Routines vs Ruts Etc

February 18, 2021


Trying again. Hopefully today’s thoughts will not get unceremoniously deleted.

Laura and I are actually recording a podcast episode today about getting out of ruts, which spurred my interest on this topic. Because my first instinct was HEY, I LIKE MY RUTS. And upon further reflection — I still like my repetitive rituals! I really do. And generally therefore they do not feel rut-like to me.

There is a blurry line between routine + rut and I’m sure that some who are less routine-inclined might view people like me as living overly boring lives. Someone mentioned the 4 Tendencies as a possible influence on the preference for routines, but I think it may also go deeper than that into how prone a given person is to novelty seeking.

(I would guess I am not entirely averse to novelty, but probably more averse than average.)

I also truly enjoy ritual and repetition. Classic example: when I run, I typically choose the same (safe! comfortable! repetitive!) routes over and over again. And in recent years, two forces have conspired that have probably allowed me to deepen the grooves of my routines even further:

a) The kids are getting slightly older! Which means they sleep a bit more predictably, can enjoy screen time together on occasion, etc. Certain routines I enjoy now would have been impossible in certain toddler/baby years.

b) Pandemic, obvs. Nothing like uncertainty to cause many of us to want to take comfort in things like a daily walk, meditation ritual, etc.

Some Current Routines

(many of which have strengthened over the course of this year, for the reasons noted above):

Reading. Starting every morning with some non-fiction. This basically feels automatic now! I’m still reading Medical Apartheid because man, is that book long. But important. By my calculations I will be finished in ~16 days or so. Before bedtime, I usually read novels unless Josh and I are watching a show.

Few current routine staples

Skincare. This routine took me years to build up; now it’s very automatic. After brushing teeth / flossing (letting the water warm up during the latter step), wash face. Put on some active (vit C, lactic acid, or retinol oil depending on what feels right). Slather with super-rich barrier forming moisturizer. Wash hands + take out contacts. Finish with copious hand lotion. Sigh with contentment because everything smells good and feels nice. Heh heh.

Takeout night. Every Saturday. I am not sure if we’ve missed any. Of course, we vary the actual takeout, choosing different restaurants and cuisines. That would be next-level routine if we didn’t!

7 pm TV . . . This one is new and yeah, sometimes i feel a little guilty about it. But most nights I’ve been letting the kids watch a show from 7p – 8p after cleaning up their toys (this is highly motivating to them!). Mostly they have been watching Pokemon. This buys me an hour of relaxation between postwork kid time and Bedtime Stories etc. I have been using it to read, do my organizing, complete my 5 year journal, relax. Sometimes G loses interest in TV and I will play with her.

Walking. I try to walk at lunchtime or during an afternoon meeting almost every day, though if I’ve done a longer run and feel tired I may skip. But especially when I’m seeing patients at work I’ve really craved getting outside for 20-30 minutes between my AM and PM sessions. (I also have a rule I cannot go until I’ve finished my morning notes, so it motivates me to stay focused + efficient).

Weekends. I feel like this is where routines get kind of controversial. That said, I don’t feel like weekends are all the same around here. Call schedules introduce automatic variability! But the basic template sort of is stable, which is lately:

Try to sleep in until ~7 when kids are up

Work out (Josh and I taking turns, optimally)

Outdoor outing of some kind; C goes to soccer on Saturday

Home for lunch

Lazy screen time in afternoon (weekends are when our kids get to play video games, primarily Minecraft but now also Toka Life, some crazy car/soccer hybrid games, etc)

Takeout night Saturday // cook or eat leftovers Sunday

I do think as we feel more comfortable doing more things we will venture out for longer day trips and shorten the video game sessions. Perhaps to the kids’ dismay . . .

I don’t think we’re approaching monk level yet. But I don’t feel like overly constrained by any of the above (plus others); I’d say I pretty much enjoy them! I’m very curious about how others’ routines have evolved and whether there have been significant chances (craving more or less novelty?) through pandemic times.

PS: Routine & Things is a podcast all about routines — check it out if you haven’t!

link to Ashley’s podcast here!


  • Reply Lisa of Lisa’s Yarns February 18, 2021 at 8:42 am

    Your comment about upholders being boring reminded me of it the tendencies deep dive episodes on happier. I had my husband listen to the upholder one so he could see that it’s a personality tendency and there are others like me. He laughed when Liz says to Gretchen, ‘do you ever feel like you are living in a prison?’ That’s totally how my questioner husband feels about me at times! Ha!

    I have very few routines right now since our son is only 11 weeks so nowhere near being on a schedule. But I’m just giving myself over to schedule-less days because I know they are temporary. My main routine right now is pumping after his morning feed while watching CBS this morning. And then I do some ab exercises when he is laying on the baby gym mat. Other ‘routines’ are meal planning with my husband during the latter half of the week. He grocery shops on sat morning and we FaceTime my parents when he leaves to give me a little company/entertainment while he’s gone.

    Our son’s routines are to watch a show while he eats breakfast and 1 after nap on the weekends. I try not to feel guilty about this. The show during breakfast routine came out of necessity as I needed a way to entertain him while we were getting ready for work back when we went into the office. I try not to feel guilty about this!

  • Reply Ashley February 18, 2021 at 9:29 am

    Feeling compelled to comment a fellow upholder and routine-lover. Lisa’s quote from Liz rings true with me! Sometimes it does feel like a prison lol. I’ve been noticing this more, however, when I try to put effort into thinking how to change this, I fall back on my love for routine and how routine and control bring me happiness. I have 2 littles, ages 1 and 3, so I’m struggling – I have my ideal day planned and it usually goes nothing like I had hoped! Your blog is a good reminder- it is all just a phase. They will be grown soon enough and then I’ll miss these days (maybe! ha).

  • Reply gwinne February 18, 2021 at 10:14 am

    I think there’s probably some ideal balance between routine and variation (the “ideal,” of course depending on the individual!). I also have a lot of routine but also create space for whimsy, variation, spontaneity. For example, I’ve been “attending” a lot of virtual talks that I wouldn’t attend in person in the Before Times. Small example: one was from our planetarium, last night; I listened to it while Tiny Boy walked on the treadmill. Will that become a regular event? No, but it was enjoyable and also fit within the regular framework of our pandemic evenings. We also have “local takeout Friday”–I’d like more variation in the choices, but the kids are dedicated to theirs (pizza, burgers) so that leaves my nights to mix things up. I’d like a little more novelty at this point in pandemic life in general but as someone who won’t be vaccinated until the summer….not likely soon.

  • Reply Jara C. February 18, 2021 at 10:28 am

    I’m currently reading “Think Like a Monk” by Jay Shetty and he makes a very compelling case for having multiple routines. I am also an upholder, so I think I also tend toward routines naturally though! My current routines are reading every day, training my dog each night before bed with the goal of him eventually being a therapy dog (this is so routine that he often starts looking for his treats at the same time each night!), and listening to a podcast in French or Spanish for 10 minutes a day. I was also walking outside for an hour nearly every day and working out for 45 minutes a day, but I’ve currently been iced/snowed in for nearly 2 weeks so those two routines are currently on hold!

    • Reply Sarah Hart-Unger February 18, 2021 at 1:31 pm

      I’m sure I would find that book very satisfying (internally validating? Lol) to read!

  • Reply acdalal February 18, 2021 at 11:34 am

    Upholders unite! 🙂 We do Takeout Tuesdays and rotate who gets to pick, but the kids definitely have their favorites so restaurants do tend to get repeated when it’s their turns. I also started reading work-related books for 15 minutes every morning after I meditate, and as a result am making good progress working through the book backlog.

  • Reply Elisabeth February 18, 2021 at 11:56 am

    I love routine! I think I crave it more now than ever, because so many routines have had to change due to COVID.

    I easily get fatigued by decision-making; I’m a Questioner and a Maximizer which makes life…challenging and exhausting at times. The fewer decisions I have to make in a day, the better. Routine really helps with this. I don’t have to ask “what am I going to eat for lunch” because I eat the same two or three (healthy/delicious) meals on repeat. Some people would look at that and think A) “That’s crazy” or B) “That’s so boring”…but then again, they’re probably not Upholders/Questioners/Maximizers.

    As long as a routine is benefiting me – physically, mentally, spiritually – I don’t consider it a rut.

    I also love creating new routines or pairing routines: I work on a specific creative project ONLY when I go to my favourite local coffee shop – classical conditioning at it’s finest like Jara mentioned above with her dog! (My Master’s involved Pavlovian conditioning in honeybees, so I’m well-versed in this phenomenon. Hilariously enough, my first exposure to the psychology of conditioning was in a class in my undergrad where the professor showed the now-famous Altoid clip from The Office).

    Doing something everyday, or on a predictable schedule, elevates its status in our lives and it can take on new meaning and purpose. Thinking through the values we want to pursue, instead of a goal (healthy vs. a specific weight) can also help us reach toward long-term routines that add purpose and structure to our days.

    Some specific routines:
    – I make the same 6 ingredient gluten/dairy-free muffins every week. They are delicious, healthy, and I let myself eat one every night once the kids are in bed. I used to try to limit this to only weekends, but then decided to just embrace it and look forward to that muffin all day (which allows me to make healthier choices during the day since I know I’m going to have a “treat” after supper)!
    – I take a shower before bed every night. I remove my makeup and brush my teeth in the shower, so it really signals the transition to bedtime AND I’m warm and relaxed and clean when I hope in to bed.
    – I read my Bible every day. I have one that is set up by the date of the year, so I know exactly what to read each day to get through the Bible in a year.
    – I don’t do this…but my Mom sends a family group text EVERY single day to myself and my siblings and I absolutely love reading her very newsy updates (from a retiree who lives in the middle of nowhere). She tells us about all the little details of her day and I find it so relaxing.
    – On alternate months I make it a point to reach all my Apple Watch daily goals + record a workout. So motivating!

    • Reply Sarah Hart-Unger February 18, 2021 at 1:31 pm

      i love this!!! And Cal Newport would lOVE your coffee shop / special project pairing 🙂

    • Reply Beth February 18, 2021 at 1:48 pm

      Fellow questioner and I think you really nailed the importance of routine for me too. I like making decisions but it’s tiring. I really prefer to automate the non-critical decisions, like wardrobe, food, exercise and kid activities. That gives me mental space to do the interesting stuff. In many cases it’s more efficient for me to maximize once, and then just keeping doing that thing.

      • Reply Emma February 18, 2021 at 2:20 pm

        I’m also a questioner and this is exactly why I love routines too! I just revise/update each semester to keep my questioning mind happy.

  • Reply CBS February 18, 2021 at 12:42 pm

    Ooh, my initial thought was that I don’t have much in the way of routines, but I realise I do have some, it’s just that I’m largely not responsible for carrying them out. My husband feeds the cat and brews tea in the morning, and we have our tea in bed. My toddler piles in with us at some point. I also read in bed most nights, and do my skincare routines. I also have a yoga nidra meditation class (via zoom) on Fridays and Sunday nights, and they have definitely been the MVP of pandemic life.

    My toddler has quite a bit a few routines – we try and get outside in the am, read a pile of books after lunch before his quiet time, quiet time, and then television.

    For some reason, I’ve struggled with routine exercise, after starting out strong the first 6 months of staying at home. As it got darker, the bedtime walk became a no go. Childcare returns next week so trying to make a lunchtime walk a habit and a few minutes of reading during the day. Being outside is such a crucial thing for me mentally.

  • Reply Coco February 18, 2021 at 4:28 pm

    i love routines too! it gives me comfort and feels homey. some of mine:
    – silent morning where I read indulgently blogs, and blog about the day before
    – some sort of exercise, running, yoga, melissa wood, walk, or golf EVERY DAY!
    – get to the office and start finishing my journal entry the day before and write few lines as morning thoughts and write down my to-do list
    – read 20 min if I don’t feel rushed to open mailbox
    – read before bed
    – in bed before 9pm
    – quiet afternoon on weekends where kids stay in their room napping or reading so I can have either time to read solo or spend time with husband
    – try a new baking recipe on weekend, and food recipe for sunday lunch

  • Reply Amy February 18, 2021 at 6:40 pm

    I love routine. I feel pretty scattered on nights and weekends right now, because I don’t have a routine in place. I find myself getting grumpy on the weekends even though they are what I look forward to all week. I realized last week that it’s because I don’t have a routine/schedule for myself. My husband likes to just go with the flow on the weekend, but I think I really need to set at least a loose schedule for myself. Even if it just means I stick to a morning routine that gets my workout done early in the day. It’s good to know there are so many out there who like routines too!

  • Reply Alyce February 18, 2021 at 11:27 pm

    I think the hardest part of the pandemic has been how many my routines were inextricably tied to my pre-pandemic work habits/limitations. So many of my most essential routines (making a couple of dishes on the weekend to pack breakfast and lunch, walking to the metro, stopping work at set hours and not bringing it home with me, waking up at a set time, etc) have completely fallen apart over the last year. Couple that with my promotion 6 months ago where my job is very different in ways that I didn’t contemplate – mostly having so much less autonomy over my schedule – which has also thrown off my work routines, and I feel like I’m floundering. Yes, I can still do all of these routines, but I have had zero ability to follow through on this stuff over the past year (and that’s in spite of me legitimately feeling like many of the things that people have been flipping out about the past year have been non-events in my life). 🤷🏾‍♀️

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