On the surface, it seems like those with ADHD are routine incompatible. And indeed, I know a lot of people, either artistic and creative types, those who love to embrace chaos, and/or with ADHD, who seem allergic to the concept. More about that later. The fact remains that often when people with ADHD do manage to implement routine and structure into their lives, it is of enormous benefit to them. And they often still hate it! It is a strange cycle.
As with so many words, the word “routine” can carry some serious baggage with it. “Homework” can be another loaded word, as well as “goal”. I personally have a great deal of baggage around the word “gratitude”. And while words can carry meaning, and power, there’s no reason to be chained to them, their meaning, or their power. For some, just changing the word or title of something is freeing. It can bring different meaning and empower instead of draining us.
“Habit” might also be a loaded word for some, but it can be an alternative to “routine”, and indeed, a lot of what I call my routines have become habit. “Structure”, “support actions”, “sequence”, “takin’ care of business”, “upkeep” (anyone who plays Magic the Gathering will be familiar with that word), “ritual” (D&D players know this means you don’t waste a spell slot), these are all words that can mean the same thing. And although I think I’m stuck with the word “routine” for myself, I kind of wish I could change it to “ritual”. That sounds way cooler.
A lot of us seem to have this deeply draconian impression of routines in general. I asked a friend of mine what she thought the word meant and she said something along the lines of “Doing the exact same thing, in the exact same order, at the exact same time, every day. It feels like death.” And I wouldn’t want to be chained to something like that either! As you’ll see, my routines are far more flexible.
What I mean when I say “routine” is really a set of tasks I do, mostly in the same order, at certain points in my day, because grouping them together takes up less time, effort, and brain space. When the items are in a specific order, it is always because it takes more work to do them a different way. It makes more sense to make tea once I am already downstairs, filling my water bottles, then when I’ve just gotten out of bed. Things like that. And although a couple of them technically have times of day attached, I almost never actually start at those times.
Something I learned early on in my “career” of having routines is that they can take a long time to create and solidify. Even though what I’m doing now is working almost mind-bogglingly well for me, if I’d tried to start with this degree or amount of things, it would have failed. I discovered over time that there were things that I either was already doing or needed to include in my days. These formed the basis for my routines.
It was super annoying, for one thing, to have dozens of reminders go off every day. I corraled all of those necessary tasks into groups. Now I don’t have to make the effort to respond to and act on each individual task, I only need to activate, then follow a short list, roughly four times a day. And I have peace of mind knowing as long as I start each list at some point, I will run into everything I need to do that day. It takes so much pressure off of my memory and the number of notifications I have to deal with in a day.
Having lists, in sequence, of these daily items, gives me a tremendous amount of focus, while I am doing them. I know without a doubt what is the single thing I want to be doing in this moment and it allows me to continue forward, with single-minded purpose and with a greater ability to resist distractions. Though they do happen, I can keep shifting myself back to the next item on the list.
Another reason I couldn’t have just started what I do now, years ago, is my routines have changed, sometimes a lot, over time. Trying things, experimenting, having things that change in life, seasons changing, all of these will impact what makes sense in my routines. The routine lists I talk about in this post are for winter and are the most recent version. I keep copies of my routines every time I change them a lot, partly because of the seasons, and partly because I find their evolution fascinating.
I’ve found myself offering to read off what I do every day to a couple of people lately and thought my readers might also find it interesting. These are 100% mine and unique to me. They bear little resemblance to any other routines I’ve read about or heard of. I find that hearing what other people do, however, opens up my imagination to discover the weird and wonderful ways things might work for me. Taking the bits that fit and discarding those that don’t.
Morning Routine (or “When my feet hit the floor”)
1. All of my routines start with turning on music.
2. Record my sleep (duration, quality) in my habits spreadsheet.
3. Unplug the power bar in my bedroom to save electricity and turn on the salt lamp.
4. Open Pokémon GO to see how far I walked on Adventure Sync yesterday.
5. Weigh myself.
6. Set up Dance Dance Revolution for exercise.
7. Take before-noon vitamins.
8. Put on my smartwatch.
9. Get dressed in exercise clothes.
10. Fill my water bottles.
11. Make myself some herbal tea.
Note: it’s at this point that I exercise.
After Exercise Routine (or “When exercise finishes”)
1. Once again, music.
2. Put away the equipment from exercise.
3. Record how long exercise lasted.
4. Pull out my yoga mat and do my physical therapy exercises. Then put yoga mat away.
5. Clean my smartwatch.
6. Hang up my exercise clothes.
7. Make the bed. (Note: this item lives here because I want the first list I do to be as short and simple as possible so I get going on my day. It also feels like less work when I don’t want to get out of bed in the morning.)
8. Check the weather and lay out appropriate clothing for the day. (Note: I’ve tried laying out clothes the night before, but I always have changed my mind by the next day.)
10. Clean my face, ears, apply antiperspirant, and style my hair, if applicable.
11. Put on my smartwatch.
12. Get dressed.
13. Put on jewelry. (Note: this is a separate item because I’d always forget it while I was dressing.)
14. Change my pet’s water, if I have time.
15. Check my task due dates list for anything coming up soon.
16. Make more tea.
17. Message my friend in New York.
18. Check email, all messaging apps, business Twitter account. (Note: this is largely to reduce the amount of time I spend on messaging. I know I will check them at this point so I feel less pressure to respond to things right away.)
19. Charge phone, if needed.
3PM Routine (or “Everything else”)
Note: I almost never do this routine at 3PM anymore, but the name stuck. I typically start this as soon as the After Exercise one finishes, in order to get it out of the way. I also sometimes do it in pieces, as time allows, if I’m having a busy day. It contains all the things that don’t have any specific order or part of the day they need to be done. Though it is important to note that the reason this list is called “3PM” is because it contains things like writing which become increasingly hard to get done the later in the day it gets.
2. Change pet’s water, if it didn’t get done earlier.
4. Schedule 1 day of content on business social media.
5. Writing. (Note: a minimum of one sentence.)
6. Some D&D prep. (Note: a minimum of one DC, assign one monster, type up a few paragraphs of notes, or describe with one sentence.)
7. Deal with Wunderlist reminders.
8. Do physical therapy exercises if they didn’t happen earlier.
9. Update habits spreadsheet.
8:30PM Routine (or “In order to sleep”)
Note: another example of one I don’t do at that time anymore, but the name stuck. I do this last thing, and prefer to do it as soon as my working day is done so I can lounge in my PJs until I sleep. Basically, this routine closes down my day.
2. Clear my desk.
3. Plug in the power bar in the bedroom.
4. Put on pajamas.
5. Check toilet paper for needing replenishing in the bathroom. (Note: I hate running out of toilet paper in the bathroom so much that making sure I don’t is a daily action.)
6. Brush my teeth.
7. A reminder is here for prepping a hot water bottle to warm the bed. If the weather isn’t cold enough, I skip this step.
8. Check tomorrow’s calendar and set alarms on my smartwatch for 15 mins ahead of leaving times and 15 mins ahead of any appointments or tasks for at home.
9. Check today’s calendar for any to-do items that I didn’t get to and defer, or move back to my task management system.
10. Check the battery level on my smartwatch, and if it’s below 50%, put on to charge.
11. In either case, take off smartwatch.
12. Check the tablet battery. If lower than 50%, put on to charge.
13. Write out journal notes for the day since I wrote in the journal.
14. Make sure I took all my vitamins and such for the day. (Note: because none of these routine lists are at specific times, this is just an extra failsafe for the alarm for taking vitamins.)
15. Go through Alarmed reminders and reduce to zero by deferring, taking action, or putting back into my task management system.
Whew! That actually made me a little tired just writing all that stuff out. And it’s important to note that most of those items, in my routine lists, are under three words, with the most being five. It’s just that no one other than me knows what “journal notes” are. If you do something often enough, you develop a shorthand.
There is also a huge flaw in all of those routines. Have you spotted it? If you’ve been reading my blog for a while I bet you have. There isn’t any fun in them, with the possible exception of D&D prep. I’ve worked so hard at making my routine efficient that I’ve forgotten how wonderful it can be to intentionally include joy in your day. Almost all of the suggested routines I’ve seen online include at least some meditation or reading. Figuring out how to shoehorn fun and joy into my routines is something I’d like to work on.
What function could routine serve in your life?