On routine & the lack of work

Yesterday morning, Morning Edition ran a story about willpower that resonated as I’ve been thinking about willpower and its evil twin sister, routine.

In college (and somewhat beyond), I used to say to people “I only have a routine so that I can deviate from it.” While I was comforted by the “get up at X time, go to school, go to work, do homework, then go to bed” routine, I sometimes frequently found myself doing the exact opposite of what I had planned to do. Once I left college, I found that work set my routine for me (for the most part) – wake up in exactly the time it takes to get dressed and get to work in a semblance of “on timedness,” eat dinner when you get home, go to bed just in time for you to get up in time the next day. Repeat as necessary.  This doesn’t lead to productivity or a certain zest for life.  It also doesn’t take a lot of willpower or motivation – except of the “If I don’t go to work, I’ll totally get fired and then have to move back in with mom and dad” variety.

About six weeks ago, I was let go from my job —  a casualty of the recession (after dodging the bullet during both the post-Sept 11th recession and the internet bubble bursting).  I was  25 weeks pregnant and just getting over pneumonia, so my first order of business was to sleep – how much could I get and how soon could I crawl into bed? (The answer: pretty darn soon and a lot).  Once I started feeling better, I realized that I had no idea how to craft a routine for myself – work had done that for me for the past 12(ish) years, and I had defined my days by what I got paid to do, and my time off by what I love to do. I found myself sitting by my email waiting for stuff regarding either a potential freelance contract or the local American Marketing Association (I’m President, so I found myself defining that as *work* in the interim). Obsessively checking off the fact that I “did laundry” or “cleaned the kitchen” off of my to-do list.  Work had defined my adult routine, and now here I was, trying to navigate how to define it with the lack of work.  March was especially weird, as my husband was on his 11:30 to 8 pm shift at work – something that looks like its going away – but that I found hard to adjust to since I get a lot more done before noon than I’d like to admit.  What I’ve learned so far is that it takes willpower to do what you have to do – and what you want to do – when you have no one sitting over you telling you to do it or be somewhere at a certain time.

While my daily routine isn’t by any means stable yet, I’ve started crafting something that resembles a routine for myself, that involves housework, freelancing, volunteer stuff, things I just want to do and crafty fun stuff. It’s not perfect yet, and somewhat tempered by the fact that in less than 8 weeks I’ll have a totally new person to figure out – someone who has no template for life other than “Sleep” and “Eat” (and everyone’s favorite – “Poop”).

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