How To Create A Routine When Every Day Is Different
Advice from professional organizer and New York Times best-selling author Regina Leeds.
A reader recently asked me how she could possibly establish routines for herself and her family when every day of her life was different.
She is a single mom of three whose work schedule is constantly changing. I am self-employed with a day-to-day life experience that is always in flux. No two days ever look alike for me. I understood her concern. Hidden in plain sight, however, is the possibility to create rituals that will make our lives more productive. Routines and rituals provide stability in a world that’s in flux.
In my book The 8-Minute Organizer I end the room chapters with examples of ‘exit rituals’ the reader can use. Instead of wafting out of a room without a thought in the world to how it looks you become conscious and caring of the environment you are leaving behind. Here’s an example from the book designed to keep your bathroom inviting and tidy whether you live alone or with a large family.
Bathroom Exit Ritual
- Wipe the counter
- Clean the mirror
- If the toilet seat needs to be wiped, swab the deck
- Return your towel to the waiting towel bar or hook
- Take any clothing you aren’t going to wear with you as you exit. (Then hang up the item, toss it in the hamper, or add it to the dry cleaning bag)
- If a nightgown, pair of PJ’s, or robe stays in this room hang it on its hook
- If you took out a product (such as hair gel or lipstick), return it
This exit ritual is presented at the start of the bathroom chapter rather than at the end because these steps can be taken immediately and don’t require any organizing. For those of you who just howled in disbelief that you can’t possibly take the time to do all of these actions, here is what I say next in the book:
‘Before you complain that these tasks take too much time to complete every time you leave the bathroom, breathe deeply! This list is comprehensive and probably reflects your last visit in the morning before you leave for work. Do these tasks on an as-needed basis and they usually won’t take more than 90 seconds tops. Here’s a tip: For fast cleanups, keep a colorful sponge on the counter or use a disinfectant wipe in a pop-up dispenser.’
Are you breathing easier now? But exiting the rooms in our homes isn’t the only way we can employ rituals and routines in our lives. You can establish morning rituals that you follow whether you need to be at work at 7 am, 8 pm or are staying home. Here’s my ritual to help you get started.
Regina’s Morning Ritual
- Light a candle on my altar
- Head for the bathroom
- Open the blinds
- Bring in the newspaper
- Have breakfast
- Make the bed
- Shower and dress
The time I have to get up might vary but these are the steps that set me on the right path for a productive, calm and happy day. Do you have a morning routine you’ve never acknowledged? If not what actions would be a part of the way you begin your day? And if you do have a routine does it support you or do you need to tweak it a bit? Routines can be simple or complicated depending on your needs. When I’m in the bathroom getting dressed after my shower, for example, I take out all the lotions, creams, and makeup supplies I need to get ready. I use them in the same order every single day so as they vanish back into the cupboards I know exactly how much time I have used.
Take a few minutes now and consider what steps you take each evening before you go to bed. In no particular order most people are doing many of the following:
- Brush teeth, floss and wash face
- Listen to the news
- Check kids homework
- Complete assignments for the next day at work
- Scan text messages, e-mails, Social Media accounts and listen to voice mail
How did I do? What would you add or delete from your personal list? What order would you place the tasks in that makes the most sense for you? Doing tasks in the exact same order makes it comforting to perform the steps. As I brush my teeth at night my brain is getting the message to start shutting down because it’s the last thing I do before bed. If you are forever doing different tasks right before bed it can be confusing. We are after all in so many ways Pavlov’s dogs, aren’t we?
I have a house full of plants. They all need to be watered on a regular basis. Can you guess how I keep track? I water them every Sunday night as 60 Minutes starts. The second I hear that iconic theme music I know it’s time to water the plants.
As New Year’s Eve approaches I know it’s time to buy a calendar for the New Year. I also know that in order to stay healthy there are annual tests I have to schedule. The start of a fresh New Year is the perfect time to make my mammogram, Pap smear, and dental check up appointments. My birthday is another trigger. I know its arrival signals the time to check the batteries in all smoke detectors and it’s also a good time to replace filters.
Rituals, routines, and habits are all automatic actions that keep us productive and comforted. Take a few minutes to consider what routines you have in place and which ones you’d like to create. You’ll find all manner of suggestions for good habits in my New York Times bestseller One Year to an Organized Life. You can string a few together and create a series of routines that are unique to you, your family and your personal needs. I know you’ll be amazed how even the simplest of actions can change the way you feel about yourself and how you function in your environment no matter how crazy your schedule is!
‘The Zen Organizer’