The importance of routines in life cannot be overstated. A routine is something we do which requires very little thought, in fact we may not even be aware that we are doing them. Maybe the first thing we do every morning is get up and make ourselves a coffee. Maybe we travel the same route to work every day without stopping to think about whether there is a better way to get there. Maybe we come home from work and walk the dog every night, going to the same park and meeting the same people. We do these things without consciously thinking about them. The beauty of routines is that they make our lives easier by reducing the workload on our brains, freeing us up to concentrate on other things.
How many times have you arrived at work and haven’t been able to remember driving there? Do you stop to think about indicating before turning a corner or braking at the lights? No. These things are automatic. When you first began driving a car you needed to think carefully about every action you took. It was almost impossible to carry on a conversation or even listen to the radio because every spare part of your brain was focussing on the task at hand. Over time these things became automatic and you no longer needed to think about them. It’s only when something different occurs like driving someone else’s car that you need to think more carefully again.
We can set up routines in our lives that will take the thinking out of a task and free up some space for other things to occur. There are a number of routines that we have in our house which help to make our days run smoothly and without stress.
a) Breakfast routine. Is there an order to preparing and eating that is more efficient than another? Maybe the kettle needs to be on to boil before the toast. Maybe the eggs and bacon can be prepared at the same time. Working out the most efficient way to get these things done and then doing them the same way every day is how you develop a routine. In our house I put the eggs on to cook and then empty the dishwasher. Once that is done it’s time to cook the toast, turn the eggs off, get the plates, serve, then eat. This routine helps me to ensure that the eggs are not overlooked and the toast not burnt or cold by the time I sit down to eat it.
b) Before bed routine. I check my to do list and set up tomorrow’s list before I go to bed. I choose and lay out the clothes I am going to wear, stack and turn on the dishwasher, put on a load of laundry, find all of the items I will need to leave the house on time in the morning and set my alarm to wake up. All of this preparation the night before makes sure my morning routine can run smoothly. If for example, my keys and wallet are in the right place and can be picked straight up as I walk out the door, I can be focussing on remembering to do other things rather than expending my energy trying to find them.
c) Laundry routine. At the moment I like to put a load of laundry on before I go to bed and hang it out in the morning. This becomes a part of my before bed and morning routines. It means that I rarely have to think about it and never have an overflowing laundry basket or the inability to find clean socks.
d) Morning routine. I have a routine time to get up, a set number of tasks I complete before waking up the children, things I do to help them with their routines and a much smoother start to the day.
e) Children’s routines. Children can have routines which enable them to get the necessary things done so that they are free to go out and play. Children’s routines can include bedtime, morning chores, homework, piano practice, setting out clothing and required items the night before and a consistent wake time.
Of course, everyone’s routines will be different depending on their particular circumstances. The challenge then is to develop a routine that works best for you.
There are a couple of steps that can assist in this.
Step 1) Decide which part of your life could benefit from the addition of a routine. Eg. Morning before work, children’s homework, exercise, housework. Write them down.
Step 2) Pick one routine you would like to develop and list all of the activities that need to get done in that time. Prioritise your list in to the most logical sequence. See “5 hacks to improve your to do list.”
Step 3) Put the new routine in place and follow it every day. Some research states that it takes 21 days to develop a habit, others say that it takes 3 times that long. Regardless, it will take a little while until this new routine becomes automatic. It is however important to persevere through this initial phase and not give up if things aren’t going quite to plan.
Step 4) Alter the routine as required so that it continues to meet your needs. Routines are never static and can change as needed. Don’t continue to do something one way if it is not helping achieve the desired outcome. It may only take a couple off tweaks to correct your routine and make your time much more efficient.
Until a routine becomes automatic, it may pay to write out each step and cross them off once they are completed. For a morning routine, it will help to have the planning done the night before. This will allow the addition of any special considerations for that particular morning to occur. Maybe Tuesday is the day that the children need to take their library books to school. Maybe there is dance class straight after school so your daughter needs to put the dancing bag in the car in the morning. All of these things can be added to the routine. If the other items in the routine have become automatic, it takes very little memory power to ensure that these things get done. The brain can only focus on 1 item at a time, regardless of how much we may pride ourselves in being able to multitask. In reality we are simply switching from one task to the next in a very small timeframe. Automate the basic tasks and allow space in your mind for the special items that really need your attention.