This week has been, well, kinda crap. Not in a way that I’m having a bad week, but more in the way of best laid plans going awry which prompted me to talk about the importance of having a routine and sticking to it.
Now, I have to make something clear upfront – I am not a person who necessarily loves routine and predictability. I love spontaneity, or rather, I used to. I think it’s a more accurate statement to say that I thrive on change. Which, in turn, means that I get bored easily.
What I have found, though, is that having a simple routine or schedule that I can stick to makes my life a heck of a lot easier. My life is relatively simple, but there are things that I need to get done every day. I am an author who also has a family and a job outside of writing. I need time to write and I need family time and I need time to exercise and I need to work. I also need to remember to take my medication and eat at regular intervals and, because I’m an introvert, I also need alone time (not just for my sanity but for my family’s as well.) Having a regular schedule has made getting my health on track and hitting all these ‘needs’ achievable.
I know what you’re going to say…there must be some drawbacks.
Of course there are. Routine can get boring. I’m the first to admit that, so you need to build in some flexibility. I only follow the routine on days I work which means for two days a week, I’m footloose and fancy free. But do you know what I find on those days? I don’t sleep as well, I eat crap and I get little or no exercise. Which is fine because it’s only two days a week, but it says a lot for how important having that regular routine is for me to maintain my health.
Another drawback is that if my routine gets messed up, I can get a little crazy. Have I mentioned I can get a little obsessive compulsive about things? I like order (which is kind of ironic considering that I also like spontaneity and change.) One of the jobs I have at work is to roll cutlery. Literally rolling a knife and a fork in a napkin. I actually don’t mind this job but I have to match the cutlery I’m rolling. The knife and fork have to match or I choose another one. It is also the reason my husband does the washing. I get a little militant about sorting the washing and what can get washed together and how it gets hung out on the line and what pegs get used…okay, that might be TMI. But you can see how I would get a little anxious if my routine gets messed up. Like this week, for instance. It’s Thursday and I’ve only been to the gym once because I’ve had other appointments. As shocking as it is for me to say this, I actually breathed a sigh of relief today while I was on the treadmill. I know! I can’t believe it either, but it’s true. So how do you overcome this? Take a breath. Take a step back and see that it really isn’t the end of the world and then maybe build some extra flexibility into the schedule so you don’t get caught out again. This week for me is out of the norm, so I know that by next week I will be back to my regularly scheduled programming and that helps to keep the anxiety at bay.
So now that I’ve given you all the arguments against routine, let’s look at what is good, great, and fabulous about routines and schedules.
Seven Reasons I Stick to a Schedule
- I don’t have to think.
My work roster is the same every week. I don’t have to think about what days I’m working and I have built my life around that schedule. I get up and write for an hour and a half before work. I go to work and then I go to the gym. There is no thinking about it, I just do it which leaves my brain free to ruminate on world peace and solving world hunger – or what the next thing is going to happen int he book I am currently writing.
- It removes obstacles
There are no questions about whether or not I’m going to go to the gym. It’s just something I do after work every day. The gym is on my way home – I practically drive right past it. Even when I don’t feel like going, it’s an almost automatic response that I drive to the gym when I’ve finished my shift. It’s easy and the one thing I’ve learned is that for me to exercise regularly, it has to be easy. I like the path of least resistance, so by removing obstacles I am more likely to do what I set out to do.
- It lessens anxiety
This may be surprising to you but what I’ve found is that when I have a regular routine, my anxiety and stress levels are lower. Having a plan helps me relax. Having boundaries around my life helps to contain my emotions. It’s a small measure of control when everything else may be out of control. I may not be able to influence other factors in my life, but having control over my schedule grounds me and helps to keep my anxiety from getting out of control.
- It builds good habits
One of my issues with dealing with my diabetes was my absolute failure at taking my medication. At one point my doctor was convinced that I had a psychological block that caused me to purposely forget. Once I got myself into a regular routine – that suited my lifestyle – I’ve found that taking my meds is now just par for the course. And not just taking them, but taking them consistently and at the same time every day.
- I no longer skip meals
Another issue I had was eating regularly. I am a feast or famine kinda girl. If I’m working on a project, I tend to get so involved in it to the exclusion of everything else – even food. And then when I finally lift my head and realise I’m hungry, I’m ravenous and want to eat everything in sight. Eating regularly stopped that fast and binge cycle which also helps to regulate my blood sugar.
- I sleep better
People laugh at me when I tell them that I go to bed at 8pm. I know it’s early, but I get up at 3:30am and I need my sleep. Having a regular bedtime promotes better sleep patterns. By 7:30pm my body is telling me it’s time to get ready for bed. I have a little bedtime ritual that also helps make sure I’m getting enough sleep.
- It’s measurable
When you do something the same way every day, you get better at it. Let me take the gym for instance (I’m talking about it a lot this week so I must have missed it!) I used to walk on the treadmill at 4km/h. I did that for a really long time. It wasn’t until I started being really regular and specific about going to the gym that I noticed I could actually walk faster. Then I added an incline. Then I added 5mins of jogging and then two five minute intervals of jogging and now I do one ten minute stint of jogging. My walking speed has increased and my endurance has increased. Today after my ten minute interval, I could have gone longer without dying of oxygen deprivation. None of this would have been achievable if I hadn’t been doing it every day. Firstly, I wouldn’t have known to try for a faster speed or a higher incline and secondly, the results have been consistent and measurable.
- I’m more productive
I mentioned that I’m an author, right? And you saw that I get up at 3:30am in order to have time to write? Having a routine makes getting out of bed at 3:30am and sitting down at my computer to write easier. It also means that my body is prepared and my mind is ready. It wouldn’t be much good if I was getting up at that ridiculous time just to sit in front of my computer and surf the internet. Having a regular writing time when my brain is at its most creative and when I’m not going to be plagued by interruptions makes those writing sessions productive. Why 3:30am? Because I start work at 7am and need to leave home by 6:15am. I found that if I left my writing to the afternoon, after work, then I just wouldn’t do it. I am an early riser and mornings are when I’m the freshest, so it makes sense that it would be the optimum time for writing. Having a regular routine in which I go to bed at the same time, means when I get up, I’m awake enough and ready to write. My mind and body are primed and I make good use of the time.
No one says that starting a new routine is easy. It takes commitment. For the first few days, weeks and even months, you will try and resist the change. it’s only natural. But with each day that you stick to it, you reinforce the behaviour and the neural pathways in your brain until it becomes second nature. Be prepared for that period of adjustment. Be prepared for a period of time where you feel too hemmed in by your schedule. It wasn’t too long ago that I was commenting to a friend that I felt like I was on a hamster wheel. It can feel like that sometimes and when that happens, take a moment to see what is not working for you. Adjust it if you need to or grit your teeth and keep going until the feeling passes. It will and does get easier the longer you stick to it.
Start small. Don’t try and change your life all in one fell swoop. Change one thing and then after a couple of weeks, change something else. Reevaluate and adjust as needed until you reach a place that challenges you enough to keep you interested but not too much that it puts obstacles in your path. Make your schedule fit your life, not the other way around.
And remember to stay fabulous!
P.S. I lost 300gms this week, just FYI