New goals don’t deliver new results. New lifestyles do. And a lifestyle is not an outcome, it is a process. For this reason, all of your energy should go into building better rituals, not chasing better results.
Last week I put up You Cannot Pour From An Empty Cup Part One: Misery that focused on how miserable I was trying, and failing, to “serve two masters at the same time.” I am not going to recap it (so you might want to read it first in case you are yet to) as I am delving straight into today’s post which focuses on the systems I created that enable me to use my 24 hours effectively and efficiently.
In last week’s post I went on and on about how morning gym was making me sooo fucking miserable and shared how startled I was to realise the last time I was that miserable was during the initial days after my mum died. It therefore makes sense to kick off today’s post with the changes I have made to my gym schedule to make it more bearable.
I still go to the gym four days a week and my program is still the same in that Monday and Wednesday are cardio days, Tuesday is upper body and abs and Thursday is leg day. However, I only go in at 5 a.m. on Tuesday and Thursday. On Monday and Wednesday I go in anytime between 7 a.m. and 8 a.m. though I am working on changing that to latest 7 a.m.
In my post 13.31 that I put up on my last day as a 31 year old, I shared 13 things I know for sure and one of them was make a point to exercise at least three days a week. Why I say three is because a week has seven days and half of that is 3.5, so if you cannot round it up to four days then round it down to three. Gym membership is not cheap though and I feel like I get more value for money when I work out four days a week. I also find four days are better for my gains because Lawd knows I looove my wine. But now I have given myself permission to go to the gym three days a week if my body/workload does not feel like it can handle four days.
What time and how often I go to the gym are not the most revolutionary of changes, but the effect they have had on my anxiety cannot be overstated. I am now sleeping through the night and more often than not I wake up well-rested and ready for the day.
That said, I am still not enjoying the gym. I have thought long and hard about why that is the case and I am confident the reason is I much prefer to work out in the evening. People who like to work out in the morning will advocate for it for a number of reasons, the most common one being they prefer to get the workout out of the way ASAP because doing so frees up their day to do whatever they please. Another common reason is they have more energy in the morning and prefer to workout then rather than in the evening when they are tired.
I prefer to work out in the evening because I am not a morning person at all. Even getting to the gym at 8 a.m. on Monday and Wednesday is still a huge sacrifice for me because my body does not like to ruka ruka and kimbia kimbia that early. My boyfriend-trainer usually WhatsApps me my cardio workouts for the week on Sunday night and I get so tired from just reading the text. Lol. But for real, here is my work out for last Monday. Look at it and tell me how you can receive such a text and not get tired from seeing eight working sets of 80 mountain climbers.
I joined the gym on April 1, 2019 and for that entire year I would work out in the evening unless I had something planned after work (usually involving happy hour), then I would go in the morning. My body is more cooperative in the evening than in the morning so I easily work out longer and harder then, and as a result I sleep better at night.
On the other hand, ever since I started working out in the morning on January 12th there is not a single day I have woken up in the mood to work out. I know that working out is important for my physical and mental wellbeing, but fucking hell morning gym is killing my love for the gym. It is quite telling, and very problematic, that for the last two months I have had to talk myself into working out every single day. Not once in two months have I woken up, or gone to bed, looking forward to my workout.
I pay for my gym membership on a quarterly basis as I save money when I do that. My current membership ends on April 13th and unless I manage to switch to evening, I am taking a break from the gym after that. This was not an easy decision to make for several of reasons, but the fact is I am not happy. Not even by a long shot because nothing about the gym right now sparks joy. Absolutely nothing!
Now that I have used 700+ words to complain about morning gym (lol) let us move onto the systems I created.
There are several definitions of the word system, but the one most relevant to today’s post is a set of rules, an arrangement of things, or a group of related things that work toward a common goal.
The need to create a system was borne from the need to successfully juggle all the demands that come with being Valerie Lwile, the Media Director, and Lwile the Leo, the writer. I have a shitoad of things to get done on any given day so the common goal in my system is to GET! SHIT! DONE!
A goal without a plan is just a wish
Antoine de Saint-Exupéry
My goal is to GET! SHIT! DONE! and my plan for making that happen is best summarised by this pic that the MD at my workplace put up on her WhatsApp stories on January 25th:
It would not be an exaggeration to say my MD’s WhatsApp story changed my life as I was struggling terribly with fatigue in January. I immediately copied it to a post-it note that I stuck on the wall next to my bed and I read it every morning after the gym. Before I go to bed I identify one or more tasks I need to do the following day without fail. I go to bed thinking about the task(s) and I also ruminate on them the following morning as I work out. By the time I get home from the gym my mental space is so goddamn primed to tackle the scheduled tasks for the day because I have been ruminating on them from the night before.
When I get home from the gym I go through this daily self check-in that my therapist posted on her WhatsApp stories in January:
That self check-in is a crucial part of my system as it helps me tune into myself, my mood and my energy levels. It also balances me and keeps my focus for the day razor-sharp and in turn that balance and razor-sharp focus help me stay productive the entire day. By now I know the six prompts by heart and I start doing them in the shower because time-sharing is a vital component of my system, and by the time I am done with my morning skincare routine I am through with the check-in.
The last thing I do before I start my day is to make my bed as I read the post-it notes I have stuck on the wall behind it, because time-sharing for the win! The quote I started today’s post with is on one of the post-it notes, as well as:
- Your routine creates your results
- Make your skin a priority
- You have to keep at it until it becomes rooted
- You have been assigned this mountain to show others it can be moved
- Your emotions are the slaves to your thoughts and you are the slave to your emotions
- Only two things will create your dreams: your choices and your commitment to those choices
- Excellence is not accidental
In part one I mentioned that my most productive hours are between 9 a.m. and 12 p.m. and that is the main reason I am changing my Monday and Wednesday reporting gym time to 7 a.m. My cardio sessions do not take longer than 45 minutes, meaning if I am back home around 8 a.m. I will be completely settled by 9 a.m. and can utilise my most productive hours to GET! SHIT! DONE! Tuesday and Thursday I go in at 5 a.m. and am back home anytime between 6:30 a.m. and 7 a.m. and I like to use that extra hour to reply to WhatsApp and social media messages, that way I spend less time on my phone during the day.
Because of my hectic January at work, I barely accomplished anything on my Lwile the Leo to-do list that month and ended up moving the entire list to February. After seeing the pic my MD put up on her WhatsApp stories, I became infinitely motivated to complete my Lwile the Leo to-do list by the end of February without fail. There were over 30 items on the list (bruh!) that I arranged in order of priority and when that was done I assigned a completion date/week to each task. Tasks that take more of my time and energy I arrange to do them on Tuesday and Thursday as my days start very early then so I have more time to GET! SHIT! DONE! In addition to that, I schedule the more mentally challenging tasks for between 9 a.m. and 12 p.m. and leave the tasks that require less brainpower for the afternoon as I am not very productive after lunch. I also do not like doing a lot of work on Monday and Friday so I also schedule tasks that require less brainpower on those two days.
That said, just because I schedule tasks that require less brainpower after lunch, as well as on Monday and Friday when I am not very productive, does not make them any less important. Those tasks are scheduled then because I can easily complete them within the timeframe assigned, and that is important because each time you accomplish a short-term goal your body celebrates by producing and releasing chemicals such as dopamine, serotonin, oxytocin, and endorphins (feel-good neurotransmitters). The regular release of the body’s natural chemicals supports brain change at a neural level, building your confidence, and renewing your goal-oriented focus. So the tasks I schedule for after lunch, as well as on Monday and Friday, are selected not just because they require less brainpower, but because crossing them off my list motivates me to keep going.
During the day I take a deliberate lunchbreak between 1 p.m. and 2 p.m. as I am now more intentional with scheduling time to rest. Before we started working from home I always read during my lunchbreak, but now that I am not only working from home but have a shitload of things going on as well, I find watching TV to be the best way for me to decompress between 1 p.m. and 2 p.m. With TV the images are created for you unlike books where you get to choose the visuals for yourself, and that is where the magic of books comes to life. But doing so requires mental stimulation and engagement and since I am looking to “switch off” my brain between 1 p.m. and 2 p.m., I now watch TV instead of reading. It took some adjusting for me not to feel guilty or lazy for watching an hour of TV during the workday, but now I am loving it and find I am able to do more than I usually would after lunch as a result.
I am working towards ending my days at 5 p.m. so that I can read till about 6:30 p.m. and then spend the rest of the evening Netflix and chilling with my boyfriend. This is still a WIP, but I am determined to perfect it because now that I no longer read during my lunchbreak, my reading time has been significantly compromised. For example, I started reading The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot on March 4th but only got around to picking it up again yesterday when I read a chapter before bed. So one week later, I have only read … wait for it … 17 pages. FOR SHAME!! My compromised reading time also explains why in my reviews of Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman and A Day Late and a Dollar Short by Terry McMillan I stated that it took me some time to get into both books. Yet the former was a 4-star read and I stated in my review that the latter would have been a 4-star read as well had I not taken so long to get into it. Clearly I need to be deliberate with reading every day, or at least every other day, therefore I have settled on 5 p.m. as my daily reading time so I can also enjoy a glass of wine with my book.
Lastly, this is not part of the system per se but I also made an adjustment to my cook day by breaking it up into two days – one major one minor – instead of doing it all on Wednesday just because my cleaning lady is coming the next day. I like to cook and I do not mind doing dishes either. And while my boyfriend does not mind doing dishes as well, he does not like to cook. Therefore since I do the cooking, he does the dishes for the week after my cleaning lady leaves that way we are able to divide the task in a way that is fair to both of us.
I am still working on a system for my weekends that will allow me to rest sufficiently and also get some writing done, but for now I am content to have a weekday system that not just works, but works well. There are a few components of the system I am still refining, and others I am looking to add, but overall I am quite pleased with it.
A few of y’all had mentioned to me that you were looking forward to reading about my system as you related to part one of the post, so I hope part two is helpful in the creation of your own systems that will enable you to be as productive as possible.