Implementing Routine

It may come as a surprise to some that implementing routine can be a highly effective strategy in therapy. This is often because we have fallen into unhelpful patterns and habits that tend to become a default, and which make change and progress challenging. Routine can help us to improve structure, organisation, and feelings of productivity and achievement. It can improve motivation and mood, decrease stress and procrastination, and help us to achieve shorter and longer term goals. So how can we successfully implement routine into our lives? Here are some tips to get you started:

  • Set goals – decide what it is you want to change, do or achieve, and use SMART goals:
    • Specific
    • Measurable
    • Achievable
    • Realistic
    • Time-bound
  • Start small – small, realistic goals help you to progress towards your objective, experience success, and can then be increased over time. It can be helpful to start with just one or two goals at a time, as this increases the likelihood that you’ll be able to sustain changes.
  • Identify the regular steps and/or tasks that are required to progress towards your goal.
  • Schedule your time – write down (on a hard copy or electronic diary, calendar, or other document) what you are going to do in your routine (i.e. the tasks/activities). Stick to that routine: when things become a part of our routine they become easier to maintain.
  • When designing your new routine, identify what works best for you – Do mornings, lunch time, afternoons/evenings, or weekends suit you best to undertake new activities or tasks? Do short, frequent periods suit you, or do longer, less frequent periods work better?
  • Make it easier/accessible – Whichever habits or tasks you want to implement/re-implement, find ways to make them convenient, such as scheduling a convenient time, a location close by, or make a designated space to complete specific tasks. Maybe cluster tasks that can be done together or can be done in the same or close locations, or that reduce the need for additional preparation.
  • Prepare – If you need specific equipment to do something, arrange for this to be available. Action any other type of preparation that is required, so that you can begin your new routine.
  • Include things that you enjoy – We’ve all heard that “all work and no play” is not a viable long-term solution for progress. When reviewing or developing your routine, make sure you also have enjoyable and interesting activities or tasks to engage in. Balance is important, as is having a break or recharging your proverbial batteries. Including fun activities and tasks in your routine also enhances motivation.
  • Remove obstacles – If there are challenges that you can foresee, problem solve ahead of time. This might include identifying resources or people who can help, should you require support.
  • Be flexible – When things don’t run smoothly, it can be helpful to have a backup plan. If something is weather-dependent, think of other ways to achieve or complete the same or similar tasks, or have some flexibility in your schedule where you can swap activities that you have scheduled.
  • Make it visible – once you’ve designed your routine, put it somewhere that you will see it regularly. If you decide to document your routine electronically, do it on an app that you regularly use (e.g. an electronic calendar that you regularly refer to), or set a reminder to view your schedule each day or week (or more often – whichever suits you best).
  • Monitor and review – check in on your progress regularly and evaluate whether your routine works well. If not, review it and make adjustments that are more realistic.
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