Routines are the trodden paths we follow each day

Daily routines give us a sense of direction and structure in our daily lives, for better or for worse. We perform our daily routines almost automatically, without giving them much thought. They make our lives a little easier and more predictable, and give us a sense of security. Not having to make a conscious choice about everything, such as whether to brush your teeth, helps to save energy for things that require a more active thought process. 

Routines that help you achieve bigger life goals also help you stay on a path towards other positive things. Good habits like eating a similar healthy breakfast every day or taking breaks during the workday help to strengthen your well-being. 

In times of crisis, routines provide a familiar support structure. Even if things around you change dramatically, routines can bring a sense of stability and predictability to your day, week and year.

Sometimes routines can make us take the wrong way. For instance, constant multitasking at work can create excessive strain, and lounging on the couch all evening after the workday can gradually damage your health.

What are my everyday routines?

Every once in a while, you should take a look at the activity patterns that make up your daily life. How do your routines reflect on your life at work and at leisure, and how do they affect your well-being?

Doing the usual dance at work

At work, it is easy to slip into multitasking. Notifications from devices and interruptions by your colleagues can disrupt concentration. Or you start switching from one task to another, interrupting your workflow. If you have a heavy workload, constant interruptions can make you feel chaotic. Many people could benefit from adopting new routines. Try some of the following to discover a working style that suits you best:

  • move to a quiet work environment when performing tasks that require concentration

  • turn off notifications from devices, at least temporarily
  • create your own or share practices with colleagues to avoid being interrupted 
    • place a note in a visible place on your workstation indicating you do not wish to be disturbed right now, and showing a time you will be available again 
    • agree on an arrangement not to disturb anyone wearing headphones.

When people started working remotely during the coronavirus pandemic, many noticed that meetings and other tasks created a non-stop workday with hardly a break for lunch let alone any other breaks or rest periods. 

However, it’s important to take breaks during the day to unwind and re-energise.  According to psychologist Hanna Markuksela, studies show that breaks taken during the workday accelerate recovery from work. What could help you to build a new workday routine that includes breaks? Try some of these:

  • schedule lunch in your calendar every workday 
  • start the day by scheduling breaks at times that suit you best. Choose a time after a specific set of tasks, and set the alarm in your mobile phone to remind you of the next break (give yourself the permission to snooze once, if you really must)
  • make an arrangement with a colleague to take a break together, even if you are both working remotely.

Many people struggling with their workload tend to routinely accept all tasks and responsibilities offered to them. It would be advisable to practise making more conscious choices. What if you took a timeout when asked to do something? You could check your calendar first and carefully consider whether to say yes or no, and why. If you always tend to say yes in an attempt to please others, over time you will end up with an overwhelming workload. Read more about saying no.

Set routines at leisure

People have different ideas and perceptions when it comes to routines at leisure. For some, your own, free time is limited. In families with small children, daily routines may take up a big chunk of the evening. You pick up the kids from daycare, make dinner, and drive everyone to their evening hobbies. You may have very little freedom of choice. For some, going for a run or a walk while a child is engaged in their own leisure activity is a refreshing routine, but for others this may feel like an additional and tiresome demand in an already hectic day. 

Given the opportunity to use their leisure time as they please, people fall into different habits. Some people love spontaneity and doing things on a whim. Because we are required to fulfil our duties at work, it feels more comfortable for some to spontaneously decide what they feel like doing next. Others prefer to have a clear structure:

  • A set daily routine: take the dogs out for a walk after work, make dinner, and then engage in a social event or relax knitting or watching a TV show.
  • Scheduled activities:go to the gym three times a week, walk or cycle on other days.

If you are happy about the way you spend you free time and you feel everything is sufficiently aligned with your bigger goals, then it makes perfect sense to stick to your existing routines. However, if you find your routines frustrating, you should do something to change them. If you feel you are just wasting another evening playing a game on your mobile phone while thinking it might be a good idea to go for a walk, then you should start trying out different routines. You should focus on things that could help you enjoy your free time more and boost your well-being. 

Once you’ve identified a good routine, make it as easy as possible for yourself to follow it. For example, taking a walk after the workday becomes a natural routine when you arrange to go together with a friend. If you live too far apart to actually walk together, try agreeing a time when you both leave the house, put on your headphones, and chat on the phone while walking. For some people, simply packing their gym bag the night before, or preparing for a run by putting on a track suit during the afternoon break may serve as a stimulus.

Small steps to create a new routine

If you have a set routine that works for you, stick to it. When you are on a well-trodden path, moving towards your goal requires little energy – in fact, you find yourself doing the rights things without giving it much thought. But when change is needed, it is advisable to start with small steps that require as little effort as possible. When you try and succeed, incorporate the results into your daily life, and keep working on other areas. Keep repeating a pattern you find meaningful for you, and eventually it becomes a new habit. Now you have created a new routine that will effortlessly guide you in the right direction!  

Advice and tips on how to create new routines are available from many sources, such as Auntie’s Leading Me package.

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