Public service announcement: telling someone they need a routine is about as helpful as telling someone they really need to not have 6 cups of coffee a day. Yes, justification is not unclear, but it is also not particularly helpful. In times like this, there is no absence of advice, but a lot of the advice clearly lacks substance.
Before diving into the steps for establishing a routine, I need to clarify that establishing a routine needs to be decoupled from forced productivity and the cult of self-improvement. Routine can exist with a sole purpose of creating time for rituals. And rituals, well, they are a way of re-establishing the harmony that was shattered with the advent of COVID-19.
Routines are not a way of launching yourself into forced labour but just a way of creating time to do the things that give you a little bit of joy. The issue with the productivity pressures that stem from unsophisticated self-improvement advice is that they presume that given you are working from home, productivity will increase. It is this false narrative that equates productivity to efficiency and then suggests defining efficiency as an output per hour metric. In this false narrative, it assumes that just because we have more time, we will necessarily be more productive. The issue is that it completely overlooks that emotional pressures and new burdens (such as taking on new roles) that self-isolation brings. Yes, Shakespeare may have written King Lear while under quarantine, but Shakespeare wasn’t concerned about the next time he was going to see his family.
Indeed, Ahmad wrote an excellent piece about the need to ignore “all that coronavirus related productivity pressure.” She provides a phased approach to mental readjustment to these conditions of hardship. The first two stages are security and the mental shift and that create a strong foundation to then build a weekly schedule. Creating routine is necessary, but I would advise that progressing through these first two stages is necessary to create a foundation for a valuable and sustainable schedule. Establishing a routine is only possible when you are no longer in a period of denial and delusion and entered the period of acceptance. Only once you have made the emotional transition, implemented the support systems are you able to start to think about where to allocate your time.
So let’s get scheduling…
- What are your priorities?
Are you on a mission to find the best banana bread recipe, are you working two days a week, or studying full-time or reading all your books on your bookshelf? While all are equally worthy of your time, you might like to think about what days, what needs to be prioritised and allocated time. For example, on Mondays I work, Tuesdays I re-read the Twilight saga, Wednesdays I learn to cross-stitch and so on and so forth. If you would like some value-add, potentially allocate different priorities to different days (e.g. Monday = work; Tuesday = drawing and Sundays = Admin etc…). Then you can allocate tasks to the days with that theme.
A list could look something like this:
Sunday you could reserve for admin or Sunday you could reserve for face masks and Will & Grace. It doesn’t matter.
- Let’s think about adding in some daily rituals.
What are the small rituals that bring light into your life? Coffee in the morning, journaling, meditation, some light exercise, lighting a candle, a face mask. An important caveat to note is that contrary to the narrative perpetuated by the cult of self-improvement, rituals does not need to be done in the pursuit of something else. Some things that I try to incorporate each day include reading, turning on my diffuser and my daily affirmations (albeit done to the tune of Taylor Swift’s Fearless). These are not helping me with career progression or helping my WAM, but they are the small pleasures that we all need to hold on to right now. Some other things to consider allocating some time to incorporate into your days, include:
- Writing a to-do list
- Taking time to shower and dress
- Make a to-do list
- Take lunch breaks properly at the same time each day – walk around the block, get some fresh air, meditate.
- In the evenings, get out of work clothes
- Relax in the evenings
- Let’s add it to a calendar.
I am pleased to report that the most productive thing I have in self-isolation, is draw a weekly schedule and colour code it. I am also equally happy to report that I have no shame that this is the epitome of my productiveness. EmmaStudies has created a weekly schedule template and this is a good place to start.
To create the schedule I did the following:
- What are my commitments?
Return to step one. Looking at your list, allocate a day and the amount of time that each activity deserves. Work on one day, uni on another, binge watching Tiger King on the other. Add them in.
- What are my routines? What are my rituals?
Return to step numero deux. Think about your daily rituals and start to incorporate them into your morning and night routines. Ideally your morning and night routines should reflect these bizarre circumstances and recognise changes in circumstance.
For example, in the mornings I like to journal (15mins), meditate (15mins) , do some reading (30mins), get a bit of exercise (30mins). It takes me about two hours to get through everything that I enjoy so I have allocated two hours in the morning. In the evening, I have allotted one hour to switch off and unwind in the evening.
Other routines I try to add are a weekly family chat, Sunday self-care, and an admin day. I also have times with nothing to do so I can
I am not perfect. Sometimes I roll out of bed and work in bed all day. It’s obviously not ideal, but I recognise that it’s just me adapting to uncertainty.
- What else?
When creating a schedule practice the compassion that you would for another person with yourself. Make time for freedom and recognise that sometimes it is okay to do nothing.
In sum, a schedule is not important because of what it is but because of what it represents. A schedule is a way of overcoming the denial and delusion that characterised the first few weeks of the coronavirus crack-down. It is the most visible and applaudable acknowledgement of an attempt to transition your life to the new normal.