I’m not sure if bloggers have always written about morning routines or if it’s just the Year of 1000 Things to do Before 7 AM, but I’ve read a ton of posts on this topic lately. While testing out the different methods, I discovered how much I enjoy starting my days off with sunrise bike rides, morning meditations, pre-breakfast showers, gratitude journaling, etc., etc. But going through a personal to-do list each morning before I can start my professional to-do list? It just wasn’t working for me.
I’m a super organized, “Type A” kind of gal who loves planning. So starting my day with a multi-step morning routine, followed by a predictable schedule, should have been a great fit that resulted in awesome productivity, right?
The thing that I discovered about myself — and this may or may not be the case for you — is that the more structured my day is, the easier it is to get off-track. And once that happens, it’s pretty hard for me to recover.
I noticed that the more items I’d checked off my to-do list before I started working, the more likely it was for me to think, Look how much I’ve already done today! Let me just do this less important task and then I’ll “eat my frog” — tackle that thing I didn’t feel like doing and/or the task that was the most important one to get done. But once I diverged even slightly from the day I’d mapped out, I swiftly tumbled down the rabbit hole. As soon as the routine was broken, the train was off its track and another one wasn’t coming until the next day. Every scheduled task became a hurdle to navigate and my confidence in my abilities and my professional worth began to diminish.
I’m in my first year of freelancing full-time so this territory is still fairly new to me. I struggle with being both a good employee (see above) as well as being a good boss to myself. I am the most critical manager I’ve ever had (and hopefully will ever have), which I suspect is the case for many freelancers, as well as any other perfectionist. I want to do my best but when I feel that I’m not (again, see above) it’s disheartening. So I just needed to start doing these “20 things every successful person does before breakfast,” right?
I soon discovered that the more required tasks I gave myself, the more likely I was to rebel against my highly-structured day. And when you’re rebelling the rules you set, the situation can get sticky. You feel like the prisoner and the guard at the same time and freelancing just doesn’t feel that great anymore. In fact, this got me to the point of being just about ready to throw in the towel. Why am I doing this again? I’m such a crappy employee. It sucks being my own boss when I won’t listen to myself. I’m a terrible self-manager, etc. etc.
So, how did it get better? I scratched my nth attempt at a morning routine
followed by a set schedule and decided to simplify with 3 daily nonnegotiables instead:
- I meditate between the time I wake up and the time I start work.
- From the morning to the early afternoon, I complete at least 4 billable hours on a client project before answering email or doing any other admin work. I mono-task during this time, with my phone and computer notifications turned off.
- I go to bed around 10 PM Sunday through Thursday.
In addition to these nonnegotiables, I have ideals, which aren’t required but are important to keep in mind:
- I should answer client email right after my 4+ daily hours and attend to any requests within 24 hours.
- I’m allowed to spend my afternoons, when my energy is lowest, how I see fit.
- I should return to work in the evening for my second boost of energy.
These nonnegotiables and ideals still leave room for morning bike rides, writing before breakfast (as I am now), and other activities I discovered that I love while trying out different routines. But since I’m no longer working through a pre-determined schedule from the moment I wake up until the moment I go to bed, it’s harder to do it “wrong” and give up for the day. I’m finally allowing myself the flexibility that I was craving when I went freelance to begin with. And while I still keep a to-do list, I’ve removed any unnecessary due dates since missing an arbitrary deadline only triggers the off-track mentality. I have faith in my work ethic and have to trust myself to get it all done without micromanaging.
Finally, without some complex morning ritual paired with a strict daily schedule, my client work has become the star of my day. By making my 4+ hours of billable work my #1 to-do, I’m able to focus on the project at hand and get far more done in the end.
By mono-tasking and following a more open routine, I have fewer opportunities to rebel against my schedule and, honestly, less temptation. I no longer feel like I have to battle myself daily just to stick to the plan and because of that, I’m back to enjoying the benefits of freelancing rather than wallowing in its challenges, ready to quit.
Getting rid of my morning routine (and the domino effect it created) helped me remember how much I love creating and maintaining websites. Now, I spend my time getting lost in client projects. I finish each day feeling accomplished because I completed exactly what I set out to do. By simplifying my daily tasks, I’ve been able to spend more time doing the work I love in a way that works for me — because isn’t that the reason so many of us take that crazy leap into freelancing to begin with?