Routine. It’s a word that brings to mind a certain amount of dullness. Doing something “as a matter of routine” sounds like you work either in a courtroom or a government agency, neither of which is known for all that much in the way of excitement. In fact, I looked up the definition of routine and found it’s “performed as part of a regular procedure rather than for a special reason.” Which sounds tedious. At best. Really, “not special” is about the worst way to sell people on something.
Then again, if you’re like me, you thrive on routine; routine drives my days. Nothing throws off my day or week more than an appointment or sick child. Maybe the dictionary doesn’t think they’re all that special, but I am all the way in on routines. It’s practically bred into me.
Resolutions? Not so much. I cringe to hear that word thrown around so much at this time of year. Writing down goals and objectives feels daunting. (Especially over the past couple of years. Can I get an “amen”?) To me, just the word “resolution” sounds a lot like “Achieve this goal or else!” I’m not sure what the “or else” is. Nevertheless, it feels aggressive. Rude. Especially in the middle of winter, when I’m much more prone to hibernation habits than motivational ones.
This brings me back to routines. Routines I can do. Routines feel practical. Routines feel sustainable. They are flexible enough to adapt to different days and seasons, and periods of our lives.
Maybe this year, instead of goal-oriented resolutions, we could resolve to add some routine to our lives?
If you’re not quite as into routines as I am, here are some ways to get started.
Pay attention to where you already have created routine in your day.
Routines only work if they’re something you can stick to. I don’t care how many carefully-crafted photos I see on Instagram with pre-sunrise cups of coffee and blankets and fireplaces. They might look lovely, but early mornings DO NOT work for me. Expecting myself to craft a careful morning routine before 7:00 am would only set me up for abject failure.
Think about where routines already show up in your day. For example, do you wake up and immediately make a cup of coffee? Or take a shower? Maybe you have a time of day you like to exercise or check emails. Or an after-the-kids-are-in-bed routine of a book or a TV show or skin-care regimen before bed. Look for the routines that already exist in your life and build them out from there.
Pay attention to where you need to structure routine in your day.
I hit a mid-to-late afternoon slump around 3 or 4 pm. Before I realized this, I would try to get things done but end up spinning my wheels. It only left me with unfinished tasks, feeling cranky and frustrated.
Once I realized this mid-afternoon pattern, it was revolutionary. I no longer try to tackle big or important tasks during this time of day. It’s not my time for that. Instead, I’ve created routines that allow me to tackle important projects in the mid-morning or early evening hours. This is when I’m much more alert and motivated, which helps me take downtime when I need it most.
Create realistic routines for your current season of life.
Routines need to match our current reality. The last thing mamas of newborns need to hear is anything at all about creating an early morning routine. (Please hear me, mamas of newborns: sleep alllll you can.) Likewise, parents of multiple children under three can’t expect to have the daily routines of parents of school-aged kids.
An example: a few weeks ago, I was delighted to find Taylor Jenkins Reid’s writer’s routine on Instagram. These writer’s routines often get a bit eye-rolly for me. Many of them are of the “I take a walk at 5 am to my special writer’s cabin I built in the woods behind my house on my eight acres of land where I sip coffee, watch the sunrise, and work for the next 10 hours uninterrupted.” *cringe* But not Taylor Jenkins Reed. For her, a New York Times bestselling author, to admit, “I get to my desk around eight-thirty after my kid goes to school, and you would think it wouldn’t kill me to get started right away but, no. I, instead, check every single website known to mankind before I start to look at my to-do list.” gave me twelve kinds of joy. She goes on to detail out her day, where motherhood is interwoven with her work like it is for so many of us.
Adapt routines to fit different days and seasons.
A routine feels much more flexible than a resolution because it’s adaptable. When the kids are off of school, my summer routine looks much different from my routine from September through early June. I hit a wall by Thursday but perk back up for a last burst of energy to accomplish some things on Friday, before the weekend.
Really, this is all about paying attention to your own body, your own life, and your own needs. My routine won’t look like yours, which won’t look like a person who is twenty years down the road from you. Our own personalities and the needs of our families shape the routines we create. They can be re-evaluated again, and again, and again as those needs shift and change and grow.