When I was in my early 20s I was indignant about the idea of getting into a routine. I wasn't against all routines per se, just the ones that turn life into waiting to die, like a web that we get stuck in.
I watched friends and family repeat the same grind every day: get up, go to work, watch tv in the evening, then begrudgingly repeat. I knew this life wasn't for me, and for some reason I had identified routine as the problem.
Eventually I dropped my indignation about routine. The straw that broke the camels back was when I found out that habits are an intrinsic pattern of human behaviour. Habits are wired into our brains.
The human brain improves through repetition. That's why when you learn something new it takes many tries before you start to get good at it. It's why it takes around 10,000 hours to achieve mastery, and it's why we find ourselves falling into new routines without any necessary conscious intervention.
Whether we like it or not our brains love routine behaviour. So I invented something to help me design routines that I call "day prototypes".
Introduction to the day prototype
The day prototype is a method I use to design a schedule that I'd like to repeat often. Usually, I break the day into 90min chunks and zone out sections for different kinds of tasks. The zones are usually for either work, free time, exercise, or sleep.
I realised something like this was necessary when I first started freelancing. Some days I would spend hours watching YouTube, doing busywork, and just being unfocussed in general. It's not that I didn't want to be productive, I just couldn't seem to get myself into a consistent pattern.
I didn't have much trouble sticking to the schedule because I made sure to design the day I actually want to live. If anything I was excited by the freedom of it.
If at any point I felt like something could be better (like moving a work period earlier / later), I'd just change the prototype document I'd made and update my behaviour.
This works well for people like me who are high in openness but low in trait conscientiousness, because the day becomes more predictable and I can embed routines that are effective.
What does a day prototype look like?
I follow some rules to help me get the most out of the schedule, and make myself more likely to stick to it:
- Break the day into < 90min chunks because after that our focus dwindles.
- Be generous with free time.
- Design a day you actually want to live.
- Don't worry about veering off or not sticking to it 100%. Its primary function is to guide.
- Review often and tweak the schedule.
- Don't be too specific - I've found it helps to block out the type of time rather than what you'll be doing (like "work" / "free" instead of "do this" or "do that").
- Don't make drastic changes without giving yourself time to adapt.
I can't find the original schedule I made, but I remember it looked something like this... 👇
After living it for a while, I tweaked how much free time I gave myself because I found myself taking free time away from work time, and that seemed like a bad habit to get into.
Now, with less work hours blocked out throughout the day, I find that I get more done when I am working because time is more precious than when I worked for upto 10hrs every day.