Do you ever get to the end of a day and wonder where the time went? Creating a routine and sticking with it may help to take back control of your life, especially in midlife when we are often sandwiched between several different caregiving roles and other responsibilities.
A structure can appear constricting, especially to those of us who like going with the flow. Actually, it allows you more freedom to create, produce, and dream. Science proves that regular routines are not only healthier for your brain, but also reduce anxiety and depression, decrease stress, and allow us to achieve our goals.
Simple ones like keeping an up-to-date calendar with links to each of your meetings, packing your lunch and choosing your outfit the night before, for instance, lead to more productivity and creativity because they allow our brains a break from continuous decision-making giving your brain more time for complex, problem-solving work and creativity for bigger goals without being bogged down by minutia.
In fact, studies find that business owners and athletes who have structured routines are more productive, reach their goals faster, and are happier with their accomplishments.
So, how can you make the power of routine work for you?
Plan out an achievable schedule
Before getting into the process of building any sort of routine, you need to be totally honest with yourself.
How much time are you actually willing to put into a routine? And how much time can you actually put into it? Get real with yourself about what your current midlife commitments are. Work, school, volunteering, family time — start by listing out those things in your daily schedule that are a total must.
Master your morning (and evening)
Getting on the routine bandwagon by setting yourself up for success in the morning means some positive effects will reverberate throughout the rest of your day.
Twyla, a friend who recently decided to go back to school in her fifties to get a therapy certification, enjoyed not having to get ready (or get her kids ready) in the morning for work. The loosey-gooeyness of her mornings led to her sleeping later and procrastinating on exercise and homework. Twyla found herself depressed by the lack of progress in her life.
When we met, one of my first recommendations as a career coach was that she implemented an easy morning routine, one that would set her up for success the rest of the day.
Collecting her thoughts and prioritizing her day in the morning, as well as reflecting on what went well and any necessary improvements at the end of the day, was a game changer for her.
But for others that might be opting for mindfulness meditation and stretching, walks and gratitude prayers, making a to-do list, a healthy breakfast in the morning or even preparing the coffee the night before, journaling at the end of the day.
The twilight time, in particular, is all about rituals, self-care practices and glorious moments of relaxation. While the day is segmented out for different activities, the night provides an oasis for recharging and spending a small, yet important, amount of time dedicated to planning and visualizing the day ahead before you hit the pillow.
Find your structure and build on it
Routines can even help you transition to a new career and pursue your dreams.
A recent client, Maggie, wanted to accomplish a project for a publication but couldn’t seem to get motivated to sit down each week to work on her first steps. It wasn’t until she was guided to create some structure in her day/ week that she made progress.
This helped her to see that the project wouldn’t jeopardize her other life needs. On the days she spend working on her project, her mornings were mapped out by the hour from the time she got up, her coffee, walk, and then computer time. It may seem limiting but it actually provided Maggie with the freedom to be able to think clearly and prioritize her work.
Jennifer was looking for a new job search in her 50s but felt that she didn’t have the time with everything else on her plate to focus on herself. How would she ever be able to leave her current job? Was she destined for misery? It wasn’t until she created an evening routine where after the kids were in bed, she would settle in with a cup of tea, review her day and spend one hour on her job search with the goal of connecting with two people on LinkedIn and looking at current jobs available. Just one hour, consistently during the week increased her confidence and she felt like she was in the driver’s seat of her career!
Jess found that having a routine at work was harder for her than one at home. As a marketing director at a top midwest company, things were constantly being added to her plate at random times during the week. It was like whack-a-mole- she would accomplish one project on her to-do list only to have two more pop up. And things started getting even more chaotic when Jess began working on her own business dream, opening a small-business copywriting company, on the weekends.
Breaking down her workday into three daily sections, creating an action plan easy to follow through, and allocating certain times to focus on the day ahead and others to planning, turned out to be very helpful as she learned how to create positive routines and prioritize the main tasks successfully.
Schedule time for flexibility
The key to a successful routine is not to overdo it. When things are too rigid, and we don’t allow room for flexibility, systems tend to collapse.
Scheduling free time into your daily routine will help to keep things flowing smoothly in spite of unpredictable events. Things happen, and there might be days when things don’t go so according to plan. Maybe you sleep in an extra 15 minutes, maybe you hit traffic on the way to the gym.
Don’t try to fit a million things into an hour or you will start to dread your routine. Keep it simple, be flexible, and give yourself buffer room in midlife. As things in your life change, you can always tweak your daily routine, and create new and productive habits to suit yourself.