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Creating Routines That Result in Greater Self-Care and Productivity

By Nikole Fridenmaker

I had the opportunity this weekend to speak at Corporate Coffee’s Monthly educational session. First, I just have to share how inspiring this group is and that I hope you will seek more information about it and/or join them. Corporate Coffee was started by Toni Tate MJur to empower, educate and share educational information for professional Women of Color.

The purpose of the discussion was to share tips and information relating to the topics of Self-Care and Productivity and their intersection of Routines. Everyone has different visions of what self-care looks like. And that is how it should be, as long as the basic principle works. What I find critical for self-care may be stressful to someone else. For example, I find conversations with a group of friends critical to my wellness. But someone else may find gatherings like that stressful and prefer quiet and a book. So what your particular self-care looks like is perfectly fine as long as it serves the purpose. Self-care should be something that is key to your emotional, physical, mental and/or spiritual contentment. It can also be something that helps you achieve your goals such as courses or books that help you become the person you are striving to be.

HOW ROUTINES CAN HELP A routine, just as self-care and productivity tips, will be as varied as the people using them. The best routines are unique and meaningful to the person they are for. Many people have an AM and a PM routine, some routines may intentional but many have developed unintentionally. An intentional AM routine may look like time to read or listen to news while drinking a cup of your favorite coffee, spending a few minutes practicing gratitude or meditating before getting ready for the day ahead. An unintentional AM routine may be getting out of bed to a flurry of activity, getting kids up, lunches made and rushing out the door as fast as possible. A routine in this case, is very simply just a series of actions or habits, a pattern of behavior.

But why is a routine important to helping you be productive? Because by creating routines and patterns, it requires less decisions to be made resulting eventually in more of an ‘auto-pilot’ response to things. When you can reduce the sheer number of active decisions that you have to make, the more energy your brain and body have for other tasks that also are critical to your day. By developing a routine, which is a pattern that has to be taken over and over so that your brain creates it’s own neural grooves to run automatically, you can reduce the sheer volume of decisions plus create such a strong habit that you will develop a discipline to do certain tasks without struggle.

Many people think that their AM routine is what is setting themselves up for success or failure for the day. In fact, you’ll find tons of articles detailing the morning routines of some of the most successful people out there, from Oprah, to Bill Gates, Jeff Bezos, Roz Brewer, as well as former President and First Lady, Barack and Michelle Obama. The list is almost endless when it comes to business features and wellness features detailing highly productive and successful people and their morning routine. Because most seem to think that the key to setting the world ablaze and rising to the top of their chosen area is all about getting up early and hitting the ground running. And while that may be one very key component, it starts with a bit of failed premise. The premise being that you are waking up fully rested and ready to conquer the day!

WHY YOUR PM ROUTINE MATTERS MORE THAN YOUR AM As a woman who has suffered with sleep issues off and on since my 20s, I can assure you that even the best thought out, the most meaningful AM routine is not going to make you as productive as you could be nor as happy as you could be if you are starting on an empty tank. In fact, it’s frequently going to have the opposite effect. Because most women who are working on or pushing for success have a bad habit of perfectionism, or pushing ourselves through drive and/or negative self-talk. So when you are waking up and simply don’t have the energy or brain power to get through your morning routine consistently day after day, we start beating ourselves up for failure to do so. That negative self-talk though is a WHOLE other topic.

When I have spoken to other professional women, friends in their 30s-50s, or even surveyed groups of women that I am speaking to, time and time again it has shown that the vast majority of women are not well rested. They are sleep-deprived on a regular basis. In fact, if you answer the simple question of how much sleep do you get on an average night with anything less than 7 hours, you are considered sleep deprived by doctors and scientists. If you’re like me, that number shocked you, since I know many of us tend to think I can get by on 5-6 hours of sleep. I may not like it, but I’ll survive. But here’s the kicker, you are literally impaired in one fashion or another if you are getting less than 7 hours of sleep regularly. So unless you are waking up well rested each and every day, I would encourage you to start focusing on sleep and your PM routine!

There is a ton of research and data around why sleep is critical to your body. I highly encourage you to read or listen to Mathew Walker, Ph.D. and his book Why We Sleep or some of his TED talks even. In order to not go through pages and pages of the research and science behind why sleep is critical to your well being, I have provided a resource list of just some of the places that I gathered my information. When you learn or realize that insufficient sleep (less than 7 hours) is clearly, indisputably linked to the following health conditions:

Cancer (specifically bowel, prostate and breast cancers) Diabetes Obesity Impaired Cognition Mental Health Illnesses including Depression and Anxiety Stroke High Blood Pressure Heart Disease Alzheimer’s Disease Weakened Immune System

And remember, as we started with, wellness and self-care is key. So your sleep and routine for getting quality sleep should very clearly be a key component of your evening habits and I would even suggest, your priority.

CREATING GOOD SLEEP HABITS But how do you prioritize sleep when there’s so much to be done? Like everything in life, it’s a choice and a habit. Odds are you may have gotten into a habit of de-prioritizing it. Which has happened to many of us, myself included. So it’s simply about creating new habits and routines to help you prioritize your PM routine and focus on creating good sleep! So let’s take a few moments to walk through creating good sleep habits and how you can create a PM Routine that serves you1 Most sleep experts will share that the single most important thing you can do to create better sleep is to work with a consistent bedtime and wake time. Everyone’s preferred hours are going to be genetically slightly different. And in this day and age, other commitments such as work or school may dictate a bit of our wake time. If that is the case for you, then simply work backwards from when you need to be awake in order to determine when you need to go to sleep. I would also encourage that you set an 8 hour time window, rather than 7. Because worst case scenario is that you wake up a little earlier than you intended without your alarm! This also means that your weekends and weekday timing is the same. There is no way to make up a sleep debt and your brain craves patterns and routines. So consistency really is important!

After you create your sleep window, then start determining what you can reasonably add or what you want to add in order to make your sleep as efficient as possible so you are able to consistently get to bed at that time and get good quality sleep. Here are my top 11 after consistent bedtime and wake time:

  • Dim the lights, turn off lights, use less lights 30-60 minutes before your bedtime.

  • No caffeine after 12 pm minimum (the half life of caffeine is 12 hours. It takes 24-36 for it to be fully out of your system. Yes, you may be able to still sleep but you may not be getting good quality of sleep).

  • Add in a warm bath or shower to your routine.

  • Turn down the temperature – ideal sleep setting is around 67 degrees Fahrenheit

  • Limit the alcohol and quit smoking. Alcohol, caffeine, nicotine, and sleeping pills all interrupt or interfere with certain sleep stages.

  • Exercise is great for sleep but you need to schedule it so that it is earlier in the day. Do not exercise 2-3 hours prior to sleep.

  • Avoid long naps or napping after 3 pm

  • Turn off all devices an hour before bedtime. (If you can’t do this, make sure you have night-time phone settings turned on and/or wear blue light blocking glasses)

  • Try to get some good sun exposure in the morning, shortly after you wake up. Even if it’s hazy or overcast it still works to stimulate brain patterns and hormones.

  • Keep a journal by your bed if you find you need to write things down or are dealing with stress.

  • Do not stay in bed if you can’t sleep. Get up, go to another room, keep the lights dim and read, listen to music, or something. But keep your bed associated with sleep and intimacy. It’s all about the patterns, so this means no eating or watching tv in bed either.

These are all tips that personally have helped me but have come together by way of research of sleep specialists over the years. And remember, I am not a doctor, I am not providing medical advice. If you have sleep impairments, are on sleeping pills, etc, please talk to your doctor. There is a lot of science and reasoning behind each of these. I encourage you to visit the Resource Link as well for more details if you are looking for additional reasoning or information.

CREATING YOUR OWN PM ROUTINE Now that you have found a few things that may work for you or that you are at least willing to try, it is important to create a routine that matters to you and is personal to you. Remember, a routine is a series of habits. And if you already have habits that for a PM Routine that you are wanting to change, it is going to take time and some work. Just like you can get automated with an intentional routine because your brain craves these patterns, it can take time to break the patterns as well. One of the easiest ways to change your habits is through habit stacking. This is a term that I first came to follow by James Clear in his book Atomic Habits. It’s a great book that I would encourage you to dig into! In it’s simplest terms, habit stacking is adding on a new habit to an old or existing habit. For example, if you brush your teeth regularly every evening, then maybe you add a gratitude habit while you brush your teeth. It creates an association, which we already know the brain loves, and then gives you a way to simply add on to an existing habit that you want to keep. If you like a cup of herbal tea in the evenings, well when you finish fixing it, dim your lights. Habit stacking is a way to make these new habits not feel so cumbersome and overwhelming.

Overwhelm is the destroyer of new habits and routines! So please do not try to take all 11 tips and apply them all at once! Determine a few easy wins to add to your evening and start there. And then as time goes on and you successfully add to your routine, you can slowly add more small changes. In fact, maybe the coffee tip is one you want to add but is a real challenge for you as you live for that 3 pm cup of coffee and caffeine hit! So maybe you start with a week of having your afternoon coffee at 2 pm. The following week you move to 1 pm or 2:30 pm… again small changes in the direction of where you wish to go! A couple other ways to create routines that will stick and matter to you are to:

  • Make sure it matters to you! (It’s why I dug into why sleep is critical!)

  • What is your Why? Why are you making this change?

  • Tie it to something you already do, also referred to as habit stacking.

  • Add in rewards. If it is something not fun or doesn’t feel enjoyable, why will you do it? So add in that quiet time to read, take a bath or enjoy a cup of herbal tea.

  • Start small. Pick one or two things and make baby steps.

  • Be Kind to yourself. New Habits don’t happen overnight. And you won’t get it right each and every night

  • Think in terms of data not failure. This ties back in to being kind to yourself.

The great thing about these tips for creating a routine that matters to you, is it’s not limited to just evening routines to get good sleep. You can use these skills once you develop them, to create a killer AM routine, or even simply to change any habit or create any type of health or wellness or self-care habit or pattern that you want! I’ve created a handout for you to start intentionally thinking about your existing routine, what you want to work on and how you will go about it here.

If you have any questions or just wish to connect, as always feel free to reach out to me!

Fridenmaker Consulting Phone: +1.321.765.7048

Nikole is based in Florida, USA.

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