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The One To Zen Organizing Blog

Breathe in Calm, Breathe out Clutter

  • Writer's pictureJill Katz

Flexibility vs. Structure: Changing Where You Live On The Routine Spectrum



The Story:


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.



The Strategies


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


3. Practice

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!


In Conclusion


Where do you lie on the Routine Spectrum? Where do you want to be? Which strategies resonate with you? Please share in the comments.

10 Comments


O2E Assistant
O2E Assistant
Mar 04, 2022

The "five whys" is a powerful tool, and works really well in this application! I always recommend that clients find. their "why" for creating new habits, and this distills them down further. Cool stuff!

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Jill Katz
Jill Katz
Mar 04, 2022
Replying to

Yes, motivation is a powerful tool and a step toward getting things done. But motivation without some sort of structure will still leave someone scattered, in my humble opinion.

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julie
Mar 01, 2022

I like the sliding scale on structure. I always looked at it as some tasks can get completed easier if there is a routine to getting them done. A when where and how structure. Other tasks need to be completely flexible on timing or people get very frustrated that they can't get them done because they don't know when they will have the time energy and information to complete them. I looked at a structure based on the type of task and did consider the person's personality type. Perhaps I should look at the personality type and then decide on the structure for the task.

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Jill Katz
Jill Katz
Mar 04, 2022
Replying to

Julie, that is a good point. Structure might differ depending upon the task but there will always be a component of how one relates to structure and flexibility.

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Jill Katz
Jill Katz
Feb 28, 2022

Jonda, I love that term "plan to go off the plan." That is exactly what I am trying to master!

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Linda Samuels
Linda Samuels
Feb 28, 2022

I love how you described that "Routine" spectrum and a process for creating your most beneficial way of living. The "Why" exercise is so revealing.


I love my routines, but I also need time that is unscheduled. So even within my routines, on a daily basis, I make space for flexibility.

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Jill Katz
Jill Katz
Feb 28, 2022
Replying to

Linda, yes we can certainly schedule time for rest and relaxation. I love the idea, though, of being able to shift my routine when something fun comes up. My first reaction to a spontaneous invitation - "But that's the time that I scheduled for______." That might make me responsible but not necessarily fun.

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hazel
hazel
Feb 28, 2022

I can't resist a blog post with a chart! The combo of semi-retirement and COVID removed any sense of a routine from my life. I am slowly building a bit back in because I do still have goals and it makes me happy to make at least a little progress on them each day.

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Jill Katz
Jill Katz
Feb 28, 2022
Replying to

Hazel,

How amazing to be able to free yourself from routine! I do love routines but I am imagining that you are having lots of fun without them!

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