Fitting New Habits (Like Fitness) into the Schedule

As we try to start new habits from scratch, we often can get tangled in the weeds of exactly how to think about accomplishing a task, planning time to do it and then actually performing it. Today’s discussion of the Think-Plan-Execute model was inspired by this week’s Ask Stew question:

Stew, I was reading one of your latest articles on the Military.com Fitness Section about fitting things (like fitness) into your day. Does this mean you make a huge TO-DO list and put it all on the schedule, so it exists? I ask because I know that one of your favorite quotes is “If it is not on the schedule, it does not exist.”

Help me if I am wrong, but from this quote it does seem as if you are also putting everything that you do on your calendar. I am just curious to know which method you use to plan your day … the to-do list method or the calendar method? Thanks for your time, Renee

Renee, thanks for your thoughtful questions. We often have a tendency to overthink things when our schedule gets busy, which makes it tough to add new habits. When you are planning something new, it should be written on your schedule, set as a reminder alarm and planned out so you do not have to think too much when it’s time to do it.

However, I don’t put my current habits into the schedule, because they are a part of my life already — even without me writing it down.

I wake up at 5 a.m. just about every day without even trying. By 6 a.m., I am training until 7-8 a.m. and follow it with showering, breakfast and starting my workday by 8-9 a.m., depending on the day. The only thing I would have “in the schedule” is my training plan for that specific day. I do not write a list of “wake up, snack, workout, clean up, breakfast and start work” in my schedule. Those are already habits.

However, if I have an event that is not normal in my day like an important business phone call, quarterly errand or an appointment, then I put it on the schedule on my desk calendar and phone. Over the past 20+ years, my morning schedule has been my habit without much change, so I do not need to make it part of my to-do list for the day.

However, the specifics of the exercise routine and events at work (article writing, podcast, interview and administrative issues) should be part of the schedule, but I consider that more of a to-do list than a schedule.

Recently, I wanted to add more swimming to my routine, so I made the habit of swimming during the first half of my lunch break before eating lunch. When you add a new recurring event to your normal schedule, a helpful alarm on your watch or phone can help trigger the reminder and build this as a habit.

So far, so good. However, the pool just closed for maintenance for the next week so I likely will have to start the habit building all over again. Yes, it will be part of the schedule and to-do list, as I believe that habit creation requires it.

I hope that helps to answer just how much you should put on the to-do list each day. We are all a bit different, and many prefer to have the complete list of tasks as part of the process.

There are too many people who do not write down anything and often forget appointments, dates, times and events, even if they’re part of a normal schedule. Again, there is a middle-of-the-spectrum group that focuses on maintaining habits as part of the schedule but adds new events to the to-do list when needed.

Stew Smith is a former Navy SEAL and fitness author certified as a Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS) with the National Strength and Conditioning Association. Visit his Fitness eBook store if you’re looking to start a workout program to create a healthy lifestyle. Send your fitness questions to stew@stewsmith.com.

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