Anyone who knows me knows that I like routines and systems. But, I don’t use them just because I like them. My routines make my life simpler and give me more time for the things that I want to do.
Schedules and routines get a bad rap. It is amazing to me the areas of our life where a simple routine can help. This is even true when it pertains to families.
Some people believe that we shouldn’t have schedules and set routines to follow. They believe that they are too restrictive, they make us slaves to the clock or that routines don’t allow for spontaneity or creativity. They are wrong. A good routine or schedule actually brings freedom and creativity to your days.
Our brains have a limited amount of power or cognitive load to get us through each day. We can either use that power to make minor decisions that we have to make throughout the day, things like deciding what to wear, what to have to eat, etc. Or we can handle those things through routines and systems and leave our brain power to be used for more important and creative things.
Routines help you prioritize what is important. Things that don’t require much thinking can be done on autopilot with a good routine. According to the Cognitive Load Theory developed by John Sweller in 1988, the more tasks that can become automated (meaning your working memory isn’t busy thinking about every decision along the way), the higher the capacity we have to learn new things without fatiguing our brains. Generally, the Cognitive Load Theory is a theory built on the premise that since the brain can only do so many things at once, we should be intentional about what we ask it to do.
Advantage of Routines
Routines help us identify where there are spaces in our life for us to work on the important things. This is one of the things that makes routines so powerful. If you have routines set throughout your day, you know how much time you have between them. So you won’t try to fit an hour task into a 15-minute window. Instead, you’ll get other small task done in that window to free up an hour somewhere else in your day.
Routines don’t have to be rigid. You can move them around in your day. Just because you have a set of tasks that you always do together, doesn’t mean you have to do them at the same time every day. When you have a solid flow for a set of tasks (a routine), you are able to see the white space in your day. This white space is the time that you have available for other things.
Establishing routines gives you an opportunity to execute them at times that work best for you. I’m not a morning person, so my routine for doing housework or packing for the day happens the night before. It doesn’t need to take place in the morning. You can easily put these together as a solid nighttime routine. This gives you the opportunity to do the preparation for the next day at a time that works better for your natural rhythms.
You can use our Routines Worksheet to help you plan out your morning and evening routines. For the first round, enter the activities you want to do in the middle column, then indicate the estimated amount of time that acitvity will take. Once you have your list complete (at least for now), determine the order in which you want to do the activities and calculate backwards from the time you need to be completely ready for the day (morning) or the time you want to be in bed (evening) to get the time for the first column.
Try your routine for at least a couple of weeks before making any adjustments, sometimes what feels strange in the beginning will end up balancing out and feel right. Don’t try to add more than 5 steps to your routines at a time and don’t add steps more frequently than once a month, both will cause brain overload.
Do you have any routines in your life that work great? I’d love to hear about them. Just write a comment below or send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.