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Routine – friend or foe?

With the approach of autumn, spiders spinning webs across every gap in my garden, and the children returning to school, I have been pondering on the usefulness of routine in my life. Having recently given up my job to go freelance, I was initially infused with an overwhelming sense of freedom and joy (most irritating for everyone else, I’m sure). This honeymoon period lasted for a few months while I whizzed excitedly about meeting different people in varied places in my new capacity as a consultant and coach. Eventually, I returned to earth, and with that bump came the question: how much structure is helpful? Which rules and routines should I impose on myself, and how strictly should I stick to them?

For routine was one of the things I was trying to get away from, with the sense that the years were passing frighteningly quickly and life was turning into a series of knowns. The regular meetings and work routines that helped me feel organised were also contributing to a feeling that life was slipping by. Even my holidays had become a pattern - same places at the same times with the same people every year. So, having traded certainty for the risky unknown, how structured should I be as my own boss?

Initially I felt my new found freedom was enhanced by doing what I felt like and when. Then I realised how much energy I was wasting in making decisions, particularly with the work tasks I dread but have to be done, or things I know are good for me, but can’t quite get round to (yoga and exercise, for example). That internal dialogue wears me down, and vague promises to myself are much too easy to break.

Studies show that committing to specific times to do something makes it three times more likely you will achieve it (researchers call these implementation intentions). Writing your commitment down with a time, date and venue means you are 90% of the way there. Regular activities at the same time each day should then become habitual, like brushing your teeth (or pretending to, if you are my son).

So welcome routine, my new friend. And see you same time tomorrow.

Charlotte Semlyen, September 2014

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