7 Tips to Create a Strong Routine

Holly Haynes is a business strategist and she is incredible. She is not only a business strategist and entrepreneur, she has just recently launched her own podcast, she works nine to five in a job, and she’s got twins.

What I love about Holly is how she really has embedded lots of different routines in her life and just found something that works for her. Holly and I talked through lots of different techniques and tips, and Holly’s actually sharing with us today her seven tips to create a strong routine. If you’re somebody who’s an existing planner who likes good routine, then there’ll be some tips in here that you can pick up on. But for those of you who are not great at planning, this will really help you to think about what types of routines or things that you could focus on to just help you get you through this period, and also beyond. How can we use routine to create really good order, eliminate chaos, and potentially help you to move forward in whatever area of your life you want to get some more focus on.

Holly is an early riser and she’s going to be sharing with us her own routines and how she got to the stage of finding out a routine that works for her life. I know that this is a really hot topic of conversation for those people who aren’t natural planners or naturally don’t like structure, and I think Holly’s story in itself is fascinating about how she has created this routine for herself. I think that routine is individual for everybody, but I know there’s so much that Holly can share with us.

Before we get into your 7 tips to create a strong routine Holly, could you perhaps just introduce yourself: who you are, and what you do?

Yeah, my name is Holly Haynes and I am a productivity and strategy coach. But fun fact, I also work full time for the American Chemical Society. I have 20 years of strategic consulting background, and I realised once I got to a certain level in strategic consulting that it wasn’t exactly what I thought it was going to be. And I also had twins at the same time that I was hitting the peak of my career and really sort of took a step back and thought, you know, I want to do things a little bit differently.

So I created my own personal consulting business and coaching. And one of the things that I’m really passionate about is teaching about routine and ways to be productive with the time that you have. We all get the same 24 hours, but you don’t want to spend it overwhelmed and anxiety filled and all the things that we as working Mums experience. My whole journey was all about just making it more enjoyable and being able to balance having a career and a business and having a family, and a life too! You just don’t want to be burnt out all the time. So that’s how I got started, but my business started way differently than what it looks like now. I really focused on taking care of myself first, which is why I’m super passionate about this morning routine. I feel like it fuels everything for me. It’s what keeps me going.

I can’t believe that you work full time, you run a business and you have twins. Gosh, no wonder you need to have some kind of order and structure to your day!

You really do. My friends laughed and they were like, ‘Of course you had twins because it’s the most efficient way: have two kids at one time.’

Listening to that just demonstrates and shows that it is possible. It is possible to have your own business as an entrepreneur whilst you’re still working. Is the intention to eventually move more into your business or do you think you’d always have both?

I’m lucky enough where I actually really like my full time job and it’s a flexible schedule, but eventually I would like to do just one instead of both. I’m able to balance it right now so we’re keeping on the path and seeing what happens.

Amazing. So Holly, let’s start with your 7 tips to create a strong routine.

I think you’ve touched upon a really important point in that overwhelm is one of the biggest challenges. Whether you’re in business or not, when you get into that state of overwhelm of ‘I have so much to do, where do I start?’ Particularly right now many of us will maybe have children at home right now, and we’re having to be even more flexible with our time, and it is creating overwhelm. So let’s start with tip number one. What is your first tip to start creating good routine for yourself?

Tip 1 – Wake up without distraction

I would say my tips are centred around morning routine, but you don’t have to do it in the morning. We’re in a very uncertain time right now. And for me, my morning routine or wherever you place this in your day is where you can create certainty and where you can control. So for me, these steps are really where I can say, ‘Okay, I can do this and no one’s going to interrupt me. And I’m going to get it done.’ And then the rest of the day can sort of be up for debate for whatever happens.

So my first tip is always wake up without distraction. And this is really important, especially in a world of social media because you don’t want other people controlling your first thoughts of the day. So I know a lot of people have the habit of getting up and going directly to Instagram or Facebook or checking in. In some cases that might be really positive, but in other cases you might see something that puts you on a negative path. And then you go down this rabbit hole of looking at what others are doing and comparison. For me that created more overwhelm, more anxiety, and not to mention I probably just wasted a half hour, which is like gold for me!

So I turn my phone off when I go to bed or I put it in airplane mode. I put it across the room, and then when I get up in the morning, I don’t turn it on until I’m done with my routine. I will take occasional pictures on Instagram but I’ll post them later just because that’s my business. But I don’t check email, I don’t do anything that’s going to influence me from anyone else.

So you wake up in the morning, what would be the first task that you would do?

My first task is I always say move your body. So the first thing I do is work out because for me that’s stress relief and it’s quiet and I like to sing – I have a playlist, and it’s just my time. I don’t like to put it off a lot of times. If you’re not into working out, I always say do your most important thing first.

So if you have a business, I call them VIP tasks. You probably have one thing that you want to get done in the day. Do that first. If you’re going to write a podcast, write it in the first half hour. If no one’s interrupting you, you’re going to get it done and then you’re not going to be anxious about it all day long. For me, working out is what I do, but I have a lot of clients that will just jump in and do that one thing that’s most important.

Tip 2 – Be efficient with your activities

And that actually goes into my second tip, which is be efficient with your activities. Before I go to bed the night before, I say, ‘what’s that one thing that I’m going to do in the morning?’ Is it working out? Is it writing the podcast? Whatever that looks like make sure before you go to bed you know what you’re doing. So when you wake up you’re like, what do I do?

That really helps me actually – getting focused and intentional. And it’s one of the key habits isn’t it, of the highly successful entrepreneur, highly successful people is that you have a really good intention. And I love that you said about if you have one really important thing that needs to be done, do it first. It’s like that book “Eat that Frog!”, isn’t it? Get the hardest thing done first and everything else for the rest of the day is a breeze.

Even now because my kids are home and we’re homeschooling, sometimes I’ll flip it and I’ll do a work task first and then I’ll have them work out with me because I know that’s something that we can do together and it takes up time. So it’s okay for it to be flexible. It doesn’t have to be the same thing every day, but I try to really focus on that very first activity and then knowing the night before what that’s going to be.

I love the fact that if you’ve got a massive to do list, just taking one of those things: what’s a high priority or maybe what have you been worrying about that’s making you feel anxious. If you can get it off your list then that might be the most important thing to do.

How do you prioritise your list of things to do, Holly?

Tip 3 – The Cake Method: Wake up with intention

I have a template that I use and I pick three things that I’m focused on for that day. But overarching, I just have one thing that I’m focused on for the week because I have so many different balls in the air. So I know at the end of the week if I get this one thing done, let’s say for my business, then I know that I’ve been successful. But every morning I have a list and I say these are the three things that I’m going to get done today. And I don’t plan any more than that.

I call it the cake method because I like desserts, but it’s literally like three layers of cake. And then like all the extra stuff is like the sprinkles and the icing. You don’t really need that, it’s nice to have, but you need the base, right? So you need the cake to get going.

It’s really hard because I want to do 12 things, but I know three things is typically what I stick to. And that actually goes into step three. So you wake up with intention, you wake up at a certain time, you get into that one thing that you want to do.

I have a little checklist that I go through. So it’s stretching or moving your body. I talk a lot about affirmations, and I write them down after my workout. I write them down as if they’ve already happened, so ‘I ran a half marathon.’ Instead of ‘I’m going to…’ it’s ‘I am…’ Then I read for 10 minutes – and it sounds crazy but you can actually do this routine in like a half hour. I just set a timer and read for 10 minutes, and you can get through about a book and a half a month. And that’s where I learn everything, so that’s where I’m infusing knowledge and learning more tips. I don’t have time to read for hours a day. It’s very small steps, but again, if you can get through a book and a half a month, that’s like 13 or 14 books in a year, and that will help you tremendously.

I do five minutes a day on my book but I’m often reading for longer. Just to have that intention that I’m going to read for five minutes a day suddenly makes that task much easier. Finding five minutes is easy whereas if I’m saying to myself, I want to read this book this week or this month, then it just feels like such an overwhelming task.

I find that specifically with money as well, if we break those tasks down so that they’re less overwhelming and then prioritise, I think that’s a much better way of learning. I also love the idea that you’re already living the affirmation. You’re already telling yourself that so your mind and your brain is going to look for evidence to support that belief and then you’re going to get into the right mindset and be in a growth mindset.

Tip 4 – Reward Yourself

At first I was like this is ridiculous, I’m not going to do this. But it really does help because you feel good because you’re getting up and doing something for yourself and then you’re focused on that really important thing, which is actually tip number four. So first things first, you’re getting it done. But then you’re rewarding yourself because you’re like, if I keep doing this I’m going to be able to run that half marathon, or make that business goal, or whatever that looks like. So by the end of this, you’re like, I’m feeling really confident. And then you probably read something that’s going to help you or inspire you. And so it just kind of like builds into, okay, now I’m ready to start my day.

Tip 5 – Food is Fuel

Number five is food. Food is fuel. I suffered from anxiety, I get super overwhelmed and so I really had to focus in on you just don’t want to eat like crap. You spend all this time focusing in on yourself and your morning and your goals, and then you go eat a sugary doughnut or something, you’re just going to crash. And so I try to make things that excite me: blueberry muffins or oatmeal or something that makes you feel like, okay, I’m ready to like crush the day. You want to end your routine with something that’s going to keep you going, and so food for me is what has really helped with that.

Can I ask you a question on food? Food throughout the day, for me, is just something that has to happen. I always enjoy my food much more when I can relax and switch off. So the evening for me tends to be the time when I enjoy more of my treats and things like that. I’m really lucky that my husband’s a chef so he cooks.

But from an energy level perspective, do you find that your hormones affect your ability to be able to stick to a routine?

I do. I just did a podcast with a woman who was talking about how she tracks her hormone levels with an app, and I actually just started using the app. Your energy levels ebb and flow depending on where you’re at in your cycle, and it’s really interesting. I’m not a hormone expert, it’s just monitoring your energy levels.

So for me, I’m really good until about two o’clock and then I just hit a slump. So that’s when I’ll take a walk or go do something that’s not super intensive, reading or something like that. So that’s why for me doing harder tasks in the morning is better. But some people who are night owls or get that energy boost in the afternoon, you might want to flip it because you might have more creative space in the evening. That’s not me, but I think it’s interesting to monitor your energy levels.

At the end of each week, I’ll do a recap of how did the week go? It’s part of my Sunday planning, and you can see the dips in the week. I really try to front load my weeks because I know by Wednesday or Thursday, I’m just done. So I try to front load the weeks and then Friday I’ll save fun things like podcast interviews, or I like to create, so I’ll do my graphics and things like that on Fridays. So I do monitor energy levels a little bit. I’m just sort of getting into the hormones, but there’s tons of apps that do it for you. So if you’re into that, I would look into that for sure.

Holly is a business strategist, entrepreneur, podcaster, works a 9-5 job, and she's got twins. Holly's sharing with us 7 tips to create a strong routine.

I’ve been tracking my energy cycles over the last two months and I’ve just actually started using the Calm app, which is like a meditation app, so I’ve been using that as well. But I definitely find that, and this is the great thing about talking to another woman, there are certain times a month for me where I just can’t do anything. And then other parts of the month I’m super creative and I think that’s quite important to just pay some curiosity to.

If, like you say, your energy is higher in the morning, then do more of your tasks in the morning. I’m actually the opposite. My energy is really low in the mornings, but that’s probably because I don’t have a very good routine in the mornings. I’m not a 5am club person, but I would quite like to try getting into a more of an established morning routine so that I could actually save some of my energy later in the day to do other things that I want to do. But the challenge for me is mustering up the motivation to set my alarm clock early.

What would you say to anybody who is feeling similar to that? How do you go about keeping that motivation?

Tip 6 – Sleep

Well going to go back to the Calm app really quickly because I actually tried meditating a lot in the morning and I couldn’t do it. It just didn’t work for me. And I know a lot of people will wake up and do that straight away. So that’s a really good first activity if you’re into that. I use the Calm app to fall asleep to, which is number six and kind of answers your question. So I’ll do their daily motivation or whatever and I’ll just turn it on and fall asleep to it.

But you won’t be able to get up earlier unless you go to bed earlier. And I know people roll their eyes at that and they’re like, well, I have all these things to do. So you have to shift it slowly. So when I first started, I was doing my morning routine at eight o’clock at night because my kids were babies and not sleeping, and that was the only time that I could figure it out. And then I slowly shifted it like, okay, well maybe I can just get up 10 minutes early and read for 10 minutes. And then I just added it on from there.

I don’t like getting up early. I don’t like getting up with an alarm. But for me, you know, it’s the only time of the day that I can control because of all of everything going on. And now we’re homeschooling and I mean, it’s just insane. So it’s almost like this inner drive that says it’s not fun to get up early, but I feel amazing when I do, just to get really small wins done first and then it makes the rest of the day go okay. And sometimes I trick myself, like on the weekends, I still get up at the same time, but I’m like, ‘Oh well you can take a nap later because you have time’ or I sort of try to reward myself for getting up. You have to build in those incentives.

My biggest tip is to don’t do it all at once. Pick one small thing and just do it consistently and then add on to it, but really watching your sleep patterns, because if you’re only sleeping like four or five hours a night, it’s not going to happen. So I would say I still consistently sleep seven and a half to eight hours and that’s with everything on my plate. But if I don’t, I won’t be efficient during the day. And there’s actually a book called the 5am club: it doesn’t mean you have to get up at 5am, but there is science behind how many hours of sleep you need a night, what your schedule might look like. It’s a really great starting point for somebody that’s interested in sort of tweaking their routine. And it’s not just me saying ‘Oh, this works for me.’ It’s scientifically backed how your body works and it’s very interesting.

Are there any other books that have influenced your routine creations?

Um, I would say The 5am Club and The Miracle Morning are probably my go to. I like the 5am club because it’s very factual focused. I just finished Everything is Figureoutable by Marie Forleo. I love her podcast and her videos, but I had never read her book so from a habit perspective, that was a good refresher. If you’re a big John Maxwell fan, The 15 Laws of Invaluable Growth is a little bit more business focused, but he does talk a lot about confidence and focusing in on one thing and daily habits, sort of all the things that we’re talking about.

And you mentioned about your Sunday routine. So let’s talk about that for a moment because I think daily routine is one thing, weekly routine is another.

I have an inner circle mastermind of business entrepreneurs. And one of the things that we do in there every Sunday morning is that we do a grid. So we have one piece of paper and we split it into four. Keep it very, very simple, and it’s just around;

1. your wins for the week. So recognising your progress is really important, I think. And you can relate that to any part of your life, whether it’s finances or anything.

2. Then challenges. So what got in my way, and most of the time it’s me in my way, and that’s interesting in itself because if I’ve identified that I’ve just completely self sabotaged my entire week because I’ve just sat there all week saying I can’t do this, I can’t do this, then I know that’s just me getting my way and I need to perhaps do some work around that. Or it might just be recognising that this week is just my week of low energy, high emotions and that’s okay. Be like that. Because sometimes what we feel actually protects us as well.

3. And then the third area I look at is my key lessons. What have I learned about myself that week?

4.And then the final section is my focus ahead for the week and I use a planner called the daily greatness planner. Have you come across that?

I’ve tried it and I was too much for me, I don’t know why. I’m very lists and schedule focused, but I have heard great things about it. I gave up on it.

I was introduced to it actually by a friend of mine. And I would say there’s a couple of sections in there that I don’t use. I think it is overkill, but I do like the weekly reflection pages.

And one of the things that I do is I do my financial overview once at the start of every month. So I have a look at my income, my expenses, and I do a check: I grab three highlighter pens, and I do a checkpoint on which expenses were absolutely necessary, which ones were maybe not quite so necessary but still I’m going to keep them, and then which of them I can just ditch.

Then I’ll do a summary of my income, my expenses, and then my net profit. And then I run the Profit First model in my business. So I then look at my pots and I put money out accordingly. So from, from a weekly organisation perspective, I’m actually very good weekly. I’m just not as great at the daily routines.

How would you review your week?

Well one I think it’s important that you take a day off. So I know a lot of people that have side hustles and full time hustles and it’s important to have that true break or you get burnt out. But on Sundays, the first thing I do in the morning is go through and look very similar to what you do. How did the week go? What did I get done versus what did I not get done? And what happened, what were my challenges? And then try to think through how can I adjust going forward?

And then I’m pretty strategic about time blocking. That’s really one big thing that helps me a lot, a week ahead of time. So I will look at my one focus, pick one thing that I’m really focused on for the week, and then I’ll map out like my day. What’s that thing that I want to get done? And then I’ll block out on Sunday when I’m going to do it. So I block my workout out, I block out kids, homeschooling, I block out when I’m actually working, and when I’m doing other things. So my calendar is like little boxes of just time blocks, but it all maps back to that focus. And then I also do from a business perspective my content planning and what that’s going to look like, ahead of time.

How do you content plan for your business?

I call it the anchor method. I pick one theme for the week, so this week I’m focusing on energy and running a business. And so then I have three or four social media posts that I do with that. And then I have a blog post that I do and then a podcast. So usually the blog posts or the podcast is the anchor, and then I pull from that and try to repurpose it so it’s duplicable and not always using the same thing.

So yeah, I will plan that out as well. So when I get to Monday, it’s more about that daily execution and not like, Oh, what should I do today? I don’t know what to do. Or the night before, it’s Sunday night and you’re like, what should I focus on tomorrow? It makes it way more efficient if you have those big goals, and you don’t have to have it perfect. You don’t have to have everything done. It’s more of: at this time I’m going to focus on this and then you’re not as distracted.

That’s amazing. And one of the questions is just come in from our community is from Laura and Laura’s asked, “How do you manage the loss of interest?” So I’m assuming by that Laura means the motivation.

Yeah. And it happens. It’s been a rough week with everything going on. The kids are out of sorts. And I would say this week I was not as motivated as I usually am, but then that’s when I pull into the routine. I have to focus on myself first. I’m going to work out. Yesterday I ran for 45 minutes and sang to my favourite playlist. It was not productive from any business level at all, but I needed that boost of energy.

Let’s talk about that actually, because as a business owner, sometimes I’m definitely guilty of this. If I do something for myself, I feel like I haven’t achieved as much as I want to in my business because my business always comes first and I really struggle with self care.

How do you balance that out so that you don’t feel like you’ve neglected your business, but that you understand how important self care is?

Yeah. So I made the decision that when I was going to start my own business, that I would put myself first period. And it’s hard. But I will say those moments when I’m running on the treadmill, or I’m outside, or whatever I’m doing, that’s when I’m most creative. I’ll get ideas from doing that. Not when I’m sitting at a desk doing whatever task I need to do. It pushes it up to that higher vision where you’re like, ‘Oh, I never thought about this’, and that’s where my ideas come from. And I would say the same thing happens when you take a break.

So for me, most of my business is on Instagram and that’s a platform where you have to be on a lot. But you can’t be on social media 24 hours a day. And so on Sundays I really take a step back. But that’s where I get inspired, from those down-times. And so the days when I’m feeling overwhelmed – turn your phone off. Go do something you enjoy, read a book that you like even if it’s for an hour or something. It helps so much. And I had such a hard time with this because I was like, well I have a thousand other things to do. This is not a priority. But if you’re not feeling motivated, the number one thing to do in my opinion is to take care of yourself first.

How about if you were in the middle of a piece of work and then you’re starting to lose motivation. How would you pick yourself back up?

I use something called the Pomodoro method. It’s basically doing things in 25 minute increments. So it’s 25 minutes, take a break – and a break could be walking downstairs, getting a glass water. It’s not anything major. But then after you do it four times, take an hour break. And I know it sounds crazy because that’s like two or three hours of breaks a day, but you’re sort of building in that creativity time, the time to focus on yourself. And then for me, it motivates me because breaks motivate me. So I’m like, okay, I’m going to work really hard this morning so then this afternoon I can go play with my kids, or we can make a fun dinner for Friday night. So it’s very basic, but it works really well.

In fact, we talked about that literally on the podcast last week. I had a guest, Nik Hanson, who was talking about how positive psychology is used for financial wealth towards financial wellbeing, and we were talking about exactly that, using the Pomodoro technique.

Yeah it sounds silly but when you add it all up, and you’re sticking to really small tasks it really does work.

Tip 7 – Organise your exit

Number seven, and it’s not really as relevant right now, but it’s organise your exit. So this is in the morning. So if you’re leaving the house organising your exit so that you know where everything is. The night before put your keys out, put your bag out, your backpack, pack your lunch. I even lay my workout clothes out for the morning because everyone else is asleep so I get dressed in the dark.

It sounds really silly but when you get all that done in the morning and you’re on your way to work or on your way to see a client or whatever, you’re like wow I had an awesome morning. So it’s like that like affirmation that you got through. It’s almost like giving yourself a hug when you leave and it feels good. You’re out the door and you’re not spinning your wheels and wasting your time on things that you can’t find.

Yeah. What a great tip to finish on because that leads back into one of the earlier tips about having a strong intention for the day. You have that strong affirmation, strong focus, strong intention, and then you’re more likely to actually get that done.

Yeah, and I would say if you’re feeling unmotivated or you’re panicking that this is a lot, just start with one. Start with organising your exit. Start with making a breakfast and reading your book for 10 minutes. It doesn’t have to be everything, but you’ll see the benefits really quickly. That’s why I love this. And then you’ll want to add on.


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Marie Forleo: Everything is Figureoutable

Robin Sharma: The 5am club

Hal Elrod: The Miracle Morning

John Maxwell: The 15 Laws of Invaluable Growth

Brian Tracy: Eat that Frog!

Brendon Burchard: High Performance Habits

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