The FTF Routine that gives me life.

6 min. to read.

Want a garden full of fresh, beautiful produce? Cultivate the soil and plant seeds. Want an investment portfolio that provides for your retirement? Thoughtfully invest some money every single month. Want a great relationship with your kids? Spend time in conversation every day.

The common factor? Regular on-purpose investment. Put in a little effort every day. Later the fruit of that investment will be apparent.

Every day you get 24 fresh new hours to spend. How are you investing them? Those hours are seeds.

How you invest them will bear fruit in your life.

In my last post I offered this challenge: In order to make sure you invest in the priorities that matter most, start each day with a FTF (First Things First) routine. This guarantees that you plant the seeds of investment in the right place. (If you missed that post, and want to know more about the thoughts behind the FTF routine, and the benefits it can bring in your life, check it out here.)

I learn best seeing practical examples. So, today, I’m going to share my FTF routine with you. Then we’ll talk about how you might go about determining your own FTF routine.

A step-by-step example.

The point of a FTF routine is to make sure that each day starts with an investment made in the things that matter most to you.

My highest priority is growing spiritually and emotionally. (Why both? Well… because I’ve learned the hard way that you can’t have one without the other.) So my FTF routine is designed to invest in those things. Here’s what I do:

  • I brew a cup of Earl Grey tea and get started. (Loose leaf. Presently Teavana’s Earl Grey Creme.)
  • I do the 7 Minute Workout. This gets my blood flowing and wakes me up.
  • Then I turn on my treadmill. I have a treadmill desk in my home studio. Here’s why and how I built it.) The treadmill desk allows me to read, write on my computer, and keep my cup of tea close by—all while walking. This builds some exercise into my day. In about 90 minutes, I can walk 5 miles. This elevates my heartbeat and increases oxygen flow to my brain. I love that it’s healthy, but my real goal is to shift my mood. In Dr. John Medina’s book, Brain Rules, I learned that 30 minutes of exercise 3 times a week increases cognitive function, cuts the risk of dementia by half, and boosts seratonin in the brain. I know the impact from experience. If I go several days without walking, I can feel my mood and attitude plummeting. So, I walk for peace of mind and focus, not weigh loss. Although it has certainly helped there too.
  • On my treadmill I start by reading something that is focused on my spiritual growth. I don’t start with the Bible—that comes later. I just want something I can read for 15 or 20 minutes, and get my mind focused on things that matter. Presently I’m reading Brian McLaren’s We Make the Road by Walking, but I read all kinds of theology, inspiration and spiritual growth oriented books during this time. I’m walking while I read.
  • Then I turn on my computer and begin to journal. I have a journaling template that I use every day. This includes a brief reflection on the pervious day, thoughts about my present emotions (vital in my emotional recovery), things I’m grateful for, reading and reflecting on scripture (presently working through Matthew’s gospel one chapter at a time), prayer, listening in silence, and a commitment to do one thing during this day that came up during the journaling time. The template makes sure that I cover everything important. It also has given me a jump start when I’m struggling to get started. Oh, and I’m still walking
  • When I’m done journaling, my process shifts depending on my day. I open up my calender and to-do list manager (I use and love Nozbe). I take a few minutes to look at what commitments I have and what I hope to accomplish. I make a few adjustments to my to-do list for the day, so that I have a clear start on my goals and then I’m off.

Some days are full of commitments and in order to handle those I shower and get to business. Other days are more flexible. I also try to write 500 words a day on a writing project of mine, but that doesn’t happen every day.

When my FTF routine is complete, I am equipped to start the day. I’ve attended to my spiritual growth and my emotional health. I’ve invested in my physical health. I’ve started by seeking God’s presence. I’ve taken a moment to think about the flow of my day and what I must do. Regardless of what happens, I’m ready to face the day.

Quote - FTF Responsibility.jpg

The effect this process has had on my life is undeniable.

My mood has lifted. My ability to moderate my emotions when fear or anxiety comes has strengthened. My creativity has blossomed.

My sense of God’s presence and my trust that God is active in my life has grown.

Life still brings uncertainty and pain—in fact, I’m in the middle of one of the most stressful and painful seasons I can remember.

And yet, this routine keeps me balanced in the middle of what feels like an overwhelming storm.

This process has allowed me to take responsibility for my time and my attitude, and that has changed the way I live. Most importantly, when I miss the routine — when I allow busyness or stress or tiredness to crowd it out — I feel it (and so do the people around me). My routine is not meant to be your routine.  This is just an example so you can see what I’m talking about.  In the next post, we’ll talk about how you can design a routine that works for you.

8 thoughts on “The FTF Routine that gives me life.

  1. This is a very practical post but it shows your creativity, especially in designing and building a desk over your treadmill. There’s probably a marketing opportunity there; other people would like to have such a desk and accomplish all that first thing each day.

    We just had a seminar at our church, presented by a counselor, on warding off the winter blues this year. (Last year we had over 200 inches of snow here in northern lower Michigan and too many days of below zero temperatures.) His first point was exercise. His second was exercise. And his third was exercise. So we bought and starting using a membership to the new YMCA in our community.

    My spiritual focus includes a place where I don’t do anything else except meet with God. It is on one end of a loveseat in our family room. I snuggle up under an afghan with my Bible while the house is quiet and all the cues are there to focus on God.

    In addition to tending to my spiritual and physical needs, I seem to have to put the house in order before I start my day of working at the computer. Maybe that makes it an emotional need. Maybe it is a “woman thing.” Anyway, I feel at peace and ready to start writing after the house is in order. I have heard it said that for a woman, the home is an extension of herself; when the home is messy, she feels messy. Tidied up? I’m ready to refocus.

    Thank you for the post.

    1. Hey Sharon, thanks for commenting! I love hearing about the different routines and rituals that people use. I can imagine with 200 inches of snow (Geez!), that would be a very relevant skill!

  2. Hey Marc,
    I’m impressed by your organization and dedication! Three things that I find helpful to my spiritual growth are:
    1. Two way journalling.
    2. Weekly meetings with my spiritual mentor to seek godly advice and reflect on how God is at work in my life.
    3. Sharing my healing journey at (I’ve just started this last month because I felt God prompting me to comfort others with the comfort I have received. I’d love it if you’d check it out and let me know your thoughts!
    God bless,

      1. I could write a whole article to explain, but I’ll give you the short answer 😉
        Two-way journaling is a form of ‘listening prayer’. I begin by typing my prayer to God – I share with him the things that are on my mind, and this usually leads to me asking a question of him. When I sense God speaking (not audibly, but rather a whisper in my heart of hearts) I hit the CapsLock key and record the things I am ‘hearing’. I do not take the time to question the content at that time, but rather let the thoughts flow freely. This process repeats back and forth – lowercase (my thoughts), and uppercase (that which I sense God is saying). Later, when I’ve finished my time of prayer, I will go back and discern whether the things I was hearing were indeed from God – are they biblical?, are they in line with his character? If I’m unsure, I may ask someone for Godly advice. Those are the basics. I have to add, that only a couple of years ago I would have thought this strange. However the more I search God’s word, the more I see that he is a highly relational God, he often spoke to people in the Bible, and he is the same yesterday, today, and forever – so it is reasonable that he would continue to speak to his children “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me” (John 10:27). I hope that helps explain.

        1. I agree that there really ought to be some part of our spiritual process where we are learning by experience to recognize God’s voice. I agree with that. Of course, we won’t be perfect at it, but we have to start somewhere.

  3. Marc, Great post. I like your FTF. I follow a similar routine most mornings. I find that when I do, my day goes better and I’m better in my role as an active duty chaplain serving Marines. When I fill myself up first, they get the overflow. If I neglect my FTF, they get leftovers, which no on likes.
    Great stuff, I look forward to reading more.

    Best to you, Greg

    1. Hey Greg, my experience exactly. I almost laugh at myself now on days when I skip because I feel too busy, and the day goes awry. It’s so predictable! Thanks for reading and commenting! Hope to hear more from you.

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