Following routines, schedules, and structures does not make me (or you) boring

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I don’t want to be boring.  I’ve felt that way for a long time.  However, it’s only recently that I gained clarity on what I mean by “not boring”: I don’t want my life to be hemmed in by western consumerism and the drive to do, be, and have more, more, more.  (And I don’t want a home in a neighborhood surrounded by strip malls where all the houses look the same—but that I’ve been clear on for a long time.) My life isn’t particularly grand, glittery, or glamorous; in fact, many people probably think it is boring, but it reflects what I care about and what brings me joy and fulfillment.  It’s a very personal definition of “not boring.”  This clarity is important because my desire to not be boring unconsciously led to choices that made life more difficult.

One unhelpful way my dedication to “not be boring” has played out is a resistance to routines, schedules, and too much structure.  In many ways, this flexibility has served me well.  Not being too attached to routines and predictability has allowed me to experiment with life, try new things, and go on long-term road trips without a set itinerary, and kept me from staying stuck in jobs, careers, and cities that didn’t suit me.  But having no routines and very few supporting structures has also made things harder than necessary.  Routines and systems help to prevent stress and anxiety by ensuring that things are taken care of in a timely fashion, and in eschewing them, I’ve dropped balls and been more stressed than necessary.  I’ve known this for a while.  Several years ago, I read David Allen’s Getting Things Done and intellectually agreed with his philosophy and system.  I’ve recommended Getting Things Done (the book and “GTD” process) to others who have benefited greatly from implementing the GTD system and I have coaching clients whom I’m helping with issues of life organization and time-energy management.  And yet, I have continued to struggle with this in my own life.

Why the continued resistance?  Usually, when something makes sense to me, I take action.  And the need for structures and systems is more urgent than ever right now.  I’m ready to grow my coaching business and I also want to ensure I mix work with other life interests—Not a 50-50 balance, but a mix that works for me, including on-going professional studies, personal and spiritual development, self-care, friends, dating, life errands, fun, rest . . .  There is A LOT I need-want to do.  I am very clear that an ad hoc approach to daily, weekly, and monthly scheduling isn’t the best way to go.  But still I have struggled and resisted.

WHY IS THIS SO HARD FOR ME TO DO? ? ?   Finally, the answer came to me while contemplating and journaling.  Somewhere along the line, my brain had made a correlation-causation error.  I had come to conflate routines, schedules, and systems with being BORING.   I have some guesses as to how this happened, but the cause doesn’t really matter.  The important insight was realizing that the one doesn’t cause the other.  In fact, one of my best friends is also the most routinized person I’ve ever met.  His weekday schedule is so stable and has been for so long, that even if you hadn’t talked with him in five years, you’d know where to find him at 9:15 a.m. on a Monday, 12:30 p.m. on a Tuesday, 6 p.m. on a Wednesday, and 11 p.m. on almost any night (in bed).  And I don’t find him boring.

Nor is my friend constantly harried.  That was the second big cause for my resistance: many organizational systems seem to emphasize how you can be more productive every moment of the day.  But I don’t want to be “doing” every second, even during 20-40 second gaps in the day; I need time to just breathe, observe, day-dream, rest, relax, recharge—to just be, taking in and witnessing the world around me, rather than always doing, doing, doing.

So one of my favorite people has set up strong routines, but is not boring.  As the organizational experts promise, his systems allow him to accomplish a great deal in different areas and still be available for new opportunities, without driving himself crazy.  And a foundational part of his routine is time each morning for yoga, meditation, studying, reading, and family breakfast; as well time for friends each week.  He also leaves for work and appointments with sufficient time, such that he can walk calmly and pay attention to the world around him, rather than being lost in a haze of rushing and stressing about being tardy.  He has built being, continuous learning, and self-care into his system.

Writing this all out in my journal, something finally clicked: It’s the substance of people’s days—what they do with their time, energy, and systems—rather than the structures themselves that I find “boring”.  (Again, a totally personal, subjective judgment subject to change over time.)  And that allowed me to see the way forward:  I don’t have to become an indefatigable whirling Dervish who is on the go and productive 18 hours a day; I can use these tools in a way that serves me and enables me to do what I want. Nor does implementing some routines and structures mean my life has to be as predictable as my friend’s; I can build in flexibility.

It’s beautiful how something that has been incredibly difficult suddenly becomes doable once we correctly identify the real problem or source of resistance.

What about you?  Is there something that you want but are also resisting?  Something that sounds good in theory but you don’t take action on?  (A regular bed time, exercise routine, or meditation practice?  Family meals?  Studying something of interest?)  Why?  If you aren’t sure, I suggest “planting” the question in your mind, then going for a walk outside, journaling, or meditating.  You don’t have to focus on the question the whole time.  If you’re walking outside, pay great attention to what is right there around you; if you’re journaling, let your mind wander where it will; and if you’re meditating, focus on the meditation.  The brain is amazing at making connections and circling back; eventually, new perspectives, answers, and awareness will bubble up.  Maybe not immediately; maybe not the first, second, or even third day.  But in my experience, if I’m really focused on something and ready to hear the honest answer, within the week there will be a shift and greater clarity.

 

Photo courtesy of Edgaras Maselskis via Pexels and Unsplash.

Alexandra Marchosky
Alexandra Marchosky
I coach individuals and organizations to do and be better by more fully living their values.
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