If you say the word “routine” out loud, it hints at being lackluster and boring. It certainly doesn’t sound as whimsical or exciting as one of my favorite words, “supercalifragilisticexpealidocious.” And yet, as counter-intuitive as it may seem, routines often promote spontaneity and creativity.
Tomorrow is Groundhog Day so of course, I have routines on the mind. You may be wondering how Groundhog Day and routines are connected, but if you’ve seen the 1993 comedy, Groundhog Day, this may make some sense. If you haven’t seen the movie, in short: Bill Murray’s character repeats February 2 several times until he re-examines his life, his priorities, and his general approach to things. He goes through the same day multiple times, in a somewhat routine fashion, until he learns some valuable lessons and he can finally move on.
Every year around Groundhog Day, I am reminded of this movie and the importance of living an organized life that’s complemented by spontaneity and a willingness to change my perspective and approach to things as needed. And I’m reminded of the importance of having a routine that provides structure while allowing me to live life to the fullest. And so today I dedicate this blog post to the wonders of a routine, and what it can do for you and your zest for life when it’s implemented in the right context.
Routines and kindergarten have a lot in common
I first learned the importance of having a routine when I was in kindergarten. Every morning my siblings and I would wake up, get ready for school, and eat hot oatmeal or cornmeal “mush.” We always had to drink our milk, and we were often permitted to put chocolate chips on our cereal. (To me, the chocolate chips were a very. big. deal.) Then we’d brush our teeth and go to school. And this was our morning routine. Same thing. Every day.
In my kindergarten classroom we had daily circle time and story time and all kinds of other activities that were part of a daily routine. As a youngster, these routines helped me to feel comfortable. I knew what was coming up, what I had to do, where I needed to be…and I could still make creative choices and spontaneous plans that fit well within the structures and routines established by my parents and my teachers.
Fast forward to high school, college, and post-college when I worked for several families as a babysitter. While caring for my pint-size charges, I again witnessed how some semblance of structure can make all the difference in a child’s experience. Regardless of whether I babysat kids on the West Coast, in the Midwest, or on the East Coast, all of my little charges yearned for the same thing: they wanted to know what was going to happen and when. Once they knew the structure for our evening together, then they wanted to make all kinds of creative choices. They wanted to choose something new and different to eat for dinner and they wanted to select from a variety of art projects or books that we could enjoy together. But for some of these little tykes, the order of when things would happen was more important to them than the actual activities. They wanted the structure, and this intrigued me. As was the case when I was in kindergarten, once the parameters were in place and the kids felt comfortable knowing what would happen during our time together, they felt at ease spontaneously making choices that fit within the identified structure of our visit.
These children taught me a valuable lesson about how routines are a support to life’s adventures. In my life, routines make everything run that much more smoothly and they free up my time and mental space, helping me embrace the spontaneous experiences that enrich daily life.
Some daily routine ideas
You probably already have all kinds of routines in place that don’t feel like routines because they’re second nature to you. These are the things that help you get out the door on time in the morning with your keys and commuter pass tucked in your bag or pocket. Setting your alarm clock every night is part of your routine. Brushing your teeth before you go to work is part of your routine. Hanging up your coat when you arrive in your office is part of your routine. Are these things glamorous and fabulous and a very big deal? Not so much. But they help establish a sense of order in your day.
I find that structure-oriented things throughout my day make a huge difference in helping to keep me organized but not so rigid that I can’t enjoy a full, creative experience. As a rule, my routines take little effort and they have a big effect on my life. While some of my routines take a fair amount of effort to start (i.e. meal planning), they soon become second nature. Perhaps one, some, or all of the following ideas will help you identify natural, subtle routines that make a difference in your life:
Wake up at the same time every day – or at least every weekday. This helps me be focused throughout my workday, and helps me fall asleep around the same time each evening.
If you work outside of your home, pack your lunch the night before. This is a huge time-saver for me in the morning. Plus, I get to enjoy nutritious lunches and I don’t have to buy an overpriced sandwich just because I didn’t have time to pack my lunch at o’dark-thirty this morning.
If you change outfits multiple times before leaving your house, consider planning your outfit the night before. Full disclosure: this is not a nightly habit for me. I tend to plan my outfits in advance only when I have a big meeting or if I’m attending an important function the next day. However, I have friends who relish doing this every night – so much so that they lay out jewelry, scarves, and other accessories to go with their chosen outfit. This has never excited me all that much, but you may find that it tickles your creative fashion juices.
Pack your gym bag, purse, and/or your work bag at night. Before you go to sleep tonight, pack up any of the materials, personal items, and creature comforts that you’ll need when you head out the door tomorrow. In the morning, there’s no need to attempt to dry your hair, pack your lunch, inventory your gym bag, and prepare breakfast simultaneously. Cut yourself some slack with a little advance planning that will go a long way.
Regularly use the same “leave the house” procedures and in time, you’ll rarely – if ever – forget your “standard” items. Case in point: When you pick up your work bag, pluck your lunch from the refrigerator shelf, and grab your water bottle and keys as you walk out the door, you’ve begun to establish a bit of a routine. Do it for a few consecutive days and it becomes a routine without you even noticing. Do it for a month or so and you’ll likely never forget your water bottle again because picking it up will become second nature. If you walk out the door without it, you’ll likely realize that you’re forgetting something and you’ll take stock of what’s missing.
Read your mail at least once a week. This will keep it from piling up (shudder!) and it will help ensure that you don’t miss out on important events, activities, and transactions.
Every weekend, plan your meals for the week ahead. This will help you eat well – no matter how busy you are – and it enables you to be creative in your menu choices throughout the week. This could take some effort to start, but it’ll soon become second nature.
Identify a chores schedule that works for you and your household. This helps ensure that the chores are accomplished, and helps create an atmosphere and ambiance so that your home “rises up to greet you,” as Oprah so aptly describes it on her weekday talk show.
There are easily a gazillion other routine-related tips that already have a positive impact on your life. Feel free to share them here and they could be featured in an upcoming blog post. Wishing you much joy as your subtle routines complement your expressions of “supercalifragilisticexpealidocious-ness.”
* Photo by Galina Dreyzina