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How to Create a Routine That Actually Sticks

How to Create a Routine That Actually Sticks

Raise your hand if you’ve been bamboozled into a wildly elaborate morning routine by a YouTube video titled something like, “The Routine That Changed My Life”! (This is me, raising my hand.) In all seriousness, it’s about time we de-influence the way we approach our routines. 

Creating a routine that truly sticks can be challenging, especially for those who struggle with the traditional definition of productivity. Many factors can interfere with our best intentions—stress, unexpected events, or simply feeling overwhelmed because life is… a lot. 

That’s why a compassionate approach to routine building can make all the difference. 

Here’s how to create a routine that supports your well-being and helps you achieve your goals.

1. Start Small and Build Gradually

Introduce one new habit at a time and allow yourself to adjust before adding more. For instance, if you want to start exercising, set a goal to simply put on gym clothes. That’s it. You don’t even have to actually work out. (Yet.) Do that for a week. Then jump into a short, 10-minute walk the following week. Gradually increase the time and intensity as you’re able to keep up and take it one day at a time

2. Prioritize Self-Compassion

I understand this might sound a bit "woo-woo," but self-compassion is incredibly important. Why? Because while being hard on ourselves might push us to achieve our goals, it doesn't address the underlying reasons we feel the need to reach those goals in the first place. What’s the point of reaching the finish line if you don’t have the emotional ability to celebrate it? Celebrate small victories and be kind to yourself, especially on the hard days.

3. Align Your Routine with Your Values

Your routine should reflect what’s most important to you and only you. Take some time to identify your core values and see how your current routine aligns with them. If you’re looking at your schedule and things aren’t lining up, incorporate something small into your week that matches what you find most meaningful. 

4. Incorporate Flexibility

I have never met a planner person who did not struggle with flexibility. Rigid schedules can lead to frustration and burnout. And let’s face it: life is unpredictable. Instead of planning every minute, leave time open for spontaneity or doing absolutely nothing. (Yes, doing nothing can be an important part of your routine!) Have an erasable pen handy when plans inevitably change. 

5. Use Visual Cues

Visual cues can be powerful motivators. Use habit trackers, planners, or digital apps to map out your routine. Color-coding tasks or using stickers can make your schedule more engaging and easier to follow. Visual reminders help reinforce your commitment and keep you on track.

6. Set Realistic Goals

One of Passion Planner’s biggest mantras: Break down larger goals into smaller, manageable steps. This approach not only makes your goals less daunting but also provides a sense of accomplishment as you complete each step. Remember, progress is progress, even if they’re the babiest of baby steps.

7. Create a Supportive Environment

Your environment plays a huge role in the success of your routine. Arrange your space to minimize distractions and support your new habits. For example, if you want to read more, keep books within easy reach. A supportive environment makes it easier to follow through.

8. Try Habit Stacking

Habit stacking, a concept from James Clear’s bestseller Atomic Habits, is using existing routines to build new habits. For instance, if you already have a morning coffee routine, you can anchor a new habit, like journaling, to it. By linking new habits to established ones, you create a natural flow in your routine, making it easier to adopt and maintain.

9. Practice Mindfulness

Mindfulness can help you stay present and engaged with your routine. Take a few moments each day to breathe deeply and really reflect on your intentions. Mindfulness reduces stress and increases your awareness of how your routine affects your well-being. Is the routine worth having if having to keep up with it is going to stress you out? Methinks not.

10. Create a high-energy and low-energy routine. 

No two people have the same energetic capacity, though oddly enough, it’s the general assumption many people adopt. People with periods have varying energy depending on their menstrual cycle, which has led to a common practice called cycle syncing. The premise is simple: adjust your lifestyle to the phase you’re currently in. This can be applied whether you have a period or not–especially if you’re learning to navigate illness, chronic pain, or challenging life transitions. What is “current you” capable of?  

11. Prioritize Your Top 3 Tasks

Few things are more overwhelming to a planner person than a bloated to-do list. The trouble with having a million different things to do is an inability to prioritize. Instead, pick one to three tasks that are going to make the most difference in your day and plan your routine around them. 

12. Regularly Review and Adjust

Routines are (thankfully) not set in stone. Review your schedule and assess what’s working and what’s not. There’s no need to judge yourself. Be open to making adjustments as your needs and circumstances change. Different life chapters call for different routines. Honor that!

An Example of Routine Habits That Actually Stuck (For Me)

As the Redditors say, your mileage may vary, but I think I personally found a routine sweet spot and have some learnings to share. 

  • Waking Up to No Alarm: I understand not everyone has this privilege, so if this doesn’t apply to you, please ignore this and be annoyed with me from afar. I don’t think I realized until my 30s how valuable sleep is. Being able to wake up when my body says, “I’m ready to wake up” usually sets me up for a successful day.  
  • Using the Finch App: Finch is an adorable (and free!) app that’s a lot like a Tamagotchi. The basic premise is that as you achieve goals, your bird friend goes on adventures and starts growing. Besides the cute outfits and heartwarming affirmations, it’s a gentle way of holding myself accountable. 
  • Putting Less Pressure on Mondays: I used to try to do all the things on Monday. Because if I had a successful Monday, I’d have a successful week right? Wrong. When I packed my Mondays, I was so burnt out by Wednesday that I couldn’t be bothered to stick to any meaningful habits after the fact. Now I save my first workout of the week for Tuesday, and opt for a slower Monday start.  

What about you: what parts of your routine have actually stuck? 

For more tips and tools on building habits, explore our resources at Passion Planner.


Paula Palomar is a Digital Marketing Copywriter who loves using words to uplift the messaging of mission-driven companies and organizations. In her spare time, you’ll find her practicing yoga or eating churros at Disneyland.

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