2021 may be the year of ‘working from home’, but it hasn’t been much fun for freelancers.
If anything, it’s been isolating and scary. Many of us have lost clients and are fighting to find steady work. Our incomes are uncertain and even the internet’s slower than ever.
When life gets overwhelming, it’s important to hone in on the things we can control.
Yup, today, I’m going to sell you the idea of the daily routine.
I know, I know – there are no 2 words that sound less sexy. But, turns out, a routine is an incredibly powerful tool to keep you powering through these crazy times. Hear me out.
To be clear – I’m not suggesting you plan every hour of every day.
An effective routine is not about drawing up a tight schedule and policing yourself. And it’s not about making every day the same (hell no).
By routine, I’m talking about a sequence of actions done repeatedly, with a certain intention.
A routine can be as rigid or loose as you like. It can apply to:
And, they’ve been used for centuries by artists and high achievers – everyone from Winston Churchill and Frederic Chopin to Jane Austen and Tim Ferris.
Even in the roughest times, routines have helped individuals get things done.
‘New normal’ has an ominous ring to it. But it doesn’t have to be a bad thing.
You don’t need to derail your goals.
In fact, a daily routine can help you turn your ‘new normal’ into something that works for YOU each passing day.
Border closures, cancelled weddings and government curfews – those things are out of our hands.
But you know what you can control? How you use your 24 hours in a day.
A routine guides you by offering a useful structure for your time. You don’t need to waste time wondering what to do next, because a routine takes you by the hand. It shows you exactly what to devote your time to, and when.
This matters because being in constant ‘decision-making mode’ saps emotional and cognitive energy. It’s why Mark Zuckerberg famously wears his grey t-shirts everyday, and also why a morning ritual can be a powerful boost for your daily willpower.
Science has shown that repetition and routine can help reduce stress and bring an important sense of purpose to the day.
As writer Haruki Murakami wrote:
The repetition itself becomes the important thing; it’s a form of mesmerism. I mesmerize myself to reach a deeper state of mind.”
Routines can be a deeply empowering tool.
Think of the hours in your day as precious water in a watering-can.
Where you pour your water (time and energy) each day, determines the things you will grow in your life. Unfortunately, the water is finite.
A routine (the watering can in my little metaphor) is the container for your efforts. It’s the structure that helps you manage your time. It ensures that, everyday, you can water the right seeds.
These ‘seeds’ might be a client project, your fitness goals, or the solution to a particular challenge. A routine allows you to show up and give your time and energy, until your projects bear fruit.
This makes routines the perfect tool for helping you get out of any COVID-19 ruts.
When we’re surrounded by negative news, it’s easy to spend more time stressing about a problem than solving it. If your problem is ‘I have no work because my clients dropped me’, simply worrying about it will not fix it.
What WILL fix it is setting aside time in your day to find a solution. And a routine helps ensure you’re getting certain things done each day.
If you dedicate an hour every morning to sending out job applications or networking, by the end of the week, you will have clocked in 7 hours towards solving your ‘no client’ problem.
After all, success is often not about setting higher goals, but building better systems. And every tiny daily step you take will move you forward.
You can use this to tackle any area in your life affected by the ‘new normal’ – even your health and relationships.
If you’re also spree-baking banana bread or binging Netflix, this is for you. A routine can help you get back into a rhythm of healthy habits.
Decide the best time in the day for you to exercise. When can you squeeze in a 30-45 workout a few times a week? Then, make it part of your official routine – this will increase the chances you actually do it.
Research suggests that it’s easier to complete healthy habits in the morning. Still, a routine is a personal thing. The ‘best’ time of day is up to you.
If you want to be held even more accountable, consider roping in some friends. Decide on a time and workout on a call together a few times a week. It’s way more fun and you’ll have some friendly group pressure to show up.
In short, whenever you ‘routinise’ something, you turn a one-off activity into a habit that can change your life. Might as well make it a good one.
Millions of people are experiencing quarantine fatigue and isolation – it’s become almost a way of life. Use a routine to ensure you are reconnecting and reflecting on a regular basis.
If you live with a household and you’re all stuck at home – take advantage of this! Consider making a routine of eating a meal together.
You can also set aside time each day where you let yourself reach out and connect with others – an hour of video or phone calls with people you miss.
Also, be conscious of how you’re using your downtime. Try not to get sucked into scrolling through social media or staying up late browsing through horrible headlines on the news.
Instead, look to things that bring you true relaxation or reflection – maybe that’s reading, journaling, listening to music or doing something creative.
Being trapped at home this year taught me that that morning rituals are not only useful, but weirdly enjoyable.
When my day became a blank canvas, it forced me to put in more thought into how I could use it wisely. I noticed these things made the biggest difference in my morning:
My parting advice – be realistic and forgiving with yourself.
There will be days where you will be able to follow your routines to a tee. You’ll tick off everything on your to-do list. On other days you will run into distractions and nothing will go to plan.
Both days are perfectly normal.
Sometimes, we just need downtime to deal with the messy emotions that 2021 has brought up.
A routine is there to help you. And if you’re really struggling to stick to a routine – that’s a good indicator that you need to tweak it to work for you.
A routine should serve YOU, not vice versa. Now go forth and conquer.
Dani is an editor and writer based between KL and Mexico City. Sprung from the advertising and travel industries, she’s also spent the last 10+ years freelancing for a slew of creative online businesses around the world. Connect with her via LinkedIn.