I have talked a lot about routine and how important is, specifically for our spiritual life. However, the focus has really been on stay at home moms, and I know that doesn't apply to all of you! Since the feedback from you guys has been that you want more posts about routines (and specifically how they interact with spiritual disciplines), today we're going to start with Routine Building 101. I'm going to show you a formula for building your own routine, one that worked really well for me in college (probably the hardest time to build routine!), so it should translate easily to your state in life, be it school, work, or staying at home. So pull up a chair, grab a pencil and paper (and a croissant, if you are as blessed as this lady pictured below), and let's get started!
Step 1: Make a List
It's time to brainstorm. However you work best (maybe it's just train-of-thought writing or pre-made columns), you are going to come up with the following list:
Things You Must Do in a Day
Things You Must Do in a Week
Things You'd Like to Do in a Day
Things You'd Like to Do in a Week
Things You'll Do if You Have Free Time
Under each, I find it's helpful to divide them into at least two categories: Spiritual and State in Life. So for the first column, I'm going to write all of the Spiritual things I've got to do every day. (Side note: this goes hand in hand with the Rule of Life post, so head on over there if you feel like you need help deciding this list. This post will give you more ideas for what should go in the Spiritual Life column, too.) These are items that I cannot go to bed without having done (morning prayer, rosary, examination of conscience, etc.). Do the same with the State in Life category. This could be housekeeping, meal prep, classes, homework, driving your children to soccer practice, etc. The difference between the "in a day" and "in a week" columns are just the frequency of events. For example, if I only vacuum once a week, it's a necessity, but it would go under Things You Must Do in a Week. Something like daily Mass once a week would go there as well.
Tip: You've got to straddle the line between expecting a lot of yourself and being realistic. Make this too easy, and it's almost pointless. Make it too hard, and once you miss one thing, the rest become unenforceable.
Now move to the middle priority items: Things You'd Like to Do. The structure will be identical to the Must Do things. These are the things that if it's bedtime and you haven't done them, you'll just go to bed. I like to put things I don't expect to get done on vacation in this column. Another example is exercising for me: I don't need to do it every day, but on a good day, I'd like to get it done.
For the final category, picture yourself in a clean room. Homework is done, meals are prepped, you've exercised, you've done your prayers, etc. What are you going to do? What bigger things would you like to accomplish? Think bigger than just turn on the TV! Do you have a reading list? Do you paint or play an instrument? Will you add more exercise or more prayers? Maybe do some writing? The goal of this is to rid ourselves of time wasters and idleness. This time slot is how you're going to reach those extra goals you have with hobbies that are actually refreshing and beneficial. You know when you realize you have some free time, Think, "I'll just scroll on Twitter for a few minutes," and before you know it an hour as gone by, the baby is waking up or your next class starts or whatever. And now you're frustrated and sad that you are not accomplishing what you want to. It doesn't have to be like that, if you have a pre-determined list of things you would like to do in your free time.
Step 2: Build Time Blocks
This is the part where the free-spirits among you cringe, but you only have to do this once. Get out an Excel spreadsheet, a table on Microsoft Word, or write one yourself with a pencil and paper. Don't let the word "spreadsheet" scare you: we just want to divide up each day for one week into time blocks. If you work better with details, do half-hour blocks. If the words "time block" and "spreadsheet" so repulse you that it's all you can do to keep reading, make them general, like early morning, late morning, lunch, etc. My general recommendation is just to do one-hour blocks.
Now you're going to populate the blocks, first with the items on your list that are unmovable. This would be class times if you're in college, working hours if you have an office job, daily Mass or Sunday Mass, or maybe nap times if you have a strict schedule with you're baby and that's what works for you (if you have a baby, I highly recommend this post, as it's about building routines, but it's specific to this unpredictable time). Start with the Must Do things, and then move onto the Like to Do things, until everything that has a fixed schedule is put in. If color coding helps you, go for it!
Now that you're immovable things are filled in, you're going to start populating the rest of the time blocks. First, set a time to wake up and a time to go to sleep. Then, work inward. If it helps you to group certain things, do it! For example, maybe you do the dishes and sweep at the same time. Or maybe you have a lot of prayers you like to start the day with. You can make them into a group and put them in the same time block.
Tip: Spread your spiritual things out throughout the day, so that you are continually reminded to focus on God. For example, Morning Prayers when you wake, Mental Prayer after breakfast before you shower, Angelus at Noon, Spiritual Reading when you get home from work or errands, Rosary after dinner, and Evening Prayers before you go to bed.
If you hate schedules, you have the option to make this a bit more general. I know it can make a huge difference for some people if you say to do something at 8 am vs. just after breakfast. But the time is important when building it to make sure it's actually doable. Just know, once you build it, you can think of it more in a sequence than dependent on the clock, if that's what works for you.
Tip: Be as specific as possible when planning, knowing you can generalize it a bit when you implement it. It's always easier to start specific in the planning stages and generalize as you go than the other way around. Just because you are writing down doing homework between 1:30 and 2:45, doesn't mean your whole day will derail if you work until 2:53 because you're on a roll.
So you're going to keep going until everything on your Must Do and Like to Do lists into a time block. Don't worry if some things vary upon implementation. For example, some days you'll only have thirty minutes of home work or cooking dinner, and others you'll have an hour and a half. Allot time for the average-to-long end of things, because you have a whole list of things to do if you have extra time! If it's something like cleaning, and you allot thirty minutes a day to it, you can always start on tomorrow's work with extra time, too. So don't worry about being bored or devoting too much time to something.
Tip: Color coding your schedule by activity types can help you make sure your day is balanced! For example, you can see how many spiritual things you are doing vs. recreational, or if one day is too loaded down with housekeeping. Etc.
Remember too, you are planning now to accomplish all of your Like to Do items every day, but they are in that column for a reason. If something in your Need to Do column runs over, or a dentist appointment throws things off, that is the place where you have the freedom to cut.
And as a reminder: no servile labor on Sundays!
Step 3: Try It Out
Once you've finessed your block schedule to where you think it's workable and you'll get everything done, try it out. I usually recommend sticking to it for a week, and then revisiting it. You will almost certainly need to rework some things, but I like to wait a week if possible so that you know the difference between the growing pains of putting yourself on a routine (and there will definitely be some, because it takes a lot of discipline!) and just flat out unsustainable. Remember, this is completely customizable! If it helps you to plan every minute, do it. If it helps you to think of the steps as sequential, try it and see how it goes. If it helps you to color code, I highly recommend that. Etc., etc.
Tip: I like to include a free time block, if there's room, especially if you find you have trouble getting things done, but the thing that is taking you longer than you allotting varies by day, so it's not as simple as increasing one block.
The more you use this, the more you will tweak it, and that's perfectly fine. Remember your goal: it's not to plan your day to the minute, it's to have a rhythm to your day that stays the same day-to-day as much as possible. In fact, the goal is to do it enough to where you won't have to consult you're time sheet. It will just be habit to do ten minutes of mental prayer after breakfast, to do housekeeping before lunch time, to do homework in between classes, to go on a walk when you get home from work, to pray the rosary after dinner, etc. The great thing about this too, is that it will be really easy to add stuff. Is your Confraternity asking you to add a short prayer to your day? No problem, just add it to the end of the family rosary or evening prayer. When your day is already set, it becomes really easy to tack things on and make sure they get done.
In case you're having a hard time grasping the final product, here is a sample based on one for a college student, because that will almost always be the more complex one! It's loosely based on one I had in college that really helped me (though I unfortunately lost it).
So you'll notice, despite the rigidity with which you create it, it is actually flexible enough to withstand different looking weeks. If you have exams, you have time built in for the extra studying. If you have a light work week, you can use the extra time to get on top of next week's school work. And if you can get a consistent rhythm in a time as chaotic as college, think of what you can do with someone who works a 9 to 5 job, or stays at home during the day!
As always, reply in the comments with what you think and how you have successfully built routine into your life. We love hearing from you!