Developing Routines

A few weeks ago, an Instagram tag for “Daily Non-Negotiables” was going around. At that time, I couldn’t think of a response. Prior to ECQ, I did not quite have a set routine—in fact, I was still considering developing one but then ECQ came, and my plans fell through.

One thing that I noticed from the start of ECQ was that on weekdays I would consistently be up by 8am. Well, great. At least I was waking up at a reasonable time (considering there was no longer commute time to factor in to my day). With ECQ, my job had become fully remote, and I needed to make sure I was in the zone during work hours. A fix: I set up a work spot which I associated with productivity. Working at my work spot was a habit I consciously built. It’s been working out. But more interesting to me were the habits I unintentionally formed around my work schedule.

Morning

Bring Plants Outside

First thing in the morning, I bring my small indoor plants to the balcony to get their daily dose of sunlight. I like to look for new leaves and show them off on my stories. I also take this time to water my plants if needed.

Drink a Morning Beverage

Some people can’t start their day without coffee. Since I originally associated routine with a specific drink, e.g. daily coffee or daily tea, I did not think I had a habit around this. It turns out I’d unintentionally formed one.

Each morning I make myself a drink to start off the day. Some days I drink coffee, others warm lemonade. Recently I’d been making myself iced matcha and hojicha drinks. My routine isn’t based on a specific drink, rather, the act of drinking something that I brewed.

Write in my Journal

Since I started my bullet journal, I started tracking my daily activities. Initially I tried journaling midday, but it wasn’t working out for me since I could only write about part of my day. Eventually I grew into the habit of journaling the next day about the activities done the prior day. I journal in the morning because I tend to forget things as the day goes by.

Evening

Wash Dishes

We cook brunch and dinner every day, so every night we accumulate a fair amount of dishes to wash. My unofficial shift is to wash after lunch or during the day, but to help out, I wash the dishes that were not involved with dinner, such as mugs and water bottles, before heading back to my room.

Turn off the Lights

Since I am usually the last one to return to my room at night, I make sure all the lights in the common areas are turned off. No point keeping the on if no one else is in the room anyway.

Read a Chapter

I made a rule for myself to read at least one chapter of a book a day, even if I wasn’t in love with the book. (It will take a lot for me to purposely not finish a book.) I found that the best time for me to read books was right before sleeping, and this little rule actually helped me get through books that had been sitting in my to-be-read pile for so long.

There are some days when I have an addition to my routine: working out. It started off with my resolution to not become unhealthy during ECQ. I told myself to work out for at least 15 minutes thrice a week just to build the habit. Now I work out for 30-40 minutes four times a week. Not bad!

Completing my routines gives me a sense of accomplishment each day. It makes me think that ok, things are going smoothly, this is just another day, and it’s going to be a good day, and helps me manage the uncertainty during ECQ.

Now that I’m conscious of my habits, I’m considering doing some micro-optimizations, so that by the time ECQ lifts, I can seamlessly continue my positive habits. (If you’re interested in this idea, I suggest reading Atomic Habits.)

Atomic Habits by James Clear

This was a new book, a book-buying ban exception since it’s nonfiction. I had fully intended for Atomic Habits to be my first read for 2020, and I am proud to say that I have no regrets: this was a great book to have started my year with.

Before I started reading, I had mixed feelings about the book. I usually find it very hard to appreciate self-help books—personal preference—but James Clear had me at chapter one and all the way through the end of the book. I enjoyed his examples (compounding interest, my friends; invest in yourself!) and appreciated his writing style (straightforward and approachable). I didn’t find Clear tiresome to read; his points were actionable and just made sense.

Granted, I’d read a some of his references already (Duhigg, Eyal, Csikszentmihalyi, and part of Kahneman), so the ideas in the book were quite familiar to me. In that sense, Atomic Habits wasn’t exactly groundbreaking, but it was a worthwhile read. (Despite the familiar concepts, I still marked up many pages with highlights and sticky notes. I wanted to be able to easily come back to them anyway.) I appreciated how James Clear put all of these ideas together into one cohesive and relatable book.

This is the book I would tell my friends to read if they’re interested in habit formation.