There’s nothing quite like waking up to a day with absolutely nothing on the calendar. The possibilities feel endless but the joy of a clean-slate day only really works when you have a good routine to get back to. It’s amazing how having time for everything usually leads to accomplishing nothing. Plainly put: routines are good for us. They improve our mental health, keep us from overthinking, and can even make life feel more meaningful. That being said, the art of how to stick to a routine is a little less obvious.

One thing that has always helped me structure my day—particularly as I transitioned from a more rigid in-office schedule to working from home—has been to think of the things I wanted to prioritize as thoughtful habits. If a certain workout felt good at a particular time of day, I’d repeat it again and again. I took the same approach to figure out when I was most productive at a computer. “If that behavior helps you, if there’s positive reinforcement, you’re more likely to do it again,” clinical neuropsychologist Daryaneh Badaly explained to National Geographic last year. “Then it becomes a repeated behavior, and that becomes a routine.”

Now that we have a brand new year filled with untapped potential ahead, it’s the perfect time to start forming a routine that will help you accomplish your goals. Read on for a few practical tips that can help you stick with it.  

Give meaning to a routine.

Routines are good for our overall mental health, but they can also help pave the way for a particular goal. Declare your ambitions for the year and create routines that can help you achieve them.

Start Naturally.

It’s a rare person who’s able to completely overhaul their life on January 1. Look at some of the positive things you’re already doing and build from there. It’s not necessarily about doing something entirely new, but giving more energy and attention to things that are already working for you. You’re probably already better at sticking to routines than you think.

Give Yourself Some Time.

Habits don’t form instantly. Typically, it takes a month of repetition to build a lasting habit.

Come Prepared.

Treat the first day of committing to a routine like the first day of school. Make sure you have everything you might need to set yourself up for success.

Structure Your Day.

Identify what you want to accomplish during the morning, afternoon, and nighttime. Then take it one part of the day at a time. 

photo by Michelle Nash

Fuel Productivity.

Literally. Eat healthy, balanced meals to replenish brain energy and help you stay focused.  

Find a way to track your progress.

Use something visual to mark a daily commitment.

Be sure “me time” is part of your routine.

Especially in the morning. Get in tune with yourself (preferably without your phone) before you take on the world.

Let your alarm work for you.

Give yourself enough time in the morning to accomplish your goals.

Keep things organized.

A clean workspace is a productive workspace.

photo by Hanna Zahner

Make productive plans with friends.

Accountability is key. Plus, it’s usually more fun to work out, study, or perform just about any activity with a friend.

Create variations depending on how you feel.

Some days might feel more energizing than others. Consider adjusting your routine to match your mood.

Celebrate the little wins.

Even creating a routine out of something seemingly small, like remembering to put SPF on every morning, is absolutely worth a pat on the back.

photo by Michelle Nash

Don’t be afraid to change course.

If one particular aspect of a routine continually falls to the wayside, you don’t have to admit defeat. Maybe you never feel like meditating first thing in the morning—try doing it at a different time of day, adjust the amount of time you’re giving it, or consider finding an equally valuable alternative that could be a better fit for you.

Cut yourself some slack.

Everyone tends to get a little ambitious with their goal-setting. If you miss a workout or don’t have time to journal one day, you’re allowed a few free passes. Just roll with it.

Leave room for spontaneity.

Sticking to a routine shouldn’t be exhausting—if it was, it wouldn’t be sustainable.

What are your tips for sticking to a routine?

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