
posted by JoannaC at 5:55 PM on December 10, 2015 [5 favorites]

I work from home about once a week. When I first started doing this, I really struggled. I took perverse pleasure in facilitating a teleconference with my boss and other people while in my pajamas. But it didn't feel right, and I kept thinking that I should do the laundry, or want to watch something on Netflix. Because I was in my pajamas and that's what one does when wearing pajamas. The thing that worked for me was getting dressed. So now, on days that I work from home, I wake up and put on clothes that I would wear to the office. And then I feel like I'm at work. When 5pm comes around (or later, if there is something I need to complete that day), I change back into my pajamas and forget about work.

(Getting up at the same time every day, regardless of the time I went to sleep, also helps)
posted by finding.perdita at 3:22 AM on December 11, 2015

Best answer: I've worked out of home for more than a decade, and I'm naturally a major procrastinator, so I've had to hash out a whole bunch of systems for getting myself to work.

First, a general note: everybody's brain is wired differently, and what works for me may not work for you. In fact, the way I've worked out my system was to try different things on different days, and then pay attention to what led to me being most productive. So, consider all of the following as Stuff I Advise You To Experiment With And See How It Goes, rather than Ironclad Rules You Must Follow.

• I use the Pomodoro Technique. The idea is, you set a timer for 25 minutes, and for those 25 minutes, YOU MUST FOCUS ON YOUR WORK. Then when the timer goes "Bing," you give yourself 5 minutes to surf the web or get coffee or whatever. As soon as those five minutes are over, you go back to work. Then, after you've done that cycle a few times, you take a longer break. This is a simple technique and it is frankly ridiculous that it should work so well, but somehow, know that you only have to focus for a specific short length of time makes it much easier to focus.

In practice, I found that 25 minutes on/5 minutes off didn't work super well for me, because 25 minutes was just about the amount of time I need to get into a good flow. So I do 25 minutes on/10 minutes off. Again, it's all about experimenting and finding what works for your particular brain.

• I am usually working on a bunch of different projects, so for each project, I set up a separate playlist of songs that somehow feel appropriate. I'm currently writing a book about London, so my playlist is full of London-themed songs. Sometimes the connection is not that obvious, and I just pick songs that somehow have the right energy or pace. It almost doesn't matter how I pick the songs. What matters is: I listen to that one playlist every time I work on that one project, always starting with the same song. After a few times, it becomes a Pavlovian thing, where just hearing the opening notes of the selected song put me in the right frame of mind for the relevant project.

• In my experience, ritual matters more than timing. I've got kids and my mornings can be unpredictable; sometimes I'm sitting down at my computer at 9AM and sometimes it's 11AM. Sometimes I have showed already and sometimes I haven't. But whatever time I sit down, I start my pomodoro timer and click "play" on my playlist, and I'm ready to go.

• The one thing where consistent timing really matters is sleep. By observing my own sleep patterns, I've noticed that I have to go to bed within a specific window (10PM to 11PM) in order to fall asleep easily. If it is getting towards the end of that window, I will cut my nighttime routine short, and just figure I'll floss in the morning instead. I've also noticed that if I sleep too late in the morning, I'm much less likely to sleep through the next night. So I try to wake up at roughly the same time every day. Even if I've had a bad night's sleep, I try not to nap if I can possibly get through the day without it.

• I think everybody has a daily inflection point that determines whether it will be a productive day or not. You'll have to figure your own out, but mine occurs when I sit down at my computer. If the first thing I do is open my email program or my web browser, than the next two hours are going to vanish in a puff of procrastination. If the first thing I do is start work, then I'm going to have a productive day. So I have trained myself: the instant my computer powers on, before I can be tempted by anything else, I click start on my pomodoro timer. Then (thanks to Pavlovian conditioning) it feels automatic to start playing my playlist. And then it's automatic to start work. Note that this ritual begins with something easy (clicking on the timer) and fun (playing a song I like).

• Basically, this all boils down to figuring out what habits work for you -- and then making them habitual. Making new habits requires breaking old habits, which can be incredibly hard. But if you can grit your teeth and power through the first few weeks, it does become easier. I found it helpful to download a habit-tracking app. I use Habits Pro but any similar app will do. Basically, the best habit tracker is the one you will actually use -- even if it's just a pencil and a piece of paper.

• Finally, despite all that, I have lots of days where I waste time and get much less done than I had hoped. I try to forget about that when the next day begins. I can't change what I did yesterday; I can only change what I'm going to do today.
posted by yankeefog at 7:45 AM on December 11, 2015 [10 favorites]

Just checking, but have you been evaluated for ADD? Even if you are not actually ADD, a low dose (like 5-10 mg) of Ritalin can help with focus and productivity. If your anti-depressant isn't fully solving these issues, talk to your prescribing doctor about potentially adding something like Ritalin to give you a bit of a leg up. You can always stop taking it if you find you get into a good routine and can stick with it unaided.

That said, getting into a routine when you're not used to it and there's no real external motivation to do so is HARD. Be patient with yourself, don't get frustrated if you backslide sometimes. Something that helps me is to make commitments with other people to do things at a certain time, whether it's going to the gym, a regular coffee date, or whatever -- if I know someone else is being affected by my schedule I will commit to it in ways I don't usually if it's just me.

I also keep track of everything I need to get done on my calendar, which syncs to my phone and sends me reminders. I schedule absolutely everything -- errands, chores, work, time with friends, etc. It helps keep me focused and lets me stay on top of things and frees my brain from having to keep track of all the things I need to do.

Seeing these responses makes me want to really check out some of these apps, though :)
posted by ananci at 12:50 PM on December 11, 2015

Argh. There are an embarrassing number of typos in my post above. I apologize for them all. One in particular I need to correct. I meant to say:
In practice, I found that 25 minutes on/5 minutes off didn't work super well for me, because 25 minutes was just about the amount of time I need to get into a good flow. So I do 40 minutes on/10 minutes off. Again, it's all about experimenting and finding what works for your particular brain.
posted by yankeefog at 6:51 AM on December 12, 2015

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