How Routines Help Us (and Tips for Establishing Them)
I love mornings. This, coming from the girl who used to need to set an alarm to get up at the crack of 10. I have created a well-established morning routine* that has taken me years (!) to tweak and perfect. As my kids grow and seasons of life change, so do some of the details of my morning routine, of course, but the major components are solid. I get up at the same time every school day and perform the exact same activities:
5:10–alarm goes off, press snooze
5:20–alarm goes off again, press snooze
5:30–alarm goes off again, get up, go into bathroom where I potty (TMI?), drink a big bottle of water, wash my face, brush my teeth, put on a little bit of make-up, and change into workout clothes.
5:45–go into kitchen and make coffee. While coffee brews, I set out breakfast dishes and maybe check the weather.
5:55–sit down in chair with hot coffee to read Bible, journal, and pray
6:35–wake up kids for school
6:40–make breakfast for kids
6:45–yell up the stairs for Elijah to wake up
6:50–Elliana comes down fully dressed with a smile on her face and many, many words to share with her mom (who thankfully, has already consumed coffee and Jesus, so she is eager to listen and respond!) Feed Elliana breakfast and start packing lunches.
6:55–yell up the stairs for Elijah to wake up
7:00–yell up the stairs for Elijah to wake up
7:05–yell up the stairs for Elijah to come downstairs right this minute, or we will be late (Remind myself that someday I will miss this.)
7:10–unload dishwasher and murmur how we are going to be late for school because Elijah has yet to come downstairs. Threaten to leave without him. But then realize that means he will be home with me all day, so decide that is not a viable strategy.
7:11–Elijah comes downstairs and I tell him (with coffee in my tummy and Jesus in my heart) to eat quickly because we will be late
7:20–leave to take kids to school (we’re not late)
8:00–return home, and spend 30 minutes cleaning up breakfast dishes, wiping down counters, starting a load of laundry, and making bed
*This is my morning routine. I am not you and you are not me. This is what works for me. It probably won’t work for you. Therefore, please, for your own sanity, do not let my routine suck you into the Comparison Trap. You need to determine the things that are important to you and find times that work for you. K? K!
Many items in that morning routine are key for me:
putting on workout clothes
making a healthy breakfast
unloading the dishwasher
making the bed
But the most prominent one is the slot from 5:55 to 6:35: coffee/Bible/journal/prayer.
Since spending time with God every day is my absolute top priority, it makes me feel so well-balanced to do it automatically first thing every single day.
Routines keep priorities at the forefront of our lives.
And yet, I have many other priorities I have not plugged into a regular routine:
- Meal planning/Grocery shopping
- Weekly and daily planning
- Social media posting (for my writing)
Oh, I do every last one of them, eventually. But I am usually spending an exorbitant amount of creative energy trying to figure out when I will do them. Usually, after I’ve pushed a task to the last possible minute, I cram it in somewhere, just to get it done. (Cramming = I exercised, but only for 15 minutes. I bought groceries, but rushed through the store and spent too much money because I failed to make a list and bring coupons. I cleaned the house, but barely.)
Thus, I often feel frustrated and overwhelmed, like I’m always running behind. Sometimes at the end of the day, I will reflect back over everything I accomplished, but if I failed to complete one of my top priorities that I intended to accomplish, I will feel like I failed the entire day.
I’m not blind. I can clearly look at my days and see I’m accomplishing stuff. But without a routine in place, it often feels like a chase, just beyond my reach, never quite nailing it…and it’s exhausting.
I am learning that my levels of balance flow directly from the routines I have established in my life. I may know my priorities well enough. But if I don’t have a routine in place to live each of those priorities out, I exist in a constant state of imbalance.
So, I’ve decided, for the sake of my balance, I need to take a look my priorities and begin the hard work of establishing routines for each one.
Is this whole business of establishing routines foreign to you? I know several people personally who balk at the whole idea. They see routines as rigid and confining. Just yesterday, a free-spirited friend poked fun at me for my love affair with routines. She suggested I stop trying to “plan everything out” and just “be.”
(I don’t even know what the freak that means.)
(If I don’t purposefully make time for things that are important to me, I end up sleeping until 10 and slouching on the couch eating Chocolate Bunny Grahams until the kids get home from school.)
(Ask me how I know this.)
Certainly, some personality types are more attracted to routine than others, but ALL people benefit from establishing routines–even my free-spirit friends. 🙂
A Few Benefits of Establishing Routines:
- Routines reduce decision fatigue. The routine puts us on auto pilot and our activities happen without much thought. This frees up our minds to think creatively since we don’t have to “decide” what to do every day.
- Routines increase productivity. The fact is, we always make progress in the areas we are most consistent.
- Routines reduce overwhelm from looming projects. For me overwhelm happens when I have a giant task that requires a lot of time, but I don’t know when or where I’ll fit it in. A routine gives it a place in my schedule, so I don’t need to worry when I will work on it.
- Routines provide inner security: Kendra from Lazy Genius Collective says, “Automatically knowing what we’re doing next is like scaffolding for the soul. If we create routine around what matters most deeply to us, we also create mental and spiritual margin to receive the unexpected – the comedy and tragedy – with more compassion for ourselves and others.”
Tips for establishing routines:
Start with only one priority. Firmly establish a routine around that one before you move to the next. I know you want to have a regular bed time AND have a date night AND have a regular system for decluttering closets AND do yoga. But if you do it all at the same time, it will be approximately two days before you quit everything and find yourself on the couch next to an empty box of Chocolate Bunny Grahams.
Start with your top priority. If you aren’t sure what that is, ask yourself these three questions:
What task or activity, when I’ve made time to complete it, makes me feel like a rock star?
At the end of the day, what do I always wish I had made time for?
If I had an hour magically free up, what is the first thing I’d do with that hour?
Start super small. Like, teeny-tiny baby steps. Make it so small, it would stupid NOT to do it. If you are trying to establish regular Bible-reading time, commit to reading only one verse every morning. If you are trying to establish regular exercise, commit to doing 20 jumping jacks while your coffee brews. As you establish the new habit, add to it, little by little until you get it where you want it. (I’m not exaggerating when I tell you, it’s took me about 10 years to get my morning routine to where I wanted it.)
Pair your new routine with something you already do on a regular basis. We all wake up, go to bed, and eat meals. So, try tacking your new routine onto one of those: “As soon as I wake up, I will read that Bible verse.” “Before I go to bed, I will clean up the kitchen.” “While I eat breakfast, I will write out my schedule for the day.” Pretty soon you will associate your new routine with that activity and you won’t want to do one without the other.
Give yourself lots of time. Routine implies repetition. You will need to do this over and over to make it stick. You didn’t develop that Chocolate Bunny Graham habit in a day…
Extend yourself grace. If something doesn’t work, be willing to toss it and try something new. Once I tried getting up super early and exercising first thing. It was terrible. I wanted to weep through the entire workout. I love exercise, but not at 5 am. For me, Coffee and Jesus Time is the best way to wake up. This is your life and your routine. You can decide if it’s working for you or not.
Sometimes adding a new routine makes way for other routines to naturally follow. I am notorious for feeling like I don’t have enough time, so this point is counter-inuitive to me. I mean, how can adding something to my schedule make way for something ELSE? Here’s how: up until last year, I hosted a weekly Bible study in my home on Thursdays. Out of sheer necessity to have the cat hair off my furniture and food to serve my guests, I started grocery shopping and cleaning my house every Wednesday. And THAT segued into meal planning and writing out a grocery list every Tuesday evening. Voila! Hosting weekly Bible study = routine of grocery shopping and house cleaning = routine of meal planning!
How do you feel about routines? Awesome and liberating? Or restrictive and confining?
Do you have any great routines firmly established?
What area would you love to establish a good routine?
You may want to read another post I wrote about routines. Establish Routines and Rituals
Have you picked up your copy of Finding Your Balance yet? It’s an 11-Lesson Bible Study for the overwhelmed and frazzled woman. Perfect for self-study or for a group of friends.
I am a routine girl. Right now, my routine is all messed up because of major life changes. I feel overwhelmed a lot and keep telling myself this chaos is just for a little while. I will develop a new routine over the summer. I will feel better when I get back in my groove.
Love routine. I do must best with a routine and a good to-do list. My schedule gets juggled when my husband is home. Really worried how things will go when he retires. He wants to run around all the time and I like being home following my routine!
I love a good routine. And some says, I love falling out of routine, because I think, “Ahh, a break!” But then, I’m excited to go back to routine because it turns out even on “break days,” I need a routine 😉