The Comfort of Routine

This morning I watched my son, as I do every morning, enter his kindergarten classroom. I wait by the window because he always comes over and waves good bye. It is our way, our ritual. However, this morning I observed him more closely.

His teacher established a routine for all the children to follow. First they turn in their communications folders, then put their snacks in their cubby and then hang up their backpacks and jackets. This is just one part of my son's ritual and routine-filled day. For children, there is a sense of comfort and safety knowing what to expect on a daily basis.

As adults, we set up our own routines, even the simple ritual of brushing our teeth. First we take our toothbrush put the toothpaste on and brush. As elementary as this routine is, it demonstrates how certain rituals allow us not think about what to do next. They become mindless habits.

Think about how unsettling deviating from the norm is for you. Change like moving to a new town, starting a new job, entering a new school, getting married, divorced, or suddenly caring for a sick relative or friend can be disruptive. Even changes like construction altering the route to and from work, new responsibilities added to your job, reorganization in your company, working with a manager, or policy changes that effect current processes can increase your stress.

When we establish daily, weekly or monthly "routines" or "rituals" we can begin to see a reduction of stress and comfort begins to emerge. Those who resist routine commonly refer to routine as being in a rut or lacking spontaneity.

According to Jim Loehr and Tony Schwartz, authors of the book The Power of Full Engagement, "Far from precluding spontaneity, rituals provide a level of comfort, continuity and security that frees us to improvise and to take risks. Rituals provide a stable framework in which creative breakthroughs often occur."

For example, my client meets with the president of his company bi-weekly to review his work, discuss current department and industry issues. My client doesn't necessarily relish the meeting preparation but knows this is regularly scheduled. He is ready and the meetings are productive.

Jane works for a manager who thinks nothing of calling a department meeting on a whim. Her expectation is that all her direct reports stop whatever they are working on and attend her meeting. The result for my client is to cancel already scheduled appointments with job candidates (even as they sit in the lobby) and call them later to reschedule. What a lot of work! And, do you think that the attendees of the meeting are focusing on what she wants to discuss?

Recurring events not only help us prepare and plan but others can better plan. Making your staff aware that on Wednesdays from 3:00 p.m.-5:00 p.m. you are not available, helps them anticipate your absence.

You can take steps at work or home to institute rituals and routines to help you reduce your stress and give you comfort.

1. Look at a weekly or monthly calendar, preferably blank. Enter all of your established commitments for work and home.

2. Create a short list of activities you would find beneficial as routines/rituals, i.e. reading email at established times, meetings with colleagues, administrative paperwork, filing, expense reports, household activities (grocery shopping, laundry, dry cleaning drop off & delivery, etc.), exercising, studying and more.

3. Determine the length of time you need for a particular activity and an appropriate time that it will fit into your current schedule.

4. Re-examine your current commitments and see if there are ways to eliminate or simplify certain activities.

5. Block out time on your schedule for the activity.

6. Commit to do it.

Establishing any kind of new routine will take time. Without your commitment, it won't happen. Be patient and don't overwhelm yourself trying to totally revamp your current schedule. Start with one new routine and once that is going well, add a second...and a third...and so on.

The comfort you will find in your routine will become evident. And as you establish additional rituals, you will become more flexible with your schedule. Wow, flexibility, reduced stress...from concept to reality, you can do it.

Posted on June 4, 2014 and filed under Articles.