Ask the Experts

Q: How Can I Develop Routines to Keep My Life from Falling Apart?

I’m starting a new nursing school program and feeling overwhelmed — unsure whether I can hold together academics, work, and my home life. How can I use daily routines to help me keep from losing control?

Q: “How can I develop routines for all areas of my life? I have a hard time staying organized at work, at home, and with my homework assignments. I really want to do well in school, but I get discouraged because I always fall short by just a little bit and I don’t get the grades that I need. I’m about to go to nursing school and I am terrified that the cycle will repeat itself.”  –StrongButSensitive

Hi StrongButSensitive:

I want to break this down so you don’t feel so overwhelmed. I find that my clients with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD or ADD) jump in head first when it comes to trying to get organized or manage their time. Meaning, they do so without first creating a routine, ritual, or structure that supports whatever organizing system or plan they want to create.

Planning, time management, and organization all require on-going, conscious, active brain power. Routines, almost by definition, do not. Think of a routine as “I plan it once — and done.” It’s the ability to move through your tasks without thinking about what’s next. And because of that, routines are great tools to battle procrastination, because giving your brain a break from having to consciously plan and prepare certain to-dos in your life means there are fewer things to get in your way to accomplish the work that really requires effort. In other words, routines can make life easier, save you time, and provide a sense of calm and control.

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I want you to think about routines and rituals as a way to reduce your mental effort, “create time” by saving time, and help break your procrastination logjam. Any task or recurring activity that you have the ability to schedule can be turned into a routine.

Try breaking down your routines into three areas. Weekly/Daily Prep Routine, Study Routine, and Life Routine. Set aside time to prepare in advance for both the week ahead and for the next school day. So, for example, block out Monday – Thursday at 10PM for your daily prep and Sunday at 9PM for your weekly prep. This way, you are only focusing on the set up each time and taking time to pause and picture what needs to be done and when you can schedule the time to do it. Set your phone alarm for easy reminders.

As a lot of my clients have learned, setting these prep times provides double benefits. After a while, the prep times not only become a nightly routine that they stop thinking about, but their days also flow more easily because their tasks, activities and other to-dos are already scheduled, packed, and planned for.

Good Luck!

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Organization guru 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.

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