January 1, 2019

How to Develop Life-Changing Routines with the Ink+Volt Planner

A step-by-step guide to better mornings and beyond.

If you want to change your life, change something small.

Big goals are good to have, but your life is made up of the many small things you do every day. Those are the things that add up, like compound interest, and make the difference over time.

What are your daily routines? We all have them, but the best ones are intentional and driven by a specific goal in mind.

The Ink+Volt Planner was designed to make these kinds of meaningful, life-changing routines simple to achieve. Here is how to develop routines that will change your life for the better every single day.

How can I build a routine with a planner?

When we created the weekly layout for the Ink+Volt planner, we opted to omit the traditional hour-by-hour breakdown format of a traditional planning in favor of a more flexible space.

What we realized after years of personally planning with hourly time slots is that we fell into one or more of these ‘time traps:’

  • Overscheduling. We’d narrow ourselves down to the hour, sometimes to the 15-minute increment, and leave no room for error, accident, or a slightly longer line at the cafe.
  • Chunks of unused planner space. Maybe you have no need to plan anything before 9 am or on certain days of the week, leaving tons wasted space and lots of blank lines you can’t use.
  • Multiple hours blocked for a single activity, only to get distracted during and to misuse that time (and fall behind). Writing individual tasks into hourly slots may work for some, but this rigid structure doesn’t offer much wiggle room for interruptions or new developments.

At Ink+Volt, we found that employing “time blocking,” which is the segmenting of portions of your day to dedicate to projects, specific collections of tasks, or something crazy like rest gave us more freedom to be productive and to respond to life’s unpredictability.

So in our planner, we look at the week in time blocks — every day gets a block for morning, noon, and evening. That’s it. We allow for flexibility in your day, because that allows you to absorb life’s many interruptions that happen whether we like it or not.

Depending on your personal schedule, your morning may start at 9 am when you clock in at work or it may start at 5:30 am when you wake up with the kids. In the evening hours, you might be cooking dinner or devoting time to your side hustle.

How you organize the time blocks is entirely up to you and your normal daily routine.

Your most impactful routines thrive in the structure of time-blocking

As we start a new year, the buzz of improving our lives and cleaning up our bad habits is everywhere – it seems like everyone is on the road to a better them.

Since we know it is the small things you do every day that will impact the whole rest of your life, let’s time-block your routines.

Let’s start at the very beginning, where you start every day. Your morning routine. Does your morning routine set you up for success all day?

Grab your Ink+Volt planner, open to a free week, and let’s get started.

When creating a morning routine, start with what you’re already doing. Write down everything you can think of that you do in the morning. Those things might include:

  • Daily self-care, brushing your teeth, washing your face, showering.
  • Pet and child related activities, because some of our family members need a bit more attention in the morning!
  • Breakfast and coffee, or your version of that.
  • Gathering and packing what you need for the day, like car keys and gym bags.
  • Morning commute, including delays.

Your mornings may also include a bit of physical activity, your creative practice of choice, sneaking in a bit of writing for your blog. Add these activities to your list of ‘already doing’ morning activities.

For each activity – break down your daily self-care into each individual act – write the approximate amount of time it takes to complete each. Err on the side of adding too much time for each activity — we tend to underestimate (often by a lot) how long it takes us to do things.

If you’re really not sure, consider timing yourself one morning and recording how long each activity takes.

As an example, my list looks like this:

  1. Wake up and brush my teeth: 5 minutes
  2. Wash my face and complete skincare routine: 10 minutes
  3. Write three pages in my journal: 30 minutes
  4. Walk dogs: 20 minutes
  5. Feed dogs: 5 minutes
  6. Make coffee and breakfast: 15 minutes
  7. Eat and enjoy coffee: 15 minutes
  8. Get dressed: 10 minutes
  9. Pack up for the day: 10 minutes
  10. Prepare pets for the day: 5 minutes
  11. Start and warm car: 5 minutes before I leave
  12. Leave for work: 30 minute drive

It surprised me to learn my existing morning routine takes just over two hours! This tells me that if I need to leave for work by 8 am, I’ll need to be up no later than 6 am, and that includes a snooze!

Now, after looking at your own morning routine breakdown: how do you feel about your morning routine?

Copy these prompts into your journal and jot down your perspective of your existing morning activities:

  1. What do I love most about my mornings?
  2. What do I love the least about my mornings?
  3. What do I always feel rushed to complete?
  4. What would I love to do, but don’t have time for?

After completing these answers, let’s take a look at what would be the best morning ever for you.

Design the best morning routine to guarantee your best day

Think about days where you really shine. Days where you felt confident, were able to get into a flow at work or on your creative projects. Days that, when completed, left you feeling satisfied and accomplished.

Think about one of these days and write down what went right in the day.

Now that you have an idea of how things can go right, think about a recent day where you felt completely out of sorts. What happened that threw you off? What were you missing that would’ve helped you to be successful?

Write down the highlights and lowlights from a day you recently found fairly unsuccessful.

Compare the two and take notice of any patterns.

On days where you felt stressed and unmotivated, had you had a nutritious breakfast? Did you have one cup of coffee or were you jittering at four? Were your shoulders stiff, or could you not stop daydreaming?

Write in your journal 3 – 5 activities that, if completed in the morning, would positively impact your daily experience

You might consider experimenting with:

  • A short yoga practice.
  • Writing in your journal.
  • Listening to music while showering.
  • Showering at night and only washing your face in the morning to save time.
  • A 20 minute jog with your dog.
  • Meditating for 5 minutes before walking out the door.
  • Implementing a high-protein breakfast.
  • Waking up 15 minutes earlier so you have time for all of your existing morning activities.
  • Making coffee with your partner and sitting together for ten minutes.

Before you say “Where will I find time for all of this!” don’t worry just yet. Rather than asking you to wake up at 4 am to leave room for a four-hour morning routine, we’re breaking this activity into two parts.

Part 1: Analyze each of your morning activities and shorten their time constraint.

The first secret to a working morning routine is a supportive night routine.

The simplest and most effective way to shorten your morning routine is to move items from your morning time block into your evening time block the night before.

This will allow you more free time in the morning, either to get more sleep or to leave in time to be early to work (or at least have flexibility for delays like traffic or a long line at the coffee shop!).

Here are a few of the best activities to transition from morning to night:

Wake up and brush your teeth, get cleaned up, and get dressed.

Before you go to bed, choose your outfit (down to your accessories and shoes) and set it out where you typically get dressed. Set out your skincare for the morning, especially if your routine changes daily, and make sure you have your towel, shower supplies, and accessories ready for you in the shower.

You can make the same preparations for your children and your dog, encouraging them to set their clothes out the night before, keeping your dog’s leash and toys by the door, and keeping your outerwear and shoes in an easy-access location.

This should shave at least 5 – 10 minutes off your morning time.

Prepare coffee and a nutritious breakfast, feed the pets, pack your lunch.

Having a meal plan simplifies mealtimes. Skip the early morning decisions by having your daily eats set up the night before. For breakfast, try hand-prepped frozen burritos, quickly toasted pastries, or a nutritious smoothie you blended and froze the night before.

To make sure the whole family has lunch, have to-go ware prepared the night before for grab-and-go lunches that keep your restaurant budget in check. Buy lunch items you can mix and match every day, to keep things interesting without having to be creative every single day.

This should save 15 – 20 minutes of food decision, prep, cooking, dishes, and packaging of lunches.

Packing your bag for work or school.

Pack your work or schoolbag (and those of your dependents) the night before, double-checking its contents before giving it the “pack approval.” Pack your work bag with your technology, papers, stationery supplies, an emergency snack, and your reusable water bottle (full).

If you pick up coffee on your way to work, have your reusable mug next to your bag, and your keys in the dish on the counter.

This should save 5 – 15 minutes of locating important items, packing them, re-checking your bag because you’re still half-asleep, and still forgetting things as you run out the door.

So far, we’ve saved nearly 30 – 60 minutes off of your morning routine, simply by preparing the night before. If you’re looking to add an activity:

  • Set your yoga mat, props, and comfy clothes out the night before, so there’s no excuse not to get up and stretch.
  • Clear off your desk and set out what you need to do a little journaling or reading in the morning.
  • Have your meditation app open on your phone the night before, so as soon as you hear your alarm, you can walk to your cushion or sit up in bed and get started.
  • Set out your activewear, shoes, and necessary accessories for your morning run and slip into them quietly right after you wake up. Have your favorite playlist already queued up; just press play.
Part 2: Design your best morning routine and break it down into stages of implementation.

Go back to your notes from earlier, where you answered questions about your morning routine. What is working for you? What isn’t?

We have looked at how to shave time off your morning routine by moving things to the night before. But is there anything you’d like to *add* to your morning routine to make your mornings more meaningful or impactful?

We will come back to this later to help you create space for a new routine item, so don’t add anything new in yet — for now, just start thinking about it.

Now in your Ink+Volt planner, open to your weekly spread. In the morning box, we’re going to list the activities, in order, that you’d like to complete each morning. These are the activities that will set you up for your best days.

Each month, you’re given a 30-day challenge. Let’s set a goal to implement a new morning routine within three months. While you may have heard that it only takes 21 days to form a habit, new research shows that it actually takes at least 66 days or longer to form a habit. We think 90 days is a safe bet for making this new morning routine stick!

Set up your planner with your first week of morning activities in the ‘morning’ time block

Include only your current morning activities. Write them in order, with their time constraint, and consider leaving your planner out and open so you can review the routine as you get started.

Even though these are activities you’ve already been doing, fine-tuning their execution and the order of operation will help you instill flow in your morning routine.

Once you have your morning routine outlined in the ‘morning’ time block for the full week (and outlined as you wish in the weekend boxes), it’s time to jumpstart your three-month morning routine goal.

Month One: Implement your supportive night routine

Rather than changing anything in your current morning yet, we’re focusing on implementing a supportive night routine. By setting your morning up the night before, you’re automatically saving time, giving yourself a bit of wiggle room to get serious about the quality of your morning.

For your 30 day challenge, get specific about your night routine.

  • What exactly will you do each night?
  • Will your activities vary each night?
  • How will you maintain accountability? What will you do on nights where you’re really tired and don’t feel like taking extra steps?
  • How will you know you’re making a positive impact on your mornings?

Write the activities you’ll complete at night to support your morning in the ‘evening’ time block of your Ink+Volt weekly spread.

Write them out ahead of time, for the whole week, and be gentle with yourself. If in the first week you only want to implement one change, just set your clothes out the night before. The following week, add lunch or breakfast prep. The week after, add packing your work bag. By week four, you may be doing an extra 15 – 45 minutes of preparation at night, but saving yourself over an hour in the morning.

Month Two: Add one positively impactful addition to your morning

At month two, you have a supportive night routine that’s freed up a bit of time in your morning. Now, you might have a little space to add one of your aspirational activities to your schedule. For some, adding just one activity for the month is plenty.

In your 30-day challenge space, outline the activity you want to add to your morning.

Write down how much time you think it will take, at what point in your morning you’d like to implement it (and feel free to tweak this as the weeks pass), and why it’s important to you.

If you’re feeling excited to take your mornings to the next level, considering experimenting with different aspirational activities each week and building out a fully ideal morning. One week, write 1-2 pages in your journal. The next week, do a 5 minute morning meditation. In week three, try going for a run and see how that impacts your available time.

Month Three: Give yourself more time

Check in at the end of month two: How crammed are your mornings? Do you feel like you have enough time to complete what you need? Do you feel like you could sleep a little longer?

Now that you’re getting a better understanding of your mornings, experiment with time. If you’ve always wanted to become a morning person, this is the month to do it.

Each week, set your alarm clock to wake you 15 minutes earlier. Once you’ve set your clock as early as you feel comfortable, check in with how you are feeling. How does it feel to have more time in the morning?

Or if you’d like to add more sleep to your mornings, consider setting your clock fifteen minutes later each morning, rather than snoozing more times. It’s far more detrimental to hit the snooze button than to simply sleep in. Experiment with giving yourself more sleep, paying attention to how this might affect your circadian rhythm.

After three months, you will have established a highly supportive morning and night routine that set you up for successful days

What can you do with the remaining nine months of 30-day challenges to bolster your life routines and rituals?

  • Implement new self-care practices
  • Start a new fitness activity or active hobby
  • Increase your peace of mind with meditation
  • Chip away at your book with a daily word quota
  • Start a daily drawing or calligraphy practice

Share your 30-day challenge and morning routine experience with us at [email protected]lt.com.

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