It’s a tricky thing. Routines can be difficult to establish and make habit. We can also feel that they’re tedious, monotonous, or even that they stifle creativity.
This past couple of months, though, Ryan and I have both recognized afresh how vital having a regular work routine is to our ability to:
- Keep up with our businesses and tasks in a way that feels balanced, and not stressful.
- Ensure that both of us are getting sufficient work time and not having to scramble to get things done.
- Put out high quality work that we’re proud of, and to which we know we’ve given the best of ourselves.
- Stay motivated, inspired, growing and developing in our fields.
We’ve seen the two extremes of both having and not having routine over the past two months.
Back in mid-February, we settled into a one month stay in France, where we rented a house and did “normal” life (work, homeschool, cooking, cleaning, etc.) while living in a small town as temporary locals.
It was amazing. Both Ryan and I feel that the schedule we established during that time is one of the best we’ve ever had. We felt energetic, creative, productive, and relaxed. We were enjoying our time with our kids and our time working, as well as taking plenty of time off to play, explore and savor France.
Then we left France. In the past three weeks, we’ve been on the road as we’ve traveled through Italy, Slovenia and now Croatia.
Three nights here, five nights there, then two quick nights while traveling from country to country. Long days on the train, interspersed with days at “home” frantically playing catch up, and then full days out sightseeing so we didn’t feel we’d wasted our travel time.
If it sounds exhausting, that’s because it was. It was also rewarding most of the time, full of wonderful experiences and enriching activities and memory making as a family. I don’t want to suggest that it was bad or even that we regret it (we don’t).
But where we find ourselves now, as we look forward to 2 1/2 more weeks on the road before returning to Canada, is that we’re tired, a little stressed, and longing to get back to routine.
The importance of ritual for our work
I’m currently reading The Creative Habit by Twyla Tharp and I love what she has to say about ritual…
It’s vital to establish some rituals – automatic but decisive patterns of behavior – at the beginning of the creative process, when you are most at peril of turning back, chickening out, giving up, or going the wrong way.
A ritual, the Oxford English Dictionary tells me, is “a prescribed order of performing religious or other devotional service.” All that applies to my morning ritual. Thinking of it as a ritual has a transforming effect on the activity.
Turning something into a ritual eliminates the question, Why am I doing this? By the time I give the taxi driver directions, it’s too late to wonder why I am going to the gym and not snoozing under the warm covers of my bed. The cab is moving. I’m committed. Like it or not, I’m going to the gym.
The ritual erases the question of whether or not I like it. It’s also a friendly reminder that I’m doing the right thing. (I’ve done it before. It was good. I’ll do it again.)
She uses the word ritual; I say routine.
A small difference but really we’re both talking about the intentional practice of choosing to structure at least part of our days or weeks around the important tasks that we might not do otherwise (or do with the same level of priority).
And what Ryan and I are both finding is that although we manage to get our work done even when we lack a solid routine or ritual, it’s more by the skin of our teeth, rather than sinking in to take a deep, rich bite and savoring the work before us.
Our work becomes a strain, we get behind, we lack inspiration and ideas, and we enjoy it a whole lot less.
Ritual may feel repetitive and perhaps boring at times (almost as if it should quench the creativity I desire). But I’m beginning to think that my best and most inspired work actually comes out of those times when my life is most steeped in routines that are based on my priorities, my personality, my preferences and the overall needs of our family.
And as we spend these next couple of weeks soaking up the remainder of our travels and this precious time as a family, I’m feeling an eagerness to return.
Return to mornings that begin at the same time. To waking up in the same place each day. To sitting down at my desk, warm mug beside me, and forcing my fingers to write in a more ritualistic way, day after day, enforcing and strengthening that habit of creativity, instead of hoping that it will spontaneously appear when I need it.