rhythmWhat’s the best thing about the end of summer and the beginning of the school year?  Routine!  Especially for me as I’ve also just returned from a year of study leave. It’s a year I longed for. I opened a journal the other day and saw an entry that started with a countdown — 341 days left until the beginning of my study leave.

And then when it came, I struggled with the lack of structure. I scheduled things, but with few other fixed commitments (by “fixed” I mean commitments where I was accountable to other people, not just myself), start times slid by, or a morning run got pushed to the afternoon, then to the next day.

Some people are down on routine. It has a hum-drum, ordinary, unexciting quality to it.  But oh, how I love establishing and maintaining that easy tempo that comes from a good routine.

The virtues of routine are touted in all sorts of areas of life. Parents are told to establish a good bedtime routine for their children. Insomniacs are encouraged to do the same.  Writers, meditators, athletes, yogis–all benefit from writing, meditating, training, doing yoga the very first thing in their morning routine.

What I like so much about a regular routine is that it establishes a rhythm to my day and my life.  I don’t need to think, I can just fall into the beat of that rhythm.  A routine at its best is a series of good habits, exercised effortlessly, with little thinking through.

But it’s hard to establish that rhythm in the absence of some structure, at least it was and is for me. It’s like flailing around in the dark or taking the very first arbitrary stab at a 1000-piece jigsaw puzzle.

When I’ve got something solid to work around, things can start to fall into place.  But for me (I’m sure others are better at this), it’s hard to create a good routine from dust. And that’s been my challenge this past year. So I am actually excited about getting back at it.

If I teach at 1:30 on Tuesdays and Thursdays (which I’ll be doing), then I need to show up at class. So that’s fixed.  If I’m going to be on time for class and not rush around, then I want to be in my office by 11. If I want to be in my office by 11, then I need to leave the house at 10:15 if I’m walking, 10:40 if I’m cycling.  Assuming I have a morning workout to do, whether it be running or yoga or swimming or strength training, and assuming I want to spend some time at my desk after breakfast and before I leave for the office, the workouts will have to be early in the morning.  I’ve already begun to establish a routine of starting my workout between 6:30 and 7 a.m.

Come fall, I’ll also have my scheduled Iyengar yoga classes on Tuesday mornings at 6:30, my regular hot yoga classes on weekend mornings at 8:30, office hours on campus so my students can drop in to see me, meetings with colleagues and students, all sorts of things that lend structure to my schedule.

It all sounds so… orderly.  Almost as soothing as a stationery store [some will relate to this metaphor right away, others will be bewildered].

But there’s also some mythology around the idea of routine.  Where there is routine, there are things that disrupt it.  With the Tuesday-Thursday teaching schedule, I’ve pretty much decided to make Mondays and Wednesdays my mornings at the Y for resistance training and swimming.  Long weekends and travel will interrupt this plan.

For me, and this is one of the reasons I’ve had a strange year: I get thrown off kilter when my routine is disrupted.  The year of study leave was a big example of that (yes, I realize that it could be a symptom of a larger problem that I had difficulty establishing a routine that could carry me through the whole year!). But a workout missed for travel or a long weekend or illness or injury — this happens all the time.

At my Iyengar yoga studio, we sign up for sessions and commit to the same class each week. But if we miss that class, we have the whole session (usually a few months) to make it up by taking another class at another time. I hardly ever use my make-ups. Why? Because I have difficulty finding another time to go.  Why not instead learn to roll with disruptions a bit better and take advantage of the opportunity to make up for missed classes?

What I mean to say here is that the flip side of routine is flexibility. As in so many things, I seek that elusive happy balance. Right now, after a year of feeling cut loose (sometimes in a good way, sometimes in an uncomfortable way), I’m craving the return to the regular order of things.

[image credit: Rhythm by Monica Stewart]


9 thoughts on “Routines

  1. Love this. I’m much the same but parenting has made me the queen of flexibility. I have physical activities scheduled every night Monday through Thursday but sometimes I don’t make it and that’s okay. My scheduling is much more constrained by the schedules of other family members. Child 2 starts school at this time, and child 3 has an activity on the other side of town from 6 until 8 pm etc…lots of that.

  2. I am getting the strong feeling, Tracy, that an academic’s life is very different from those of most people in this world. It sounds far more self-regulated, which might make it alot more difficult to establish routines. As of late, I’ve been able to make it to the gym most weekdays right after work. At other times in my life though, I really needed two if not three of me to do everything that needed to be done. This is no excuse for my not exercising in the past as much as I should have – I’m just saying “routine” at least at certain times in my life has felt to me like something that was almost imposed upon me by my schedule – and anything else had to get squeezed in whenever possible. It might be that I’ve gotten so used to living like this that even with an easier schedule and therefore more time to exercise, I naturally fill up my “schedule” anyway – perhaps almost compulsively. Have to give that some thought.

  3. I cant believe that so many people exercise in the morning first thing. I just can’t…. no only can’t, can’t even contemplate it! I know some people are less groggy in the morning than others, but to me being able to get up knowing full well that you’re supposed to run or swim or something right away, seems almost impossible.

    I’m in a triathlon club, and one frustration I have had is that so many workouts– even on weekends– are scheduled at times ilke 7am or 8am. On a Saturday, who wants to get up at 7am?! And since it is the weekend, and most people don’t have work that day, it seems even less understandable.

    I wish there were more people like me who wanted to do workouts in late afternoon or early evening, but it seems these people are pretty rare.

    It also kills me that races always start at like 7am…. sooo early.

    1. For sure we all have our preferred times of day. I get what you’re saying about races, but at least where I live there seem to be lots of things in the late afternoon and evening. Most running groups around here train in the early evening, and I’ve found that I can get a yoga class morning, noon, late afternoon, or night time. And of course the gym is open early to late. Good luck with your training!

      1. I guess mainly I am complaining about the “big” ones being early on weekends– the big training rides, brick workouts, some swims, etc. I know it is easy for some people to get up that early but it’s just a cruel joke to me, especially because the big rides & bricks are the most fun.

        Another thing is that, for those like me who don’t drive and whose only option to get to far-away-places is public transport, it’s not easy to get places early on weekends. On Sunday many lines here don’t even run at all. So it’s not very accessible for people like me on that level when a big ride starts from, say, an island just north of the city (which is common in my club) at 7 or 8am!

        Thanks for the reply, Tracy

        I do love thinking about routines– I’m just not good at all at ever sticking to one!

      2. These are such good points! I can appreciate the points about getting to the starting point. And I do know that some people just have a different “clock.” That would be challenging for sure.

        About not sticking to routines: I think that’s where the flexibility has started to come in for me. I know that I don’t stick 100%, but now more than ever I’m willing to jump back into it after one day of missing the beat. This is in contrast to my old way, where missing a day meant that all bets were off.

  4. This summer has been pretty weird in “routine” of work. Because of a major damaging river flood in Calgary in June, I was part of 1,000+ employees who had to work from home. OUr building’s systems was destroyed (electrical, mechanical and phone).

    Now we’re going back next wk. to normal. Needless to say I’m both glad and sad.

    I tried to stick to cycling daily..no matter how short or long the distance.

Comments are closed.