I was thinking about what I could share with you that is both simple and effective for the situation right now and for going forward into the future.
I’m often asked what’s the ‘one thing’ you think is the most important. I would probably, no definitely say, structure – the importance of having structure in your life is key.
I often remark that ‘you need a reason to get out of bed in the mornings’ and this is where structure and routine comes in.
Working with clients my goal is to help them organise their thoughts, help them to get their minds relaxed, not overthinking too much and to help them stop stressing about the future and the things that might not happen. I encourage them to do the things they want to do and that usually involves putting together a structure.
Many people don’t have a structure to their lives nor do they have a set daily routine. When they wake up in the morning they have not thought about creating a schedule beyond having a coffee, brushing their teeth and taking their daily commute. They basically ‘wing’ their day and show up where their calendar tells them to be.
Great if that works for them, but they may also find that they feel stressed, anxious, overwhelmed and totally out of control.
A planned structure provides a daily routine and takes away the need to plan activities (or budgets, or whatever else needs planning) every morning, which takes up massive amounts of time and headspace. It means our day is not run on guesswork and allows us to wake up, get up and start doing instead of wake up, get up and start to think about what to do next.
Over time we become familiar with, and feel more comfortable with knowing what we have to do and when we have to do it. It gives more of a flow to our day. The more we do something, the better we get at it and the easier it gets.
It’s the key to mastering anything – practice makes perfect. (not that I am encouraging perfection, but you get the picture).
Structure helps you to have a more balanced life – once you put the work in to create the structure around what’s important to you, it becomes so much easier to maintain. It forces us to prioritise what’s important and through planning you will have more ‘you’ time to do all of the things you haven’t previously had time to do.
Once you are happy with your structure, don’t become complacent. As your life changes, maybe so do your circumstances and the people in your life and you may need to take some time to adjust your routine.
Every 3-6 months, check in with yourself to see if you are still happy with everything – if not go back to the planning stage and make some tweaks. Don’t get stuck in a routine if it doesn’t feel right for you, build on the structure, develop it and be flexible where you need to be.
When we feel overwhelmed and stressed, we often get distracted and may stick a bit too close to our comfort zone. It’s at that point that you really need structure and I find that’s often the time that people do quite the opposite – they think structure feels too oppressive and perhaps too rigid.
I also hear people say “I don’t like structure” or “But I like to be spontaneous” or “I’m much too creative for routine”. If those people are getting on and achieving what they want to do that’s great, but very often those comments are another form of procrastination.
What are my 3 tips this week?
Structure helps the mind and body
We are creatures of habit with body clocks, we need sleep at certain times and we are designed for routine. It makes us feel safe, helps us to feel grounded and helps us to feel on top of everything.
Structure helps those with depression and anxiety
Routine is very helpful if you are living with mental health challenges, particularly depression and anxiety. It helps us fit the important things into our day and the predictability of a routine offers comfort in an often unpredictable world.
Sleep routine in this instance is also really important. Going to bed and waking up at similar times allows our body to get used to the sleep-wake cycle. It becomes easier to get to sleep and easier to stay asleep.
It’s great knowing your limits
When your days have structure, you know how much work you can reasonably fit in and you have less chance of burning out through over-working.
Through repetition we become quicker at our tasks and will eventually have more free time.
You learn how to say No to things and through this you can designate more time to yourself and to those people and pursuits that you care about.
Bottom line – coping with unpredictability can feel more do-able when we have a structure in place.
Our to do lists fill our brains to the brim, trying to remember everything leads to overwhelm. When you plan your structure, a lot of your regular things will just fall into place, you won’t have to allocate time anymore agonising over when you fit everything in.
Structure and routine can definitely help our mental and physical health. We will feel more resilient, more able to cope with change, more able to form and maintain healthy habits, more able to stay motivated and we will also reduce our stress levels.
For me that’s a no brainer.