Keys to Building a Routine

Routines can help you push through resistance and complete your most important tasks
By Danae Smith
Danae Smith
Danae Smith
Danae Smith is the founder of This Wondrous Life, a lifestyle blog rooted in pursuing a life lived simply, slowly, and with community. She believes there is more to the mundane than meets the eye. You can also find her on Instagram.
October 6, 2021 Updated: October 6, 2021

Anyone who has tried to improve themselves will encounter the “routine problem.” If you have, you may have asked yourself, “How do I start building a routine, one that actually works for me?

First, I want you to note the key phrase “for me.” Daily routines aren’t generic or universal. A daily routine that works for me will likely not work for you because we have different intentions, needs, capacities, and so on. In starting a daily routine, we first have to give ourselves permission to create the routine that works for us. We need to accept that it can look different and that’s beyond OK.

With that out of the way, let’s really get into the practicalities of it all. When I approach starting or building a routine, there are three keys I like to keep in mind:

  1. Why am I doing this? What’s the point or intention? What’s my endgame with this routine?
  2. Remember to extend grace to myself
  3. Set realistic expectations for my routine

I’ve fallen prey to diving headfirst into building a daily routine. In doing so, I didn’t get clear on why I was doing it and what I ultimately wanted to feel and experience during the routine. I didn’t extend grace to myself when it didn’t go as planned or life happened. Lastly, I expected to have it flow and be perfect on day 1, not realizing it’s a journey and process. Sitting with these key reminders helped me realize that, over time, the daily routine will become habitual and flow seamlessly into your day-to-day, but in the beginning, it’s a lot of learning and discovery.

Step 1: Get Clear on Why

The first step is to get clear on why you’re creating a daily routine. This connects with key No. 1. Identify and define the intention of your routine. A great question to ask yourself is “What do I want to feel/experience/gain from my daily routine?”

Maybe you’re wanting to feel more grounded as you start your day, or relaxed as you end the day. Maybe you want to feel energized as you move through your day or experience joy in its simplest form. Whatever it is for you, get clear on why you’re starting and what the intention is for your daily routine.

Bonus tip: Write your “why” down somewhere visible so you’re able to reflect back on it whenever you feel off-balanced or struggle to get into a rhythm with your daily routine.

Step 2: Decide What Kind of Routine

The next step would be to decide what daily routine you want to work on first. You can have a routine for just about anything, but for the sake of this post, we’ll focus on the routines by time of day. So, do you want a morning routine to kick off your day or a mid-day routine to help reconnect and take a breather as your day unfolds? Maybe you want or need an evening routine to help set you up for success in the morning or decompress. I would advise picking one and getting solid with that routine before implementing others.

Bonus tip: This step can be applied to any routine you wish to implement in your daily life. You may have a “time-of-day” routine that’s solid but not a routine for your productivity or content-creation process. All this to say, apply this as it fits for you.

Step 3: Brainstorm Your Routine

After you’ve identified your why and defined your intention for your daily routine, and you’ve decided which kind of routine you want to implement, it’s time to brainstorm and map out your routine.

This step is meant to be fun. You get to decide what you want to encompass your routine. For me, this step is all about listing out all the things. So set a timer for two to five minutes and just write down all the habits, rituals, practices, or activities you wish to include in your daily routine.

You aren’t deciding just yet what will be in your routine. You’re identifying the things you believe ground you, bring you joy, and fill you up.

Bonus tip: Nothing is off the table in this step. List everything you can think of—even if it seems impractical or unrealistic. This is a moment of ideation and dreaming, no restrictions.

Extra bonus tip: To help with this step, reflect on the routine you have now. Believe it or not, we all have routines, whether they’re intentional or not. Take note of what you do in the morning before the day gets moving. Take note of what you do in the evening when you clock out of work or wrap up dinner. Sometimes we don’t need to start from scratch. We can work with the blocks of our existing routines.

Step 4: Map Your Routine

Now we get practical and realistic, if you will. Going back to step 3—to that lovely list of yours—select one to three of the ideas you’ve brainstormed to put in your daily routine. Two questions to ask yourself as you make your selection:

  • Does this ritual/practice/habit align with the why and intention for this daily routine?
  • How much time can I realistically give to this ritual/practice/habit?

Remember, having a daily routine isn’t about doing everything. It’s about doing what matters. It’s important to set realistic expectations as you map your routine. You may want to spend 30 minutes every morning alone in the stillness, but if you have young children or a job that takes away from your morning flow, 30 minutes alone probably isn’t realistic in this season. It doesn’t mean it’ll never happen, but maybe you can only spare 5 to 15 minutes in the morning. Knowing this, you can review your dream ritual/practice/habit list and pick what actually aligns with the time you have and your intention with the daily routine.

Bonus tip: Similar to bonus tip No. 1, write your routine down somewhere easily visible and accessible. Right now, it isn’t habit yet, so it’s helpful to keep what you’ve said you’ll do in front of you so you remember and lean in.

Extra bonus tip: Remember, it’s not about doing everything, but doing what matters.

Step 5: Start the Routine

Easier said than done. I know for me, it took a while to actually do what I said I was going to do, routine-wise. It required unlearning unhealthy habits. I would overthink it and fall back on what already existed for me, routine-wise. It took just doing it, no frill or fluff, to get it stable.

We can set intentions, brainstorm, and map out all the routines we want, but it won’t mean anything if we don’t actually do them. This is your notice to not overthink starting. Just do it. Wake up tomorrow and do that routine you mapped out. Close out your workday and do that post-work routine you brainstormed.

At some point, we have to lay down the planning and organizing and just do. It won’t be perfect. It will feel awkward and messy at first. It might even feel impossible. You may only do it twice your first week. But twice is better than not doing it at all. As the popular phrase goes, “better done than perfect.”

Bonus tip: Remember to extend grace to yourself. You’re starting something new and it may be unfamiliar. It might feel messy or awkward. Keep going.

Extra bonus tip: Starting the routine begins the trial and error stage. You’re building a new habit and learning about yourself in the process. You may tweak and iterate on your routine after week one when you realize it doesn’t really fit. Take note of what you actually do from what you mapped out versus what you don’t do. Start again and focus on the pieces of your routine you actually do. Remember, start small and build from there.

Daily routines are a practical and beautiful way to invest in yourself daily and intentionally show up to your life. Getting into a rhythm with your daily routine will come with time. It’s a journey—a process—not a destination. It will ebb and flow with you as it should. Daily routines aren’t a prison. They’re liberation. They’re a structure to help you purposefully lean into your life.
Danae Smith
Danae Smith is the founder of This Wondrous Life, a lifestyle blog rooted in pursuing a life lived simply, slowly, and with community. She believes there is more to the mundane than meets the eye. You can also find her on Instagram.