Organizing Your Life 202: Setting Yourself Up for Success by Creating a Morning Routine (and Sticking to It)

Virtually all of the leading business and lifestyle magazines regularly report on the critical role the early morning hours can play in determining the outcome of the rest of your day.  For this reason, having a set morning routine can literally change a person’s life. While it is true that some things are simply out of our control, we can largely control our mindset and how we respond to whatever our workday or off-duty time with family, friends, and neighbors throws at us. What we do within the first few hours of waking up sets the tone for the rest of the day. Therefore, creating a morning routine and sticking to it is one of the most impactful ways we can set ourselves up for success in every area of our lives.

 

Beyond Waking Up and Getting Dressed

Some of you may be tempted to say, “But I have a morning routine. I wake up every day. I take a shower, then I rush off to work.” While that series of tasks does, in fact, constitute a routine in the most basic sense of the word, there are ways we can super-charge our morning activities to give us a boost that will last for hours and help us become more patient, more alert, more focused, and ultimately more productive. The morning is also a very opportune time to implement activities that can help us achieve a greater sense of calm and a peaceful disposition prior to interacting with the overbearing manager, annoying coworker, or the digital mountain of repetitive emails that ALL require answers. Think of your morning routine as the moment you look up an address  (or find a destination on a map), then enter the address into your GPS and determine how you will get there.

Activities that Create a Sense of Calm

If you suffer from anxiety, the morning may especially be a critical time for you. Getting out of bed is a tremendous feat when you lack a general sense of physical or mental wellness, much less have the desire to leave the comfort and perceived security of your pillows and blankets. People who have difficulty getting out of bed for any reason may wish to begin each day with a combination of activities that both comfort and invigorate the mind and body. Immediately getting out of bed and taking an aromatherapy shower (there are several simple ways essential oils can be used in the shower to produce a fragrant steam) is a very gentle, but effective way to awaken the senses and lift the mood. Setting an alarm that plays uplifting music, then continuing to listen for 15 minutes can also help ease anxiousness and make getting out of bed a little easier. The rule is once you are out of bed, move on to an activity that will keep you out of bed and help you build the momentum you need to prepare for work (or whatever comprises your to-do list). At this point, moving away from the bed to meditate, have quiet reflection, or simply listen to or play music (if you enjoy playing an instrument) can further put the mind at ease.

Exercise

Some people prefer to exercise in the evening or at lunchtime, but for the first time ever, I (a non-morning person) challenged myself during the month of March to try working out in the morning. As a result of that personal “challenge,” I will likely never go back to p.m. workouts. Working out in the morning boosts endorphins, creates a sense that you have already accomplished something before the day even begins, and is beneficial to overall health. I do 30 minutes of cardio, but each person’s exercise needs and preferences will depend on the individual. Going for a 15-minute walk to get a healthy breakfast can also serve as a lower-impact alternative.

Plan the Day Ahead

I, personally, am a p.m. planner. I feel at ease when I write out my schedule for the next day on the night before (also a very effective way to boost productivity…and also a new habit I developed as a result of a person “challenge” to try a new goal-setting strategy).  Nevertheless, some people prefer envisioning the day ahead and writing out a schedule early in the morning. Planning can be incorporated into journaling and doing mindset work to shift from negative thinking to a positive mindset.

 

Drawing/Painting

People who are very creative may find it helpful to set aside 15-30 minutes to “create” something for the sole purpose of leisure and enjoyment before beginning the day. Anything from drawing and painting to composing music and writing can serve as a vehicle for eliminating anxiety, processing emotions, and building optimism about the day ahead.

Make Your Morning Routine Non-Negotiable

I know what many of you may be thinking: who has time for any of this? Answer: you. You just have to prioritize it.  Actively schedule time for your morning routine, even if it means going to bed earlier or managing your time better the day before. Try the morning routine out for a week, and evaluate its impact on how you feel as well as your overall changes in productivity. Most people find the sacrifices (waking up earlier, not staying up as late, watching less TV the night before) that must be made in the interest of sticking to their new morning routine to be well worth the trade-off.

If you need help getting started with designing a morning routine for yourself, join my Facebook group, or send me an email. I’d love to help you get started on the right track!

What About Your Friends?

When seeking to make a life change, many of us neglect one of the most important components that can set us up for success… or failure: the people with whom we choose to surround ourselves.
Friends and Family Can Be Your Allies
…Or They Can Be Toxic
Let’s look at weight loss as an example.  People who wish to lose weight often find that despite their decision to change,  they are still surrounded by people who may have habits that are less healthy.  Oftentimes, the issues may not even be that the people around you are maliciously attempting to derail your efforts, though that is sometimes the case.  Making a major change may require a level of discipline that others may simply not require in the same areas in their own lives. In understanding that concept, you can actively take steps to plan ahead to improve your likelihood of achieving your self- improvement goals.
Seek Out Likeminded People
In keeping with the weight loss example, there are multiple ways a person who wishes to lose weight can find a supportive network of likeminded people.  The obvious option might be to join a weight loss program or take classes at a gym. Nowadays, many hospitals and community centers offer free classes and events that are aimed at helping members of the community connect and learn about healthy living. Other options include joining a Meetup group in your area or even participating in an online group that focuses on weight loss. There may even be opportunities to connect with others who share similar goals at home and at work. Having lunch with a vegan coworker might be more favorable that tagging along with a group that usually goes for fast food. Joining a recreational league may also provide an opportunity to make new fitness-oriented friends while getting regular exercise.
But What If My Family Isn’t Onboard?
If you live with family members who do not share your goals, you may wish to think strategically about the activities you can still do with them without compromising your progress.  For example, if your family refuses to eat healthy, but you still want to have meals with them, consider preparing a separate meal for yourself, or have your healthy meal prior to joining them. Then limit yourself to having a salad, healthy snack,  or smoothie while with them. In other examples,  a person who wants to control his or her spending may suggest low-cost activities to do with others or decide to stick to a limited cash budget.  Someone who wishes to stop using drugs or alcohol may decide to only meet others in settings in which drugs and alcohol are not allowed or cannot be used openly.  There are also times when an individual must choose his or her own well-being and progress over continuing to socialize with people who do not support the positive lifestyle change.
Overall, deciding to eliminate bad habits and replace them with new ones does not mean living a life full of solitude and restrictions. By always looking for opportunities to meet like-minded people and spend time doing activities that reinforce the positive change,  you will greatly enhance your likelihood of achieving your goals, and you may just find yourself having fun while doing it.

The Life-Changing Power of Describing Your Ideal Day

This year I have begun to implement an exercise I read about in an entrepreneurship-themed group in which I participate online. The exercise basically calls for writing out how you would envision your ideal day. Since January 1st, I have been setting aside time to do this before going to bed each night. Here is how my process works:

Step 1: I write out a quick schedule of everything I need to do the following day and at what time I would like to begin and finish each task. This part is pretty straightforward.

Step 2: I skip some space below the quick outline of my schedule, and then I list the most ideal things I would like to happen. My list includes very basic things like collecting payment on time from a new client. It also includes major events like purchasing an apartment in a particular community that interests me. It includes gifts I’d like to receive, some obligations (i.e. “mail check to pay off xyz), and will also include charitable contributions I’d like to make [I literally just thought about this now and realized I probably should write those things down here…because generosity is very important to me].

Anyway, that’s basically the way in which I am implementing this strategy; some may refer to it as “daydreaming.” The strategy is also called by other names around various parts of the internet. Generally the same items (along with any new ones I add) appear on the bottom portion of the page until I can mark them off as accomplished.

This Strategy Can Change Your Life

It absolutely can. Much to my surprise, I found that many of the items on the “ideal” portion of the page were coming to pass and that additional similar events I hadn’t even imagined were beginning to happen. Why did I experience such a dramatic shift? I am a believer in mindset. Once you make up your mind to focus on a certain trajectory, and once you commit to that way of thinking by writing it down and mapping it out, your mindset will begin to shift to accommodate that desired trajectory, and you will begin to do things at the conscious and subconscious level to make whatever you desire happen. The same is true of negative thinking. Therefore,the moral of the story is: be very mindful and intentional with your thoughts. Set your sights and direct your thoughts in accordance with the life you would ultimately like to live.

Organizing Your Life 102: Reclaiming Your Time

The Advantage of Learning to Budget Your Time

In the inaugural lesson of OrganizeU, entitled “Getting Organized for a Good Night’s Sleep” we explored steps toward establishing a foundation for better time management. In this installment, we will begin to focus on adding more detail to the way we structure our time by creating a schedule. The ultimate objective of creating a schedule is to gain the ability to optimize the way you utilize the hour you are awake. Budgeting your time will allow you to readily examine which activities add value to your life and are, therefore, more worthy of your energy and attention. I will note that in this case, “worthiness” does not necessarily correlate to “enjoyment.” There are some activities that are not very enjoyable for most people, yet they are of a high level of importance; therefore, we must do them. An example would be standing in line to renew your driver’s license. By creating a schedule and evaluating potential opportunities to maximize your time, you will be in a position to make better decisions in advance such as reminding yourself to renew your license online, thereby avoiding long waits at the DMV, or to better manage your time waiting in line by bringing a book to read or a work task you can complete remotely.

Before You Make a Schedule

For most people who have never operated on a self-generated schedule and stuck to it, structuring their day into preset time slots may seem like a very daunting, possibly stifling task.  Therefore, I recommend individuals spend one week simply assessing how they currently use their time. For seven days, simply keep track of how long it takes to complete each task, from waking up to getting out of bed, brushing teen and showering, getting ready for work/school/other daily activity, mealtimes, even downtime. The time expenditure record can simply be a list of notes regarding all daily activities and the start and end time for each.

Week 2: Create a Schedule

At the end of the seven day tracking period, review the notes, and create a rough schedule based current time expenditures. While the goal is to devise a schedule that overall works with your current lifestyle, some opportunities for time savings may already be evident. Adjustments may be made at this time; however, the schedule can and likely will be tweaked as time passes and more opportunities for better time manage are discovered.

Week 3: Follow the Schedule

Over the next week, do your best to follow the schedule. Expect that you may not be able to perfectly adhere to it, but always try to get right back on track if you exceed the allotted planned time. Also recognize that you may need to adjust your parameters if you find you need more or less time to complete certain tasks.

Week 4: Maintain the Schedule

By Week 4, you will have had time to create your new schedule and tweak it to increase practicality. From this point on, proceed to use your new self-made schedule as a general guide for performing daily tasks as well as for scheduling appointments and social activities. You may find that your confidence grows as you observe all the tasks you are consistently able to complete along with your ability to communicate your newly optimized schedule to others. As outlined in the previous lesson, your schedule should begin with your self-established wake-up time and end with your designated pre-bedtime preparation (shower, reading, quiet time, etc.) followed by sleeping at bedtime.

Adjusting to a schedule may not happen instantly. The key to success is to continue to work diligently in spite of mistakes and to remain patient with yourself.

Lesson 103 will feature customizable sample schedules for those who may have difficulty deciding where to begin when attempting to budget their time. See you in the next installment of OrganizeU!

**In the meantime, check out this handy supplemental list that condenses this entire lesson into four streamlined steps.

Digging Out of the Aftermath of Depression

[Disclaimer: I am not a licensed counselor, social worker, psychiatrist, or psychologist. The following post is intended for motivational purposes only for individuals who would like to create a more organized environment. Individuals who believe they may be experiencing depression are urged to seek out a licensed counselor or other mental healthcare professional.]

I recently worked with a client who is an accomplished businesswoman. She is also at the tail end of a six month struggle with anxiety and depression. She described herself as “finally having the motivation to do something, but felt terrible after looking around” and seeing the state of her home. In particular, she had been avoiding her office area and another space that was dedicated to her love of working on craft projects.

Feeling overwhelmed when emerging from a period of physical illness or depression is not uncommon. Oftentimes, people struggle with finding a place to begin in restoring order to their environment. As illustrated in the example above, remaining in a disorganized home or work environment can lead to procrastination and additional feelings of guilt and anxiety, thus potentially creating a negative cycle that can become very difficult to break: eating habits may suffer, work performance declines, and a daily schedule that was once filled with more fulfilling activities may be reduced to simply going to bed upon arriving home or watching television until falling asleep.

In these situations, starting small and organizing one area at a time may be most effective. Those who have recently experienced anxiety, depression, or illness my require more immediate results. Small victories up front may provide the momentum these individuals need to keep going and to dramatically transform their environment. The following suggestions may help virtually anyone who is struggling with getting started on a large organizing project, especially those who are recovering from emotional or physical stress or illness.

  • Organize according to your energy level. I am a firm believer in realistically creating a plan before beginning an organizing project and tailoring the steps within the plan to your mental and physical energy level at the time. It is okay (and even encouraged!) to set relatively challenging targets, but plan to take a break or reach a stopping point before you would typically expect to become completely exhausted.
  • Start small. If you lack the time, energy, and focus to organize your entire home or office within a day or over the course of a weekend, divide the project into manageable parts. Can you organize one room at a time? If not, try starting with a single closet, dresser, or “junk drawer.”  Whether removing clutter from a bookshelf or donating old clothes from a closet, completing the first part of a large project often provides the inspiration to do more.
  • Don’t organize alone! Call a friend who will help you and keep you accountable, or call a professional organizer! An organizer can coach you along while offering the encouragement and, if necessary, healthy distraction from the more mundane or perhaps overwhelming parts of the process.

Contrary to what most people believe, there is no one-size-fits-all approach to getting organized. Therefore, the individual must consider his or her specific needs and goals when setting out to affect a lasting, positive change in his or her environment.

 

Choosing Achievement-Friendly Environments

This is a quick #ItsPersonal post.

An often overlooked step in goal-setting is creating surroundings that support the desired outcome. For most of us, the people with whom we spend time are the most critical part our “surroundings.” Therefore, many times, it’s not enough to simply set a goal and work at it in isolation. Losing weight may require joining a class or playing a sport in addition to working out alone. Making nutritional changes is much easier after taking a cooking class or attending healthy food-themed events. Learning a new skill is often more enjoyable when meeting with groups of people who share the same interest and are working toward a similar goal.

In addition to deliberately placing yourself in settings with like-minded people, it is also important to find others who know more than you and who are further along in their experience. Not only can a more accomplished person with similar interests tell you how they met their goals, but you can also examine their description of the road they’ve taken and decide whether it leads to where you’d like to be. #ItsPersonal

It’s very easy to become your surroundings. Therefore, achieving different results may require a change in scenery and a different cast of supporting characters. Moreover, we should always be mindful of our surrounding environment and the company we choose to keep. The human brain is constantly processing and responding to data from our surroundings–even when we don’t realize the outside influence.