Daily Checklist for Success

Personal rituals are fascinating to me. I’ve encountered them repeatedly in books, blogs, podcasts, and conversations. They’re generally boiled down to 1-60 minute morning rituals, but I chafe at the idea of an immutable hour-long routine because I have at least four different types of days (calm weekday, rushed weekday, calm weekend, and rushed weekend). It’s easier for me to think of the idealized morning routine as a daily checklist that I can achieve in whatever order during any waking period.

This year I’ve focused a lot on my own health and happiness, paying special attention to what drains me of my energy. Through reading and experimenting I’ve come up with my own checklist. These are the things that I shoot for every day (in no particular order):

  • smile for one minute – Smiling feels good, and there’s always something worth smiling about. But I rarely smile. I’m generally happy, but I tend to suppress the physical representation of my emotions so I don’t smile nearly as much as I’d like to. I’m working on making my outside match my inside more often.
  • journal 3+ things I’m grateful for – I try to smile while thinking of things I’m grateful for. It would be easy enough to say, “my wife”, “my health”, and “my job”, but I try to get more specific. Practicing gratitude has been very helpful for me.
  • journal anything I’m proud of myself for – I struggle with self-confidence and self-compassion, so this running log of goodness helps me feel better.
  • breathe from the diagram, trying to take only 4-6 breaths in one minute – It’s amazing how calm I feel after slowing my breathing—it’s like telling your body, “relax” and having your body listen.
  • sleep 7.5+ hours – Sleep is generally the first thing to go when I get busy; however, I’m finding that sleep really sets the stage for the day, so I’m trying to sleep more.
  • stand 2+ hours – On my laziest day I could stand for less than five minutes, which is bad for my mood and my metabolism. I installed a flip-up table so I can work standing up. I’m trying to stand once an hour (drinking a lot of water helps motivate me). I’ve also been doing a lot of housework recently, so I’m standing more.
  • walk at least 3,000 steps – You know that laziest day where I hardly stand? I definitely don’t walk much those days. For reference 3,000 steps is roughly 1.5 miles and 30 minutes moving around. Since I made 3,000 steps a goal I’ve been able to do it almost every day.
  • exercise until sweating – Typical exercise guidelines recommend around five hours of exercise per week, but most Americans are barely getting two hours, so I try to be realistic. I think “until sweating” is a better goal than any specific time. Get the blood moving and enjoy.
  • have sex – I never see this in people’s daily routines, but I think it’s very important so I had to include it. That said, this is probably my most skipped routine.
  • get some physical contact with loved ones (including pets) – Positive physical contact releases oxytocin, which makes us feel connected and warm. Blood pressure drops and we feel a sense of well-being. Pretty powerful stuff. I’ve read various studies saying it takes from one second to two minutes, so I shoot for one good purposeful spouse-hug and a minute of cuddling with the pets.
  • take a probiotic – Get your shit straight. For real.
  • eat some fiber – See above.
  • fill in vitamins and minerals you have missed or will miss from your food and drink – I generally eat well for 3/5 feedings (traditional meals plus snacks), but I still miss a lot of nutrients. Vitamin D, which is usually provided by exposure to the sun, is chronically low among programmers. If I can’t go for a little walk in the sun then I take my vitamin D.
  • drink 64+ oz of water – Studies refute the biological need for 8 cups of water, but I’ve found that it’s fairly easy and it makes me feel better.
  • brush your teeth twice – Your mother will be proud.
  • make your bed – For me, this helps set the stage for a productive day. I don’t do anything fancy—just straighten the sheets and comforter and pull them up over my pillows.
  • stretch – My flexibility sucks. I think some of my body aches come from poor flexibility, so I’m working to improve my general mobility.
  • communicate with someone important to me (preferably someone that I don’t work or live with) – Relationships mean a lot to me, yet I’m historically bad at keeping in touch. While far from perfect now, by focusing on it every day I’ve been able to keep up with more loved ones.
  • meditate – I try to meditate every day, but “meditation” is a really open-ended idea. I’ve found success in short mindfulness breaks. Focusing on breathing from my diaphragm, clearing my mind with intense exercise, and recognizing the blessings around me all achieve a similar effect for me.

If you’re on the fence about any item, run the experiment and see how you feel after trying it.

So, what’s your daily checklist? What works for you? What percentage of your tasks do you normally complete?