Building a Daily Routine for Keeping Sane and Surviving Financially

Like many of you all across the world, my family and I are spending almost all of our time at home, practicing social distancing, trying to keep ourselves healthy and trying to not go too stir crazy. Of course, along with that comes a lot of financial and professional worry. For many families, finances and future employment are incredibly stressful right now, and that makes this unusual time even more exceptional.

Our family’s solution has been to try to adopt some daily routines to keep us all sane, to stabilize our financial state as much as we can, and to preserve our health and relationships. Let’s dig into this a little bit.

What’s the value of establishing a daily routine?

In a situation like this, where most, if not all, commitments outside the home are put on hold, we’re all dealing with more free time than we know what to do with. With all of that free time, it’s easy to fall into a routine of watching Netflix, dozing on the couch, reading frightening stories on social media and letting the kids play way too many video games, a mix that isn’t good for anyone.

The value of establishing a daily routine is that it ensures that you’re giving at least some time to all of the areas of your life, ensuring that you’re staying healthy, well-rounded, and as ready as you can be for whatever comes next.

For me, this means making sure that my daily routine includes some significant time for each of these spheres of life (the list is borrowed from Michael Hyatt, with each one linked to a detailed earlier article from me on the value of that area and how it’s connected to your financial health): physical life, mental and spiritual life, intellectual life, professional life, marital life, parental life, social life, leisure life, and, yes, financial life. Those areas are obviously interconnected in a number of ways, but you need to give adequate time and space to each of them to allow them the chance to grow.

I’ll give you an example of how I’m filling each sphere:

Physical life: I’m doing some bodyweight exercises and yoga.
Mental and spiritual life: I’m spending some quiet time meditating and praying.
Intellectual life: I’m giving big, healthy blocks of time to reading books on challenging topics.
Professional life: I’m writing each day; you’re reading the product of some of this!
Marital life: We’ve established a bedtime for the kids and Sarah and I have some time for just the two of us, each day.
Parental life: We’re doing some family activities, including game nights, movie nights and working on some projects together
Social life: I’m consciously keeping in touch with a bunch of people on a daily or near-daily basis, and setting aside time to simply keep up with them
Leisure life: I’m reading a really fun fantasy novel, playing a couple of computer games, and making some fermented foods
Financial life: I’m doing a lot of maintenance projects, making meals from scratch, and reviewing every single expense and bill coming in

Make a list of each of those areas of your life and ask how you could fill at least 30 minutes primarily improving that area of your life right now.

I’ll walk you through some examples that might match your life.

Physical life: Do something that you enjoy that involves moving around. This can be tough to do if you’re stuck at home, of course, so be creative. Consider looking on YouTube for a bodyweight fitness or yoga routine. Here’s a good bodyweight fitness routine for starters, and here’s a great 30-day yoga routine. The key is to do something that gets you moving around.

Mental and spiritual life: There are so many different spiritual and religious beliefs out there that I can’t possibly address all of them. However, I will say that spending a little bit of time each day — 10 or 15 minutes — in meditation or prayer is really, really helpful, particularly when you do it in a quiet place with all digital distractions elsewhere. Here’s a really nice mindfulness meditation, for starters. You might also supplement this with a reading from your religious text or philosophical text of choice; this can be particularly valuable for those cut off from their religious communities right now.

Intellectual life: Think of this as an exercise for your brain. Spend some time doing something that really makes you think and/or focus deeply. For me, this is usually reading a really challenging book or doing a hard puzzle of some kind. Perhaps you could finally tackle a book on a topic you’ve always wanted to learn about, do something like learning how to solve a Rubik’s Cube quickly or simply start learning about a topic of interest by taking an online class or doing a deep Wikipedia dig.

Professional life: If you can work from home, that’s fantastic. If that’s not an option for you, ask yourself what you can be doing from home to help your career. For example, if you’re a teacher, this might be a great time to really improve those lesson plans or develop new materials for classroom use, perhaps even online materials. If you’re facing unemployment or reduced hours, there is probably no bigger window you’ll ever have in your life for taking steps toward a career change, so take advantage of that.

Marital/romantic life: Make sure you have some one-on-one time with your partner if you are at home together. I’ll leave it to you to decide what activities that will include. If you’re not together, make sure you box out some time for a private call with your partner, wherever they may be.

Parental life: Block off some uninterrupted quality time for you and your children. Put your digital distractions in another room and do something with them. If you have school-aged children, you may want to spend some time keeping their education fresh, but you may also want to do something that’s more in line with their interests. Maybe you could do something practical, like making a meal together. Maybe you could draw a picture together, or paint a mural on a bedroom wall. You may want to consider a more structured educational approach; here are excellent thoughts on learning at home.

Social life: Simply touch base with some number of people each day. Make some of them daily, like perhaps your parents or other elderly relatives. For others, just make sure you’re in touch with them at least once every few days, just to see how they’re doing. You might want to play some online games with them, as that’s a good way to keep in contact with people who aren’t physically with you.

Leisure life: Make sure you leave time for your hobbies, and by this, I do not mean simply browsing social media or flipping through whatever’s on Netflix. Spend time on significant things related to your hobbies, or even choose some kind of ongoing project related to your hobbies. Maybe you can choose a book series to read,  you can get some games in of that complex solo board game or you can finally make some of the recipes in that cookbook.

Financial life: Spend some time each day taking on some kind of project aimed at reducing your expenses going forward. Go through all of your bills, line by line, and cut unnecessary expenses. Evaluate every subscription and membership you have. Go through all of your closets, determine what you don’t need to keep, and put them aside to sell down the road. Do basic maintenance work on all of your home appliances to extend their life and make them more efficient. Go through your home and look for ways in which you’re wasting energy and fix what you can. If you have some gardening supplies, get your garden started.

The goal is to simply find a number of meaningful and purposeful things to do in each area of your life, and I’m betting most of us can find a lot if we look for them. In fact, I have such a list of things that I’m scarcely able to find time for them all.

This is why, when you have a lot of things you want to do and your time is unstructured with no real appointments, a daily schedule is really helpful.

Assembling a reasonable daily schedule can really help you keep from wasting the days away.

Let’s be clear: I don’t mean that you should have a tightly scheduled day down to the minute. I don’t think that’s realistic for most people.

Rather, I encourage people to set aside blocks of time for a few specific daily things that are really important, and then a couple of general blocks of time away from devices and off the couch where they’re taking care of things in other areas of their life. In addition, make sure you’re leaving plenty of time for adequate sleep, eating, hygiene, and basic housekeeping.

For example, let’s say that you’re a teacher and you want to spend four hours each day developing lesson plans, which is the big thing you really want to do during these weeks off. You want to give some time to the other areas of your life, too. In that case, you might have a daily schedule like this:

8 a.m. — Wake up, take a shower, get dressed for the day
9 to 11 a.m. — Do some things in other areas of your life, like maintaining some appliances or giving mom a call, with electronics and digital distractions stowed elsewhere
11 a.m. to noon — Lunch, check up on the news, touch base with some friends
Noon to 4 p.m. — Work on lesson plans with no digital distractions, cell phone on “do not disturb” mode
4 to 4:20 p.m. — Relax, check up on the news
4:30 to 5:30 p.m. — Household chores
5:30 to 6:30 p.m. — Supper, check up on the news, touch base with some friends
6:30 to 7:30 p.m. — Take care of yourself. Do some exercises, meditate, work on a skill
7:30 to 10:30 p.m. — Do something related to a hobby, with real focus
10:30 to 11:00 p.m. — Relax, check up on the news, touch base with some friends
11 p.m. to midnight — Do something relaxing without a screen, go to bed

This schedule is really just three blocks of time — a morning block, an afternoon block and an evening block — with some open time in between for meals and social contact.

For me, my early morning block is self-care (meditation, journal, a bit of exercise, basically a morning routine), my late morning to early afternoon block is work (about six hours or so, with other threads of work here and there), my late afternoon block is family time, my early evening block is hobby time and my late evening block is time with Sarah, with other things in life and general relaxation/checking the news filling in the gaps.

The key here is to customize it with things that work for you in your specific situation. Just make sure that you’re using those blocks of time to move forward on the various areas of life that are important to you.

Keep these tips in mind.

As someone who has worked from home for many years, setting my own schedule isn’t much of an adjustment at all, but for many people who have a lot of structure built into their lives by outside forces, having a lot of unstructured time can be a shock. Here are some really good general strategies for making this work.

Don’t hang out in your pajamas all day. When you get up in the morning, take a shower and get dressed for the day like normal. Don’t lounge around in sweatpants all day long. Doing so will encourage you to be lazy and get little done, and that ends up in a pretty negative cycle over time.

Reset your sleep. There are few things you can do that will make you feel better than just resetting your sleep. Start going to bed at a reasonable time and then simply allow yourself to rise naturally, with no alarm. Doing that for several days will feel deeply refreshing. Stick with that for a while — it’ll do wonders for your mind and body.

During blocks of time where you want to intentionally accomplish things, turn off all of your digital distractions. I suggest literally leaving your cell phone in another room entirely, turned off or on “do not disturb” mode. Don’t give yourself the temptation to even look at it. Save browsing social media and reading texts for more narrow windows during the day. In fact, you may want to consider dropping social media entirely and instead look for richer ways to communicate directly with people you care deeply about, like a phone call or a voice chat.

If you’re struggling to stay focused on something, break the habit of just turning to your phone. Many people struggle with focusing their attention, and that’s brought on by the convenience of smartphones. This is a time where you don’t need to be looking at that phone all the time, so work on breaking that connection. If you find yourself gently distracted and tempted to look at your phone, that’s OK, but don’t give into that temptation. Bring your focus back to the task, or move to something else meaningful. Again, this is easier if you just have your phone in another room entirely.

Find some simple, enjoyable things to sprinkle throughout your day. For example, I really enjoy sitting in this one particular chair in the sunniest area of our home during the time of day when it’s receiving nice sunlight (the mid-morning hours), so I make a point to do something that involves sitting while in that chair. It’s a simple thing that makes it one of the nice parts of my day. I also love opening windows and feeling the breeze come in (even if it’s chilly), so I do that quite often (though I close it up if it feels too cold). I spend a lot of time playing with our dogs — five minutes here, five minutes there — and while that is fun, they additionally reward that relationship by basically sitting at my feet all the time.

If you’re struggling, talk to a friend. If you have a friend who is struggling, talk to them. Just pick up the phone and call someone. If someone is calling you, pick up the phone and really listen. It can make a huge difference when someone’s readjusting to major changes.

Although these steps won’t fix everything, they provide a really strong foundation for whatever the next stage is in your life.

It’s very likely that a lot of us will think of this as a major turning point in our lives, both good and bad. Many of us will struggle health-wise, but many more will face career changes and personal decisions and many other transformations.

Doing these things now will help keep your life on an even keel, build up (or at least maintain) your health and your personal relationships, and put you in a good position for whatever comes next.

Good luck!

Trent Hamm

Founder & Columnist

Trent Hamm founded The Simple Dollar in 2006 and still writes a daily column on personal finance. He’s the author of three books published by Simon & Schuster and Financial Times Press, has contributed to Business Insider, US News & World Report, Yahoo Finance, and Lifehacker, and his financial advice has been featured in The New York Times, TIME, Forbes, The Guardian, and elsewhere.