by Hannah Rau
We all have little routines we follow—like drinking coffee in the morning while picking out clothes for the day, setting out an outfit for the next day before getting ready for bed, letting the car warm up while double checking that phone and keys are where they should be. These patterns of repeated actions make life a little more comfortable and predictable, simplifying daily life and giving us something consistent to look forward to. Especially in a time like a pandemic, or any winter when normal rhythms are disrupted, routines are especially useful to structure our time and provide stability and a sense of normalcy.
Using routines effectively can help us Relax. Refresh. Renew. There can be something soothing about performing repeated actions.
Routines can help us Relax by allowing us to let go of other things to focus on the tasks at hand. A routine is predictable and constant, and if we let go of distractions and other worries to just be present in what we are doing, routines can give us intervals of relaxation throughout the day.
Routines also help us Refresh by filling our time with something healthy or productive. If I don’t have a plan or a set goal, I know my own tendency to sit around and fill my time with things that are neither productive nor particularly engaging for me. I can waste hours on my phone or computer, utterly bored and stressed at the same time. Routines help me enjoy my free time more for having accomplished a goal, and they help me make sure I am doing things that are beneficial and healthy.
Finally, routines can help us Renew by moving us toward the next step in the day and maybe helping us find some extra time to spend with loved ones or do things we care about. People often find that routines help save them time by removing the need to plan or think about what they are going to do next. When actions become habits, they also usually get done more quickly. Finished tasks and extra time can result in more energy and breathing room for things that are important to you.
Often, routines develop naturally—they’re just made up of things we always do. We find a sequence that works and stick to it. Other times, though, a more formal plan can help us build good habits and stay productive. For example, creating a routine can motivate us through our least favorite task or the hardest part of the day—such as sandwiching a most-hated cleaning chore between other more pleasant tasks. Or, it can be something to look forward to—like setting a bedtime routine to wind down by showering and doing some light yoga. In families, especially with younger children, routines help everyone know what to expect and what comes next in the day.
Routines can be big or small—covering the entire week, a day, or just a small piece of it. You might have a routine for morning, nighttime, cleaning, mealtime, after school/after work, or exercise. These are just examples; everyone is different and has different needs for planning their day. But if, like me, you find yourself with a lot of unstructured time and are often indecisive about what to do with it, it might be time to think about starting a more formal routine of your own.
Here are four tips for implementing an effective routine:
1. Be Realistic. Your routine needs to be filled with things you will actually do, and it needs to include a realistic amount of tasks for the time and energy you have. Pay attention to your natural biorhythms. For example, if you’re a night owl, like me, don’t schedule difficult tasks for the morning. You can also decide how specific you want to be. For example, will your routine simply say “get ready for bed,” or will it include detailed tasks like “brush teeth,” “turn out the lights,” etc.? If your routine lasts for the whole day, be sure to schedule in some free time or something you like. I know that if my routine contains only things I dislike, I’m likely to ignore it altogether.
2. Write it down. If you’re trying to build a new routine, it might help to keep track of it in some sort of written list. You could use a journal for this, or a whiteboard, the fridge, a chalkboard, or any convenient spot where you’re likely to it see often. Not only will this help you keep track of things, but it will give you a sense of accomplishment as you check things off.
3. Stick with it. By definition, a routine is done regularly. It might feel ‘forced’ at first, but sticking with a routine will help it become a habit. It will also help it feel more ‘normal’ and less forced.
4. But don’t stress over it. If your routine changes or even falls apart some days, that’s okay. Remember, this is meant to help you, not cause you guilt. Do your best, and remember, if it’s not working out for you, it’s not written in stone and you can always change it.
Over time, routines can create a sense of home, security, and contentment for those living on their own. And for families with children, routines can create lasting, pleasant memories.
What routines do you have in your life? How are they helping you Relax. Refresh. Renew.?