The Importance of a Routine

organizing my lifeI never really had a morning routine.

There were things I did every morning, sure.  I used the bathroom.  I got dressed.  Sometimes I ate.  But the idea of a routine has an implication of purpose or mindfulness behind it.  It implies thought and intent.  For most of my life, I’ve rolled out of bed at the last possible minute, thrown clothes on, and rushed out the door looking like hell warmed over.  I’d routinely overlook eating a meal, combing my hair, or brushing my teeth.

My rationale for this was I really didn’t get a lot of sleep at the front end of the night; going to bed early was not something I could manage (and often, even when I made it a point to turn in early, I could not usually get to sleep), so I allowed myself to sleep in on the back end, meaning I’d squeeze in an extra hour of sleep, but I’d be running out of the house to start my day unkempt, cotton-mouthed, and still half asleep.

As I got older, I got better about being able to squeeze in slightly more prep into slightly less time; I packed a breakfast to take on the go, and shaved off most of my hair (bye bye, combing!), but it was still literally fifteen minutes between throwing off the sheets and getting into the car.

This year I made it a point to create a night time/morning ritual – you might remember, yes?  Last I updated you, I said it was going “okay,” that I still hadn’t mastered including all the elements, but that it seemed to be an improvement over what I had been doing prior to that point.  Well, I want to re-update you and say, holy hell, I hadn’t realized how much of an improvement it has been, even without all the bells and whistles (still haven’t been able to work in morning pages or exercise).

This morning, my alarm never went off, and because I was keeping with my son in his room (rough night for him), I didn’t wake up with Andy’s alarm either.  Instead, I woke up when Andy came in looking for me at 6:20. And I flipped. the frig. out.  I was running nearly an hour late, and it messed up my entire attitude, and my entire morning.

The weird thing was, it was exactly the time I used to get up prior to instituting my new schedule, and it was a huge wake up call (ha!) as to how significant that extra time in the morning, combined with the prep work I do at night, had become.

Moving my wake up time up by an hour meant an hour in the morning during which I could shower – like, I had time and space to shower, instead of hoping I could squeeze it in at the end of the day, when I was already so loopy and so drained I’d just as often as not forget it.  I could apply makeup, on those days where I felt suited to makeup, and I – even though I made the change to laying out my clothes the night before  as part of this shift – if I had an unexpected, last minute shift in how I felt about my body, I had time to thoughtfully tweak my outfit.  My extra hour gave me time while I showered and dressed to listen to a podcast or two, which meant I got to wake up laughing along with some pretty fun, clever nerds every day.  My extra hour meant I don’t leave the house without brushing my teeth anymore.  I’ve moved to prepping my lunch (when I need it) and my breakfast the night before as part of this routine as well, but my extra hour means I have time to go downstairs and eat it in the comfort of my own home.  It means I forget fewer things, and am more fully awake before I leave the house.  It means I leave the house earlier, and get to spend a little extra time enjoying coffee at my mom’s when we drop Bear off.

I till want to try to work in morning pages (I think including writing in my routine would be so beneficial in so many ways), but I’ve realized that the benefit of establishing the routine is less about exactly what actions I’m able to perform (I can always downsize my makeup routine to make time for morning pages, or eat a quicker breakfast), but that it gives me time to work with, time that I can decide to use as I wish, time in which to just friggin’ breathe.  Time when I’m not running at full kilter, bleary eyed and groggy, out the door.  And that’s when I realized that I didn’t need more activities to add to my morning – I just need to add more time.

Rather than trying to cram your routine with more stuff (exercise can be incorporated later in the day – maybe taking a few laps during lunchtime!), just… give yourself more damn time.  Even if you only get through the essentials, dammit, do it at a leisurely, relaxing pace.  Give yourself that space to breathe.

I’m glad tomorrow is Friday, and I’m hoping to end the week with a distinctly less rude awakening than I was greeted with today.

 

First the Forest, Now the Trees (an Update)

organizing my lifeI have trouble compartmentalizing my life.  I guess it makes some sense; in some ways, the different threads of my life weave together in a really obvious, organic way.  The state of my home, for instance, affects how stressed I feel, which affects my sleep, which affects my work performance, which affects my feelings of self-worth, etc. etc., but by the same token, struggling slightly or hitting a stumbling block in one area shouldn’t completely waylay my progress in any given other.

But it often does.  This is a continuing issue I need to work on – dusting myself off after a set back, moving forward, and forgiving myself for stumbling.  But it’s also very much an internal struggle that is not the focus of this entry, though I do imagine I will write about it, eventually and possibly extensively.

But right now, I’m still in the early stages of macro-organization: just establishing a routine for the most mundane, bare-bones, most-people-don’t-think-twice-about-these-things aspects of my life.  Checklists to make sure I take a shower, pick out my clothes, brush my teeth, get a good meal in, do my chores, and have a chance to have some creative/restorative time to myself.  As I’ve said before, having to lay out many of those things probably seems ridiculous to some people, but for me, I need to see it written down in black and white and be able to check it off to ensure it gets done.

I used my checklists for the first time today – specifically, my Morning Routine checklist and my Before You Go checklist.  It was not a perfect first outing; my “wake up at 5:30” didn’t get checked off (I woke up at 6:05), but hey – I did morning pages.  Nothing, sadly, got checked off under Get Moving, but I glanced at the list – pinned to the fridge – as I prepped breakfast, and I downed a big glass of water to start the day.  And, I remembered everything I needed to bring to work, including earbuds and a book (which I always forget) that made the two hour-plus-long waits that bookend my work shift infinitely more enjoyable.

So, not perfect.  But without those lists?  So much worse.  I’d have been plagued with morning breath, dehydrated, stressed out, and bored, all before one pm.  I’d say Day One was a success, in that, the system works.  The system made my day objectively better.

And maybe it’s time to move on to more focused aspects of my life – specifically, my relationship with food and exercise.

Don’t get me wrong, there is a whole extensive history there – which, again, I will share eventually – that is not going to be suddenly resolved with schedules and checklists; internal struggles and issues that will take time and support to overcome.

But my usual pitfalls – not being able to “find time” to exercise, not having a plan for any given meal, not having healthy snacks on hand (whether I’m home or out and about), not looking at restaurant menus ahead of time to be informed of options – these are all things that can be, at the very least, helped with some thoughtful planning to create useful resources.

My first steps – I’m back at the gym, and I’m making a pick-and-pair chart for lunch and breakfast foods designed to maximize satiety and mindfulness, and minimize impulse binges on crappy foods.

Wish me luck.  I’ve now got an indication that this system is effective, so I’m hopeful.