How to Develop a New Routine in 5 Simple Steps
Feeling all out of sorts now that COVID-19 and “shelter in place” orders have disrupted your usual routine? Craving a schedule? Wishing someone would tell you what to do and when to do it?
You’re not alone.
“When the world is chaotic, order can be comforting,” says Charlotte Howard, PhD, licensed psychologist and CEO of Deep Eddy Psychotherapy in Austin, Texas.
So right now may be exactly the time to bring some structure to your life. And, since you’re likely either working from home or not working right now — and perhaps taking care of kids at the same time — you may also need to develop a new routine. This will not only keep you on track to accomplish all you need to do, it can also be extremely comforting to take away at least some of the unknowns (and fill your day with healthy habits).
“Many things that are healthy for us — such as cooking and eating healthy foods versus convenient ones, getting to bed on time, and exercising — take energy and can be difficult,” Howard says. “If we create a routine or make a plan that allows us to do these habits, we can feel more in control of our lives because we see that we are able to take care of ourselves.”
Here’s how to develop a routine that helps you stick to your goals and have some sense of control, no matter what life throws at you today or over the next few weeks and months.
1. Create a to-do list.
Figure out everything — everything! — that you need to accomplish to keep your life on track during this situation. That includes chores, extra cleaning, gathering food, taking care of pets or children, work, exercise, and self-care. Leave off anything that doesn’t bring you joy if it’s not essential to your survival right now.
“It is important to create a schedule that comes from love for yourself, and listening to what your heart really wants to fill your day with,” Howard explains.
It may help to make this list over a few days so you don’t forget anything. Warning: It will be probably long. So here are some tips for making an effective to-do list.
2. Make a calendar, too.
Use a paper calendar or the one on your phone to create a new schedule for your week. Take out your daily commute, school dropoffs, play dates, and social engagements, and repurpose that time in new ways.
Sure, you might have had to cancel happy hour and Pilates class IRL, but all those virtual workouts and meet-ups can keep your spirits up. Putting them on your calendar will serve as a reminder that you are not alone in this and you have a full and rich life.
Be as specific as you wish, perhaps even noting what time you will get up or brush your teeth. Not everyone needs or wants to include that many details, so do what works for you.
3. Consider your energy levels.
Some people wake up with pep, while others peak later in the day. Plan the tasks that require more mental energy for when you will be at your best to face them.
You may also want to schedule menial things like dusting in the morning or right before something rewarding (like making a cup of coffee), so that you get them over with and have something to anticipate.
And don’t forget to put in some breaks: For example, if you’re working from home, maybe you can work out midday or take a short walk around the block.
4. Aim for consistency but also be flexible.
While it’s good for your wellbeing to try to get up and go to bed at roughly the same time every day (and not stay up all night reading the news and scrolling Insta), flexibility will also allow you to “roll with the punches.”
No matter how hard you try, you cannot completely control your routine. Accept that reality ahead of time so that when your client reschedules a meeting or your neighborhood taco shop is no longer even offering takeout, you can shift your plans without feeling deflated.
5. Try it and revise as needed.
Give your new routine at least a few days and then see how you feel. Are you accomplishing everything you need to? Does it make sense to be doing everything at the times you have chosen?
And, very importantly, Howard recommends asking: “Does this routine feel like an expression of your highest and best self? Does it leave you feeling good about yourself and your day?”
If so, it’s probably a good one.
If not, consider which parts of your routine make you feel bad, tired, guilty, or sad — and which are energizing, uplifting, fulfilling, or meaningful, Howard says.
Use that as your guide for how to tweak your new “normal” schedule. Continue to do this until you find your personal perfect routine.