Build new habits (like fitness) into the schedule

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

Stew, I read one of your latest articles in the fitness section of Military.com that was all about putting things (like fitness) into your day. Does that mean you have to create a huge TO-DO list and put everything on the schedule for it to exist? I ask because I know that one of your favorite quotes is, “If it’s not on the schedule, it doesn’t exist.”

Help me if I’m wrong but after this quote it would seem like everything you do is put on your calendar too. I’m just curious 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 tend to rethink things when our schedule is full, which makes it difficult to add new habits. Whenever you are planning something new, be sure to write it on your schedule, set it as a reminder, and schedule it so you don’t have to think too much when it comes time to do it.

However, I do not enter my current habits in the timetable because they are already part of my life – even without me writing them down.

I wake up at 5 a.m. almost every day without trying. I train from 6 a.m. to 7 a.m. – 8 a.m. and then with shower, breakfast and start work at 8 a.m. – 9 a.m., depending on the day. The only thing I would have “on schedule” is my training schedule for that particular day. I don’t include a list of “wake up, snack, exercise, clean up, breakfast, and go to work” in my schedule. Those are habits.

However, when I have an event that is not normal in my day-to-day life, like an important business phone call, quarterly errand, or appointment, I write it down on my desk calendar and phone. For the past 20+ years, my morning schedule has been my habit with little change so I don’t have to put it on my to-do list for the day.

However, the specifics of the exercise flow and workplace events (article writing, podcast, interviews, and administrative issues) should be part of the schedule, but I think this is more of a to-do list than a schedule.

I recently wanted to add more swimming to my routine so I’ve made a habit of swimming in the first half of my lunch break before lunch. Whenever you add a new recurring event to your normal schedule, a helpful alarm on your watch or phone can help trigger the reminder and make it a habit.

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

Hope this helps answer how much you should be putting on your to-do list each day. We’re all a little different and many prefer to have the full to-do list as part of the process.

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

Stew Smith is a retired Navy SEAL and fitness writer who was certified as a Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS) by the National Strength and Conditioning Association. Visit his Fitness eBook shop if you want to start an exercise program to create a healthy lifestyle. Send your fitness questions to [email protected]

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