Today, I’m thinking back to last year. It’s now March and as a globe we’ve been in various stages of being shut down. I’m in California and about this time last year I was finishing up a quarter of teaching at the university. In fact, we were going into finals week, and I had to suddenly stay home and figure out how to end the quarter. Then we had a week to prepare to teach the next quarter online.
Everything stopped. And our state has been essentially closed. We’ve had months when absolutely nothing was open, even the beaches were closed. And months when somethings were allowed to open while other places remained shut down.
After of year of this, I realize how much of an effect it had on my morning and evening routines. And this is not good for a writer.
The crazy thing is that I’ve had MORE time. I now teach online so I don’t have the travel time to work, this gives me almost two extra hours a day. But other things have taken the place of that time since I have my own college kids home now and I tend to want to cook for them. Even so, I still have more time.
If I had been told ahead of time that I was going to be working from home for an entire year, I might have structured my time better. I could have prepared and planned. Instead, I was thrown off of my schedule and it’s taken me a long time to get back to my old routine. And, honestly, I’m not quite there yet.
What I’ve learned is that more time is not necessarily better unless you use it the right way.
I spent too much time at the beginning of this mess asking what now? How do I record videos for my classes? What the heck is Zoom? How do I organize my office for teaching when it was only used for my writing? Where do I workout now that gyms are closed? Where in the world do I buy toilet paper? Those of us who have lived through this are going to be unique in that only we will understand what I’m saying here. But I digress. The point is that all my routines were interrupted.
And I needed to get back to them. And you need them if you don’t already have them if you want to be an effective writer.
So, when I speak of these routines, I’m envisioning my old life, the one I’m going to return to in the fall if all goes well. But even if it doesn’t, I now know that I need to make a shift much faster than I did this time.
Routines are super important. We are humans are creatures of habit. We get used to doing things a certain way, then we look forward to doing it again and again. We like not having to think about what we have to do and knowing what is expected of us.
So, having a morning routine and an evening routine is invaluable for getting our day off to a great start and closing it up effectively so we get the needed rest we need. I’ll briefly share my routines, but more importantly, I want to share what makes good morning and evening routines so you can create your own.
I get up and take my dogs outside immediately. Then I go into my office for a brief meditation that is more a visualization of the day than a clearing of the mind. I envision successfully reaching my students and having the energy to positively influence each one of them. I might do the same for my writing project, envision a smooth writing session. Then I have breakfast, and either go to the pool or I walk the dogs, but I get some type of exercise.
After this, I shower and change and review my Kanban Board and planner to make sure I know what I’m doing that day. I look over my writing plan and I’m ready to go off to work at the university. Unless I’m teaching afternoon and evening classes. In that case, I sit to grade papers or to work on my writing project.
The thing to remember is that it doesn’t matter what you do. Some people choose to get up and make their bed and make it look nice. Others like to sit quietly with a cup of coffee or tea. Whatever your routine is, it should do the following:
· Set the Tone: The important thing is to choose morning routines that sets the tone for the day. For this reason, I don’t watch the morning news. I don’t want a bunch of bad news first thing in the morning. I will hear what I need to know later.
· Increase Productivity: Do things that will help you be more productive. Be meditating on my day, I’m more productive when I get to work. I’ve already envisioned how well it’s going to go, and I’ve thought ahead of what I will need to do to have that successful day. Some people might choose to go over their calendar. I exercise to have the energy to successfully take on the day. So, add something to your morning routine that makes your day flow better.
· Reduce Stress: Preparing for work can sometimes be stressful if you’re running around, getting dressed, packing your briefcase and running out of the door. Having a calming routine before all of that can lower the stress of the day. Just sitting with your coffee and tea and chatting with your spouse could be a wonderful routine. Think of what will help you begin the day with a good attitude and no stress.
· Self-Care: Chose something that is good for you. If you being your day feeling good, you will have a more successful day. Eating nutritious food. Stretching. Exercising. Cuddling your cat. Making your bed and leaving it looking beautiful and inviting. There are many things that are part of self-care. I recommend doing this intentionally. So, don’t make your bed with music while listening to a podcast. Don’t multi-task. Enjoy the meditative action of the routine.
Your routine should be the same every day, and it should begin at the same time. Once it becomes a habit, you will look forward to waking up. You’ll feel more confident about your day and you’ll find that you are happier. Don’t do anything you dislike even if it has to get done — like laundry (unless you like this). Leave this for another time. Your morning routine is not about getting things done. It’s about mentally and physically preparing your for the day.
Just like the morning routine helps us prepare for the day, the evening routine helps us to unwind from the day and prepares us to have a restful night’s sleep. This is my big failing. I like to work until the last possible minute. So, I force myself to do three things. The first is to through my calendar and see what I’ve accomplished and review the plans for the next day. Included in this is updating my Kanban board which is the way I keep visually keep track of my tasks. Second, I do a short stretching exercise to loosen tight muscles from carrying heavy bags all day or sitting at my desk typing. Third, I do an evening meditation that includes a gratitude prayer and a clearing of the mind. Last, I read a book in bed before I fall asleep.
It’s a simple routine that takes me about 30 minutes.
For those of you who work outside the home, you probably have a closing routine before you leave work or the office. When I taught elementary school, I cleaned up the classroom and checked my plans for the next day and packed my bag to go home. It was a routine. We need one at home too before we end our day.
The evening routine you choose should do the following:
· Help you unwind: Again, this is not the time to clean your house. I do all my dishes and leave my kitchen clean, for example, before I come up and begin my evening writing. When I’m finished writing, it’s time for the evening routine. I don’t do anymore work or check my phone or do anything stressful. So, choose activities that help you relax and unwind for the night night.
· Get organized: Your evening routine should help you prepared for the next day. I check my calendar and Kanban board, but you may get your clothes ready for the next morning, refill the dog or cat’s water bowl, clean up your desk. When I go to bed knowing that I’m organized and ready to begin the next day, I don’t lay in bed thinking of what I need to do in the morning. It’s already done. At one point I taught a 7AM class. I had to have my lunch packed the night before so I added that to my evening routine.
· Sleep better: The routine should help you get a better night’s sleep. Stretching and meditating does that for me. For you it might be a cup of tea, a soak in a jacuzzi or a warm shower, reading a book, listening to relaxing music.
Writers Need These Routines
Writers who automate their morning and evening routines and prepare themselves better for success are more creative and write more and better. The reason is that when we have tons of “stuff” on our minds, we tend to lose our creativity and motivation for writing.
Starting the day with a clear mind and a positive attitude because you took the time for a little self-care makes a huge difference on what you can achieve during the day. And ending with a routine that allows you to go to bed without tons of unresolved things on your mind, helps you sleep better. This doesn’t mean there isn’t more to do, but in planning and organizing the night before, you know that what is left to do will get done the next day — it’s in your planner and so you can take it out of your head.
I still need to perfect my evening routine, but when I stop working when I should and I do what I should, I feel so much better the next morning. Create your routines, stick to them and let me know if you begin to feel happier and more productive.