Routines are something that I gravitate toward. I love learning how people parcel out their time and what could potentially work for me. In Keep Going, Austin Kleon (an artist & writer who has phenomenal books on creativity) says that no matter what the weather is or the mood he’s in that day, he goes on a walk every morning with his wife and kids. Thinking back to high school, it was wild how days were meticulously blocked-out: starting school at 7:30 AM, having 7 classes with several bells to tell us when to go from one class to another, and getting out of school around 3 PM. Naturally, I’ve been taught to group my tasks by set time-frames and stress about getting to the next meeting or task in my day.
Now that the post-grad summer vibe is wearing off, I’ve been trying to establish a better routine. Time feels like it’s floating; I struggle to make a schedule that’s conducive to my creative energy. I want to be able to do internship work while also having energy for creative projects, enjoy some time walking and reading, and go to sleep knowing I had a wholesome day. So, I’ve tried hour-to-hour scheduling, kept track of the things I did in a day, but never really felt like a routine was working to my advantage. Working remotely also adds a layer to my dissatisfaction, because it’s so easy to spend the whole day sitting in front of my laptop at home.
THE 3 Q’s – To get a different perspective, I talked to my therapist about ways I can structure my day. I told her how I would often feel anxious about getting tasks done and don’t end up getting anything done (basically the story of my life). She encouraged me to think about what I do, rather than when I do it.
“When you wake up every morning,” she said. “Ask yourself these 3 questions.”
I’m still thinking about how these questions can translate into a routine that works, that allows me to stay engaged in my creative work without cracking and watching endless YouTube videos halfway through the day. The 3 questions are a dynamic way of looking at a routine, because it allows me to put my intentions at the forefront of my day. I’m able to plug the questions into different parts of my day and attach it to a task. For example:
X IT OUT – I’ve been using my planner more frequently, and that’s been helpful. The way I used it in college vs. now is a little different. While I eat breakfast, I write down all the tasks I need to get done. I proceed to check off tasks I complete throughout the day, and at the end of the day, I X-out the tasks that I didn’t complete. I take note of at least 1 of the X-ed out tasks and try to make it my goal to get that completed the next day.
It’s a weird game I play to make sure I don’t keep putting off tasks that are important for me to get done by the end of the week. So far, it’s been working well. If I’m daunted by a task and keep putting it off, I’ll try to reframe how I look at it. That can mean figuring out whether it’s actually a priority or doing a smaller step within that task first.
SLEEP & CAFFEINE – These days, my sleep goal is to a.) wake up feeling well-rested and b.) not resorting to napping in the middle of the day. I tend to wake up around 7:30 AM and try my best not to look at social media so I’m not in bed for an hour longer. Lately, I’m been drinking black tea (steeped for 8 mins.) with soy milk and a sprinkle of pumpkin spice. I tend to start feeling lower energy around 3 or 4 PM, and I’ll make earl grey (steeped for 6 mins.) with soy milk. The earl grey I drink has less caffeine, so I get a boost, but I still start to feel sleepy around 10 PM. I’ve been trying my best not to look at my phone before bed and reading instead. I think that’s really helped me sleep better and wake up with more creative energy. The downside is that sometimes, I’ll get so into a book that I end up sleeping later than I mean to, oops.
COLLEGE ROUTINES – Routines can sometimes be easy to create with school, but also mind-numbing. You already know what times you have to be awake and present (i.e. class, work-study job, etc.) and the hard part can be figuring out the best way to spend those awkward short time-frames in between things. At Mills, it was so easy to slip into a routine and stay in the college bubble instead of venturing out to do fun things or study off-campus every week. Hopefully, the 3 questions can also help you consider having bits of things you want to do sprinkled in with deadlines, work, and meetings. Something I struggled with in college was putting off activities like exercise that would have actually helped me get through a tough week.
FLUIDITY – In 2 weeks, my routine will look a lot different: I’ll be going to Berkeley for 3 days a week and will need to figure out what’s conducive for me. I’ll use public transportation to get to Berkeley, and while the commute time isn’t fun, I want to make sure part of my routine includes writing my novel while I’m on BART or Caltrain. I like that when a routine feels stale or becomes unrealistic in a different circumstance, I can take a moment to figure out what’s best for me in that week or month. A certain routine shouldn’t necessarily be right for all time periods of life and can take some trial and error to figure out. Sometimes, it’s asking, “What is missing?” and making sure that becomes part of the answers to my three questions. Sometimes, it’s reframing my mindset to be proud of the things I get done and looking forward to trying again tomorrow. –S.A.
“Rather than restricting your freedom, a routine gives you freedom by protecting you from the ups and downs of life and helping you take advantage of your limited time, energy, and talent. A routine establishes good habits that can lead to your best work.”– AUSTIN KLEON