The Power of Routine

Teachers are procedural superninjas. We spend the first days of school teaching the students how to enter the room, how to complete their bell work, how to get ready for class, where to put the homework, and so much more. It is astounding to sit and break down what we consider mundane routines, or the things we do because that’s how we do it. Not important? I present to you the age-old debate of which direction the toilet paper roll should face. It’s okay … I’ll wait while you argue about this either internally or with someone else.

Routine is everything. Still don’t agree? Change the order in which you get dressed, or do laundry, or make your sandwich differently. You will feel that there’s a disturbance in the force, young Skywalker. That’s not necessarily a bad thing. It is something else entirely if your routines interrupt the flow of your day or interfere with you going to work or living your life, but routines are also something of a life enhancer.

I submit to you the need for a routine of productivity. Have you ever noticed that when you have a lot to do, you either get a lot done, or you don’t do anything at all? I am on my A+ productivity game when I have conflicting priorities. I am also well aware that I get distracted by sparklies – lately in the form of a tech game on my tablet. I also know that these conflicting desires between relaxation and fun, work and chores creates a type of creative tension. In the act of having much to do, I notice that I putter. I do this activity for a bit, then that activity for a bit, then back to this, and so on, and nothing gets completed in a timely fashion.

I don’t believe in 100% structured time, but I do believe in the power of routine. In an effort to up the ante on my productivity so that I have more time for my sewing projects, I have been teaching myself to mind my time a bit better. I have a set time to come home because I pick up my son on the way. I began spending the first half hour after he’s home doing my housekeeping/ bookkeeping, managing the house type chores, and then working on homework and projects in a 25 minute work/5 minute break schedule called the Pomodoro method. At first, I rejected the notion that a break should “only” be five minutes. My five-minute break became 10, then 15, then I would realize I spent more time breaking than working. Oopsie. Because I only use timers for cooking, I put my phone on vibrate and set that timer. For me, that works a lot better and I can whoop out some major productivity before dinner (or before bedtime, if I have appointments after work). It keeps me from ‘needing’ a snack that is, in reality just another task avoidance technique, but also allows me to get the snack during my five-minute break if that’s on my personal free/happy time agenda.

After feeling all satisfied about the increase in productivity, I began to wonder about those times when I don’t have conflicting priorities or when working on anything at all is not on my horizon because of life. That’s the test of routine, isn’t it? I’ve been known to counsel others to keep following their routines when they were working through difficult times, but I hadn’t applied that notion to myself until recently when a friend passed away. I needed to grieve, and my brain got muddled along with my heart, but I still had my job and I still had homework to do. I decided to follow my routines. I did the coming home routine, then the productivity routine, and then when I was finished with my to-do list, I had the time to mourn her loss and send my shouts out to the universe in thanks that I got to know her.

We need our routines. They help us get projects done on time, certainly, but they also help us when our thinking is otherwise distracted, either through stress, confusion, grief, or some combination of any of life’s events. I now wonder whether that’s why my stereotype of a British person includes time for tea. We’re doing the day, we’re breaking for tea, we’re back to doing the day. There’s comfort in routine, and I am absolutely in favor of that.


My Quest to Cure Procrastination

As an expert task avoider, I find procrastination to be particularly appealing. Why do today what I can put off until tomorrow, or until the night before a project is due? As someone who meets her deadlines, I can rationalize the crap out of finishing projects right on time and not a moment too soon. They’re turned in after all, aren’t they? All I suffer is lack of sleep and last-minute anxiety, while the reward is that I get to spend countless hours whiling my time away. Recently, however, I began to realize that I like sleep. It helps me feel energized, reduces under eye puffiness, improves my mood – and it’s free. I figure that my pursuit of wisdom should reasonably include regular rest, so I have targeted my task avoidant ways as something I could easily fix to enjoy much more of this sleep stuff. I begin by targeting the ways I procrastinate:

Procrastination by pretense of productivity: This is the area of procrastination at which I excel. I have been attempting to avoid the last minute freak out that accompanies the start of a school year by planning my lessons now and putting them in a spiffy, organized fashion complete with multimedia supports and collaboration with other classes. After a highly productive morning of working out at the gym followed by a nutritious breakfast, I sat my smug little self down at the computer today to Plan the Lessons. I envisioned them as award-winning educational plans of awesomeness that allow for differentiation, accommodation, and invigoration. This lasted about five minutes before I found new ways to decorate the classroom, which led me to new ways to decorate the house, which resulted in new ways to organize my closets, which led to capsule wardrobe ideas. Oopsie.

Procrastination by collaboration: This is where I spend a truck ton of time brainstorming with my friends. We become energized, we feel inspired, we’re ready to take on our jobs with vigor – and then when I get home, I haven’t written anything down. One of my favorite collaborative experiences was when I worked as a resource teacher. I met with my colleague/friend and after three hours of solving all the challenges and virtues of being kick-ass teachers, we had a fantastic mind map. Did I use it? I would love to tell you I did, but nope. Did we have a great time together, which made working together a more cohesive and rewarding experience? Absolutely.

Procrastination by hiding: This is where I either feel overwhelmed by the task at hand or behave as though the task will go away if I ignore it. Planned ignoring sometimes works as a behavior management strategy, but it does not work at all for projects. One of the stages of any project I undertake is always the “I will never do this very well” self-defeatist stage – until the project has to be complete and I finish it anyway. I am deadline driven, so I usually need an absolute deadline to get the creative, forward-thinking juices flowing. Little deadlines along the way with rewards for me don’t work. I will give myself those rewards whether or not I’ve met the benchmarks. I am not externally motivated, so this method may be delicious (my rewards are usually edible), but not productive.

What’s a procrastinator to do? After identifying my three biggest procrastination problems, I am tackling them step by step. I am going to set timers so that for every 20 minutes of focused planning, I will give myself 10 minutes of mindless YouTube viewing or Facebook checking – still with the timer, because otherwise that reward time is going to seep into dinner time. It’s happened before, so I’m ready. When collaborating, I will again limit the time I spend on visiting. I already know this is only going to work if a project is due. If one isn’t due, as is the case at the moment, I will make sure to jot down ideas for later and enjoy the extended chat time with friends. Finally, I will just have to remind myself that peek-a-boo stopped working years ago. The projects don’t go away simply because I don’t want to look at them. In this area, I acknowledge the reality of projects and push up my shirt sleeves to get busy. The reward for all this adult-y behavior? I get to go to bed on time. Well, that will be the reward when the school year starts again. For now, the reward is an organized closet, time spent with friends, and educationally majestic pins on Pinterest. Lesson plans? Ummm, not yet.

Spring Cleaning Part Two: My Closet

Yesterday I mentioned that it was time for me to sort through the closets to free up some space. I don’t believe that hanging on to items I don’t/won’t use serves any purpose except for making my closets looks full of miscellaneous stuff that sits there sullen, judging me for not using the items or not taking care of them properly. It’s Toy Story in my closets, but without the toys. Today, I decided to begin spring cleaning in my own closet. The bulk of dubious items included my wedding dress, bridesmaid’s dresses, shoes through the ages, and really what amounted to piles and heaps of random stuff.

I laughed as I put aside the bridesmaid’s dresses, a tribute to the 80s, 90s, and early millennium. My wedding dress, while highly sentimental, isn’t going to be passed down from generation to generation. My daughter is four inches taller than I am and is built differently. I still have the photos from my wedding, and aside for some residual smugness over the fact that I can still wear the dress, the fact that I’m not going to wear it again begs the question of what it’s still doing hanging around the house.

I did some checking, and now I know of plenty shops, consignment and otherwise, that accept formal wear. It would make me happy to know that another person could wear the wedding dress, and hopefully they’d be as happy as I’ve been. I don’t hold onto memorabilia as a method of making me happy. It makes me just as happy, if not moreso, to share with someone else. Those bridesmaid dresses, though. Maybe someone can repurpose them and turn them into skirts, tops, or maybe throw pillows.

I didn’t have any trouble tossing out the shoes from my quest to find the perfect pair of black flats. I now know that the perfect pair doesn’t exist, so I have since settled on three: penny loafers, oxfords, and ballet slippers. All the rest went happily into the donation pile. I have one lettered shirt from my sorority days, and one logoed shirt from my days of wearing spirit wear at my old school, but other than that, the only clothes in my closet are the ones I wear–and my daughter’s dresses.

The crafts and treasures from my kids are all in my “special” box, labeled that way and on the shelf. I’m not ready to get rid of those, but they also don’t take up an unnecessary amount of space. My daughter’s forays into the world of art include bodiless people that are still charming to the rosy-hued glasses of momma love. My son’s truck and train pictures still make me smile. I will give these items to them at some point, but for now, that’s one of the few boxes in my closet that I don’t’ need to use on a regular basis.

The corner where I keep my grandma’s craft supplies whammied my emotions. We enjoyed a particularly complicated relationship, and while I loved her dearly, about the only thing we had in common was crafts. We both liked needlepoint and crewel. We could spend hours together working on whatever projects we were in process with at the time. I have no doubt that this is part of the reason she had me go to needlepoint club with her. I remain grateful for the gift of time and creativity that she gave me.

When she died, she willed her crafting supplies to my sister and me, and we shared the vast array of creative potential. Today, when I opened up the boxes for the first time in probably seven or eight years, I was hit with the double whammy of completely knowing why I hadn’t used the items in the boxes and knowing that no craft should go unfinished. There were patterns for table runners and holiday decorations, skeins of yarn for needlepoint, canvases and more. Now that my kids are grown, I could theoretically begin working on needlepoint projects galore, but I know I won’t. When grandma died, my desire to needlepoint and crewel went with her. I have, on the odd occasion, picked up needle and thread and created a gift or two, but otherwise, nope.

This is no sadness to me. What I regret is that someone else couldn’t enjoy these materials sooner. I wasn’t ready to part with them, but now I am. If grandma were standing beside me, I can guarantee you she’d say, “About time.”

My closet is now clean(ish) and ready for the boxes my kids want to store in there. I don’t usually personify things like closets, but they are the anthropological evidence of who people are. I am always going to be fond of hand-crafted needlepoint projects, whether or not I’m the one making them, and I am definitely my grandmother’s granddaughter. My closet is now both physically and metaphorically clean. Not bad for a couple hours of labor.

Spring Cleaning

Living light and relatively uncluttered is an idea with increasing appeal. Instead of sorting through boxes to find what I’m looking for, what if the object I seek is already on the shelf? Woah, paradigm shift. I am not a particularly memento-laden person, but even so, marriage and children have contributed quite a bit to the amount of miscellany in the house. In other words, we’re a little cluttered around here.

I am not a physically sentimental person, and by that I mean that I do not need to hold on to my report cards, notes, or even photos from my youth. However, because of some law of adulthood, I still have them. I put my keepsakes in boxes multiple years ago, where they still sit. I believe there’s some piece of housekeeping advice that if a person hasn’t used something in the past year, they’re probably not going to. I support that idea, but I certainly haven’t done anything about it.

Spring cleaning, whatever time of year people choose to engage in it, is a great time to go ahead and peek in those boxes of yesteryear. I used to be in the habit of going through my closets each February. I’m not sure why that month, and I don’t know why I stopped. I do know that the closets are a little less sparkly and I’m a little more befuddled about my belongings than I am when I’ve sorted through them.

It’s odd that something as straightforward as knowing where the screwdriver is, for example, can help other areas of life (particularly those with some assembly required). At the moment, the closets include relics of hobbies and decades gone by. I’d really rather they feature the possibilities of the present.