Routines help reduce stress & allow you to get stuff done. Learn how to create helpful habits that integrate the realities of a blended work and home life.
As part of launching a new sleep mini-coaching program in the new year, I’ve been writing a lot about the importance of routines. I’m tackling two areas where busy professionals tend to have trouble: the morning (for night owls), and bedtime (for most folks doom-scrolling away their evenings).
Yet there’s so much happening in between. What occurred to me this morning–laundry basket perched on one hip–is how many weekly and daily routines I’ve created that help keep my stress cup from overflowing. And getting things done, feeling productive, certainly helps me sleep well at night!
Related: 10 Morning Routine Hacks for Happiness and Productivity
Why routines (or rituals) matter
Life can often feel unpredictable.
From a world-wide perspective, you might feel uncertainty about the climate, or our collective health. Professionally speaking, you may feel shaky about your finances, or business strategies. From a personal perspective, you may have suffered a deep loss within your family.
Any one of these can be unsettling. Combined, they are at best anxiety-producing and at worst, traumatic.
While the word “routine” may feel boring to some, routines have a benefit outside the specific practices that comprise it.
Do you generally feel more stressed when you have a plan, or when you don’t? When you don’t have a plan, life is uncertain. Uncertainty is inherently a stressor, down to the level of your nervous system. When you have no idea what’s going to happen, or when, you can feel worried, anxious, and out of control. Your sympathetic nervous system’s fight, flight, or freeze responses can kick in. You’re vigilant.
Routines reduce stress naturally because they give some control back to you, re-engaging your parasympathetic nervous system. Incidentally, this capacity to experience a relaxation response is a prerequisite for getting consistently refreshing sleep.
You can also choose to call your routine a “ritual,” or any other term that you prefer.
Related: 4 Changes to Make to Your Day so You Get Better Sleep Tonight
Create stress-busting rules to live by
One benefit of working from home (even occasionally) is that there’s less of a divide between these two areas of our lives. Ideally, this helps reduce conflict and stress in getting everything done. However, this is only true when you have (and use) routines that work for you.
Here’s a practical method you can use to create your own stress-busting routine:
- Locate existing touchpoints. Grab your official calendar and note any weekly obligations. These might include meetings with clients, sports practices for your kids, or continuing education livestream classes.
- Gather & examine any other To Do lists. If you have random sticky notes or whiteboards flitting around, include them. Do any items (commitments, tasks, and/or chores) happen on a weekly or daily basis? Should they?
- Exercise your mindfulness muscle. If you can, spend a week observing. Become conscious of the things you do on auto-pilot, and write them down.
- Review what you’ve learned & draft your plan. This is my favorite step because small tweaks can make a big difference. What tasks can you consolidate, batch together, or reorder for better flow? You might explore changes for efficiency, take advantage of times when your brainpower is strongest, prevent rework, delegate, etc.
- Follow your routine for at least a month, then revise as necessary. When I talk with people about things they tried to help them sleep better, many haven’t allowed enough time for real experimentation. It can take some time to change up habits, or previously unconscious ways of working and being. Give yourself some space for the experiment to unfold. Then make changes one at a time; notice if you’re (even subtly) moving in the right direction.
School yourself on scheduling
I’ve been running my virtual sleep and well-being coaching practice solely from a home office since 2017. I’ve worked from home off and on since the day when Yahoo Messenger was how my remote tech writing team stayed in touch. (Gasp!)
I mentioned I’m female because as we know, women continue to take on more of the work required to run a household.
Here are the touchpoints in my current weekly schedule:
- Monday is for marketing.
- Tuesday is trash day.
- Wednesday is for laundry.
- Thursday is for yoga & food shopping.
- Friday is finances day, & for running errands.
- Saturday is house cleaning day.
- Sunday is a rest & fun day.
You’ll see this schedule includes what I do to maintain my sleep and well-being coaching practice, my home, and my self-care.
In addition to this weekly routine, I also have private client sessions, facilitate corporate wellness webinars, and teach yoga classes. Some of those may also happen weekly (for a time), which adds to the rhythm of my schedule; others are random and only round out specific weeks.
Related: Optimize Your Daily Schedule for Maximum Productivity — Here’s How
Timing is everything
Taking this example one step further, I know–from trial and learning–that I’m most motivated at the start of a new week. By Thursday’s close, it’s difficult to be productive. My brain tends to function better in the morning. Conversely, by mid-afternoon my body is craving movement.
I reserve my mornings for tasks that require me to be sharp, creative, and focused: which is most of the work I do at my computer. It means my afternoons are time for pretty much everything else (especially exercise and house chores).
This isn’t to say every day goes as planned. Being flexible and adapting to unexpected changes and issues is absolutely necessary.
But once the dust settles, I know exactly where I need to pick up. (This is where many people can get waylaid–a routine disruptor occurs and once they’re “off”, that’s it!) Part of this is training yourself–as with meditation–to return, time and time again.
A beauty of this routine is that not only do I always have clean laundry and rarely get behind on bookkeeping (which as a solopreneur helps a LOT come tax time!); I also give my mind-body system much needed predictability, keeping my stress levels manageable and my sleep sound.
Originally published May 2022 in Entrepreneur Magazine*.