March 2023 Theme: Routine
For each month of 2023, I’m choosing a single word to inspire action. I did a similar experiment throughout 2020 and loved how it impacted my mindset. In fact, I set “Routine” as my theme for March 2020. Let’s hope this month goes better.
For January I choose Depth. Rather than expanding into new habits, topics and interests, I wanted to spend time exploring, finishing, and working on things that I’d already started.
For February I switched to Garden. I wanted to focus on aesthetics and the feel of what I was creating and putting into the world. I made some progress on this blog, created some beautiful digital art, and released an iOS app for Hardcover (!).
One day in early February I mentioned to my wife how much I was enjoying my routine. I was starting to get into a flow where I felt productive without being stressed. It was amazing.
The very next day I went in for a physical therapy appointment. I’ve been seeing a physical therapist every few weeks since I tore my ACL and had surgery last year. I’ve been slowly building up muscle, but a muscle test showed I was behind schedule. The only way to get back on track would be to start hitting the gym a few times a week.
This curveball to my routine meant a few readjustments. I signed up for Planet Fitness and began hitting a non-CrossFit gym for the first time since 2009.
I’ve had a complicated relationship with routine. I’ve had routines that drove me to burnout and routines that weren’t challenging enough and left me unmotivated.
Striking that balance to where I feel motivated and excited while still feeling slightly challenged is what I’m aiming for in a routine. I love finishing up whatever I’m working on for the day and being able to take a deep breath and feel proud of the work I put in. The output doesn’t matter as much as creating that safe space for effort.
With that in mind, here’s what I’m hoping to try and what I’d like to feel this month by creating a routine.
Continue Morning Coffee & Reading with my Wife
There are a few parts of my current routine I have no intention of changing. One of them is how my days begin.
Each morning I wake up without an alarm. While sipping our hot beverages, my wife and I have breakfast in bed, read and ease into the day.
What I’ve done with coffee has changed over time. Last year I’d check Twitter, then I moved to Mastodon and dropped it altogether.
For a while, I was reading The New York Times to stay informed about the world. Since their recent anti-trans opinion pieces, I’ve dropped that habit.
Lately, I’ve been trying to read more books and RSS feeds during this time. Readwise Reader has been my chosen read-later AND RSS device. I’ll open it up on my iPad and browse through my growing collection of feeds. I’ve become much more particular in unfollowing feeds that feel like they’re writing for views and clicks than for fun or to share actual insights.
I’m currently reading The Time Travelers Wife.
Continue Weekly Planning
I’ve been doing weekly planning sessions on and off over the last few years. I’ve found that weeks I spend even an hour planning out end up happier. This seems like an easy one to continue doing each Sunday afternoon.
The other side of weekly planning is checking Todoist & my calendar. I’m a huge fan of Todoist and have been using it since 2016. Sometimes I’ll go weeks without looking at it only to return to using it every day. When I’m feeling stressed it helps to unload everything on my mind. It’s a relief to move this anxiety to a tool. It’s effectively Getting Things Done.
Exercise at the same time each day
I’ve been mostly good at this. Since learning I needed to start hitting the gym, I’ve struggled to keep a consistent schedule. For March, I want to exercise (or do my physical therapy) at 11 AM every. Three days a week I’ll hit the gym, one day I’ll peddle on the Peloton, and the last three days I’ll “just” do physical therapy exercises.
Have focused time on my computer
It feels a little weird to mention this one, but it’s important. Since I’m not working a traditional job, I have a completely open schedule. That often means if I’m not absolutely excited to work I’ll delay whatever it is. Creating an irresistible staircase has been helpful for focus. For me, that has meant having a constant flow of hot tea, a random selection of KitKats and some bulgogi nori.
Create space for fun
A concern of mine is that “routine” could limit fun and spontaneity. One way I plan to make sure this doesn’t happen is by creating plenty of unscheduled time.
It feels weird to schedule fun, but I’ve found it does help. Marilyn and I are finishing up It Takes Two and playing through our board game library (starting with the Gargoyles board game). At the end of the day, I’ll often just crash and relax unless I know I have something else to do together. Planning these date nights ahead of time helps.
Continue My Current Food Routine
Lately, I’ve fallen into a pattern for my breakfast and lunch that I really enjoy. For breakfast, I’ll usually have a bowl of Morning Summit Almond Cereal with Almond milk – both from Costco. For lunch, I’ll have a salad with chopped-up Costco rotisserie chicken, cucumber, berries croutons and whatever else we have that needs to be eaten. For a snack, I’ll have bell pepper and hummus. I’ve gotten to love these meals and look forward to them. All of them give me energy and leave me feeling ready to act rather than relax.
For dinner, anything goes. 😅
What I’m Hoping to Get Out of This
I’ve been very happy this year. Far from perfect, but content and excited. There were some weeks when I was stressed out about the Hardcover iOS app being repeatedly rejected from the App store, but overall things have been good.
What I’m most curious about is how the additional routine will impact my happiness. Currently, my own two responsibilities are weekly gaming with my niece and nephew, a Hardcover meeting every 2 weeks and a meeting with my cofounder every week. The entire rest of my schedule is fluid based on how I’m feeling.
I love the flexibility this offers. Sometimes I’ll work on something here on this blog, sometimes Hardcover, and sometimes a project around the house. I let my energy level and current interests dictate what gets my attention.
I’ve been anti-planning lately, and even more so since we lost our dog, Lily, last year. After that, I didn’t want to make any plans ahead of time. What if I wasn’t feeling up to it when the time came? I suspect I went all the way to the “no plans” extreme. This month is about moving back to somewhere in the middle – where I have plans and routines I’m excited about and figuring out what that looks like.
How Did it Go?
Since I left my job 4 years ago I haven’t had a routine that’s lasted longer than a few months. Even this month my routine ended up changing multiple times. Here’s what my routine generally looked like, what worked and what didn’t.
Reading (most) mornings
Even with a book-related startup, I’ve struggled to get into a solid reading habit. Social and news apps usually were my go-to introduction to each day. This month I switched my morning routine from picking up my phone to picking up a book. That one change resulted in reading 5 more books than usual, and with less morning stress.
Whether it’s Hardcover or other projects, having focused time is how I get things done. I tried something new this month: I’d get a cup of hot tea, sit down at my desk and work in Pomodoro bursts for a few hours. During breaks, I’d eat snacks – mostly international KitKats from the Asian supermarket.
This combination made my focused time a lot more than just sitting in front of a computer. I’ve started to enjoy tea – although at this point we’re just working through a years-long backlog of various types (black tea and roasted green tea are my favorites).
Knowing how much I enjoy this ritual has helped with that first step. Once I’m sitting down and deep in a problem I can work for hours. It’s just getting there and setting myself up for success that’s the hard part.
Focus on Physical Therapy
At the beginning of this month, I was exercising Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. On these mornings I’d jump on my Peloton in my apartment and go for a 30-minute to 45-minute ride. It was going great.
A week into March, I received some hard advice from my physical therapist: I needed to hit the gym. As part of my ACL recovery, I’d need to do some weight training to repair my quad muscle (which was extracted and used as my ACL).
That changed my schedule to 2 days on, and one day off. This has meant gym, bike, rest, and then repeat. At first, I was annoyed I’d need to spend even more time exercising. But after 3 weeks I’m getting into the flow of a 2 on, 1 off schedule.
Planning a 2/1 schedule around a job never felt right. It would mean going to the gym on a precious weekend day – which I never wanted to do. But this time it’s been nice. I can no longer use weekends as an excuse, nor would I need to.
The glue that’s held this all together has been continuing to do a weekly planning session. This sets aside time for each other routine – when I’ll work out. When I’ll read. When I’ll work.
With a job this was less useful. Of course I’m going to be working and commuting during the hours between 8 am and 6 pm every weekday. Yay.
Some days I wished I had scheduled more downtime. If I didn’t get enough sleep, spent an evening out with friends, or solved a frustrating problem, I’d want a little time off to relax. I realized I wasn’t scheduling weekends.
That’s helped set time off as much as time on. That balance has helped this month feel calmer despite being very active.
Notes: Header image generated with the prompt “A digital painting of a complex system connecting digital devices, laptops, phones to physical spaces, gardening, flat design, symbolizing routine, colorful, white background, highly detailed, 8k, award winning”, Stable Diffusion WebUI, Deliberate_v11 model.