Remote Work Life: The Daily Routine

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March 2, 2016

Practicing a daily routine isn’t for the faint of heart, or those weak in purpose. But creating boundaries for yourself—and others—is key for remote work success.

A five part series written for remote professionals who want to take their life and careers to a new level. This is Part One in the series.

Years ago, when I stumbled upon movements like the World Domination Summit and authors like (the now wildly popular) James Altucher, I knew there was some validity to the personal wellness and daily routine mantras that led to success as a remote worker. These people were just too positive and legitimate for the entire notion to be a fad.

As trite as it may sound, the truth that lies behind the phrase ‘daily routine’ is very real. Speaking from experience, at my most well-oiled moments in life over the last three years, the daily routine has undoubtedly equated to more energized days. It’s meant more fulfilled relationships and better results in the work I’m doing.

Let’s dig to the core of what makes for a successful routine. I’ll sprinkle in a few anecdotes and experiences of my own as a remote business owner to color the general idea.

Take Stock of Life

Nothing will topple faster than a structure without a foundation. It’s important to identify what brings happiness and fulfillment to your life on a daily basis. How? Create a new todo list or open your notebook (right now! this article can wait) and start jotting down bullet points.

The meaning of defining your life at this moment in time is to make clear to yourself what’s working and what’s not working. Therapists, life coaches, and various spiritual leaders might call this your energizing and draining list at any given time.

This is a fluid process that changes month over month (quicker for some) and it’s a process that allows you to make note of—rather than just think about and let pass—the topics that are truly bothersome and draining, versus those that are fulfilling.

An example list might look something like this. Make it personal to you. It is, after all, all about you taking stock. For this example, I’ll start with what is Draining.

  1. Cold and dark winter days, ugh!
  2. Inability to ride my bicycle without freezing and being uncomfortable
  3. Frustrating client relationship with [Name]
  4. [Name(s)], because he/she/they only “take” in our friendship
  5. Inconsistency with meditation in the morning
  6. Lack of time to myself

Then, jot down what is Energizing. These don’t have to be the opposite of what feels draining, but what comes to mind for positives right now.

  • The work I’m doing; new teammates
  • Workouts and the community at my gym
  • Thankfulness for ongoing business opportunities
  • Insight I’m pulling from the book [currently reading]
  • The effort [Name] has been putting into our friendship

One list might be quite longer than another; that’s ok. What’s important is that you get down everything that’s on your mind at the time: from personal stuff, to friendship and partner stuff, to the mundane details of everyday life.

If something’s noted as a positive or a negative in your life, you know what it is. You won’t have to seek for long.

Once you’ve spent a couple minutes writing out your lists, take a moment to reflect on these lists. You might think, wow, this is great/terrible! That’s ok, too.

Our lives our complicated beasts, so don’t worry if your lists paint a so-so picture. We’ve all been there; many people are there right now. At this point it’s important to have written out these truths on paper. You’re now looking at your reality, and you’re one step closer to crafting your new every day from now on.

Build a Routine With Your "Why"

Odds are you will be staring at a pretty mixed bag. Surely you have some positive things written down, but you likely have a few (maybe quite a few) black eyes, too.

The life circumstance that's frustrating at this moment; a friendship that’s dragging you down; the project that won’t go away; a partner or a family member you’re in the middle of something with.

When you’re building a new daily routine (remember, with purpose; with a why), you have to stand tall with what feels right. Going with your gut is the move. Close your eyes and think about your day with more-this and less-that. How does that feel? Try it again, swapping out what’s “bad” and what’s “good” right now.

When you do this, you come to the point where you realize where lines must be drawn in the sand. Saying no becomes more important than ever. “Disappointing” a friend here or there has to happen. Dipping out of a party might need to be the move. Not drinking on weeknights could very well be what you need to do. Carving out time for dinner with your partner may be what feels right; or exactly what needs to happen immediately.

You have to build a daily routine that matters to you because its reason lies from within. You are in control of these decisions. The time is now to block out what gets the boot, and what stays (or gets added) to the list.

For example, I know for my own sanity, I need to start getting miles on my bike. But where? It’s still cold and windy out. I’ll find a routine on my trainer for now, and promise myself to make time and create space for midday rides when warmer days arrive this spring.

I also realize that my days are starting off on the wrong foot because I’ve let my daily breathing and meditation practice slip. So, not only do I need to get more rigid with my adult assigned bedtime, but I also need to make sure I hit those times in order to rise early enough to have time to myself.

As any of us start to work down our lists, we quickly realize where more time needs to go, and where less time needs to be spent. Or, what needs to go away entirely. For many people, that is the hardest part: saying goodbye to things we think we need but in reality do not.

Test and Iterate

Structure is so important to leading a successful daily routine. I’m all for keeping things loose, but if you’re honest, I’d be willing to bet that such a mindset got you to where you are in the first place. “Keeping it loose” only results in getting a little loose in the cage, a little loose in work, a little loose with a spouse and/or kids, and a little loose with how we lead our lives.

Carving out the day by the hour is the best thing for my own routine, especially when I’m iterating on a change I feel I need to make to what is no longer quite right. It keeps me on task and focused with time spent, and for me, it’s the best move until I’m able to train myself without the extra push.

A daily routine might look something like this:

06am – Wake, shower, 10-15 minute breathing and mediation
07am – Full breakfast, reading time, quiet time
09am – Work begins, email, check in with team
01pm – Lunch break or exercise after snack
03pm – Work continues
06pm – (Gym, or head home)
07pm – Dinner and family time
10pm – Bed for quiet, reading, and sleep

Weekends may look quite a bit different, but I find that creating order around the meat of the week greatly impacts how accomplished I feel, and how energized and on task I feel from day to day. This is especially true when I’ve taken a hard look at my lists and decisively removed as much of the “drain” as possible.

You might look at this and think it’s a bit crazy, noting that nothing about the above example lines up with how you live your life. But again, this is a template. Perhaps you need just 6 hours of sleep to function well (if so, I’m jealous) and thus your day will look a bit different.

Regardless, find a routine to start with, test it out for a week—minimum—and iterate from there. Once you find a sweet spot, stick with it as closely as possible.

Practice Makes Perfect

Our lives are constantly changing: seasons come and go; work ebbs and flows; people are in and out of focus. The practice of the daily routine relies on a strict rigidity, until, it doesn’t.

Any single routine may work flawlessly for 2, 4, 10… months until suddenly, it just doesn’t fit any longer. When things start to feel off kilter again, it’s time to update your routine and get a fresh perspective on your life.

Practicing a daily routine isn’t for the faint of heart, or those weak in purpose. Creating boundaries for yourself—and others—is somewhat painful. Looking directly at what isn’t so pretty about your life just, well, kind of stinks. But as a professional constantly striving to be better in your work and in your life, this is important stuff.

If you don’t take my word for it, take a look at the others saying very similar things, then give it a try. It doesn’t have to be perfect, and it won’t solve all things you perceive as problems. But if done with intent and purpose, it will be the epicenter for you shaping the life you lead for the positive once and for all.

Next in the Series

In part two of this series, I'll look at the role nutrition plays in the life of a remote professional. From the brain, to the body, to our unique nutritional needs.