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Is Your Routine Driving You Crazy?

2011 March 9
tags: Daily Routine, Death Spiral, Getting Things Done, GTD, postaweek2011, Self-Care
by Andrew   

Is your routine driving you crazy? Insanity has sometimes been described as doing the same thing – again and again – and expecting a different result. Oftentimes, we apply brilliant process improvement to our work lives while allowing our personal lives (or work:home life ratio) to enter a death spiral.

The Death Spiral

Let’s look at a not-so-atypical example of one type of serenity-killing death spiral:

  • Out of bed at 5:00 AM
  • Dress yourself, feed children, and dress children by 6:00 AM
  • Drop off children at pre-school and begin commute by 6:30 AM
  • Arrive at work at 7:30 AM
  • Spend most of the day in meetings, and see the processing time left in your schedule get filled up by generally necessary, but unplanned, interruptions due to your organization’s open-door policy, if it has one
  • Leave work for commute home at 5:00 PM
  • Arrive home or pick up children at 6:15 PM
  • Do homework with children until 7:30 PM
  • Have dinner until 8:30 PM
  • Get the children ready for bed, read with them, have prayer time or whatever your family does
  • At 9:00 PM, make a choice: spend relationship-building time with your spouse, mindlessly watch tv, pay bills, exercise, or do household chores

Regardless of the choice made on that last item, if you only spend an hour doing it, it’s 10:00 PM and you then need to be in bed so you get seven hours of sleep if you’re getting up at 5:00 AM to start over. We aren’t going to quibble over exactly how many hours of sleep you need.

The reason I consider the above example to be a death spiral is because it is unsustainable in a healthy way for very long. Sleep debt will begin to accumulate if you shortchange sleep. That will quickly result in increased irritability and decreased effectiveness on successive days.

  1. If you shortchange your spouse, your relationship suffers to its own detriment and that of everything else.
  2. If you shortchange the bills, you know what happens.
  3. If you neglect exercise for very long, your energy and then your health suffers.
  4. If you neglect the household chores, things pile up, you decide it’s too much, you can get around to it, it becomes overwhelming, and they sometimes make a reality show about you for which you get paid little to nothing but everyone knows your business. OK…that may be an extreme example, but you don’t want it to happen.


The person you don’t want to be

I’m sure you’ve noticed by now that the death spiral above doesn’t even include several really big impactors: volunteer activities. We all volunteer. We have to, right? I mean, who wants to be the person who says “No, I can’t do that for you because, as much as I’d love to help, my health and family are my first commitment?” Well, for starters, We nearly all want to be that person. Why? Because most people do identify family as their first priority. Let’s take a look at the reasons why we don’t stand up for that priority:

  • We don’t like saying no because it upsets other people (Reality Check: They aren’t tripping over themselves to help you out at home)
  • We want to seem like superpeople who can do everything while juggling home, work, volunteerism, and other things (Reality Check: No one can consistently juggle all of these things with quality, so something will fail)
  • We want to fix everything (Reality Check: No one wants us to fix them or they’d ask specifically for that)
  • We want to be in charge…if it makes you feel better, say “I like to take responsibility for getting things done” (Reality Check: Control issues)
  • Someone has to volunteer, so it might as well be you (Reality Check: If the volunteer mission is that important, people who actually have time and inclination will volunteer. If you don’t have both, you shouldn’t be doing it)

The person you want to be
Now, let’s look at a few of the reasons we should be the person saying “No, I can’t do that for you because, as much as I’d love to help, my health and family are my first commitment.”

  • Your health and your family are your first commitment
  • Your time is ultimately limited by factors beyond your control
  • You must make positive, proactive decisions about what’s important to you in order to manage commitments

So, how do you break the death spiral in your routine so you regain restful sleep, quality time with your family or friends, a sense of peace when returning home, and serenity about your daily life?


Getting a fresh start

Try something I’m going to call the 15-Day Life Reset:

  • Simplify bill payments. Sit down on a Saturday and issue payments for all of your bills for the next month. This will be particularly easy if you use bill payment services, but you can easily do it by writing a check for each bill, too. Don’t worry about them being paid before you’re ready: put a tiny little number on the lower left or right corner of the sealed payment envelope for the day you need to put the envelope in the mail. Then, just mail the checks on the day you noted.
  • Pick some fun reading. Select at least three recreational books you’ve been meaning to read and read for at least an hour a day for the next two weeks; if you get tired of reading one, put it down for a while and read one of the others…the “rule” that you can only read one book at a time and that you have to finish a book once you start it was created by people who don’t own your priorities
  • Eliminate TV. Stop watching tv for two weeks
  • Get regular exercise. Walk an hour at least every other day, if you have no limiting health condition, for two weeks
  • Make mealtime social. Eat dinner at the table with family and/or friends, depending on your circumstances for two weeks; mealtime is hard-wired into our brains to be social time…keep everyone at the table until the meal and conversation is over. Issue challenges to everyone to come up with non-contentious topics for discussion. Share in the preparation and clean-up.
  • Connect with your children. If you have younger children, spend 20-30 minutes reading to them every day for the two weeks.
  • Maintain progress. If you’re using GTD, keep your Next Actions list and/or calendar handy so you can capture anything that pops up in your head that needs doing so it doesn’t nag you
  • Commit to regular bedtime. Go to bed at a consistent time every day for the two weeks and try to get up at a consistent time so you even out your sleep cycle; aim for eight hours and adjust if you find to need less or more. You should find you need six-to-eight hours, but it varies by person, stress level, and whether your daily activities are energizing or de-energizing.


Tracking the results

Try keeping a journal for a few days to a week before you begin the 15-Day Life Reset. Take note of how you feel, including noting the following things:

  • Your mood(s) during the day
  • How much rest you get, and your impression of its quality (sleep and non-sleep)
  • What you eat and how you feel afterward
  • Any exercise, the length, and how you feel afterward

Once you begin the 15-Day Life Reset, continue keeping the journal and note the above items as well as any improvements you notice. You needn’t limit yourself to the items above; they’re just suggestions to get you started writing.


Enjoy life,




2 Responses Post a comment
  1. hannah permalink
    April 30, 2011

    Hi Andrew!

    Thank you for the link to your article! It really helped me out while I was planning out a routine for myself today 🙂

    Thanks again!

    • Andrew permalink
      April 30, 2011

      Hi, Hannah! I'm glad you found the article helpful! Good luck with your routine.


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