A few months ago, I hit a bit of a rough patch in life. I felt like a prisoner to the daily routine — wake up, go to work, stay there and be productive for eight hours, go home, relax, eat, then sleep. Rinse and repeat. Outside of work, there was nothing noteworthy about a day.
It was becoming monotonous, and beyond that it was also becoming a burden.
A number of ideas and goals were becoming backlogged in my mind. I wanted to start writing on this blog more. I came up with ideas for fun days with my significant other. I came up with numerous ideas for blog posts and creative ideas after being inspired.
But these abstract ideas remained just that, floating in my head space and never being realized. The work week routine took priority and the time I had outside of the routine, I just found a way to waste. I was on autopilot.
Finding a new direction
When the monotony finally began to leak from my mind and create problems in my real life, I finally threw caution to the wind and decided to try something new. I found daily journaling to be a good first step to better track my daily activities, weekly goals and monthly outlook. I had an archive of things to integrate into my own routine — an agenda to create for myself, something I could build instead of having my obligations dictate my days.
I found the SELF Journal, a pricey but well-structured goal planner to help me with this. In a nutshell, it’s a journal you write in each day, giving you a timeline to fill in and a few quick prompts for planning & reviewing. It is implied you are supposed to fill the vacant spaces with answers to those prompts — your primary goal, a few daily targets, things you are grateful for, and so on.
What made the journal appealing to me was that it also tests you on the big picture. Each journal is laid out for 13 weeks — essentially one quarter of your full year. So at the beginning, there’s a bit of work and soul searching to do because it asks for three major goals. The point is to complete these goals with an end date set for the 13th week. So once you determine your headline goals, you chip away at them with the weekly planner and daily agenda pages.
Putting pen to paper
Buying into the idea of quarterly planning is easy when you’re just ordering a cool journal and have the excitement of change fueling you. It is an entirely different beast to see it through.
Like I said, being fueled by a desire for change is powerful and it really helped me get the ball rolling. My morning train commute was now when I identified the day’s goals, and nightly I was logging achievements and planning for the days / weeks ahead.
Of the three primary goals I had, my desire to workout more was the one I was most invested in. I had been eyeing a neighborhood workout studio and talked for months about joining it. I decided to go through with it, joining the studio’s weekly classes and using the journal to track those workouts plus any extracurricular jogging done on my treadmill. I did some quick math and set the mark for myself: 26 workouts in 13 weeks.
By Week 7, I had completed 20 workouts. I was crushing it, felt proud I had committed to it, and it just became a part of my week I no longer thought of as a commitment. By that math, I was on pace to have done at least 40 workouts by the end of the quarter.
Happy ending, right? Well…
By Week 13 (this week), I have completed 27 workouts. I am learning this number at the same time as you are reading it, just flipping through the journal a moment ago to double check if that was true. Yup, only 7 more workouts accomplished in 6 weeks’ time.
(Meta moment: Yikes that’s a lot worse than I thought. I knew I had slowed down, but shit…)
Unfortunately after Week 7, I can also spot another trend — the one I really wanted to talk about with this post.
Trapped in a new routine
I can see my journal pages are less filled in, there are fewer check marks used to affirm my pace with weekly goals, and in general the journal was just becoming more vacant. Suddenly, journaling itself became a tough commitment and I was becoming tired of it.
I am in Week 13 right now and, speaking truthfully, I have only brought myself to journal for three days out of these final two weeks.
Frankly, it’s been a shit feeling and a moment that tests you.
So what went wrong?
I can see the days between Week 10 and 11 were when the journal quality started to decline. After feeling burdened during that stretch, I decided to take Week 12 off from the journal altogether. The reason? I realized the journal had established a new routine for me, one I was eager to buy into and follow. But it eventually had the same effect on me as my old monotonous, unproductive one — I was once again trapped in autopilot.
So things are looking ominous, and Week 13 is coming to a close with barely any activity in my journal. But if you know me, I find a way to look at the bright side.
Let’s count what worked:
- Despite slowing down, I achieved my goal of 26 workouts
- It gave more structure to my personal time outside of work hours
- More consistent sleeping schedule (averaged around 7 hours nightly throughout the time period)
- Planned more tasks and built positive habits (more frequent haircuts, laundry trips, etc.)
- Better tracked my S.O.’s happenings (something I would frequently forget despite her reminding me several times)
- Helped push me towards new fitness routine, personal days
Huh. Not so bad. Even though I lost steam towards the end, those are some tangible improvements that I never would have seen in my life without this experiment.
Furthermore, going through this has made me generally more conscious of how I use my time. There’s a persistent little push in the back of my mind, nudging me towards something more productive when I am tempted to start streaming the third episode of a show on Netflix or my second full NFL game on a Sunday. Having this awareness in the future will guide me through times when I need to prioritize something I care more about, assigning values to my tasks.
Moving forward after completing Week 13 of Journal #1, I have decided to take a week off. I want to brainstorm what my new goals will be and a few strategies to help keep me on track. A few already populating my mind include:
- Rewarding myself when I reach certain milestones towards a goal
- Planning a few breaks from journaling (and by extension “the routine”)
- Writing a day off and leaving some flexibility if a day doesn’t play out as expected
- Leaving some days unplanned and open to unpredictable moments
Overall if you want to get your own life on track in some way and think you need structure like I did, then after all of this I think I would advocate for journaling.
Give it a shot. Whether you choose the SELF Journal like myself, other popular alternatives (some smartphone apps are out there), or your own custom way to track things. By the end of your weeks, months or quarter, you may realize you have accomplished more than you thought you could have.