Routines and Reclamation
I get up and let Bodhi outside, pausing in the kitchen to remove his food from the fridge to warm up a little so he doesn’t get stomach cramps when he eats it. I start boiling some water for tea as I head to the living room, trying to stay mindful of the agate chimes I’ve hung in one of the windows so that they ring prettily when I open the blinds. It’s my way of greeting the day — when I can remember to stay present.
I sit for a moment to write my three pages, a morning ritual from long ago that I’ve been trying this past week to re-establish. I’m interrupted by text messages and searching for a notebook to make lists of things I want to accomplish and am worried about forgetting. I make breakfast for myself and feed Bodhi. I fuss a little with the dishes, search for a pen to keep at the ready with my 12 Days journal, make another cup of tea, survey my first task for the week, move a couple of boxes around, find clean clothes to wear, and sit down again at the table.
I’ve written exactly one and a half pages. It’s nearly noon.
Christmas Eve was the first of my 12 Days of Discovery, and while my productivity wasn’t what I’d have liked, my reflections were eye-opening to me. I’ve long been frustrated (and foiled) by my aimless puttering and inability to focus, and the day’s discoveries helped me uncover a few insights into what I’m doing and why.
The routines that free us
When I looked up at noon and realized I’d not accomplished anything because I’d spent my time wandering aimlessly from task to task and generally puttering around the house, a tiny thrill of anxiety ran up my spine. A familiar, self-critical little voice started squeaking in the back of my brain:
You’ve wasted half a day! This is what you always do when you have time off. You sink into it and end up accomplishing nothing! Then you feel frustrated and guilty and angry with yourself. And you wonder why you feel so stuck…
Instead of spiraling deeper into the anxiety (my usual course), I took a deep breath and reminded myself that, while “accomplishing things” is a necessary part of them, the point of these 12 days is self-reflection. So, as I knuckled down and started working on one of the tasks I set for myself this week — thereby quieting my inner critic — I reflected on the dynamic that set off my anxiety.
One of my ruminations involved the differences among discipline, routines, and schedules. I’ve always resisted being too structured, believing that structure — especially in the form of routines and schedules — sucks the freedom out of my life. The truth is that having a routine might help me carve out free time in a more intentional and fulfilling way. Routines, you see, would allow me to focus activities on times of day where they are either necessary or optimal.
For instance, I know I am at my most creative first thing in the morning. Yet, as so many people do, I waste that creative time checking and responding to email — partly because it’s expected of me and partly because people tend to dive-bomb one another with morning appointments they set the night before. Not checking email means potentially missing a meeting I’m expected to attend. Checking email means missing a vital window of creativity.
I also know that I think more clearly and feel more grounded if I am physically active at different points during the day. Re-establishing my morning routine of doing yoga would help me ease into my day more mindfully and feeling both physically and mentally refreshed. Setting aside time after lunch for a brisk walk would prevent afternoon sleepiness and increase my productivity.
Structuring my day around routines would allow me to address all the little tasks that go into taking care of myself, my dog, my home, and my professional duties. It would go a long way toward making my time less aimless and anxiety-filled and more focused and satisfying.
Routines make good fences
Establishing routines would also help me set boundaries.
Routines create a rhythm, and rhythms create a kind of security. The more regular the routine, the more easily others can learn to work with and around them. And the more productive the routine, the more defensible it becomes. Since one of my struggles is setting aside time for myself, creating and defending my routine would prevent me from allowing, in particular, work-related tasks to sprawl across my entire day. Establishing and sticking to routines would help me set the boundaries I need to reverse the “Denise-on-tap” expectations I’ve created at work, where I’ve often made myself too readily available to suit colleagues’ and clients’ needs and schedules.
Most importantly, perhaps: Defending my routine would provide opportunities to carve out the free time I need for self-care. Like many people, I put self-care near (or at) the bottom of my to-do list. In doing so, I am sending the message that I’m not important, and my health has begun to reflect that attitude.
Reclaiming my well-being with routines
Tah-dah! I’ll create routines! I’ll live a better life! I’ll be a happier, more productive Denise! It’s. Like. Magic!
Yeah…not so much. This is going to be a struggle for me. One of the things I recently learned about myself is that I am a Giver. In fact, more score indicates that I give too much and don’t leave enough time and energy for myself. (You can take the test on Adam Grant’s site.) And that means I allow people to disrupt, interrupt, and corrupt my schedule and, along with it, my attempts at self-care. I have a hard time saying no and, because I’ve historically allowed others to define what is “important” — usually allowing it to reflect their needs and their schedules — people have a hard time hearing it, too.
But even more difficult for me will be giving myself permission to be important, to take care of my own needs, to create and establish healthy, centering, productive routines. I’ll let you know how this goes.