Routines for a balanced life
The experts say we have a decision-making muscle and that this muscle can get fatigued. They also believe that our self-control or self-discipline is a muscle, one with a finite amount of times that it can be used in a day. So if you use your decision-making skills in the morning to decide what to wear, then what to eat, while using your self-control to not stuff your face with croissants and chocolate spread, then what time to leave the house and so on and so forth, by the time you reach dinner-time you will be all decisioned-out. And of your self-control there will be nothing left. Which means dinner becomes a mindfield, and anything else that follows an active warzone. Kids don’t want to go to bed? Explode. Chocolates in front of the tv? Of course. Skip your night-time meditation? Duh. The day is not going to end well, all because you used up all your decisions and self control early in the day.
So how do you stop this from happening? Or at least prolong the inevitable wall that you just cannot leap over? By designing and implementing routines into your life.
What are routines?
Routines are those daily habits, those things that you do exactly the same, at the same time, on the same days. Routine makes kids feel safe, and as an adult, you will notice they have the power to calm and ground you. Knowing what to expect, and preparing for it in advance, takes the surprise (and exhaustion that goes with it) out of your day, freeing up your mind and energy to focus on the things that matter.
Read your pick of interviews with successful people, and most likely you will find a golden thread through most of them. The majority of them will have routines, and most likely will attribute some of their success to these routines. Not because they are control freaks, boring, unimaginative or weird, but because they know a simple truth: by automating certain things in our lives by way of a routine, we reduce the time spent on these activities leaving us with more time to focus on what we do best. In other words, we remove the need to use our decision-making muscle and self-control over trivial or mundane things, so that we can rather use that control when we really need it, i.e. tonight when we want to strangle the kids and call UberEats for a cake and wine delivery.
Of course, not all of our lives are the same, but we all seem to have to juggle quite a few balls. In our case, if you are raising a family, working, running a household, trying to be responsible in all spheres of life and also hoping to carve out some time for yourself and your partner, then creating a few routines will be your saving grace.
Not only will routines keep you organized, but they will also increase your productivity, decrease mental exhaustion and hopefully even cure a few bad habits.
Why are routines so effective in helping us bring balance into our lives?
Automating your life, or chunks of it, through routines is a huge help. They reduce distractions, allowing you to focus on your work, and not on what to eat or wear or having to race back to school to drop the kids’ athletic wear because you forgot it is sports day. The less you have to think and worry about these almost trivial things, the more you can think and focus on doing your best work.
Routines are effective for 4 big reasons: (source)
• They reduce anxiety and the associated stress
The unknown is a major cause of anxiety and stress. Having a routine means you know what to expect, and not to worry about certain things now because you know they will be taken care of later.
• They allow you to be more productive by eliminating procrastination
Because you plan for certain tasks, and they are part of your daily schedule, you don’t have to spend so much time thinking or planning what needs to be done. E.g. if you have a cleaning schedule, you don’t have to try and remember what you need to clean or declutter for the day, nor will you feel overwhelmed because you only do what is planned for today. How do you eat an elephant? In small, consistent, bites.
• They give you the power to break bad habits
By creating a more constructive routine you can effortlessly replace bad habits by making less room in your life for them. If you add reading to your bedtime routine, you will have less time to binge watch series. That will also lead to more time with your family or even a few more minutes of quality sleep. Routines keep you accountable, and as with all SMART goals, you should be able to measure your success and growth.
• They provide a framework for more rest and sleep
Again, by knowing what to expect there are no surprises. If your brain knows that you have just started your bedtime routine, soon your body will get used to the rituals and begin to relax as if on cue. This will be a huge help in getting more quality sleep. Also, because your day was so successful and productive, you will have less last-minute work that you need to do, giving you more free time and hopefully, an earlier sleep-time.
As with all good things in life, creating a successful routine (or two) takes planning, dedication, and honest assessment. When planning your routines, remember the focus should be on simplicity so don’t over complicate them. They must be easy enough to stick to, and adaptable enough that you can change them should your circumstances change. Or you realise that they simply do not work for you.
9 routines that you can consider creating to bring balance to your life:
Your mornings set the tone for the rest of the day, and just like you cannot expect a seed to grow in rubbish soil you also cannot expect a focused and productive day after a frantic morning. Your morning routine should emphasise calmness, concentration and to a certain degree - selfishness. This should be the time that you allocate to yourself and should ideally not be more than 1 to 2 hours long. The first part of the routine usually focuses on getting your household out of the door. That means breakfast, taking care of pets, sorting out the kids, etc. Once everyone is out the door, include in your morning routine those things that end up distracting or upsetting you later on in the day, stealing your focus and productivity. If you work from home but cannot focus if your surroundings are a mess, then include a quick straightening up as part of the ritual. If you need to go to the office, have a quick checklist as you leave the house: lights are off, pets have water and food, the oven is off, etc. This routine will be different for everybody, and for many people, it will also be the only routine they have. You need to do what feels right for you, and if your routine keeps you sane, then great! For a peek at my morning routine, see the end of the post.
Morning routine activities to try:
• Read a devotional or inspirational book
• Make the bed
• Write in a journal
• Make breakfast
• Meditate and/or pray
• Drink coffee or tea
• Straighten the house
• Write out your to-do list for the day
• Take the dog for a walk
• Throw in a load of laundry
• Get dressed (especially if you work from home)
• That one thing you have been putting off (only 1 a day)
Activities to best leave out of your morning routine:
• Checking in on social media
• Reading your emails
• Doing your finances
• Cleaning the house
• Bill payments
Although these activities are necessary, try and schedule them for a bit later in the day, after you have set yourself in the right mindset.
2. Workout / exercise
By creating an exercise routine you make it more difficult to fall on the back burner. Usually, when we get busy, exercise is one of the first things we let go in order to create more time for other things. The irony is that if we condition ourselves to exercise every day, we will reap the benefits of more energy, better focus, and improved health.
You can include your exercise in your morning routine, or you can have a routine for it separately, or even include it in your evening routine. No matter when, just as long as you include it. Although not always possible to do a full workout, my advice would be to not break the routine. On days that you cannot do a workout (because you are too sore from the previous day, or sick, or tired) still get up and move. Go for a quick walk, wash the dog, unpack the dishwasher, stretch - just don’t substitute with inactivity. It is true that sometimes the habit is more important than what the habit is on.
MINIMISE ANXIETY: EXERCISE IS SELF-CARE WITH AN INCREASED HEART RATE. TAKE CARE OF YOUR BODY, TAKE CARE OF YOURSELF
3. Cleaning / housework (see my free printable at the end)
I absolutely hate housework. It is repetitive, monotonous, and boring. But it needs to be done. And even if you share the responsibility, or have someone who does it all for you, there are still those tasks that fall to you (theoretically). Having a cleaning routine makes it a bit easier for me, mainly because I feel such an accomplishment if I finish the task(s) of the day. Because I am competitive by nature, that fuels me. For you it might be something else – gratitude is another big motivator.
We have someone who comes in every now and then, and because we have 2 small kids and pets, that is not nearly enough. So some of the cleaning falls on us. As part of my morning routine I pick up all the toys and stray items lying around, and I clean the kitchen every day, making the house at least look less messy if not clean. Husband will do the floors every 3rd day or so. And I do laundry every single day. It is part of my routine, and if not for that I cannot say for certain that it would get done. To make your life easier, I am sharing my cleaning schedule
4. After school / after work
This is not one of my routines, so I am only adding it for completeness. My kids are still in crèche, and because Husband and I work flexible hours they get home at different times every day. Also, because they are still very small and school is not yet compulsory I sometimes take them out to spend the day with me or family. If you are thinking of creating an after school or after work routine, I would suggest including the big-ticket items:
• Food and drink
• After school activities
• Social commitments
• Catching up with the kids/spouse/partner
• Tidying up of their rooms
• Daily chores
5. Dinner routine (meal planning)
We all need to eat, and even people like myself who love cooking and trying new things might find cooking dinner every night to be tedious and unfulfilling. To take the thinking out of this, making it easier to get done well, we have resorted to meal planning. By planning, we eliminate the rush and uncertainty which inevitably leads to bad-decisions such as takeout for dinner, or grilled cheese for the second time that week. Our meal planning can still be refined, but broadly speaking it is working for us. Basically, we take what we have in the fridge, either as leftovers or bits left over from last week’s cooking, pair that with what we have in the freezer and pantry, and then fill the gaps with the weekly grocery shopping. Not only have we cut down on waste, but now even on nights that we get home late, we have nutritious food ready for dinner. Part of our routine includes pre-planning: either by cooking extra portions for freezing or by putting something in the slow-cooker or crockpot for that night’s dinner.
If you want to take this further, you can have dedicated food nights, e.g. left-over Monday, pasta Tuesday, pizza Friday and so on. Then you only change the ingredients, and not the dish.
The elusive beast that is self-care, all but extinct in many households. Do not fall into the trap of looking after everyone else except yourself. Self-care does not have to be a complicated, time-consuming routine, but you do need to do something that is just for yourself, every day. This can be included in your morning routine, when you read your Bible or meditate or drink your coffee while staring out the window, or it can be a dedicated routine that runs weekly – Monday you do yoga, Tuesday you have your pampering bath, Friday you have a glass of wine while listening to a new album, etc. Doesn’t matter, as long as you do something. And as with exercise, if we do not create a routine around self-care it is all too easy to conveniently forget it when life gets busy.
If you want to read more on why self-care is important, read my post here.
7. Beauty and skin care
Your beauty and skin care routine can be as simple as washing your face every morning and every night, or as complex as weekly masks and scrubs and monthly detoxes. It can form part of one of your other routines, or be something glorious by itself. Doesn’t matter, as long as you stick to it. I am terrible at remembering to drink medication, so I have started a beauty and skincare routine where I have to floss and drink my vitamins every day. I also have a schedule that I try to keep of washing my hair every 3rd day, and on that day giving my face a scrub, and shaving every second week.
If your morning routine sets the tone of your day, your evening routine will determine the success of your morning routine. If you neglect certain things at night it means you will have to squeeze them in the following morning, which might take up the time you need to complete your normal routine. So make life easier and simpler by setting a solid evening routine. This might include packing (or checking afterwards) the kids’ schoolbags, ensuring your laptop is charged, packing lunch for the following day, picking up the living room, and maybe watching a bit of television. If you normally scramble around in the mornings trying to get everything and everyone done before you are late, then move some of those tasks to the evening before and enjoy the calm that your mornings will then become.
A few things you can get ready the night before:
• Transfer appointments or to-do lists from your digital calendar to your paper planner
• Pack lunches
• Plan and lay out your outfit for the following day
• Pack your work bag, the kids’ schoolbags, your gym back, etc.
• Clean the kitchen
• Start the dishwasher
• Fold and sort the laundry
I highly recommend having a bedtime routine, especially if you have kids. Having a routine means you stop having to battle certain activities – the kids end up doing them automatically because that is just the way the evening goes. Your routine can be plain and simple such as dinner, bath, bed, or more intricate. You can include personal time with each child, reading or talking, saying prayers and tucking them in; alone time with your partner; and some reading time for yourself. Your bedtime routine, no matter how extensive or plain should focus on getting you relaxed, and ready for bed. I quickly plan the following day as part of my bedtime routine, finding it easier to think and schedule when I am already relaxed and ready to sleep. But the golden rule – no screens.
Creating routines should be a very personal and special thing. You need to work something out that will benefit your life, not make you more stressed or feeling like a failure because you are not meeting your goals. If it is difficult to commit to something, leave it out until you have mastered the rest of the routine. Then you can add it back in and see how it goes. Sticking to a routine is just like any other skill – it takes some time and a lot of effort to get it right.
Other routines that you can try to automate your life:
DECREASE YOUR ANXIETY BY SIMPLIFYING YOUR LIFE: CAPSULE WARDROBE - THE PRODUCTIVITY SECRET OF MANY OVER-ACHIEVERS [PRINTABLE]
Daily routine example:
My morning routine:
4.30 a.m. I get up for, hopefully, a few minutes of alone time. I brush my teeth, make coffee and then get ready for my morning meditation and gratitude journaling.
5 a.m. I start with my Bible study and prayer time. If there is time, I will work in a yoga routine.
6 a.m. Second cup of coffee while putting the laundry in. I quickly check my emails, then wake the kids up and start getting them ready for school.
7 a.m. The kids are off to school. If I drop them I will only be back at around 8 a.m. If Husband drops them, I tidy up and clean the kitchen and hang the laundry.
8 a.m. Time for exercise!
9 a.m. Work time
My evening routine:
4 p.m. I start with dinner (early I know, but that leaves me enough time to get the house in order, and to pick up the kids if it is my turn)
5 p.m. Kids are home. I spend some time with them.
6 p.m. Bath time. While the kids bath, I fold the laundry that was done that morning.
7 p.m. Dinner time. After dinner, I pack Husband’s lunch, the kids’ school bags, and tidy up the kitchen. Then I go shower.
8 p.m. Time to chill in front of the television. Sometimes the kids join us, other times they play in their room. They go to bed at around 8:30 p.m.
10 p.m. We go to bed. I do my gratitude journal, plan out the following day, pray, and sleep, knowing that it was a good day with a lot to be thankful for.
Routines. For anxious people, like myself, they give structure and certainty. Without my routines I feel like I am swinging from one thing to the next, never finishing anything and all the while having these moments of panic because I think I forgot something. Which I probably did. Having routines not only simplifies my life, but makes me a better wife, a better mom, and hopefully a better person in general.
I’ll leave you with a few questions that might help you shape your own daily routine:
• What would a perfect day look like?
• What are my pressure points, distractions, and stressors?
• What is stopping me from giving my best?
• What are those things in my day that I can automate?
• What does my mentor’s day look like?
• What are my responsibilities every day?
• What can I use to eliminate uncertainty in my day?
Answer these questions, form a routine around that, experiment and adapt until you have a routine that you can run in your sleep.
Do you have daily routines? Share them with me! What makes the most difference in your daily life?