Ask the Experts

Q: “Will a Daily Routine Keep Me from Feeling Overwhelmed?”

“Establishing a daily routine and rituals will increase productivity, take the guesswork out of how to get things done, and provide a sense of calm and control.”

Q: “I’m a work-from-home mom with no daily structure. I feel so out of control, jumping from one thing to another. I try to work but then realize I need to do laundry. Or I’ll get on the phone and never finish my work. My husband tells me I need to set up routines or rituals to avoid feeling overwhelmed. I know he’s right, but I’m lost. This is causing friction in my household. I don’t get how routines or rituals will help me.” — DrowningMom

 Hi DrowningMom:

I love this question! I often tell my student-coaching clients that establishing routines and rituals can bring more ease and increased productivity to their lives.

Here’s how I explain establishing routines to my coaching clients: Planning, organization, and time management all require ongoing, conscious, active brainpower. Routines, almost by definition, do not. Think of a routine as “I plan it once, and I’m done.” In other words, a daily routine offers you the ability to move through your tasks without thinking about what’s next.

Routines are great tools to help battle procrastination because giving your brain a break from consciously planning and preparing specific to-dos means fewer things will get in your way of accomplishing the work that requires effort.

A funny thing about routines and rituals is that sometimes they form naturally without much deliberate thought. Brushing your teeth before (or after) you wash your face is a routine you probably just fell into one day. The same goes for putting on your socks and shoes. Other routines take considerable thought and effort. When students receive their new class schedule at the beginning of a school year or semester, they need to devise all-new routines to support the structure of their days. The same applies to adults.

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Ritual vs. Routine

What’s the difference between a routine and a ritual? I describe a routine as something you perform at a planned time and put on your planner or calendar, such as doing laundry every Tuesday at 7 p.m.

However, a ritual is an order or procedure you follow when working (or preparing to work) on a task or activity. For example, your prework ritual may look like this:

  • pour coffee
  • scan planner and task list for the day
  • switch on desk lamp
  • turn on music
  • light candle
  • gather materials needed to begin a specific work task

While these examples may make them sound very different, routines and rituals are both effective tools to help you form habits. And the best way to prove their effectiveness is to show you what could happen without them.

Why Are Routines and Rituals Important?

Let’s say you don’t have a set schedule for laundry. It’s 9 a.m. on Monday morning, and you’re about to dive into your work report that’s due at 11 a.m. You feel two hours gives you ample time to complete it. As you head to your home office, you glimpse your laundry basket overflowing with a week’s dirty laundry. Naturally, you decide to put a load in before considering whether you can manage both simultaneously. “What’s the big deal?” you think.

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Here’s why it may be a big deal: It takes 15 minutes to start the laundry after sorting, emptying pockets, presoaking items, etc., giving you a late work start. Forty-five minutes into work, you interrupt yourself to move the wash to the dryer, hang clothes to dry, search for more hangers, and begin another load. Soon, the washer and dryer beep again, indicating more laundry. Once completed, you sit back at your desk and realize it’s now 11 a.m. You’re feeling overwhelmed because you are only halfway finished with your report. Doing laundry seemed innocent enough, right? But you’ve now lost time to the rinse cycle, causing unexpected consequences. One small decision threw your morning off track, and the ripple effect continued into the afternoon.

However, if you had an established laundry routine on Monday nights, you could have focused solely on your report and worked straight through without interruption.

Now I’m not saying that you need to have every moment of your life planned down to the minute. None of us can live that way. But establishing and sticking to certain routines can make your life easier, save precious time, take the guesswork out of how to get things done, and provide a sense of calm and control.

Bonus tip: The Habit Hub is one of my favorite apps to help incentivize forming routines. The Habit Hub encourages you to create a daily habit by reminding you to perform a task and track it when it’s complete. The app makes a visual “chain” showing each day the task was completed. As the chain gets longer, it incentives you to keep at the task, so you don’t break it. You can organize your to-dos into categories and customize each according to how often you’re supposed to do it. It’s incredibly flexible and makes setting up and staying in a routine a breeze.

Good luck!

Daily Routine: Next Steps

ADHD Family Coach Leslie Josel, of Order Out of Chaos, will answer questions from ADDitude readers about everything from paper clutter to disaster-zone bedrooms and from mastering to-do lists to arriving on time every time.

Submit your questions to the ADHD Family Coach here!

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