So, as long-time readers of this blog may remember, I am no fan of Chris Guillibeau. However, the fantabulous Bombchelle linked to a recent post of his in her newsletter, and I read it and actually liked it.
The gist of the post is: having routines helps you save your decision-making energy for things that really matter. He cites a profile of President Obama which describes his daily routine, and quotes the President as saying:
I’m trying to pare down decisions. I don’t want to make decisions about what I’m eating or wearing. Because I have too many other decisions to make.” He mentioned research that shows the simple act of making decisions degrades one’s ability to make further decisions. It’s why shopping is so exhausting. “You need to focus your decision-making energy. You need to routinize yourself. You can’t be going through the day distracted by trivia.”
I’ve read about that research too — and holy crap is it ever accurate. For example: packing a box of paperback books? Easy peasy. I can do it in my sleep. Unpacking it is easy too, because I already know where everything goes. No decision, just identification. But packing and unpacking a box of random crap that I don’t want to get rid of but also am not sure where to put (or how to put safely in the box so that nothing gets damaged) is really fucking exhausting. That’s why the last boxes I unpack after moving tend to be the ones full of the odds and ends that I packed toward the end of the packing process.
Hell, I found boxes of that type from previous moves in this last move, because I forced myself to open every box and look at every item and decide: keep or toss? It was exhausting, and left my brain feeling like tapioca.
Routine can be mind-numbing, but it can also be meditative. No decisions, just doing the routine. For a while, I would get up, throw on exercise gear, and head out to exercise before I did anything else. I laid out the gear before I went to sleep so it was right there, I didn’t have to go find it or decide which swimsuit or pair of sweats to wear. Exercising first thing, before I was even really awake, enabled me to get it done — and it left my willpower for things like my job and my studies.
My morning routine has suffered since the move, and although it was starting to come together again before my recent trip back East for a book cataloging gig, since I got back I haven’t been in the swing of things at ALL. I need to sort out a real routine again, one where everything gets laid out as part of the routine the night before, so that it’s all ready to go.
I know my lack of a morning routine is poor self-care — I don’t do my spiritual and meditative practices when I’m not in the routine. I hit snooze over and over until I get up at the last minute and rush to get coffee and get to whatever my first item of the day is (usually a meeting or needing to get started on work). No spiritual or meditative work means a general lack of grounding throughout my day and a major lack of structure — which means I have to decide every morning what I want to do. Hit snooze again? Get up? What should I have for breakfast? Should I have tea or coffee? Should I shower and then have coffee, or have coffee first?
After all that nonsense, it’s no wonder I’ve found myself having trouble focusing — and, more importantly, trouble getting to sleep at night. I wind up not having the mental energy to make good decisions (e.g., “do I put the book down and go to sleep now, or read another chapter? Let’s read more, sleep is stupid!”). Plus, it means I don’t have the mental energy to exercise. I’d like to go for walks, but without a space in my routine for them, the decision is “walk or work?” and of course I’ll pick work because my job is super busy and I don’t want to miss deadlines.
So, routine-making time. My ideal weekday routine would probably look something like:
- Get up, throw on clothes laid out last night
- Go for 20 min walk
- Shower, teeth, etc.
- Spiritual and meditative practices
- Breakfast and caffeine while doing my Morning Pages, a practice I really miss
- Make any phonecalls that need making
- Start the workday
- Lunch outside with a book
- Afternoon work
- Bookbinding work/after-work appointments/unpacking
- Prep things for tomorrow (clothes, notes on phone calls, etc.)
- Spiritual and meditative practice
- Prep for bed
- Read til lights out
That takes some serious discipline, though, and I’ve let my discipline muscles atrophy something fierce over the last few months.
My teacher T. Thorn Coyle has said she likes to remember the root of the word “discipline” – disciple. Having discipline is about learning, about applying yourself to something with an end goal in mind. Discipline is what enables the student to study hard and pass the test, what enables the athlete to continually improve through rigorous training, etc. It’s a regular thing, a continuous thing. It’s not something you do once and are done with.
So, time for me to get back to work. Getting my routine back will give my days some structure again, and I really need that.
How about you, do you have a daily routine? Does it help you do better work through the rest of your day?