We live in an age where a thousand things vie for our attention, to the point that sometimes, basic daily tasks — whether they be chores or tasks as seemingly simple as eating or sleeping — can fall by the wayside. Here's how a detailed calendar can help fix your broken-down daily routine.
We've talk a lot about how distractions can keep you from important work, but sometimes they can cut into your regular ol' daily life. For example, I wake up every morning and start writing, which is fine, but then I get engrossed by other work, or email, or anything else — and I'll skip right past breakfast, showering, and my morning workout. Before I know it, it's 1 PM and I'm an unshowered, pajama-clad internet junkie with a stomach ache.
While that particular example doesn't apply to everyone (like those that work in an a real office), various combinations of "more pressing" matters can distract anyone from their daily routine. Maybe you end up working right through lunch at the office, or maybe you end up staying awake til 2 AM every night looking at funny cat pictures. I've found that calendaring the important-but-easily-dismissed events in my daily routine — that is, setting specific times at which I drop everything to eat, shower, exercise, do laundry, and so on — has kept me on track in a way that I never manage to do on my own. Here's how I lay it all out.
How To Use Your Calendar
I use Google Calendar to manage everything, but you can use whatever calendar app you want — though the ability to sync with your phone is a major plus. In addition, remember that while you probably already have a full calendar, today's digital calendars don't require you to view all your calendars at once. So, get used to looking at calendars individually: when you need to see the day's irregular meetings and deadlines, you can view that calendar on its own, without this new "daily routine" calendar cluttering it up. When you need to work on your "Daily Routine" calendar, you can view it on its own too (though you can probably hide it most of the time). It also works nicely for scheduling things around your already-existing routine, since you can view them both together.
To set it up, open your calendar app of choice and create a new calendar. I called mine "Daily Routine". Next, create a new event. We'll use "Eat Lunch" as an example. Again, I realise this is a very basic starting point, and if you've never accidentally worked through lunch, you may not want to add it to your Daily Routine calendar. Think about those things you want to do daily or every couple of days that you manage never to get done (more on this in the next section).
Set the event to repeat every day, and give it a reminder. I use a popup reminder, since that will steal focus on my computer and pop up on my phone, so no matter where I am, my calendar can alert me. When you get the popup, drop everything you're doing and eat lunch. It's that simple. Take these events seriously, and respect the calendar, and you'll find your routine becomes much easier to stick to.
Think about when you want to schedule these things, too. For example, I rarely have pressing work around 11:30, so I eat lunch every day at that time. That way, it isn't a problem for me to "drop everything" at 11:30. On the rare occasion I have really pressing work, I'll just snooze it and eat when I'm finished with the task at hand. However, I try to avoid this whenever possible, and schedule these things for a time that I know I can respect the schedule.
The key here is to set up the calendar and stick to it. Be serious about following to it. It's OK to "boss yourself around" with this calendar. Most of this has to do with your own well-being, whether it's your actual physical health or just your mental sanity. You're making these appointments with yourself because this is the way you want your life to be, so respect that. Don't put yourself at the bottom of all your other priorities/responsibilities. This calendar is here to remind you of that.
The Types Of Events Your Calendar Should Contain
Everyone's routine is different, so this list isn't comprehensive, and certain things may not apply to you. Think about your routine and what you often miss due to distractions, and make sure it gets on the calendar. Some things I've found work well include:
Wrap Up Your Work: If you have a problem balancing your work and home life, you might need a bit of extra incentive to actually get out of the office at the end of the day. We've talked about this before, and it fits perfectly into this calendaring method: set an alarm for when it's time to wrap up, schedule your daily task review a the end of the day, and then go home.
Excercise: If you have a set workout routine that you go through every day (or every few days), it's a good idea to calendar it. Saying "I'll work out sometime today" is a recipe for procrastination and avoidance, so if you really want to make sure you do it, put it on the calendar — whether in the morning or at night — and keep to your schedule. You'll be a lot more likely to actually go to the gym or go for a run if you have a set time you do it every day. Blogger Nick Crocker even says it should be your number one priority, which just goes back to what I said about taking this stuff very seriously — your own health and well-being should come before anything else.
Clean: Your house can get pretty messy if left unattended to, and even if you're a neat freak like me, other things can call on your attention so often that you neglect the important chores. We've talked about the importance of scheduling chores before, and it fits perfectly into this calendar. Remember, 10 or 15 minute cleaning dashes are more effective than cleaning up big messes every weekend, so set aside a few minutes a day to spruce up your kitchen or living room and you'll find cleaning becomes a lot less stressful. I like to do this after dinner, when I have things to clean up anyway.
Get The Mail: Once I forgot to get my mail for three weeks and they actually stopped delivering it. Now I have an alarm that reminds me to check it every few days so that doesn't happen again.
Take Out the Trash: This is another one of those chores that can get out of hand if you forget to do it — I'd rather have an alarm reminding me to take it out every Tuesday rather than have a stinky kitchen remind me every 10 days.
Other Chores: You probably have other regular chores you need to attend to, whether ot's meal planning, laundry, bill paying, or just reviewing your monthly budget. Anything even that repeats should go on the calendar, whether its once a day or once a month. You can always move things around, too — say, if next Thursday evening is busy but that's your "bill paying time" — the idea is that you have a set time where you drop the distractions and get that chore done.
Eat: Eating may seem like a distraction when you're working, but eating right is crucial to having a high energy workday. Having a set lunch time and making sure you actually eat it can be the difference between a midday crash and a mad productivity spree, so calendaring it can go a long way into making your afternoons more productive.
Shower: I'll never forget to shower, but I'll definitely get distracted and not do it until later, so it's nice to add this to the calendar and get it out of the way when I have time. I also don't shave every day, so I'll even put that on the calendar so I don't end up with a beard by the end of the week due to laziness and procrastination.
Sleep: You have an alarm that wakes you up in the morning, but you probably don't have one that tells you when to go to bed, and you should. Sleep is even more important than food in keeping you alert, and going to bed at the same time each night (and waking up at the same time each morning) can make a huge difference in how effective your sleep cycle is. Figure out your perfect bed time, then stick to it — when you see that popup, it's time to go to bed (or at least start your calming "bedtime routine").
How Your To-Do List Fits Into This
Some of these items might have been things you previously put on your to-do list ("Pay Bills", "Clean the House"). If that works for you, go ahead and keep them there, but I've found my to-do list gets pretty useless when it's full of repeating events I already know about. The calendar, with its time-based view and popup notifications, helps me actually get them done. I save my to-do list for things that are more one-off events, like "Send In Security Deposit Form" or "Figure Out Why My NAS is Crashing Every 10 Minutes". Sometimes these things can take 10 minutes, and sometimes they can take an entire day, but what's important is that they aren't routine. That's what separates my to-do list from this calendar — repetition.
However, the problem still remains that if something isn't telling me "do this now", I'll get distracted and skip it. So, for my to-do list items, I set up a block of time each day to go through my to-do list and get the miscellaneous things done. I'll usually set up a large block of time on Saturday to get the larger tasks done as well. So, if I'm up on Saturday morning watching cartoons and my phone goes off, I know it's time to get up and fix my computer, send in that paperwork, go buy a new phone charger, or do whatever else I need to get done that week.
It may seem like overkill at first — like you're scheduling every second of every day like a crazy person, but once you get it all set up, it won't seem so bad. Again, the idea isn't to interrupt your important work, just to send you little blips that remind you to shut down the distractions and get your daily routine back on track. Got any tips for following these types of schedules, or events in your daily routine that we didn't mention? Let us know in the comments.