While routines can be helpful, they can often cause more issues than they help solve. In this post, we’re covering why routines may not be working for you, and how you can fix that problem.
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When Routines Don’t Work
I love routines. Routines are awesome. They help keep my house clean and orderly. They let me plan out my days. They bring my chaos into something that almost resembles order. They reduce my decision fatigue. There are a lot of reasons I appreciate routines – but there are also a lot of reasons I’ve resented routines.
A routine that you’re resenting has two major problems – first, you’re going to stop doing it, and second, something about it was just wrong.
I’m going to make an assumption here – you implemented the routine because you needed it for some reason. Maybe you went back to school and you’re trying to figure out when to study. Perhaps you want to keep your home cleaner, so you’re going to get all the chores done on particular days. Whatever the reason, the reality is, you tried to implement a routine that wasn’t right, and it didn’t work.
When a routine doesn’t work, it may cause you to feel like there’s something wrong with you. Let me reassure you – that is not the case. At the time I’m writing this, I’m not officially diagnosed, but I have strong reasons to believe I have ADHD. I’ve always recognized that my brain doesn’t work the same way as other people, so sometimes, I need to alter the way I do things in order to accommodate that. It’s not a reflection on me as a person.
Identifying The Routines You Need
Here’s the good news – I guarantee you have routines already.
The bad news is, they may be routines of chaos, not calm.
Are you always late to appointments? Guess what? That’s a routine. Not a great one, but still a routine.
Do you brush your teeth religiously every night? Also a routine.
Sit down and figure out what routines you need in your life. Maybe you want an empty dishwasher in the morning so you can load the dishes in throughout the day. Maybe you want to make your bed. Maybe you need to be able to have a clean house when you go to bed. Those are some common things, but what happens when we aren’t achieving those?
We feel like failures.
Everyone else manages this, why can’t I? Let me let you in on a secret – not everyone else manages it. But it sure feels that way sometimes, doesn’t it?
The Reasons Routines Don’t Work
When a routine doesn’t work, there’s a reason. Let’s cover some of the most common reasons and find the solutions.
Your routine is too complex
I think this, right here, is the #1 killer of would-be routines.
We plan out things like our “ideal morning routine.” “I’m going to wake up an hour and a half earlier, sip my coffee, journal, meditate, and enjoy peace, start the laundry, and unload the dishwasher, before my children wake up, I make breakfast, and we get them to school!”
Look, it’s a beautiful goal and a great dream, but is it the most realistic?
While you can certainly build up to that being your everyday experience, trying to start there is problematic. There are too many potential issues. What happens when you have a sick kid and don’t want to drag yourself out of bed? Or an early riser? What happens when you realize you forgot to start the dishwasher the night before, so now you have dirty dishes? You’re going to feel like everything is just unmanageable and what’s the point in doing any of it?
Don’t make your routines huge and complex. Instead, make small, tiny steps. Load the dishwasher before you go to bed and run it overnight. Wake up ten minutes earlier and unload the dishwasher. Don’t try to change your life overnight, because it won’t work and it will just overwhelm you.
Remember – mountains are conquered with many small steps.
Your routine is…well, boring
I freaking hate folding laundry. I might suggest my family become nudists but we live in Missouri so the weather isn’t exactly conducive to that.
Actually, while we’re at it, I don’t like doing most chores. There are so many fun things I could do with my time. Chores are not included. But they’re a necessary evil.
If your routines are boring, I highly suggest you do two things: first, evaluate the necessity of the chore. Obviously, you need clean dishes – but can you give yourself a break one night a week by declaring a “paper plate night”? You need clean clothing, but is the laundry really dirty? Kids have a terrible habit of touching clothing, declaring it “dirty,” and tossing it in the hamper.
Second, find the ways to make it fun. Set a timer and challenge yourself to complete a chore in a set amount of time. Put on a podcast you love and listen to it while you do the task. Play music that makes you want to dance and use that to motivate yourself. Heck – play music that makes you sing, loudly, even if you’re a little offkey. Belt along with the “Hamilton” soundtrack. Just make it fun!
Your routine lacks an anchor
Don’t just expect that you will do x, y, and z. Being able to just get up and do those independently is going to be almost impossible.
Find an anchor to your routine. What are you already doing that could help influence your routine?
I wanted to start taking care of my skin. I made it all the way to my 30s and never bothered with skin care – but I realized that needed to change. Just buying the products and setting them on the shelf in my bathroom wasn’t enough – I would only remember I needed to do something with them every couple of weeks. So I anchored my skincare routine to brushing my teeth – I set my facewash right next to the toothpaste. That way, when I brushed my teeth, I was reminded that I wanted to wash my face.
If you want to wake up and exercise in the morning, maybe you start laying out workout clothing beside your clothes for the next day, so you can put them on instead and get your workout in. Maybe you start sleeping in your workout clothes. Whatever helps prompt you!
Do you want to journal and sip coffee in the morning? When you clean up your kitchen at night, get the coffee maker loaded, and leave your journal and a pen on the counter next to your coffee mug.
Your routine is just unrealistic
In my perfect world, I would wake up, enjoy some tea while I journaled, get through a yoga workout, do a couple hours of work, eat an awesome, healthy lunch, etc. You can probably get the idea.
What does that not include? Kids, notably.
My real life involves two little girls on a daily basis, my stepson half the days of the week, my husband doing his own thing, dogs barking their fool heads off – you get the idea there too.
While I can enjoy a lot of elements of that, it may not look quite the way I described. I may have early morning appointments to go to. My daughters may have kept me up throughout the night. Every time I try to do yoga, my toddler thinks Mama is playing a fun new game where she is supposed to be climbed on and tries to climb up me (and then the cat tries to stick her butt in my face).
That sort of stuff is going to have to wait for a different time in my life. But right now, I can still enjoy a cup of tea in the morning, as I’m trying to get the house cleaned. I can journal during afternoon nap time/quiet time. I can encourage my toddler to do yoga with me, or just embrace her role as extra weight (work those muscles!).
Your routine isn’t yours
This is one of the biggest mistakes people make with routines. You want to implement a routine to help run your home – so you go find a printable on Pinterest. Awesome. You have a routine. But the routine says that Mondays are the day you’re supposed to do all the laundry and mop.
Yikes. Mondays are the days you volunteer in your child’s classroom, and then you have to take them to practice after school, grab something from the drive-through, and head over to child #2’s Scout meeting. But you’re supposed to be doing laundry and mopping? Well, maybe you’ll just add that stuff to Tuesday…
But Tuesday, according to this routine, is the day you should be deep-cleaning the bathroom, and the fridge, and the pantry, so you’re ready to go grocery shopping on Wednesday even though you’ve got to take kids to their swim practice Wednesday afternoon…see the problem?
Don’t try to use someone else’s routine. Can you be inspired by someone’s routine? Absolutely! But “inspired by” doesn’t mean “this is what you must do.”
Your routine should be crafted by you to support the person it’s meant to serve (hint: that’s you). It’s like reaching into a random sack of clothing and hoping you’ll get something that fits you. Maybe you’ll get lucky and it will look like it’s tailor-made for you, but more likely, it’s not going to fit you right.
Building Your Intentional Routines
It takes time, work, and intention to build the routines you truly need. How do you know when you may actually be able to stick with something?
- It becomes a habit. There are all sorts of numbers out there about how long it takes to develop a habit. It may take a month or more. When you find yourself doing it regularly without giving it much thought, I think you can safely say you’re there.
- You miss it when you don’t do it. If you skip a day, you notice the effects of it. Maybe you get really good at loading the dishwasher before bed, and then after a couple weeks, you don’t. How do you feel when you see the sink of dirty dishes in the morning?
- You’ve implemented it with small steps. You didn’t go straight to the full routine. Maybe your eventual goal is to clean the house before bed, but right now, you’re starting with clearing out the kitchen sink. Start small and build from there.
People expect a lot out of routines but they only work as well as you do, and a lot of people unintentionally sabotage themselves. I hope you’re more easily able to identify the issues you’ve had with routines in the past, and get a better idea on how to fix them in the future.