Flexibility vs. Structure: Changing Where You Live On The Routine Spectrum
Part of my job as a Professional Organizer is to help people create habits and routines, and then stick to them. And I am great at doing that! In fact, my own life is filled with habits and routines that keep me on track throughout the day and week.
But while I love my routine-filled day, I always marvel at those who take an hour to have coffee with a friend or even an occasional spa day. I want to introduce more flexibility into my schedule but my routines are what keep me tethered to a sense of normalcy. Without them, what would happen?
The Routine Spectrum
My thinking led me to approach “Routine” as a spectrum. On one side of the spectrum is Flexibility and on the other side is Structure. There is a tendency for different neurodiverse brains to fall on different ends of the spectrum For example, when I organize with people who have ADHD, I often find they fall on the flexiblililty end of the spectrum. Because those with ADHD struggle with executive functioning, they need help creating structure and order. On the other hand, when I work with people who live with OCD or Aspergers (HFA), I often find the opposite phenomenon. In their need to exert control, those clients tend to have highly routinized days and fall on the structure end of the spectrum.
So what do you do if your schedule is completely flexible and you want to create more structure? Or if, like me, your days are full of structure and you want to create more flexibility?
Here are some strategies I created for those of you who would like to change where you lie on the spectrum:
1. Mindfulness in your goals
Yes, changing your behavior always starts and ends with mindfulness. In order to change, you first need to decide where you want to lie on the spectrum. What bothers you about your day? Which routines do you need and which ones are getting in the way? For example, perhaps you would like to have 2 days a month where you upend your work routines and make a playdate. Or maybe you would like to establish a morning routine because you feel your morning “gets away from you.”
2. Ask “Why” 5 times
The “5 Whys” technique is a problem-solving technique that gets to the core of your motivation. If you truly want to add more rigidity or more flexibility to your schedule, you need to drill down a bit. You can do this by asking a question, answering it, and then taking that answer and turning it into the next “Why” question. Here is an example of how it works:
Why #1: Why do I want to establish a morning routine? Because I want to get something done in the morning.
Why #2: Why do I want to get something done in the morning? Because I want to feel more productive.
Why # 3: Why do I want to feel more productive? Because I feel bad when I don’t get things done by the end of the day.
Why #4: Why do I feel bad when I don’t get things done by the end of the day? Because then I feel I am a failure as a parent.
Why #5: Why do I feel I am a failure as a parent? Because I want to do more for my children.
Motivation for a morning routine: I want to do more for my children
Look for small opportunities to implement change. Start small in order to create success that you can build on. For example, if you want to create more flexibility in your schedule, think about one fun thing you can do that month. Then the next month, aim for two fun things.
4. Play to your strengths
People can be hard on themselves. We tend to hyper focus on our deficits with harsh judgment. For example, one person might say, “There is something wrong with me. I can never stick to a routine.” Another might say, “I am so boring. I never do anything spontaneous.” Turn that script around! For example, you can say “I am a caring person” and use your strength of caring to build a workout routine – go walking with a friend who can use the company. Or say “I am a great planner” and use your planning abilities to plan a fun day if you need time to adjust to a change in schedule.
5. Be curious
Lean into the “Power of the Pause” by reflecting on your attempts at changing your place on the Routine Spectrum. When reflecting, consider your goals, what happened when you tried something new, and how you felt about it. If it worked, consider the reason for your success and don’t forget to celebrate! If your attempt fails, consider why and tweak as needed. But keep trying!
Where do you lie on the Routine Spectrum? Where do you want to be? Which strategies resonate with you? Please share in the comments.