How you can use playlists to create better habits and guide your most productive week.
“First forget inspiration. Habit is more dependable. Habit will sustain you whether you’re inspired or not.” – Octavia Butler
That quote is only one of the many such words of wisdom that remind us that habits are the foundation to success. A daily routine will reduce the clutter in your mind so you can be more creative in your work. Yet still, that’s easier said than done.
I don’t know about you, but habits have been a constant struggle in my life. I read the Power of Habit and Atomic Habits and 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. I implemented their methods but nothing seemed to stick. None of them aligned well with how my brain actually works.
Then one day I heard about the Clean With Me podcast. I thought it was great. It took the decision-making out of a not-so-desirable necessity. Rather than feeling overwhelmed by what to clean or where to clean, I just hit play and she guides me through the process.
Then I thought–what if this was more expansive? What if I just had to hit play in the morning and the rest of my day was decided for me?
This thought led me to devise The Playlist Method.
How The Playlist Method Works To Guide A Productive Week
It’s a simple concept.
Create a playlist that’s filled with music you absolutely adore. Then intersperse blocks of “good habit” activities you want to add to your day.
Cues to take a break
Once you put in that initial work, all you have to do is hit play and let the playlist guide you through your day. This eliminates the guesswork, the paralyzing effects of indecisiveness, and reduces decision fatigue.
The easiest way to understand how it works is to look at an example.
I use Spotify but don’t let the platform you use limit the possibilities of this method. Get creative with how you use songs and sounds to cue different activities.
I have headphones set right next to my phone so as soon as I turn off my alarm, I put them on and start my Monday Playlist.
Right from the start, I’m greeted with one of my favorite songs (“Mr. Blue Sky” by ELO). It’s so happy and upbeat that it alone works wonders to encourage a positive mood to start the day.
I use this first song to use the bathroom and brush my teeth and give my dogs a chance to wake up. As the playlist continues, I put on my shoes and leash my dogs and head out the door for our morning walk.
This walk takes about 25 minutes, so I include enough songs to cover its entire length plus buffer time.
At the end, I have a cue song (“Friday Morning” by Khruangbin). I use this in the same spot every day to let myself know that the next set of activities is coming.
This song leads me into my morning affirmation. I use a bonus episode of the podcast Better With Paul where the host says an affirmation for positive thinking.
This flows into 10 minutes of morning meditation. I found an artist called Sound Dreamer who has a wide selection of sounds at set lengths of time. You could use these for any number of activities.
Now that I’m relaxed and clear-headed, it’s time for some energy. I use a podcast called Tiny Workouts where the host guides you through short, simple workouts. Monday is arms and shoulders for me.
After this, I have another block of my favorite music during which I shower and dress, feed my dogs and myself, and then walk to the local cafe.
Total time: 1 hr 40 m 03 s. The playlist also functions to keep me on time in the morning.
The Work Day
I use 4 x 90 minute blocks of Brown Noise as working sessions for a total of 6 dedicated hours of focused work.
Between each block I have 3 – 5 songs that cue me to take a break. During this time, I will get up, stretch, walk around, grab a coffee refill, or eat a snack. I don’t eat again until after work so snack breaks are essential.
After the last 90-minute session, there’s an extended block of music which guides me home and into whatever my plans are for the latter part of the day.
At this point, I often stop the playlist while I socialize with friends and family, watch TV/movies, read, run, walk and listen to an audiobook, etc.
The crucial second decision of the day is jumping back into the playlist to set my bedtime.
When I’ve concluded my evening plans, I check the time to see how long I have until I need to start my bedtime routine. I divide this by 4, which creates an approximate number of songs I’ll need to cover the time. For example:
60 minutes / 4 = 15 songs
4 minutes per song is the closest approximation where the math is still easy.
I count back that many songs from the end of the playlist and hit play.
I use another Khruangbin song (“White Gloves”) to cue the start of my bedtime routine, which includes skin care and teeth care and other prep.
Then I have another Tiny Workout–this one for stretching–another Better With Paul affirmation–this one for self-love–and a final 10 minute block of soothing sounds for evening meditation.
At this point the playlist concludes, which is a cue to put my phone away for the day. I set it and my headphones to charge and spend the rest of the night reading until it’s time to go to sleep.
Other Days Of The Week
I went further and created a different playlist for each day of the week. You can see each of them here:
Each playlist has a different feel to reflect how I think that day feels. It’s fun to get cutsie with selections like “Stuck in the Middle with You” on Wednesday or “Friday I’m in Love” on Friday.
Even though creating all these playlists is more work upfront, it has a few advantages:
New music each day so it doesn’t get stale
Variable workouts to hit each part of the body
Different routine structures depending on the goal of the day
Customize It For Yourself
Obviously, each of these is custom-tailored for my day and my goals. The key to the success of this method is putting in the initial work to make the playlist work for you.
Choose music that you absolutely adore so you’ll be excited to hit play.
Base the length of each block around your schedule.
Include the activities that you want to do based on your goals.
Pick podcast episodes with hosts who you enjoy listening to.
The reason I chose Better With Paul and Tiny Workouts is because I love the hosts. The sound of their voices, the background music, and their encouraging nature. They feel like good friends and make me excited to incorporate those activities into my life.
Set it up so that you want to use the method, rather than feeling like you have to follow it. This mental distinction is essential for the method to work.
How To Simplify The Playlist Method
This whole full-day thing may feel a bit overwhelming. You don’t need to plan out your entire day to make use of this method.
Instead, you can just make a morning routine playlist that guides you from bed to the office. Or just an evening playlist that ensures you get to bed on time.
The concept is flexible. Fit it to your needs and your goals.
Looking To The Future
It’s important to make adjustments regularly.
Change the songs to keep it fresh.
Change what activities you do as your goals change.
Change the order based on what’s working or not working.
Anytime you start to feel the monotony of the routine, switch it up instead of abandoning it altogether.
This method has been transformative for me. I’m feeling mentally and physically healthier, and I’m getting more done than I ever have before. I hope that you can find similar benefits from this method.