Rhythms vs Routines

Amazingly, I’ve been working rather well from home these days. Preparing for my thesis defense has required a lot of “out-loud” practicing, which I can’t do on campus without disturbing the other grad students in my office. Well, I suppose I could stand on the banks of the Canal and give my speech to the hundreds of ducks that hang out there like some kind of demented Shakespearean orator….but it’s really not my style. Instead, I’ve been staying home and practicing to Knightley instead.

He's more interested in the pigeons than my thesis...

He’s more interested in the pigeons than my thesis…

Working from home has been a somewhat tricky endeavour in the past. Usually what happens is I sleep in, or just get lazy, decide not to go to campus and then spend the day surfing the internet or crafting instead of working. My strategy to avoid this has been to force myself to go to campus as much as possible, no matter how late I get started in the morning. And that has mostly worked out so far.

Recently I’ve been listening to the Slow Your Home podcast, and in one of the early episodes Brooke talks about setting up rhythms instead of routines. To her, the distinction between the two seems to be in how rigidly each must be followed. Routines have strict orders and times, while rhythms are more flexible. Something about that really appealed to me, so this week I tried to set up daily rhythms that would get me working right away in the morning and keep me away from distractions throughout the day. Brooke also mentioned using the Pomodoro technique, which I’ve tried in the past with mixed success. It is basically a pattern of 25 minutes of distraction-free work, followed by a 5 minute break. One thing Brooke does that I hadn’t heard mentioned before is she makes sure to alternate tasks. So her first and second session of work are different, but she can return to the first task in the third session of work if she needs to. I don’t like the rigid 25 minute work sessions of Pomodoro, but I do like the idea of alternating work with planned breaks, and alternating tasks overall.

All of that merged in my brain into a rhythm for my morning and work day that has worked incredibly well this week. Of course, the thesis defense has to be ready for Monday so the deadline might be helping a little as well. Still, I’m feeling much more positive and relaxed, and I’ve been able to work even when tired, or cranky after having slept in longer than I intended. This is a far better result than any other routine I’ve ever tried!

Here is my general rhythm:

  • Wake up
  • Feed the cat
  • Wash the dirty dishes from the day before
  • Make and eat breakfast
  • Shower
  • Make tea
  • Do first session of most important work (right now that is defense prep)
  • Take a break that involves movement (cleaning, laundry, home repair, exercise anything that involves getting away from the computer and moving)
  • Urgent but less important work (often emails)
  • Movement break
  • Second session of most important work

I repeat the work/break and most important/less important work patterns for the rest of the day, with longer breaks for meals. I try to keep the breaks to 5-10 minutes and the work sessions at least 30 minutes but I don’t get that hung up about it. I also try to get outside at least once in the day, usually after lunch or mid-afternoon.

The best part of this rhythm is the flexibility and the self-kindness it emphasizes. For instance, I’m terrible at cleaning my dishes in the evening since I have no dishwasher and hate handwashing dishes. So I do them in the morning! I still start the day with a clean kitchen, making lunch and dinner prep easier, and I don’t get angry at myself for being too lazy to clean them at night. Building the rhythm around my natural inclinations instead of directly against them has reduced my anxiety considerably.

The flexibility means that even though I spent this morning on campus attending a friend’s defense (she passed with flying colours!) I could come home and dive right back into the rhythm without much thought. No planned times means I’m never “behind schedule” and even though I choose break activities ahead of time I can mix it up if I feel like it and everything still gets done. I’m really pleased with this new system and even though I’ve only been using it for a few days I can see this being really useful for as long as I’m working from home.

There may be something to this whole Slow Living thing. I’m already started on it with my KonMari decluttering, and with my new rhythms I can certainly see the benefit of extending it to other aspects of my life. I’ll let you know what I try next!

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2 Responses to Rhythms vs Routines

  1. Pingback: 2015 Year in Review | One Stitch, One Step

  2. Pingback: New Routines | One Stitch, One Step

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