Pros and Cons of Routines - a column by Beth Ritchie

By Barrie Hudson - 5 May 2021

Opinion and Features

Swindon Link columnist Beth Ritchie ponders merits of to-do lists

By Beth Ritchie of 

I missed my workout this morning. Purely down to being in absolute agony with an IC flare, so I can’t be too hard on myself, but still it marks a complete departure from the routine that I have been a slave to for over a year. And I feel a bit weird about it.

Throughout all the lockdowns in the last year, I have cultivated a very tight routine. I have a daily to-do list; I schedule everything to within an inch of its life and go to bed and get up at the same time every day. And while this might sound like a rather sterile way to live, it has enabled me to be super productive and smash all my physical, personal, and work-related goals in the last 12 months. And I have felt largely great, despite also going through a load of personal problems which might otherwise have knocked me off track.

Plus, I do love it when I can tick things off my to-do list, all the good feels there.

But now that I’m in the midst of a burgeoning new relationship, my routines seem to be going out the window as I am shifting things around to make way for this lovely new man-shaped presence in my life. I might have struggled with adopting a more relaxed attitude to my to-do list in the past and clung on to my rigid rules and routines much to the annoyance of past beaus (ahem, understatement), but I’m now actually embracing living with more reckless abandon (which often means staying up past 10pm on a school day, shock).

Also, things do seem to be getting done regardless, which is the main thing.

But it can’t continue indefinitely. I need to get back into a routine. And not just because I’m a mad type-A control freak (although that’s probably part of it…)

As humans we thrive on routine. Our physical health improves when we get better sleep. And research shows that when we’re not tired, we also eat better and are more likely to take part in exercise. No brainer really.

For me, the biggest benefit of a routine is in the improvements to my mental health. Because for those of us who are juggling mental health issues with lots of responsibilities, routine can help us feel calm and in control inside a brain, and recently world, which often feels completely chaotic.

There has been loads of research into the benefits of a routine to people’s mental health. Routines can make decisions for us (whether to work out, what time to eat dinner etc) in a day where hundreds of tiny decisions can lead to decision fatigue (it’s a thing), which frees up brain space for other, more fun or pressing stuff. This is why Steve Jobs always wore the same thing every day, so he didn’t have to make another decision of what to wear.

Routine can also give us more time to do the things which are most important. When I’ve stuck to my cleaning routine, I know that I can spend the weekend having fun with my kids, rather than having my hand down the toilet or fiddling about with limescale remover. When I’ve done my Sunday night planning for the week, I don’t have to do extra trips to the supermarket mid-week or waste time working out what to cook.

I know that from the outside my routines look pretty regimented, but they need to be. Because while I am naturally super disorganised and messy, mess and disorganisation actually make me feel really anxious (just part of my own personal paradox). My routines help me feel more grounded.

So, if I’m ever feeling a bit out of control or overwhelmed, the first thing I do is look at my routines and see where I can make some improvements.

I’ll keep up with this by the seat of my pants living for a little while longer, while also gently try and guide myself slowly back into the safety of a routine.

Because staying up late is cool and all, but as my nan used to say, nothing good ever happens after 9pm.

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