As a Type-A-ish, recovering perfectionist, Virgo, former over-achiever, you’ d think that I’d be a sucker for a good routine. I mean, my name even has the word “rigid” in it. I’ve spent most of my life being pretty tightly wound, needing to know the plan, and definitely preferring things to be done my way.
So you might be surprised to hear that I’m allergic to the idea of routine.
A schedule that’s too specific makes my skin crawl. Something about the idea of following through on a routine makes me feel like a robot, trapped in a world that strips me of my creativity and leaves no room for my humanity.
If I want to be sure that I’ll take a nap, go down the social media rabbit hole, and binge on Netflix? All I have to do is fill my schedule with endless expectations of productivity.
Recently, I stumbled upon the idea of daily rhythms.
I’ve known about the concept from one angle for years. There’s our circadian rhythm. There are naturally occurring peaks and valleys of cortisol levels throughout the day. And anecdotally, there are certainly different times of the day/week/month/year where different types of tasks flow more easily.
In fact, our breath also tells us about our rhythms. One nostril always dominates – the breath is not even between the sides. Right now, as I write this, I can feel my breath more in my right nostril than my left. Which makes sense, because I’m in “doing” mode. The right nostril is associated with mental focus and taking action, while the left nostril is linked to our parasympathetic state.
And yet, I was raised on this idea of perpetual productivity. Show up in the same way every day and GET SHIT DONE. Keep going until it’s done, then you can rest.
In my experience, it actually makes me less productive. Because I’m taking this expectation and just plopping it onto my reality, hoping that I’ll just somehow stop having rhythms and just keep the beat.
After fighting against it for pretty much all my life, I’m ready to stop pushing this boulder uphill. Instead, I’m choosing to meet myself where I am.
Here’s what I’m playing with these days:
Less Is More.
Have you ever read Leo Babauta’s The Power of Less? It’s a great read about simplifying your to-do list to accomplish more. It’s so valuable to get clear on what matters most so you don’t drown in a sea of, “Yeah, but this really needs to get done and if I don’t do it, nobody will.” You’ve been taught to be the one to take on all those things. I challenge you to notice where it’s not true. Notice where the sky will not fall. Give yourself permission to leave some gaps.
Notice What’s Natural.
Rather than trying to fit your square peg tendencies into round hole expectations, tune in to what flows naturally. If you had the freedom to march to the beat of your own daily drummer, what might it look like? When do you focus best? When do you need a moment to rest? When do you feel creative? When do you work well with others, or communicate most clearly? Consider how you might come into alignment with what already works naturally for you.
Breaks & Transition Time
Am I the only one who underestimates how long it will take me to refocus when I switch to a new task or project? Since I’ve started to build in more buffer time, I actually get into it more readily.
And breaks? Why does my planner self think I won’t need them?
Oh, right. Because my planner is super optimistic/pushy about productivity, and thinks I will show up as the most energized and focused version of myself at every moment of the day until the task is done.
In other words, she has no sense of reality.
How often do you need breaks? What refuels you? What keeps your focus and energy flowing in a way that works for you?
Build it in, baby.
Outward Focus, Inward Focus. Creative Work, Menial Work.
Another consideration is when you feel most capable of the type of work at hand.
Tara McMullin of What Works taught me this concept.
Some tasks require outward focus, while others are all about inward focus. Are there times of day that suit one over the other for you?
Some projects are creative, and some steps are menial. Can you find the pulse of when your creativity is highest, and when you can get stuff done that doesn’t require a lot of brain power? Consider pooling those things together so you can leverage the state in which you find yourself to match the type of work you want to complete.
Finding your rhythm rather than expecting yourself to stick to a too-rigid routine can be a total game changer.
What do you think? Are you a routine person? (Some people thrive on it, I know.)
Or do you feel inspired to give working with rhythms a try?
Let me know in the comments below.
And, let’s be real. Both rhythm and routine have been harder for most of us since the pandemic started. I know I’ve had many weeks of go-go-go followed by weeks of hell no! Riding those waves is what brought me here, thinking about this, and sharing my thoughts with you.
It’s also what has led me to develop my upcoming workshop, CULTIVATING CAPACITY. Because perhaps more now than ever, we need to find ways to feel sustained in a world where we no longer have access to many of the things we didn’t even realize were lighting us up and keeping us going.
If your bandwidth feels shot and you’re ready to get it back, this one’s for you.
My name is Brigid Dineen, and I am a Resilience Coach for Women on a Mission. Known for my deep empathy and grounded approach to personal growth, I have been teaching, coaching, and supporting women for over a decade as they learn to put themselves on the priority list.As the creator of Boundary Queen, I provide practical tools and strategies for self-care to help you reclaim your time, energy and peace of mind.
I believe in a world where wellbeing comes first – that includes the wellbeing of marginalized folx. I’m a fierce intersectional feminist, and this work is my feminism in action. Just so we’re clear, here’s where I stand:
Black Lives Matter, Trans Lives Matter, Climate Change is Real, Trump is Terrifying, and the Pandemic is NOT a Hoax.