Almost everyone has a daily routine. Usually these routines aren’t deliberately constructed; you just get up, drink some coffee, go to work, have lunch, work some more, come home, get changed, go to training, come home, eat, sleep & repeat. A good routine can have far-reaching psychological and physiological benefits and any routine provides a feeling of comfort and familiarity.
If you are one of the many who are affected by the Covid -19 pandemic and, like me, are now stuck working from home or have found yourself in a position where you are unable to work at all, then whether you realise it or not your routine has been wiped out as well.
The feeling of being directionless or rudderless is largely a result of this loss of routine. Part of the power of habit is that it is largely subconscious and there is no active decision making load associated with habitual tasks. When these habits aren’t lost or abandoned but ripped away an overwhelming number of decisions and stresses present themselves all at once.
The current emergency has become increasingly defined by a feeling of unpredictability and the loss of our routines compounds this feeling significantly. Routines provide an anchor of predictability – they are literally something you know when and how to do and you know how to do it well. Whether it’s making a cup of coffee, taking a shower or twenty minutes of yoga before lunch your routines are a source of comfort in a chaotic world.
Our government and our health professionals have all recommended that we should “have a routine” without acknowledging that this is one of the few times before retirement that most people will have to consciously design their daily routine.
So how do you do it?
First of all you have to acknowledge that your daily routine needs to be more than just hanging out on the couch in your pyjamas, watching Netflix and eating Cheetos. That can be part of it but not all of it. A healthy routine should include time for work, time for rest, time for play and time for pray.
Work includes things like your actual job if you are still able to do it, household chores and exercise.
Rest fairly obviously includes sleep but also covers anything that you like to do to physically or mentally recover – long showers, sun bathing, cat petting, watching tv – whatever helps you chill out.
Play is whatever you like to do for fun. I’m sure you can figure this one out.
Pray is conscious alone time. Community is more important than ever in this period of social isolation but, particularly if you don’t live by yourself, you should definitely take some time to be by yourself. I don’t mean you should actually pray but rather that you should schedule some “alone time” to read a book, meditate, play an instrument or simply appreciate being by yourself.
To get started actually designing your routine think about – or write down if you are a note taking uber geek like me – all the things that you need or want to happen in your day. For example I started with a basic list of chores, cat petting, work, exercise, cat petting, relaxation time, meals and cat petting.
Not everything on your list has to go into your routine and don’t feel like you should rigidly schedule every second of your day. Ultimately, whatever you decide has to work with your lifestyle. If you like to stay up late, don’t suddenly decide that your new routine is going to start at 5am every morning. Once you have your routine, give it a little time and you’ll start to settle in — but if you realise something isn’t working, don’t be afraid to change it.
Using myself as an example again I came up with this basic daily routine:
Wake up about 7am and drink a cup of coffee with my girlfriend.
Prep the day’s work – cue up videos to edit, do the framework for whatever I’m writing, check email, nothing more than ten minutes.
Leisurely breakfast – something which I enjoy but usually have no time for at all.
Get dressed for the day and start work.
Train before lunch (usually around 11.30am/noon) – at the moment this session focuses on developing strength & power endurance.
Relax after lunch.
If I have more work to do I usually start again about 2pm, otherwise I’ll do some research.
About 5.30pm I’ll do a second training session – this alternates daily between jumping rope and resistance band training.
Cook dinner while watching my girlfriend play video games or a documentary on Netflix (once you’re done with Tiger King I suggest Wild Wild Country if you haven’t already seen it).
About 8pm I’ll do some online gaming with friends and head to bed once we wrap up.
You can see that there’s not much to it but there doesn’t have to be. I haven’t scheduled any kind of household chores because I tend to do them whenever I hit a wall when I’m writing or simply need a break from whatever it is that I am doing. Likewise the cat dictates when pats are to occur and I have little say in the matter. I have plans to add guitar practice back into my routine – something I have let lag for far too long – and resume short (10 minutes) mediation sessions each day but at this point I’m still in the settling in phase and don’t want to add anything else yet. You should notice that there’s lots of time around each thing and only a couple of things are actually scheduled because that’s how I prefer it.
And that’s the most important point.
Routines are about you and what you want to achieve. They are unique and they are personal. Maybe your routine will look a bit like mine or maybe you’ll be like Benjamin Franklin and spend the first hour of everyday sitting around naked reading books; or like Beethoven who throughout the day dump cold pitchers of water on his head while striding about his room. Whatever you design should suit you.
Routines for Athletes
Routines are also one of the best tools available to every athlete and coach for maximising performance. At their best, routines function as a psychological trigger for the optimal mental and emotional state for achieving peak performance.
With regards to athletics it is common to see Pre Training Routines, Pre Sparring Routines and Pre Competition Routines.
These routines are sometimes personal and unique to the athlete and sometimes they are performed across a group. Ever wonder why some of the most creative coaches always have you do the exact same warmup before training? They are getting you to perform a Pre Training Routine – specifically a routine that sub consciously triggers you to transition from whatever psychological/emotional state you are currently in to a training mindset.
When constructing a routine to improve your performance there are a few key points to consider.
Firstly, a personal routine is exactly that; personal. There is no ideal routine that is the same for everybody – some are short, some are long, some take place on the way to the venue and some occur moments before stepping up to perform. Routines can be serious or playful, as simple as tying back your hair in a particular fashion or as complex as a dance.
Second, routines need to be unique. To get the most from your routines it is very important to only perform them prior to the specific task for which you are trying to optimise performance. So if you listen to a particular song as your Pre Training Routine then you should only listen to that song prior to training.
Finally, routines should not be attached to a specific object which could be lost or destroyed nor should it be tied to a specific location which you may not be able to access. A routine that can be taken away from you is a potential liability.
Whether for peak performance or for optimising our everyday lives, routines set you up for success. They help you achieve more, think clearly and provide a means of grounding yourself when facing adversity.