Routines When Everything is Not Routine
"Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, making the best use of the time, because the days are evil." - Ephesians 5:15–16 (ESV)
Our schedules have become strangely changed in the last month. The blurring of the lines between our work, play, and family time have caused me to struggle. Am I at work? Is this family time? Is this my time? I had not thought much about the connection between time and location. As a pastor, I can do much of my job almost anywhere. I jokingly have said I could run the world with an iPhone and a WiFi connection.
I enjoy getting out of the office and getting tea or coffee someplace in public. There I can work, but also see and engage people. Often, I get more done outside of my office. If I have some work that I need to focus on, I will leave the office to concentrate on the task at hand. But now, I only have two choices: A house with six people trying to work and share the WiFi or my office with its distractions. Through the initial stages of our Stay at Home/Work order, I have found myself busy moving between tasks. There has been much to consider. How are we going to reach our people? How are we going to worship? What needs to change in our services to be primarily for those watching at home on a screen? What is Zoom? Can Facebook Live work for a virtual prayer meeting? We have answered many of these questions. Now, we are starting to settle down and establish a new normal in life.
One thing that is glaring to me is that the old routines of life are gone. In many ways, I feel like I am on a working vacation. I am staying up too late and rising still early and tired. I have gone through pounds and pounds of coffee. I do housework in the middle of the day, and church work in the middle of the night. I have realized that I need to sit down and examine my quarantined life and set more solid routines.
Some problems need addressing. I have lost my daily consistency in my routines. Even though I have more time in one sense, I am getting less of my routine work done as we dealt with addressing all the issues of ministry related to COVID-19. So how do we regain this focus in the remaining weeks, and hopefully not months, of the stay at home/work quarantine?
In the last years, it has been essential for me to have a morning and evening routine. For some reason, getting up each morning during the stay at home/work has been hard. It has felt more like a day off even when I start the day doing work. There is a lack of urgency. The clock is not ticking to get to the gym, get to the office, or get the kids out the door. It is more wander into the kitchen, make coffee, watch the news, with a vague notion I need to get things done. Do not misunderstand. I am getting the work done, just not as efficiently. Too much time is wasted due to a lack of focus. We know that many of us try and do too much in our non-quarantine lives. However, to take all our busyness away leaves, at least me, struggling to get many basic things done. I imagine I am not alone.
What makes a good morning routine? A lot of this is personal preference and makeup. Many people are night owls, and they prefer working late into the night. I think you have to know yourself. Early is a distinctly personal interpretation. For one person early is 4:30 am, while to another, that is the middle of the night. However, research shows that many successful business leaders are early morning risers. I think the key is to set a time to arise and then have a routine that you follow every morning, whether you rise early or not.
The elements of a morning routine vary again from person to person. I think starting the day with a devotional time is excellent. It has several advantages: a quiet house, it orients your day towards God, and it is getting the most important things done first. In my home, I only have a small desk tucked into my bedroom. It is hard to find quiet after the children wake up. There is a commotion of life that is not conducive to activities that require solitude, such as reading, prayer, journaling, etc.
Starting the day in prayer and reading the Bible has a clear advantage of not risking them getting pushed aside or overrun by whatever the day holds. My friend Clint Davis has always said you have to plan to do your devotions and your exercise. If you do not plan when you will do these each day, then most often, you will not get these essential activities completed. I have found he is correct.
Exercise is another element of a good morning routine. In college, professors taught that 4 pm was the prime time for the body to exercise. Your day had warmed you up and stretched your muscles, but you were still far enough from sleep not to affect it. However, for many of us, this is not possible with work and kids. Getting up in the morning to stretch and exercise gets you going.
You may have projects and hobbies you can do in the morning. I know people who wash a load of clothes first thing in the morning. One lady would bake a cake or bread first thing in the morning. The key is to sit down and decide what needs to be in your routine.
The evening routine is similar to the morning. You can schedule many regular activities in the evening before bed. I find that exercise before bed hinders my ability to go to sleep, whereas the morning exercise helps to get me going. The morning routine should be about getting you up and going for the day. You are getting vital parts of your day accomplished so that if everything goes haywire at 10 am, you still have gotten key things off your daily to-do list.
The evening routine is more about slowing you down and getting ready to sleep. The number one thing an evening routine does is get you into bed at a regular hour. The key to a good day starts the night before when you decide to go to bed. David Murray talks about the importance of sleep in his little book, ReSET. He also speaks about the importance of routine in going to sleep.
"If we strive for consistency in our bedtime, in our rising time, and in our pre-bed routine, our bodies will learn the routine, build a rhythm, and inject the right chemicals that prepare us for sleep." ReSET pg. 63
An evening routine is vital, especially during this quarantine time, to make sure you are getting enough sleep. Many folks that I have spoken with in the last weeks have said they have had trouble sleeping. I think that this is due to a combination of Corona stress and the change in our routines. Setting a solid routine in the evening should help with this issue.
We hope that we will soon be out of our homes and back to doing things together. I pray that we will learn through this time of forced isolation to give up some of the busyness of life, knowing that we have discovered and enjoyed less stress because of slower schedules. However, I also hope we will have learned the importance of solid morning and evening routines.
Here are a few suggest elements for Morning and Evening Routines:
- Planning (personal, family, work)
- Reading through a Yearly Bible plan
- Keeping a journal
- Reading a book for 20 minutes or ten pages
- Household chores
- Self-care and grooming
- A set time to talk with family or spouse
- Family worship
- Just sit and drink a cup of coffee for a few minutes