The power of routines

One of the very important things I learned during my personal productivity journey, is that it is important to set up some daily routines.

Without the structure of daily routines, you can forget to do a lot of things. Of course, I’m not recommending that your entire day be ruled by a set of routines, that would kill creativity very quickly. What I’m suggesting is that you use routines at least twice per day — I have a morning routine and a “going to bed” routine — this will allow you to structure your day without killing spontaneity and creativity.

My routines

As mentioned in the last section of this post, I have two routines — a morning routine and a bedtime routine. In this post, I’ll describe both of these routines and why I chose to set them up the way I did.

To keep things simple, I exclude from my discussion here things like drinking a cup of coffee or having breakfast — they are both an important part of my routines, but I’ll exclude them as they are not part of my “professional” activities.

Morning routine

The first thing I do in the morning while drinking the aforementioned cup of coffee is check my electronic inboxes. I have several electronic inboxes that I check on a regular basis, they are

  • My email inbox
  • My SMS messages
  • My WhatsApp messages
  • My Facebook Messenger inbox

There are a couple of things that may seem unorthodox about checking these inbox as part of my morning routine. First, the tonne of literature out there specifically telling you not to check your email first thing in the morning.

I check my email inbox in the morning for two reasons, first, I need to have up-to-date information going in to the day. Not being aware of the latest information pertaining to work would cause major embarrassment for me. So I need to check my email as soon as I get up.

Second, I run a modified version of inbox zero. In my version, I sort all actionable email into an action needed folder, all reference material is forwarded into my Evernote account from my email client appropriately labeled, and all unnecessary material is immediately deleted — the modification is that I don’t even reply to the less than two minutes emails, I place them into my actions needed folder for later processing.

This modification is important to note, it prevents me from falling into the email rabbit hole and coming out mid-day. I just sort email, processing it, not do it. This allows me to be on top of the latest developments and at the same time not waste a lot of time in email.

I then process my other inboxes (SMS, WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger) in the same way. I extract the relevant actions and reference material and put it into my system. Which brings us to the other odd part of this portion of my morning routine — I check Facebook Messenger.

Unfortunately, a lot of my students send me messages on Facebook. And these messages are usually time critical, like a complaint about grades right before the dean approves them and they become irrevocable. So I need to check this on a regular basis to make sure that I don’t miss anything. To make sure that I don’t get sucked into the social media black hole, I use the separate messenger app to check this inbox, not the Facebook site, so I only see the messages and nothing else.

After checking my inboxes and processing them, I take a minute or two to look at my calendar for today and tomorrow. This is to prevent me from forgetting about any appointments that need some upfront work before I can make them — I check my calendar a week ahead during by weekly review, but being reminded of the events I need to attend today and the following day is important for me to function properly.

Next, I check my todo list to get an overview of the things I need to accomplish for the day — remember from my previous posts that I select actions from my next actions list and assign them a due date to organize how I work. Once all the tasks scheduled for the day are done, I then “snack” on the rest of my todo list to get the remaining stuff done if possible. That’s it, that’s my morning routine

  • check my inboxes
  • check my calendar
  • check my todo list

On my commute to work, I usually listen to news, or a podcast about personal productivity or about one of my research interests. Doing the above helps me go into the day without worrying about the fact that I may have missed an important message that I need for work. This routine may not be suitable for everyone, but it works for me. I hope it gives you ideas about what to add to your morning routine, try some of these things out and see if they work for you.

Bedtime routine

Before going to bed I plan the actions that I would like to accomplish the next day. I do this by going through my next actions list and choosing a sub set that I think would be manageable given my other commitments on that day — I check these commitments using my calendar.

For example, if I have back to back meetings tomorrow, I usually schedule little to no tasks to be completed. If I get some free time that I did not plan on when a meeting ends early or starts late, I can then choose from my next action lists sorted by context the most appropriate action to take given my current context and time available.

If I do have empty time slots on my calendar for the following day, I choose tasks that I believe I can accomplish during the available time and schedule them for the next day — I try to include at least two tasks that would move me towards achieving my goals.

For example, I currently want to get promoted and finish writing a new book. So I select at least two tasks that can move me towards that goal daily. The rest of my tasks can be “busy work”, task that are necessary for me to function in my job, but will not contribute to moving me towards my goals — filling in employee assessment forms for instance.

I then give a high priority to the tasks that will drive me toward my goals. This makes them appear at the top of my todo software so I get to tackle them first before the other mundane stuff — after my morning routine of course.

Based on my todo list and calendar, I also charge all the devices that I would need the next day, and prepare my bag for work taking with me anything that I need to accomplish my scheduled tasks and appointments. That way I am ready to go in the morning without any delay.


By having a fixed stable routine, I’m able to work in flow. By repeating them every day, the tasks above become second nature to me and I don’t need to actively think about them. Try establishing some routines for yourself, they will allow you to accomplish a lot.

One of the very important things I learned during my personal productivity journey, is that it is important to set up some daily routines. Without the structure of daily routines, you can forget to do a lot of things. Of course, I’m not recommending that your entire day be ruled by a set of routines,…

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