Finding a Routine When You’ve Lost Yours: Help Wanted

For the past three weeks, I’ve wandered aimlessly, making a vain effort to get everything done that I’m supposed to. I quit my job after being in a steady eight-to-five for three years and having nearly the same routine every week; as a type-A personality, this worked for me. Now, my days are largely my own; I have all the time in the world to do whatever I want and it’s actually quite stressful. Don’t get me wrong, I have things to do, but they’re homework assignments, trips to the post office, yoga, friends to see, jobs to research, but there’s no structure. I need structure. 

A pile of laundry growing slowly out of control.
This is so happening right now.
A ticking clock as a reminder to get busy.
15 minutes of looking at baby animals will not help matters.

Being the first time in three years that I haven’t been responsible for consistently being somewhere at a certain time, I’ve let myself relax and spend an afternoon here and there watching Neftlix or mindlessly surfing the internet; it’s been like a mini-vacation, which was badly needed. At the same time, I feel like this could be a dangerous slippery-slope that leads to piles of laundry, an inbox full of unopened emails, and a long list of calls not returned. Or maybe living in pajamas forever could be awesome.

Having a routine has always been my thing; my plate was always just a little too full, which meant that I didn’t have time to procrastinate. I don’t remember how to be productive when I don’t have to be, which is why I’m turning to you, dear readers, for advice. How do you keep yourselves organized and start a new routine? How do you stay productive when you work from home or are unemployed and don’t have a set schedule?

21 thoughts on “Finding a Routine When You’ve Lost Yours: Help Wanted”

  1. To-Do lists are so huge for me. SO HUGE. I date them and write them all in a notebook, so I can track how productive I am over long periods. One thing I find helpful is putting fun things on the list too ( e.g watch a favourite show, do my nails) so it isn’t all work and no play. Also, assigning some chores to specific days, while leaving others as floaters so I am not too structured.

    Good luck!


  2. I create a schedule for myself partially by making lists. What job/work/employment related stuff do I need to do? (Update LinkedIn account, polish resume, apply to X-number of jobs every day, etc.) What home stuff do I need to do? (Unfuck Your Habitat can be really helpful if you need a push.) What personal enrichment is on my list? I have a special notebook specifically for making checklists, and sometimes when I need a schedule, I use the same one and just write hour-long time slots in the spaces and fill in from there.

  3. The library can be your greatest friend! When my friend and I were suddenly unemployed, we’d meet at the library a few days a week. We’d make it not super early, so as to miss travelling during rush hour, but early enough (before lunch!), so that we didn’t mess around the whole day before getting there. It was a huge help, and gave us structure and scheduling to apply for jobs, do homework, and generally be supporting of each other.

    And YES, exercise in the morning. It’s easier to be motivated if you’ve already gotten one thing done (for me anyway).

    1. So, I tried working at the library, but the one in Boston only has restrooms in the basement. I drink a lot of water which means that I have to pack my computer and things up every time I have to go to the bathroom. That leads me to being more stressed about how often I’m going to the bathroom than I can handle.

  4. Lists, baby. Lists are my greatest ally and protector. Because my mind is basically like a big squishy sieve, I am forever making lists just so I don’t forget to do that extremely important thing that a normal person would never forget to do (see: pay the mortgage on time), but I cannot even remember to return books to the library I work in and go to every day.

    Also, it takes four weeks to make a new habit. If you’re really trying to get into a new habit, you’ll have to do it every day for at least four weeks before your mind gets used to it. Four weeks doesn’t sound like a lot…until you start trying to make a new habit. Then it is for-fucking-evah.

    1. Ha! You are not the first person to say this. I will give it a shot, but I have a tendency to lose lists. I’m just so used to not having much time to spare, so I would always get things done when I thought of them or knew I was going to have a spare moment. I will take your advice and make a list, but first I’m going to watch a video of kittens playing ;).

      1. On that note, get yourself a little notebook to keep all your lists in one place! I highly recommend Zequenz. I loooove their books, but any old notebook will do. Plus then, you have the added benefit of being able to look back on past pages and see all that you’ve accomplished!

  5. For me, I need structure, but it has to be realistic and flexible. So, for instance, I have tasks that have to be done within a certain timeframe (like run errands, etc. when there’s less traffic) and ones that have to be done on certain days at any time (laundry on Thursday, etc.). That way I don’t feel overwhelmed/pressured (which shuts me down and then I do nothing), but it makes me feel like everything is do-able and planned so I’m not stressing over nothing getting done. I keep an eye on my to-do list for ‘open items’ when I’m not busy to see if I can knock something out while watching TV or whatnot (making a grocery list, going through bills, etc. are easy to do while watching TV). Also, it helps to know if you prefer to get everything done faster (leaving more free time), or if you prefer pacing things out to a little free time, a little work steadily. The last thing that helps me is to always keep a list around; anything that I think of that needs to get done gets added to it. Sometimes it looks huge, but since I put in things like ‘shower,’ ‘paint nails,’ and so on, they’re not all unpleasant tasks/chores, and I can usually get a little motivated once I start knocking off the small things.

  6. I work from home and it’s a constant struggle. Making the next day’s to-do-list on a post-it before going to bed, and then following it through as best as I can, is as close to a working solution as I’ve got, I’m afraid.

      1. I actually make the effort to wear something that’s somewhat nice besides being comfortable. I’m aiming for “homewear”, although the difference between “lounge pants” and sweats or pajama pants seems to be mostly semantical. And no stuff that looks too worn or has stains on it, and I do my hair when I get up, simply because looking at least semi-decent makes me feel like less of a slob.


  7. I struggle with this, too. I work 8-5 during the week, but my weekends used to be completely unproductive. One of the things that is helping me is establishing a fixed, but somewhat lazy morning routine that gets me going. I wake up and eat breakfast while watching a TV show (only one episode). Then I shower and head to the gym. All in all, it takes me about 2.5 hours to get through this, but I find myself both relaxed and eager to be productive. Something about going to the gym in the morning keeps me from wanting to sit on the couch all afternoon

    1. Exercise is always helpful, I know. When I lived alone, I would wake up, make coffee, and putter around the house cleaning and organizing, then I would go out and run any errands that I needed to. I loved that routine, but it doesn’t work where I’m living now, sadly. I am so thrown off! Thank you for the input!

Leave a Reply