By Alyssa Gregory

There’s no denying that I’m a creature of habit. I have a routine, and I like it that way. But, when you work a lot of hours and have a family, things can get a little hairy. Actually, things can get a lot hairy, and you need to accept a certain level of flexibility if you want to get anything accomplished, and just stay sane.

The thing is, I’m not a go-with-the-flow kind of person. It’s a stretch for me to let go of my schedule, give up my quest for order, and fall to the whim of everything around me. In fact, I pretty much hate it. I get through this by identifying a few things that I “need,” things I don’t think I could live without. And then allow some flexibility for everything else.

Take today, for example. One of the kids is sick and staying home from school. Does this mean I have to give up my tremendously optimistic to-do list that I had lined up for today? Probably. But I won’t be giving up these three daily to-do list non-negotiables. No matter what.

1. I wake up before everyone else.

I can’t have a productive day if I’m overwhelmed and feel like I’m scrambling right out of the gate. I need time, even just 30 minutes, before the rest of the house gets up in order to mentally situate myself for the day. I like to check my email, review my schedule, have a cup of tea (or decaf coffee), and just mentally prepare.

If I don’t take this time every morning, my day starts with a feeling of disarray, and I struggle to right the balance in between getting kids dressed and ready for school, handling “emergency” work emails and meeting morning deadlines.

2. I make a shortlist.

I try to do this every night before I go to bed, but the morning always brings a fresh perspective and usually requires some adjustments. So, my shortlist of top priorities for the day is a must-do. I may have 5, 8 or even 10 very important things to do on any given day, but my shortlist is always the top 3. I pick the most important tasks, or sometimes I pick the three that will be the quickest and least painful to complete. My shortlist gives me an in-your-face reminder about what I must accomplish today. It centers me and gives me focus. Plus, helps me build momentum to tackle the rest of it (especially when I knock off the easy stuff first).

3. I exercise, or at least stretch my muscles.

My goal is to exercise at least 4-5 days a week, and although it is a solid habit for me that I have been decent at maintaining for years, it’s still not always easy. I have found that if I don’t get it done in the morning, the likelihood of me taking time later in the day drops significantly. So after my morning tea (or after the kids are at school), I like to get my workout in.

My Plan B, when my morning workout just isn’t happening (hey, we’re all human!), is to at least squeeze in a quick stretch in the morning. A five-minute stretch not only loosens you up, but it can do wonders for energy and overall stress level.

Nothing earth shattering, but those are the three things I refuse to give up, no matter what the day brings. Give me these three things, and I’m a happy camper. What do you consider your daily to-do list non-negotiables?