Sunday, August 2, 2009

When (and if) routines get too routine.

I work with a guy named R. who is all about having structure in his life. Every day, he arrives at work at the same time, goes to the gym at the same time, eats the same lunch at his desk that he totes to work each day, and leaves at the same time. He also rinses out his coffee pot at the end of the day at exactly 1/2 hour before he departs. I know this because I see him walk past my workspace to the office kitchen every day at the same time.

R. is not obsessive-compulsive. Rather, he just likes having structure in his life. A lot. If you were to ask R. about the recent vacation that he and his girlfriend took, he would certainly tell you how much they enjoyed the trip. But he would also tell you that he is happy to be back to his daily routine.

When I think about R.'s structured life, I'm of two minds. On the one hand, I think that having a routine like that is boring. His schedule doesn't permit going for a walk on a lovely day. He also declines lunch invitiations from his friends from time to time so that he can maintain his routine. I can't imagine not being able to treat my lunch hour as my own play-by-ear time of the day where I get to do whatever I feel like doing, instead of treating it as a time to fulfill a self-imposed requirement.

On the other hand, I wouldn't mind to have an ounce of the structure that he has. (Just an ounce, though.) I like the idea of having more structure that allows things to happen rather automatically. Presently, I have routines of sorts for my mornings, both at home and at work. In both cases, these series of actions seemed to come to be over time out of convenience and effiency rather than any sort of conscious planning. For example, at work I fill my water glass while my computer boots up, followed by a review of my calendar for the day's appointments and checking in with a couple of coworkers regarding our work assignments.

Other than the basic routines that I have made attempts to give myself more structure. I've followed the Flylady system of housecleaning from time to time. And I've also written down an end-of-the-evening routine for me to follow before I go to bed that includes picking out my outfit for the following day. But unfortunately, I've had a difficult time sticking to these routines. I'll typically try them for a few days, but then miss a day or three and give up. Admittedly, I blame the routine for being too stringent rather than correctly faulting my perfectionism for scrapping the routine altogether.

In addition, I also worry about routines getting in the way of being my freewheeling, spontaneous self. As an unmarried lady without kids, I'm often reminded by my coupled friends with offspring that it must be nice to have free time to do whatever I wish. As they often say, I could jet off to Paris whenever I desired! But realistically, even though it's great to have options, there's also such a thing as having too many options. By not having a routine to plan my week, I often end up failing to make decisions about ways that I want to spend my time, which then result in not making plans. And when that happens, I get cranky. That's not fun!

I'm going to experiment with establishing some more structure for myself this week. I have a few ideas of things I want to implement: 1) picking out my work outfits before I go to bed at night, because I spend too much time ironing and/or searching for a shoe that managed to separate from its mate; 2) answering emails (work and personal) by the end of the day that I receive them, because I say "I'll get to that," but then fail to do so; 3) use my calendar to plan my personal schedule. Regarding this last item, I'm finally back to using one again. But that's another story for another day... :-)