Establishing a routine

I am a straight-laced creature of habit. Anything out of the norm – particularly if it is happening on a weekday or without prior notice – can send me into a downward emotional spiral. Fast. (There’s a story about crying when my plans to go grocery shopping were interrupted with impromptu plans of spending the day with friends. It happened two weeks ago. Don’t judge.)

As a creature of habit, I appreciate – like deep-in-my-heart appreciate – a solid routine. It satisfies my Type-A, perfectionist need to control as much as possible. I have let some of it go, but there is part of it that just really helps me manage and feel good in life.

When I fail to hold fast to the routines I have in place for my life, I get panicked, overwhelmed, and defensive. Everything feels out of order; my mind is chaotic; my attitude is aggressive. This tends to happen when I am trying to fit with the “in crowd” (AKA my friends who are okay with less structure and tend to throw caution to the wind more easily than I can); I can go with the flow for, like, 24 hours. And then I need my order and routine. The more I come and go between having a routine and not having one, the more I realize it is necessary.

For me, routines eliminate confusion. They help me recall what to do, when to do, and how to do. They streamline various processes to minimize the energy that I have to burn to figure out simple tasks (like, “Where are my keys?”). For my students, whose responses to routines and procedures encouraged me to write this article, routines do the same thing. They enter class with a calmer sense of being because they know and understand how the next 50 minutes will work. There are no questions about “Miss, what do I do?” or “Miss, do I need ___?” because they know that there are certain supplies that they will always need, there is a certain task they will always complete, and there is a certain spot on the board where they can look for answers to their (menial) “first questions of the day.”

So – how do I make routines work for me? First thing first: I accept the fact that I need one. Routines create a sense of predictability that makes us as humans feel safe. That safe feeling clears some of the panic out of our heads, allowing us to have the energy necessary to complete big tasks. I am much more efficient when I follow my routine because I’m not scrambling to figure out what to do next. The older I get and the more self-aware I am, the less I try to fit in with the in crowd by throwing structure to the wind. (Yes, I even need structure on the weekends. I am that person, and I am okay with it!)

Once you accept that you need a routine (and that you are typically nicer with one), determine what needs to be routinized. Consider your daily tasks: What are you going to have to do every day? Make those part of your routine. Also think about what is transferrable to the weekend; for me, that’s wake up early and get active. Having a routine that is applicable to all days make it a more natural part of your life — and you dread Monday through Friday way less because you’re not always resetting yourself.

Once I make this determination and put it all on paper or in my calendar (Thank you, Lord, for Outlook!), I practice. One thing I learned over the summer is “practice makes permanent” (Doug Lemov). The more I practice getting up at 4:45, getting to work by 6:45, cranking out my high-focus tasks, the more mechanized those pieces of my day become. No more thinking, only doing.

Our handy, dandy Internet offers so many more benefits of routines. For instance, effective routines:

  • facilitate healthy sleep patterns
  • help you maintain momentum throughout the day
  • offer you the opportunity to be flexible
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All in all, routines give me the space to enjoy my friends and my life. They help me minimize wasted time and give me a sense of what I can move around and when I can reshuffle a little to enjoy what life is offering. Without them, my constant state of panic and frustration would overrun every situation, and then I’d be no fun at all.

Assess your days. Decide what you can confidently set as your routine. Put it on paper, and try it for 21 days (because it takes three weeks to set a habit).

You can thank me later. 

How do you feel about routines? Are you for them or against them?