The secret of your future is hidden in your daily routine.Mike Murdock
I read this article from ADDitude Magazine today and I’ve made a decision. I am about to try the unthinkable. I, AmBoBean laden with this ADHD brain, am about to try to apply some daily routine into my life. I know, I know. I’m a lost soul, destined to flounder in my own failure, but…hear me out. For the last 3 months, I have been floating from one hyperfocus to the next. Except for blogging and my mental health, I have had no clear aim.
The blog is a hyperfocus, so I spend unhealthy amounts of time working on it; planning, researching, writing, networking, trying to still be involved in the advocacy community via social media. I forget to eat and pee and I don’t spend enough time with my family. When I’m not hyperfocusing on something, I’m in the “in-between,” which is what I call the fretful time between hyperfocus episodes. It’s an often uncomfortable period of boredom, restlessness, and zero ability to focus on anything. I have to get this under control. I have to find some routine.
No Routine History
My life with no structure goes further back than the last 3 months. For many of us, the pandemic meant a life of working from home that we had never experienced before. I, however, have been working from home for 7 years; 6 years at the beginning of the pandemic. But I still won’t say I was “used to” working from home because, as I said in my last post, I was floundering last year. Other than logging on at the same time, going to lunch, and logging off at the same time, I still had little structure within my workday. I didn’t plan what I was going to do, break larger tasks into smaller ones, or make priority lists; all of which took time that felt precious in my fast-paced work environment.
Needless to say, by the time I started this leave of absence, I was suffering from severe chronic burnout. I was ready for the break and being able to just live free of any constraints and without the constant pressure I was under. It was nice, for a while. But it really isn’t sustainable and here’s why: like it or not, routine keeps us healthy.
Routine and ADHD
People with ADHD desperately need routine in their lives. It helps us to have control over our time, instead of letting our time control us; which, let’s be honest, is a problem for a lot of us. Me especially. I have no concept of time, especially if I’m in “the zone.” Three hours often feels like 15 minutes and I regularly don’t realize that it’s dinner time. It also helps us to focus on one thing at a time. Scheduling our tasks for the day gives us a form of focus that we can’t attain if we have no structure to our lives.
On the same token, we hate routine. We resent it, almost. At least I resent it. Easily bored, it starts to feel stifling. Nine Inch Nails has a song and the chorus is, “Every day is exactly the same…” in Trent Reznor’s haunting voice. Sometimes when the sameness of it all gets to me, I hear that line in my head on repeat. Over and over, all day long. It feels like I’m being smothered.
Another part weird aspect is that we get distracted and we’re forgetful. Though those symptoms are often over-played as the only symptoms in the media, they are still very real. Your best friend calls and asks you to go on an impromptu weekend trip. You need the break, so you go. You guys wing it the whole weekend and everyone has a blast. Now it’s hard to get back to an everyday routine. Sometimes we think we’ve failed so we might as well give up. Sometimes, we simply forget we ever had a routine. It sounds preposterous to the typically-brained, but it happens!
Also, keep in mind, the ADHD brain works differently…not all of the advice out there will work for us. What will work for me, won’t work for you, and so on. We’re all different, living with different levels of disorder and care, and in unique circumstances. To find a comfortable routine, we often have to climb certain mental and physical hurdles that seem impossible for a long period before they become a habit. We struggle desperately to find a routine, especially when we don’t have to.
Anyway, we need routine, but we hate it. I decided to create a post explaining why routine is important to our mental health, some ideas for creating a “sticking” routine in your life, and how I’m going to implement a daily routine in my life.
A healthy routine can bring you a sense of control over your day and, ultimately your time. Having a good sense of control over our day can be good for our sense of well-being and sense of self. If you have no structure, it makes it easier to do things like forget to eat, forget to take breaks, use the bathroom, and take care of your responsibilities.
Daily routines also help you build healthy habits and let go of bad habits. Healthy habits will slowly start to replace the unhealthy if you make them routine. Having a routine can help lower stress, help with productivity, and help with focus. In all my research it said, “Get necessary tasks out of the way right away,” and then my ADHD laughed in the research’s face. It was all very dramatic.
Tips For Creating a Routine
I’ve put together a few tips you can use to create a routine. Remember, when looking at tips and advice, pick and choose what will work for you or what interests you. Be honest with yourself. I purposefully did not add habit trackers anywhere in this post because I have not been able to use them with any success and I have tried. Many times. I know some people use them with high success, but I honestly wonder if those people have ADHD. Anyway, the tips:
- Stay active every day. I got a new smartwatch recently and my husband and I linked up as friends on the health app so we could record walks together. When it told me that my activity level was, “sedentary,” I knew that I needed to start adding more activity into my days. It doesn’t have to be anything big if you aren’t a big exercise person. I’m going to try to start taking a walk every day with my dog and my kiddo when the weather permits. My family and I also really like to take hikes and, with Spring upon us, I want to start spending my weekends in the woods. Keep it simple and do something that you enjoy so it doesn’t feel like a chore.
- Get enough sleep. This one seems pretty self-explanatory, but seriously. The recommended amount of sleep for adults is 7-9 hours. I’m mostly good in the sleep department. I have the stray night where I don’t sleep well or I stay up too late, but my emotional dysregulation gets really out of hand when I’m tired. Less than 6.5 or 7 hours and you get a really emotional version of me.
- Eat on a regular schedule. This is something that I need to work on. I tend to forget to eat because I’m focused on something and I also ignore the clear signs of hunger. It’s not so much ignoring them…I notice them, but it’s like they’re in a very distant background. My brain registers it as a thing, just not an important thing. Hence, the need and desire to start scheduling routine mealtimes.
- Stay positive! So, let me preface this by saying, this is not about to be a load of toxic positivity. I know, very well, that positivity cannot stop your brain from sabotaging you. Try to stay positive about yourself. If you get off track or you miss a day or two, or even a week or two, don’t beat yourself up. Get back on track when you can. Be kind and understanding with yourself. It won’t happen over night and you might fall off track. Dust yourself off and keep going.
- Start small and slow. If I didn’t make it clear before, I have no routine right now. When I sit down to think about it (which I’m going to do), I probably have a few small ones, but nothing to write home about. So my new daily routine is starting from scratch. I’m going to start by working on my morning routine and making sure to stick to scheduled meal times first. Next week, I’m going to add a daily walk to the routine. Once I have all of that down, I’ll add something else to the schedule so that I don’t overwhelm myself; essentially setting myself up for failure.
- Use whatever tools you have available to you. And make sure that you choose tools that you will actually use. I love planners and use one regularly, but some people laugh in the face of planners. It won’t work if you don’t use it. My new watch has reminders set for several things already…to take my meds, to give my kids her meds, lunch and dinner, etc. I’m going to start utilizing that function even more by putting reminders and alarms on each transition for myself throughout the day. Hopefully, this will squash the issue of hyperfocus and help relieve the discomfort of the “in-between” time. You can have the same effect with reminders and alarms on your phone.
- Write down your plan. I do almost everything in analog before I do it digitally when I can. I just prefer it. Even if you hate all things pen and paper, it’s important to be able to visualize your plan. Use time slots for your day, however loosely you’d like to plan, and schedule in the habits in your routine. Make sure you leave extra time for unforeseen circumstances and schedule every task that will make up your routine, even eating, showering, and downtime.
- Use visual cues. ADHDers are often visual people. Use visual cues like color-coding your planner to draw your eye to priority tasks.
- Try new things and use only what is best for you. There are no rules here except for the ones that you set. Having a routine doesn’t mean that you have to be miserable. Whatever doesn’t work for you throw it out and never look back. Your routine should look how you need it to and it should fit into your life. That’s the whole point!
- Don’t be too rigid. Be willing to rearrange, add, or omit at any time. You are in control of your schedule and your routine (for the most part), so you make the rules and can change them whenever you need to. Remember, the goal is to make your life less stressful and to give you back more time, not to make you feel bad. Be flexible; people with ADHD need flexibility.
So, tomorrow starts a new day. I’m going to spend my morning officially planning my new morning routine and getting it penciled onto my schedule. Lots and lots of reminders in my future. Good luck with your own planning. I hope that we can find a flexible routine that doesn’t stifle our ability to grow and create. Be kind to yourself; don’t put pressure on yourself to achieve the unachievable.
Let me know how you create a routine in your daily life in the comments and be sure to subscribe by email for all the latest updates and follow us on Twitter and Facebook. Also, if you’d like a safe place to vent, laugh, cry, or rage check, check out of Facebook group The Winter Of My Discontent: ADHD and Mental Illness Community.
Love and light. Fight the good fight.
Writing about living with ADHD and mental illness and my journey down a thriving path forward. Breaking stigmas and creating community, one post at a time.