Small changes can have a big impact. That’s certainly true of routines. While some people believe that developing a concrete schedule is too difficult, even implementing minor alterations to your daily life can have enormous, positive consequences.
This is particularly true during times of great uncertainty, such as the pandemic. When our lives were upended by COVID-19 more than a year ago, many of us felt a loss of control. But a routine can help establish normalcy in the face of an unpredictable world, giving us more structure.
According to Rachel Goodman, a psychologist and clinical assistant professor at the NYU School of Medicine, “If people don't have structure and are sitting around with less to focus on, then they also probably will find themselves thinking about the stressful situation more, which can also lead to additional stress and anxiety."
What’s the answer? Routines.
Northwestern Medicine finds that routines positively impact our mental health, leading to less stress, better sleep, increased productivity, improved eating habits and more focus, among other benefits. Moreover, routines can even be enjoyable — dare we say fun? You don’t need to bend over backward to make your life better. Here are 30 routines that are easy to implement and stick to — every day.
Not all of these will be your cup of tea. But even adopting just a handful of them will have a positive effect on your life.
On weekends, so many of us love to sleep in. But waking up at the same time every day is a critical routine to follow for good sleep hygiene. Ever wondered why it’s so difficult to get out of bed on Mondays? Part of the reason could be because you’ve thrown off your routine for two consecutive days and are having trouble resuming normalcy.
Ugh, you may be thinking. Why is this so important? According to Navy Seal Admiral William H. McCraven, it will give you a small sense of accomplishment to kick off your day. No, you haven’t conquered your potentially massive to-do list, but you’ve done one crucial thing. And as an added bonus, you’ll be able to get into a nicely made bed at the end of a long day, which is just, plain satisfying.
Exercise has numerous benefits, impacting not only your physique but also your mental health and physical health. Plus, it can give you a boost in energy and lead to better sleep. You don’t have to run a marathon every day, either — even just 30 minutes of walking can offer significant rewards. While this doesn’t have to take place in the morning, it’s another great way to start the day that will give you a sense of accomplishment. I can attest to this: I always kick off my day with a morning run with my dog, and it definitely helps me tackle the rest of the day.
Here’s one many highly successful people, including Oprah Winfrey, swear by. Like exercise, regular meditation has plenty of benefits in numerous aspects of your life, including stress reduction. Again, you don’t have to devote significant time to this. Just five or 10 minutes will do the trick. Having trouble getting started? Guided meditations like those via Headspace can help you ease in and establish a regular practice.
This is a super easy routine you may already have in your life. And on the occasional days you skip your regular shower, you probably notice a difference. Aside from cleanliness factors, you could experience a dip in your mood. That’s because bathing is connected to better mental health, according to research. For your regular health and hygiene, it’s not necessarily critical to shower daily. And if you’re trying to help the environment, it’s understandable if you want to skip it from time to time. But you can keep your showers short, and you should remember the psychological benefits.
Breakfast is the most important meal of the day. You’ve probably heard it before, and it’s true: eating breakfast starts your metabolism, boosts your energy and improves your overall health. But it’s important to eat the right breakfast, too. Starting your day with a chocolate bar will have negative effects on your health. Instead, try a blend of protein, fiber and vitamin-rich foods — eggs, yogurt, nuts, fruit and low-sugar cereal are some good bets.
Do you feel dehydrated in the morning? That’s pretty typical. Our bodies dry out overnight, and drinking a glass of water will replenish your fluids. For an added boost, squeeze some lemon or drop a slice in your glass. This will offer additional benefits, such as aiding your digestion.
Many people don’t get the vitamins they need from the food they eat during the day. Support your diet by incorporating vitamins into your daily routine. For some, a multivitamin will be enough. Others need additional supplements, such as iron if they’re iron anemic or vitamin D. When in doubt, talk to your physician about what you might need to stay healthy.
Sure, not all news will lift your spirits. But it’s a good idea to be informed. You don’t want to be the person at work who has no idea what everyone else is talking about.
Of course, you don’t have to check the news all day. That’s not a good idea — it’s an obsession. Try to stick to once in the morning and maybe once at night.
Before you officially start the workday, review your to-do list to give you a sense of what you have on your plate. This can help you stay organized and allow you to manage your time. Personally, I love the satisfaction of being able to cross off items throughout the day (or rather, delete them as I go).
Keep reading to find out when you should create that all-important to-do list.
DO NOT make it first thing in the morning, as tempting as that may be. This will more than likely agitate you and immediately make you start thinking about work and everything you need to respond to that day. Unlike the to-do list, this will bring up issues you may not have been aware of last night. Instead, wait until you sign on to work or enter the office to check.
If you can, try to avoid leaving your email in the background. This isn’t feasible for all jobs — you might need to address urgent issues as they arise — but if at all possible, establish regular times to check during the day rather than looking at it obsessively.
Are you in the habit of going out to lunch every day? Instead, why not make a simple, delicious lunch to eat in the park or even your kitchen table? This is healthier and cheaper than eating out every day.
Unless it’s critical for your job, make going out to eat a treat, rather than a routine. This will make the times you hit up your favorite coffee shop or cafe all the more special.
Sitting in your chair all day long isn’t good for you. You need to stretch. Make it a routine to get up at least once every hour (or more frequently, if you feel like you need it). Get up out of your seat and do some simple stretches. This will make you feel a lot better and get the blood flowing.
It may sound counterintuitive, but if you work continuously throughout the day, you could end up being less productive than you would be otherwise. We need breaks. Schedule in short 15-20 minute breaks every 90 minutes or so of continuous work. During each break, take a walk around the block, eat a snack or do something else — the point is to take a few minutes to recharge, so you’re prepared for the next cycle.
I once made it a New Year’s resolution to one thing that scared me every day. This is healthy for personal growth and overcoming your fears, and who knows? It may just pay off and allow you to meet your goals. It could be as big as applying to a job or as small as saying hi to a stranger on the street — whatever gets you out of your comfort zone.
Learning a language, a musical instrument or a technical competency? All of these skills require time and commitment. But you don’t have to sacrifice hours and hours. Duolingo lessons take about 5-10 minutes to complete, for one.
Is your workplace cluttered and disorganized? Certainly, this can happen after a long day of work. But you definitely don’t want to come back to that chaos tomorrow. So, near the end of the workday, take a few moments to straighten up your space. This will help prepare you for what’s next on your plate and encourage you to stay focused through it all.
When you’re working from home, as many of us are during the pandemic, it’s easy to get caught up in your tasks and keep telling yourself, “Just 10 more minutes.” But it’s also important to establish boundaries between your work life and your personal or home life. To prevent yourself from getting overwhelmed with work and feeling exhausted all the time, set and stick to a sign-off time every day. This, too, will help you maintain some semblance of order.
Habit-tracking is highly beneficial for understanding how you work and how you can maximize your productivity. When you keep track of what you’re doing and how you’re spending your time. Use these insights to improve your performance.
Texting doesn’t count. Many of us are missing that social connection, especially if we’re working from home. Ensuring you have one real conversation, whether it’s with your neighbor, on the phone with a friend or even with a colleague on a Zoom meeting, will help you curb the isolation you may be experiencing right now.
Breakfast is the most important meal of the day, but dinner is important, too. If you have trouble finding the time to cook every day, consider making your meals for the week ahead of time over the weekend or investing in meal kits to help you out. Of course, there’s always Seamless, but just like with lunch, it’s healthier and cheaper to do it yourself.
The next day will feel a lot more manageable if you know what’s on your plate. Organize your tasks by creating a to-do list with your priorities, dividing the tasks up into most important, somewhat important and least important categories. Then, review it in the morning.
I don’t know about you, but I just love a good book. I find reading the perfect wind-down activity — better than TV. Maybe you disagree. If you’re not a reader, by all means, skip to the next item. But if you’re like me, and you enjoy reading, make just a few pages of a book, magazine, newspaper or even blog part of your regular nighttime routine.
Getting your thoughts out on paper can help you make peace with any unresolved uncertainties and conclude the day. Of course, not every day or night goes well, and sometimes, you’ll still be experiencing stress, anxiety, annoyance or sadness over events that happened. But if you make journaling a daily habit, you may find that you’re more able to clear your mind and get to sleep more easily.
Many mental health professionals advise people to write down three good things that went well during the day every day. That’s because many of us focus on the bad things that happen or the anxious thoughts we have, while forgetting the good. Instead of overlooking the positive aspects of the day, make it a practice to remember these good things, however small. This routine can have a real impact on your overall mood and outlook.
Just like straightening up your workspace, straightening up your personal space is important for your mood and starting off the day on the right foot. When you wake up to a mess, your outlook could be adversely impacted for the whole day. But waking up to an organized space will make you feel more positive about what’s to come. So, do those dirty dishes and put your clothes in the hamper. You’ll be grateful for the forward-thinking tomorrow.
Doing something you really enjoy — whether that’s cooking, gardening, drawing or playing with a pet — will allow you to separate yourself from a long day of work and reinvigorate yourself. At the same time, it will also give you an opportunity to settle down, as well as give you something to look forward to throughout the day.
When Barack Obama was in office, he famously noted that we only saw him wearing gray or blue suits because “I’m trying to pare down decisions. I don’t want to make decisions about what I’m eating or wearing. Because I have too many other decisions to make.”
Now, we’re not suggesting you commit to a single outfit or type of outfit for every day of the week. But if you decide what you’re going to wear the night before, you’ll have fewer decisions to make first thing in the morning, when you could still be foggy with sleep.
Thirty minutes before bedtime, power off your devices. That includes your cell phone, tablet, laptop and anything else that is sure to be a distraction and prevent you from fully settling down during the night.
If you absolutely must keep them on, put them in another room with the sound turned off. (In emergency situations, it’s okay to ignore the cell phone rule, of course. Certain jobs may also require you to be on call.)
Like waking up at the same time every day, you should attempt to establish a regular routine and create better sleep habits and hygiene by setting and sticking to roughly the same bedtime every day. Yes, even on weekends.
Is it really necessary? Actually, yes, especially if you have trouble sleeping. If you get into this routine, you’ll feel more well-rested and improve your mental health at the same time.