Posted on May 25, 2016 by Amy Rosechandler

image - routines

As a teenager, I thought structure was something imposed by school, parents and clocks. The words ‘routine’ and ‘structure’ vaguely irritated me. I preferred spontaneity, freedom and maybe a little chaos. Although I wouldn't admit the fact, structure was something I needed.

Little did I know, structure could also be created by me. In fact, I didn't realize how much I looked forward to routines. I kept every Friday night for painting and art work. Summer mornings for hiking and reading. I benefited from routines early on and later learned structuring my time wasn’t such a bad thing. Many people might find the word routine to mean literally ‘boring’. Others may feel turned off because setting routines feels unrealistic in their lives. There is no magic formula for organization, and many people who lack routine are indeed successful. I do however, notice a connection between people who know how to enjoy routines and those who make peace with the demands of everyday life.

Routines don't have to be boring or impossible to keep up with. They can help us look forward to things and connect us to the natural rhythm and order of life. Whether daily exercise with a friend or morning coffee, routines can help us balance and prioritize, improving our time management. Order and routine can feel safe and comforting. So why do some people resist routines? Many people feel frustrated when routines don’t work out. As we take on more responsibility in life (jobs, partners, kids) our priorities can easily become shuffled, we focus less on self care and we have less unstructured time. Learning to follow self-imposed routines is an art and skill. Even people who like scheduling and following routines may struggle as life changes demand new skills. People often learn about time management the hard-way. When a new life stressor is added, we may over-extend ourselves. Furthermore, technology can tend to warp our sense of time as we click through 'one more thing'.

Counseling can help us talk through priorities and encourage healthy routines. Here are some ways you and your counselor can support skill building for routines:

  • • Work on setting boundaries and sticking to them, learn to say 'no' to urges to skip out on a routine.
  • • Recognize time suckers - hunt for free time.
  • • Build reliability - people, places and things.

Setting boundaries in favor of caring for one's own needs is one of life’s great challenges. Imagine declining an offer for a concert with a new friend because of an exam the next morning. Saying no to one's own desires and urges is also a challenge. I’m not saying people should never be flexible with their schedules. We should all be allowed to take a break from routine, but having the structure in mind makes things happen. Routine keeps things from falling apart when the going gets tough.

When we feel overwhelmed and chaotic, anxiety may stop them us from feeling in control of our schedules. One concept presented in Laura Vanderkam’s book “I Know How She Does It” is how logging time can give a clearer picture of how people actually spend their time. Through her Mosaic Project, Ms. Vanderkam studied the time-logs of successful career women with children. She points out that a week is made up of 168 hours. While most busy people schedule their time and devote most of the day to work, if we log our typical week and actually see the hours in front of us, the free hours emerge. Although our time is limited, we do spend more time enjoying life than what we hear in the dominant story of ‘busy’ and ‘back to back’ schedules. We often can't count on the new people, places and schedules of daily life. Routine can build reliability. Skype dates, movie or craft nights ensure people spend time together and don't have to think of a new plan on the fly.

Creating and sticking to routines that work is part of developing a rich and meaningful life. Many people live life like they are making up a song as they go. When I first learned to play flute, I tried practicing notes and solo ‘jam sessions’ (sorry family!) Although some improvisational musicians are experts and create wonderful music, most of us would struggle to craft a coherent jazz solo or freestyle rap. When we live life without a rhythm, our week can end up feeling chaotic and unsatisfying. When we are planful and structured about our time, we can recognize how to regularly fit in weekly yoga, morning waffles, movies with friends and studying for major exams.

Originally featured on the American Counseling Association (ACA) Blog
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