When a lot of people hear the word “routine,” they think “rut.” My opinion, though, is that routine and rut are completely different. A rut is what you get into when you have nothing else in your life but work and chores, while routine is something that provides structure to your day. Of course, a routine can become a rut, if it’s not flexible enough to make room for variety somewhere.
What I think routines are particularly good for is self-care.
Let’s consider how you develop a routine. The business concept of “time-blocking” will help.
Time-blocking is a method of scheduling that relies on dividing your day into blocks of time (duh!) for each of your tasks or activities. A businessperson might have time blocks reserved for “planning meeting,” “business lunch,” and “create spreadsheet.” They estimate how long each will take and adjust the time blocks accordingly. If their time estimates are off, they revise for the next day or week.
One of the principles of time blocking is grouping similar tasks together. For example, one might have a single time block for making phone calls or answering emails. Another one is to leave some blocks empty so they can be used for tasks that you may not have completed or blocks that had to be shifted because of having to put out fires.
You can do time-blocking on a daily or weekly paper calendar, but business books recommend using scheduling software. I like the idea of using an erasable board that you can put up on your refrigerator or in another convenient place.
How does this relate to self-care? Well, it’s a good idea to make self-care part of your routine, and time-blocking is one way to develop that routine.
The first things to schedule are good habits that help you manage your disorder. For me, these are medication, food, and sleep. I take my meds as soon as I wake up and on my way to bed. I don’t consider that a time block, more like a habit, something to check off on a mental list.
I usually wake around 7:00, unless I have a work assignment that needs to be turned in early in the morning. I usually go to bed around 9:00. I need lots of sleep.
I have a time block for lunch at 12:00 and for dinner at 6:30. I make sure to have food on hand that is easy to prepare for lunch — cheese and crackers, soup, applesauce, and so on. My husband makes dinner because he wants to make sure that I eat at least one complete meal every day.
The other important time block for me to schedule is work. I’m a gig worker, so my assignments can vary. Generally, though, I work until about 11:00 in the morning and till 4:00 or 5:00 in the afternoon. I try to make working a habit, too. It keeps me from falling too far behind if I have a day when I’m simply not able to face getting out of bed and working.
You may have noticed that there are gaps in my schedule of time blocks. These are when I fit in self-care. In the morning, I have time for checking my email and Facebook. Why are these self-care? They’re the ways I keep in touch with friends and acquaintances — the outside world in general.
In the afternoon, between work and dinner, I watch some TV, usually cooking shows, which I find comforting. After dinner, I have time with my husband to see a movie or binge-watch a favorite series. When I take my meds and go to bed, I read for about half an hour. All these are part of my self-care. A person needs to set aside time for relaxation, which is a vital part of self-care.
Sometimes, I have to set aside a time block for something else. If I have to go out somewhere, I usually schedule an hour before I have to leave. It sometimes takes me that long to shower, dress, put my hair up, and make sure I have everything I need in my purse. I know that, so that’s why I leave an hour for it. Then there’s time for whatever errand it is, or maybe lunch out on my husband’s day off.
That’s my daily schedule of time blocks. I also have a weekly set of time blocks. I try to have a first draft of my blogs done on Thursday, finish them and tag them by Friday, proofread on Saturday, and post on Sunday. This is something that’s not quite work, because I don’t get paid for it. It’s something I do for myself and I get satisfaction from it, so I think of it as a self-care activity.
I also use my Google calendar to keep track of things that need to be done monthly — bills, recycling, doctor appointments for me and my husband, deadlines for my gig work, and so on. That’s self-care too, because I suffer an unhealthy amount of stress if our finances get out of control. Reducing stress is part of keeping me on a steady course. I could use the weekly or daily functions, but those are tasks I’m used to after getting into the habit for so long.
I prefer having these times and tasks in a reasonably consistent schedule, with some room for adjustments. Routine helps me get done what I need to do and enables me to schedule self-care too, rather than leaving it to last.