Lisa Hess ponders whether the routines she's built into her time-management system will serve her going forward.
I've been thinking a lot about routines over the past couple of months. As I'm sure I've said here already, next semester's routine will be different from the one to which I've become accustomed. So, this month, rather than milking my time off between semesters for every drop of R & R, I've endeavored to kick off my spring semester routine early, allocating a chunk of what will be my teaching days to course planning and putting my writing first on what will be the non-teaching days.
Nice work if you can get it. (Wo)man plans, God laughs. The best laid schemes of mice and men.
Yeah. That. All of it.
Turns out that the muse won't always deign to visit just because it's Tuesday, but that every distraction in my house might just rise up to greet me, each placing itself squarely in my path where it refuses to be ignored.
And then there's the emotional undercurrent. The things I can't control that I set aside, but worry about nevertheless. They simmer away in my subconscious, creating obstacles I cannot see, but that are just as real as the ones I can. They are, perhaps, more pernicious because I can't simply tackle them and check them off my list, and so they eat away at my creativity and my motivation, leaving me wondering why I'm spending so much time doing everything except the one thing I set out to do.
I'm trying to be more flexible, something I found easy to do when I was younger. But, as with so many other habits we wish to acquire, flexibility refuses to come when called. Instead, it develops slowly and painstakingly over time. In addition, it requires patience, something that blind adherence to a routine does not.
I'm reading an interesting book that frames time management in terms of a series of choices. Though I don’t believe this life is all there is, the book has nevertheless led me to wonder if, perhaps, considering how I spend my time on a choice-by-choice basis key – if this simple practice will help me not only manage my time, but also find that elusive flexibility. Choices are, by definition, fluid; at any time we can choose something different.
Much as I hate to admit it, a desire to control things is a big piece of what lies beneath my acquired love of routine. Routines make us feel as though we're in charge and, in a time when we feel governed by so many things outside our own control (many of which are terrifying), they can be comforting. In addition, routines can be what stands between us and that emotional undercurrent that threatens to undo us if we allow it to pull us under.
As with so much else in life, it would seem that the answer lies in balance. As long as we have responsibilities, our lives cannot realistically be some sort of free flow multiple choice exam with unlimited options. If we want to pay our bills, earn some sort of living, and keep our houses in order, choosing to work and do the tasks associated with work would seem to be unavoidable. In addition, work can also provide our days with a basic structure -- the beginning of routine.
But satisfying days are also about seizing the choices that lay outside that routine, from the path we take to work, to the order in which we accomplish tasks, to the things we choose to do when the work is set aside for the day. (Notice I didn't say "when the work is done." For many of us, the work is never done. We simply need to learn when to step away). And, since choices are, by definition, flexible, exercising our ability to choose as often as possible has the potential to balance a rigid schedule with a bit of unpredictability, much as the work week and the weekend can afford us some sort of balance between work and play (if we let them).
Perhaps the first choice I need to make is in my outlook. When my best-laid plans are tossed to the wind, I can choose to see this as a terrible thing, or an opportunity. Choosing my outlook will govern not only the choices I make, but how I view them as well -- whether I feel backed into a corner or at a crossroads.
Standing at that crossroads, I can take back a sense of control. Some days, I'll choose the practical path marked out by routine but, other days, I can choose the scenic route, and I can do so without beating myself up for following what is, most days, an arbitrary map.
Why so much ado about routine vs. flexibility? Because finding balance between the two allows us to find some balance within ourselves as well. And because recognizing that choosing to do one thing means choosing to not to do something else is a basic tenet of time management. But understanding the choices we make and fully experiencing them is a basic tenet of mental health.
As with organizing tools, time management techniques should work in our service, not vice versa. When a routine works, leaving us feeling tired but satisfied at the end of the day, then it's a good choice. But if a routine leaves us exhausted and unsettled, perhaps it's time to make another choice.
We are the architects of our days. What will you design today?
Copyright 2022 Lisa Hess
Images: Canva Pro
About the Author
Transplanted Jersey girl Lisa Lawmaster Hess is the author of a blog compilation, three novels, and three non-fiction books, including the award-winning Know Thyself: The Imperfectionist’s Guide to Sorting Your Stuff. A retired elementary school counselor, Lisa is an adjunct professor of psychology at York College of Pennsylvania. She blogs at The Porch Swing Chronicles, Organizing by STYLE, and here at Catholicmom.com. Read all articles by Lisa Hess.