Habits and Routines

I’ve been interested in cultivating habits ever since reading James Clear’s Atomic Habits. It advocates for tiny changes and recommends a focus on systems rather than goals. I have a journal that includes a habit tracker, and I’ve kept with it pretty well since January 2020.

I want to be a better writer, physically stronger, a better friend, and continually learning. I’ve chosen habits that, with consistency, should help me achieve these things day by day. Here I’ll detail each habit.

Daily Habits

I aim to complete these every day.

Wake Up By 5:30

My alarm goes off at 5:15. I get out of bed, grab my phone, watch, glasses, water bottle, and journal, and head downstairs to my office. So long as I do that by 5:30, this succeeds.

This has been one of my most successful habits so far.

Journal

The first thing I do after waking is journaling. I find it helps me think clearly and plan my day, rather than run on autopilot. My journal setup is pretty simple and standardized.

  1. Today’s date
  2. Morning thoughts, reflection, looking ahead to the day
  3. Distraction triggers. If my mind says I should check Twitter, I write that trigger down so I can see it and get it out of my head. Great focus trick.
  4. I got this part from Tim Ferris. He calls it the 5-minute journal or something. I like the ROI it gives. I write three things I’m grateful for, three things that would be great if they happened today, and three affirmations. My affirmations are consistent: “I am a great husband; I am a good friend; I am a hard worker.” I’m not usually a huge fan of affirmations, but these seem to help me make the right decisions throughout the day.

I sometimes come back and write more in section two throughout the day, but not always. This habit has been very successful, too. This habit happens around 5:30 AM.

Meditate

I see this as focus training and practice to return to the present. I get lost in thought a lot, so any help I can get is useful. I spend 10 minutes with the excellent Calm app. I generally do the “Daily Calm,” which changes each day and is consistently good.

I’m averse to any kind of religious or transcendental meditation, so I like that Calm is strictly mindfulness: no chakras, no life essence, no magic crystals. Just focusing on your breath, checking in with your body, and useful techniques like practicing gratitude.

As of writing this, I haven’t missed a day since January 1st, 2020. Fingers crossed. This habit happens around 5:50 AM.

Writing

I spend 30 minutes every morning practicing informational writing. The difference between my journaling and writing habits is in style and intention. Journaling is a check-in with myself. I’ll write out how I’m feeling, how yesterday went, or whatever’s on my mind in my personal life.

When writing, I’ll usually start free-flow writing about a topic, practicing getting ideas down on paper, and trying to break writer’s block immediately. I can quickly write a lot about a subject in this way, but I currently struggle with organizing, editing, and finishing the article.

After about 10 minutes of flow writing, I work on editing and organizing a piece I’ve been working on. This is currently the more difficult part of the habit.

Because building the habit of writing is more valuable than writing today for 30 minutes, I only need to spend 5 minutes on this habit for it to be complete. This habit has also been quite consistent. This habit happens at 6:00 AM.

Learning Goal

To level up my career, I want to learn a new skill or topic every month. Each choice generally ties into Web Development in some way. In 2019 I spent an entire month learning SVG Animation, and it dramatically improved my career trajectory.

I spend 30 minutes either learning or practicing something related to the topic. Whenever I can, I post publicly about the day’s progress, mainly because of this essay: Learn In Public.

2020 January - GraphQL February - 3d Rendering and Modeling March - TBD

This habit is successful as long as I’ve clearly defined what the task is for the day. In January, I completed the GraphQL course I had planned, so I missed days when I didn’t know how to continue. This habit happens at 6:30 AM.

Brush Milo’s Teeth

Milo is my dog. We’d like to keep him healthy and smelling great. We just started this, so we’re getting him used to it. Right now, we just rub his teeth with dog toothpaste on our fingers. Then we give him a whole bunch of treats, so he’s conditioned to at least tolerate it. We’ll work up to an actual brush eventually.

Read a Development Article

It’s said that to be a good writer, you need to read a lot. If my goal is to become a good writer of development articles, I should be reading a lot of development articles. I pay attention to things the author has done, both things I like and dislike. I want to develop an eye for informational writing and learn something new about development. I make sure I read one a day, right after lunch.

Day Reflection

In bed, I open my journal and turn to a page where I write one line per day. I’ve given myself the prompt, “What did I do to work towards a better future?” This prompt is intentionally open-ended, and I come at it in a lot of different ways. Building relationships, keeping a happy marriage, or learning something new all fit the bill.

Some examples: “Learned how to render 3d animations.” “Had a hard day but kept getting back up. I practiced persistence.” “Took Ellen (wife) out for our date night.”

This happens around 9:00 PM.

Reading

I want to write better, so I need to read more. Plus, I want the benefits that come with consistent reading. I mostly read non-fiction, and mostly instructional on topics like productivity, writing, development, or design. This happens for at least ten minutes right before bed.

Bed by 10 PM

To wake by 5:30, I need to try and keep an early bedtime. This isn’t always easy, but most nights, I’m successful. As long as I’m in bed with the lights off by 10, I’m successful.

Semi-Regular Habits

These are habits that take weekly or place several times a week.

Pack Gym Bag for the Week

Monday morning, I pack my gym bag with three sets of clothes and three Blender Bottles of protein. I bring the gym bag to work and leave it there. If I’m successful in packing my bag on Monday morning, I’ll get to the gym three days that week.

Weight Lifting

Three times a week I lift weight at the gym in the same building as my work. I follow this program mainly because I enjoy barbell lifting and want my workouts to be as intense and brief as possible. I train Monday, Wednesday, and Friday at 6 PM. I do my best not to make plans for these days. Keeping them blocked off in my calendar is the key to success with this habit.

Grip Strength

As the weights get heavier, my grip strength becomes a blocker on progress. Following the advice of Julian Shapiro, I’m doing grip strength sets on the days where I don’t work out. This habit happens around 7:00 AM.

Time with Friends

I’m good at making friends but terrible at keeping and fostering relationships. I generally focus on ‘productivity’ and let this part of my life atrophy. To help with this, I spend time with a friend at least once per week. I try to include my wife, but the minimum for success is spending time outside of work with someone who isn’t my wife or my in-laws.

GTD Review

I follow the Getting Things Done philosophy of task management. One of the key tenants is to do a weekly review of your system.

I go through my entire “inbox”, clear out my email, and check on pending or delegated items. Then I make sure my projects have a clear ‘next step’ so they’re easy to continue. If something takes 2 minutes, I do it then. Otherwise, I defer it for later.

I also look over my calendar for the upcoming week to make sure I have all my events scheduled.

This happens every week on Saturday.