Thursday, July 21, 2011

Routines Don’t Stifle Creativity – They Make Room For It

I work from home.  My chosen profession, like many, requires long hours of peace and quiet for concentration and inspiration. But as every parent of small children knows, chaos can erupt at any time and without warning send rule and order out the window. Powerless against the inevitable, I am nevertheless determined to have a mostly harmonious, well-run household.

I didn’t always feel that way.  Having been raised in a home were spontaneity was highly suspect, and the motto was fools rush in, I longed for a more free-spirited life in college and grad school. The young men I dated and the friends I made were mostly spur-of-the-moment types.  “Routine” was a four-letter word to them. Clean living conditions, proper meals and a good night’s sleep? How boring and lame!

Joe and Jane (not their real names) were friends and neighbors during my grad school years. They were the "do anything for you" kind.  Only, as it turned out, half of the apartment building was "doing" for them most of the time, because they had no routines of any kind for keeping their lives in order.

I supplied Jane with something to wear to work, conservatively, once a week. Her own clothes were always waiting to be laundered, or simply could not be found. Then there were the many cups of sugar, ground coffee, eggs, toilet paper and so on.  She usually made the rounds for this stuff so no one got hit up more than a few times each week. Joe's stopping by always ended with either one of my tools or a couple of cans of beer leaving with him. These guys were charming and fun to be with, so we put up with it.

Eventually, they wore me down. Joe, Jane, another friend and I had made plans to see a play Off Broadway. I wisely (or so I thought) bought the tickets in advance. We waited for Joe and Jane in front of the theater, but they were a no-show. It turned out they had spontaneously decided to go someplace else instead. The check they later gave me to pay for their unused tickets came with a request to "not deposit it till I tell you."  I'm still waiting to be told.

As I’ve gotten older, I’ve learned to truly appreciate the benefits of having routines.  I discovered that they serve me well, and that my family benefits from them in countless ways. Spontaneity certainly has its place in a happy life, but as a lifestyle I found it stressful and unfulfilling.

Don’t believe people who say that routines “stifle” creativity, because I’ve found the opposite to be true - by developing routines for the chores that must be done, I now have more real free time to be creative, and even play now and then, too.

There is a rhythm to work done repeatedly and in the same order. You become more and more efficient, and sometimes your thinking transcends the actual activity you’re engaged in (like vacuuming) and you can focus your mind elsewhere (like on an upcoming vacation).  It’s not unlike driving a car - once you know how, the mechanics of it become automatic.

Organization often happens as a kind of byproduct of routine. The household items you start using routinely (sorry), like the vacuum cleaner that’s now stored with tangled cords and hidden under backpacks and sneakers, will probably find a more accessible place to live. As will all your cleaning products. Once we adopt a routine, we naturally rearrange things for the better to accommodate it.

Routines can even save you money!  Make paying bills a once weekly event and store or file them by the date they are due. Not only will you get done faster, but you will forego paying the late charges from the gasman and the electric company.

During stressful times, or when you have the blues, there is a great deal of comfort in doing what is easy and familiar. Your routines will anchor you, and give you a sense of accomplishment when everything else seems to be going wrong.

Study after study shows that children (and pets) benefit greatly from healthy, stable routines. And sticking to a routine, as my regular blog readers will know, is a great way to strengthen your willpower muscle and gain more self-control!  Who doesn’t want more of that, right?

Good luck with your goal!

1 comment:

  1. Hi Heidi..great to read your blogs.

    What are your thoughts about GRIT? I have realised I lack in in....

    Any food for thought?