Nothing is so fatiguing as the eternal hanging on of an uncompleted task. ~William James

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Romancing the Clock: In Search of Routine

What is it about routines?  For those of us who are largely self-directed workers, whether at home or in some designated workplace, the absence of routine can be daunting.  Personally, I have fond memories of mornings that began with packing lunches for myself and my kids, breakfasting, showering, dressing, assembling items needed for the day, and leaving the house at a predetermined time to travel to the elementary school where we would all spend the day.  And of days spent teaching college, when bells signaled me to begin and end class, and regularly scheduled meetings and office hours told me where to be and when.  

I am currently floundering in "freedom," not quite sure how to fit the puzzle pieces of my obligations and occupations into the frame of my waking hours.  I am spending too much time deciding what to do, and when to do it.  And in my present transitional emotional state, each decision is an opportunity for reflection and a ruminative, and often fruitless, search for meaning.  I need some structure.

Why, then, is it so difficult to use any one of the dozens of schemes I have learned about for giving form to my daily activities?  As with other resistances that plague me in my quest to get it together, I am partly in flight from myself.  In the past, my attempts to employ routine have been so overdone that I've conjured lists of tasks specified to the point of inanity.  For example, should I need to include a designated time for trimming my nails?  For petting my dog?  Apparently, I have a forest and trees issue.  Cutting to the chase, and staying focused on the big picture are not strengths for me.

Maybe it's all the multitasking I have been influenced to engage in.  Experts such as Dr. David Meyer warn that trying to do more than one thing at a time taxes our brains beyond their two-lobe capacity, decreases efficiency because of time lost in switching between tasks, diminishes focus and can impair short-term memory.  

In any case, I am motivated to try again.  I long for the comfort of some level of prearranged order in my day.  I want to make some decisions once, and not confront them again for awhile.  I crave a bit of predictability.

Here are three resources I have found that I intend to rely on as I construct a workable scaffolding. The first is an article entitled "Time Management Essentials: 13 Routines For Improving Your Life," on Freestyle Mind: Productivity and Life Hacks, which offers a daily, weekly, and monthly set of routines that are basic enough to avoid the nail-trimming, dog-petting trap.  The second is "Organize Your Day With Routines," a little pep talk on BellaOnline:  The Voice of Women, recommending the use of routines for transitional times of the day.  The third is "Daily Routines:  How writers, artists, and other interesting people organize their days."  It begins, intriguingly, with an interview with Simone de Beauvoir, which includes the question "When do you see Sartre?," and de Beauvoir's response, "Every evening and often at lunchtime. I generally work at his place in the afternoon."  This example should be helpful should I need to squeeze regular contact with a famous existentialist novelist into my overall agenda. 

I'll get back to you on what I manage to distill from these and other thoughts on the subject.  In the meantime, I have decided that for today--this being the last day my gym will be open until Saturday because of Rosh Hashana--I need to go swimming.  Right now.

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