As we head into the autumn-winter terms in Australia it is the perfect time to revisit, review and revamp our routines. Routines are never meant to be set in stone – they need to complement family life and as family life changes regularly we need to change and establish routines along with it. Here are some tips that I use when establishing new routines.
1. Define your priorities
Our priorities change across the seasons of the year. In summer you may have kids that need to be up early for rowing or swimming practice. In winter if you are like us, you might have lots of football training and games that require a more organised approach in the afternoons to make sure everyone gets where they need to on time and there is lots of food to eat after training sessions.
Or you may have decided that you want to make more time for your activities in the morning and are prepared to get up a bit earlier to make sure this happens. Whatever the priorities are for you, you need to know exactly what they are and schedule them into your routines. If it doesn’t get scheduled it is very unlikely to happen as other activities take over the available time. Routines are essentially about helping us make conscious use of our time with ease.
2. Allow more time than needed at the start
A trap with setting up a routine is that we can plan out what it will look like in the perfect world and fit it into a time slot that assumes everything goes with ease and without a hitch. Family life is rarely like that! So if you plan, for example, to make a healthy smoothie bowl each morning for breakfast as part of your new morning routine and on a perfect day it would take you 5 minutes to make and 10 minutes to eat, then allocate at least 20 minutes for this or be prepared to walk around the house eating your smoothie bowl while doing other things! It is unlikely you will be completely uninterrupted for this activity.
Likewise, if you are introducing more tasks the kids will need to do themselves in the morning that you think should only take 10 minutes, for example, allow at least 15 minutes for them to do them so there is some in-built buffer. Building small buffer zones in the morning routine allows for things to go wrong, for kids to drag their feet a bit without putting pressure on departure time or creating unneccessary stress.
3. Have the routine on display
Taking the kids through a new routine once and then expecting them to remember it is unrealistic. Depending on the age of the child you can work with them to create a routine checklist (complete with photos if they are not at the reading stage) or if the child can create the document themselves allow them to do it and then print it out and put it on display in an area where they will see it at the appropriate time of the day. You can see some examples of the morning routines we printed for our kids here and you can something similar for after school or after child care routines in the afternoon.
If you are fitting new elements into your morning routine, having a written checklist can be incredibly beneficial to help you stay on track. If you are now heading to an exercise class three times a week early in the morning and then having your new breakfast, for example, you will not have the same amount of unscheduled time that you usually had. It doesn’t take many interruptions in the morning to set you back 10 minutes which can have a big impact if you trains to catch and drop off times to meet. When I have set new routines, I will write up the time and activities for the morning in a simple table and stick it on my mirror in our bathroom. That way I am reminded of the timings when I am brushing my teeth before I go to bed at night and when I get up in the morning.
4. Be realistic about how much change can be absorbed at once
Change can be hard for adults and kids alike, so we need to be realistic about how much change we can cope with at any given time if it is to be sustainable. In the example for the parent above, they are introducing an external exercise class three times a week and making a new breakfast, a smoothie bowl each day – this would be enough change to a routine! While you may also want to meditate or start a gratitude journal or both, adding all of these elements at once could easily create overwhelm and stress. Settle these new elements of your routine for a few weeks before adding in more tasks for you to do.
If your kids haven’t been expected to get themselves ready in the morning, you have been doing most of it, then start with this – hand over the responsibility of getting themselves ready but don’t start adding additional tasks like feeding the dog etc. It would be too much for them to absorb at this time and create more resistance against doing the basics.
5. Have a regular bedtime and rise time
One of the key reasons people get off track with their routines is due to tiredness. The snooze button is hit so key components of the morning routine we set up get missed and we go through the day on reduced energy and mental clarity. This leads to making poorer choices throughout the day that then affect the afternoon/end of the day routine and when this happens a few days in a row we find ourselves lacking rhythm and structure to our days.
In a perfect world to maximise the positive impact on our circadian rhythm, we would go to bed at the exact same time every night of the week. I personally find this impossible to do but aim for the 80/20 rule – hitting the same bed and rise time 80% of the time to help keep me in tune with my morning routines and to get my day off to the best start possible.
Next week I will share some tips on routines specifically for those of us still working from home and if you have any other routine-based questions drop them in the comment section below and I can answer them too!