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This post is part of my 2022 Word Project. You can read what that’s about here.

Monday, January 31, 2022

First thing this morning our client blew up their app. Consequently, I completely lost track of how much water I poured over the coffee grounds, Ralph needed me to medicate his stress hives, and I started to suspect it was Monday. I also remembered I had another client call to prepare for, and my laptop battery was almost dead. Then my brother said he was going to the bakery and asked if we wanted anything so we had to say yes and figure out what that was, then a client started texting and wanted to talk about the next big project, and then the church bells rang.

You know it’s over when the church bells ring, you know the day has already come swooping down and anything you planned for the morning and didn’t already accomplish is dead.

I can’t even with life right now.

The word that I wanted to talk about today was routine, because I was actually feeling happy about getting back into it today. After several days of madness and mayhem, I wanted routine today, so badly. I wanted to get work done, I wanted to wash sheets, I wanted to fold laundry.

Routine. The opposite of a birthday party.

Which is exactly what I needed today and exactly what I didn’t get.

I used to think I didn’t like routine. That it was better to just do what worked. Ralph has always been a routine person, sometimes to my absolute distraction. He has a bedtime and he was a waketime and he has the coffee he drinks and the process for making it and if he gets thrown off his path (which is like, every day lately) he gets super cranky (which, to be fair, he has had so much practice dealing with that he only rarely gets cranky anymore, so I was kind enough to take over the role.)

We’ve often clashed on the matter of routine.

He wants to go to bed at 8 and read his book. I want to sit outside on the porch until midnight and smoke a cigar. He prefers dinner at 6. I prefer dinner whenever I can get the meatloaf out of the oven and clean up the spilled oil from the floor and find the lid to the rosemary jar.

But then last year I started the Habit Journal. It’s the companion journal to Atomic Habits by James Clear.

Doesn’t it seem unfair that some people are born into their names? I mean, how convenient is it that a guy who helps you get clear on your goals has that for a last name? My name should have been Carol Lynn Chaos. Has a certain ring to it, don’t you think?

Anyway, I wrote out all the things in the Habit Journal that I wanted to accomplish in a day, then gave myself pretty hearts and stars and diamond shapes in the box next to every one I did.

It helped me establish some really beneficial habits. I exercised more, ate better, worked smarter. I improved my relationships, and kept the house neater. I’m not sure some of these new habits would outlive the book, because if I can’t give myself a pink flower for doing my daily meditation, would I even do it?

Yes, I would. There are a few things I know I’d keep doing, but others, like “wash dishes after dinner,” would quickly go defunct. I know that, because I tried taking it off my habit list sometime last year. There are a finite number of lines on the page, after all, so I had to make room for things that seemed more important. Turns out when I don’t give myself a red star for washing dishes every night, I wake up to a lot of dirty dishes.

There is certainly something to be said for a visual accountability cue.

The point is that I got into a routine with the habit journal. Which had the advantage of keeping me on track with things that are important to me, whether it’s personally, or for work.

I got into the habit of routine. The same four things get done each morning. Three more after lunch. A couple throughout the afternoon. Half a dozen before bed.

Except… lately.

Lately, where “lately” means “since August 2021.”

The entire month of August was a bust. Then I rebooted in September only to fail again halfway through. October and November were touch and go. December was pretty flawless because I was determined to go out on at least a handful of confetti and not a total dud. But believe me, it tried really hard to be obstinate and contrary.

One of the nice things about the habit journal is you get that happy new year feeling every month. You count your wins and losses, then start over. Happy new month.

So I was pretty determined to do well this month, and I did. Not because of my routine, but in spite of it.

I fought for every star and check mark.

And in doing so I realized how much I crave the routine.

You know why routine is good? Because it takes out the guesswork. You just do what you do and get it done. It doesn’t matter whether it’s work or personal.

Even fun can get stressful if there are enough unknowns. It’s nice to get in the car with no destination in mind and then see what happens. But that’s taxing on your brain after a while, so then it’s nice to get in the car and go to the exact same spot in the exact same park where you can count on there being the exact same wildflowers and the exact same blue heron.

It’s still fun, but it’s also undemanding.

It’s not like I want every second of the day laid out, and if I get to bed after midnight, I’m not going to turn into a pumpkin.

But routine is like having little mile markers along the path, a frame of reference for where you are and how you fit into the timespace you’ve been given.

I tried to get into my routine today. I got as far as I’ve ever gotten for the past six months, which is to about 8:30 in the morning, when everything starts to fall apart.

Then I start to wedge the mile markers in, so seven comes before two and teneleventwelve are all mashed in before dinner.

Then I have no idea where I am in a day, at which point large quantities of either cookies or Cynar cocktails get consumed.

On the plus side, tomorrow is a happy new month and I get to start again. I’ve made a few revisions to the list, and put back “wash dishes,” which is a whole lot easier now that my brother is here to follow me around with a towel and broom. I mean, that’s like 21 days of free stars right there.

I have no idea what tomorrow morning will bring but given what I know about the state of my life and the things on my calendar… I’ll start preparing the cocktail recipes now.

Photo: the lone blue heron that sits by the pond at Harlinsdale Park here in Franklin, Tennessee.