Video: For Habits, Try the Strategy of Scheduling.

I’m doing a video series in which I discuss the various strategies that we can use for habit-formation.

Habits are the invisible architecture of everyday life, and a significant element of happiness. If we have habits that work for us, we’re much more likely to be happy, healthy, productive, and creative. My book describes the multiple strategies we can exploit to change our habits. To hear when this masterpiece goes on sale, sign up here.

Last week was the Strategy of Monitoring — one of my favorite strategies (yes, I do have favorites, I must confess.)

This week — the Strategy of Scheduling. Also another one of my favorites.

The Strategies of Monitoring and Scheduling, along with the Strategies of Foundation and Accountability, form the section of my book on the “Pillars of Habits.” These are big, bedrock strategies.


To read more about my Wednesday adventures with my daughter, check out Happier at Home, chapter on Parenthood.

You can also read more about Power Hour and the Four Tendencies in those posts.

How about you? Do you find that you stick to your habits better — especially when a habit is fairly new — if it’s actually entered into your schedule? It’s surprising to me how the simple act of making a note of something can make such a big difference.

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Other posts you might be interested in . . .

  • Gillian

    Great video, with great advice, Gretchen. I see scheduling and monitoring working well in tandem. And as you say, the Rubin Tendencies play a role.

    However, somehow, the scheduling often doesn’t work for me. Today is a case in point. On my schedule, to be done after breakfast and after doing the dishes, was to go into the garden for 2 or 3 hours. However, it was cloudy and didn’t look particularly inviting (I’m a fair-weather gardener) so before going into the garden, I started working on a project I’m doing for a community group I belong to. Just for half an hour or so to make a start on the project and to allow the weather to warm up a bit. That half hour became all day. I finished the project at 4:45 pm! I am quite pleased with the work and have a sense of accomplishment but the garden received no attention and the new plants are still sitting in the shed. I don’t think this is related to the Rubin Tendencies – I am equal parts upholder & questioner with a shot of obliger. It is related to my obsessive personality and the inability to change gears (and a lack of discipline?). Once I became engaged in the project, I couldn’t bring myself to stop. Also, the project relates to a passion and an aptitude, whereas the gardening, although not at all unpleasant, was just an item on the to-do list. It has now moved to tomorrow’s schedule. Hopefully, I will be less tempted to sabotage myself and the 30% chance of rain won’t materialize. In my defence, I haven’t been feeling well for a few days which makes the prospect of even slight physical activity even less appealing but that is more excuse than reason.

    I frequently find myself faced with these quandaries – what I want to do and what I should do are usually not the same thing. I can lose hours fighting with myself. I usually find, after the fact, that if I just do the activity I really feel like doing, I will accomplish it easily and efficiently. I am then free of the temptation and can pursue the less-appealing activity in a positive, rather than resentful, frame of mind. To be honest, I think that is a healthier approach but it doesn’t fit well with the desire to form good habits (and get more physical activity) and can make me feel quite undisciplined. However, my best friend views me as very disciplined (says she envies me for it) and my husband frequently says I am too rigid and should relax a bit (I suspect he is a mix of questioner and rebel).

    • Judy

      Gillian, I think you should be congratulating yourself for following your inclination to work on your project – what a fabulous day you had! You were purposeful and engaged, and it doesn’t get much better than that. Sometimes we have to put aside rules and schedules and lists and just be fully present doing what we are passionate about.

      • Gillian

        Thank you, Judy. You are exactly right and I am trying to reset my mindset in that direction.

  • Mimi Gregor

    *Nods* This is precisely how I made exercise a habit. I wrote on my calendar, three days each week, “strength training”. Once it’s there, I MUST cross it off. But I must cross it off by doing it. I managed to find out by trial and error that the most convenient time of the day was NOT morning, as it seems to be for most people, but mid-afternoon. So three days a week, I go out on my porch and work out on my weight machine. It is such a deeply engrained habit now that I no longer have to write it on my calendar. AND I have added yoga at that time on the days that I am not lifting weights. Exercise at that time of day has become a habit.

    As a side note, I exercise on my own at home rather than at a gym. I find that I am more likely to exercise when it is conveniently located, and what is more convenient than at home? If I had to get in the car and drive somewhere to do it, I would blow it off.

  • Penelope Schmitt

    I am loving the gradual build up of habits around morning and before bed routines. I have really had a lot of success in doing things that I want to make into daily habits by adding them first thing in the morning (Morning Prayer, writing in a one-sentence journal, making the bed, making a proper breakfast, going for a walk, actually paying attention to my skin with moisturizer or makeup) and in the evening (meds, tooth-flossing, putting dirty clothes in the laundry basket, Evening Prayer, a little reading and lights out). But in the middle of the day, it all seems to be a hodge podge.
    I have attached listening to music I like to my sewing time, and I try to fit an hour in somewhere. But honestly, I have not been able to ‘schedule’ a workday for my retired self. Something to think about for sure! I could schedule sewing time, or schedule paperwork time (there always seems to be some wanting) or schedule time on the computer, or work towards or away from mealtimes . . . well, we will see.

    • Gillian

      Penelope, the lovely part about being retired is that we don’t have a schedule; we have interests and activities. I am starting to think that perhaps the best approach is to each evening look at tomorrow’s calendar – mark the things that must be done – only appointments and time-sensitive commitments – then create a list of possible activities for the rest of the day. In the morning, look at that list and choose the one or two items that we most FEEL like doing and do them joyfully. Do not get caught in the trap of false “musts” – most chores can wait a day or two or three. In my case, yesterday I allowed myself to stress over the gardening while I worked on a community project. I should have just gone with the flow and enjoyed the work – I think Judy’s response to my comment below is exactly right. Today I will enjoy my gardening, knowing that my project was completed yesterday. I certainly don’t believe that retirement is a time for loafing around idly. We need engaging, useful and enjoyable activities but we do not need rigid schedules – they are counter-productive and defeat the purpose of retirement.

      • Penelope Schmitt

        You have a very good point Megan. I do have some regularly scheduled activities (related to sewing and quilting) that punctuate my week, and I aim to spend at least an hour in the sewing room, with music, daily. That’s probably enough ‘schedule’ once I have accomplished my morning walk.
        That said, I guess what I want to add to my everyday list is a little time spent doing the necessary bureaucratic tasks for me, and for my 90-year-old Mom, who needs more and more assistance with those things. I guess I could work from mealtimes as anchor points.

        • Mimi Gregor

          I remember reading somewhere a long time ago (can’t remember the name of the book) a suggestion to prioritize one’s to-do list. The author suggested marking a 1, 2, or 3 beside each item. Number 1s were the things that absolutely had to be done. Number 2s had to be done, but not necessarily right away. Number 3s were the things it would be great to accomplish IF there was time, but no biggie if you can’t. For the times when I have more on my list than usual, I find it helpful to prioritize them in this fashion.

          • Gillian

            That’s a great theory, Mimi. I actually do prioritize my list. My problem is that unless something is absolutely urgent, I end up doing the most appealing item, not the highest priority. Once I have done the task I really want to do, then I can attack the others based on priority. I also have trouble doing lots of small tasks, especially of the tedious variety, rather than one longer task.

  • Megan

    Great video – and l love the longer length this time! Sometimes I need a bit of a bigger Gretchen fix, so 1-2 minutes doesn’t cut it. Love the four minutes on this one! And I appreciate that you don’t make a “blanket strategy”, rather breaking it up into personality types… I think I’m a bit of a rebel.

    • gretchenrubin

      I’m glad to hear it was okay to go a bit longer –thanks!

  • Laura King

    I have recently started scheduling baking into my week. I have always loved to cook but always felt like I never got the chance to. I used to really love making cakes for birthdays but my younger sister makes them now. She wants to be a baker by profession so everyone asks her as encouragement (and she can make a wicked cake). Then I decided that since it was so important to me, and gave me so much joy that I needed to prioritize it and make the time to bake. So now, every Sunday, I choose a new recipe (mostly baked goods or dessert) and spend the afternoon cooking. And now I don’t have to worry about making time because it is scheduled into my weekend. It makes me so happy and as a bonus now I am doing it entirely for me, and not just when someone wants me to so I am extra fullfilled.

  • Gretchen, I appreciate your light! I too seek to help others to find their purpose. Coming to your site has surely added tools to my personal box, and this video was ON POINT! Thank you! Feel free to visit my site (I focus on helping others to find purpose and peace) Thanks again!

  • Another great one, Gretchen. I absolutely MUST schedule something in order to get it done. However, it seems that I ALSO must schedule in my scheduling, Ha! I’m a recovering Procrastinator so it’s still a work in progress.

  • Carla

    Your point on Obligers is spot-on. If something is on my calendar just for me, I can easily get sidetracked into something else needed for others. I need to put outside accountability there.