Routines: Why they matter, and how to manage them

My partner is amazing at creating and keeping a routine; for him, they’re second nature. According to him, he’s had the same routine since he was in elementary school with little variation, and actually gets anxious when something gets in the way of his flow. This blog post is not for people like him. This blog post is for people like me: the routinely challenged. Unlike my partner, I have struggled all of my life to create and keep a routine. It’s easy to say that I’ll do something at a certain time, but keeping to it, until a couple years ago, was impossible. Even now, I need a lot of extra help from my trusty smartphone to make it all work.

Unfortunately, college and parenting both demand that you have some concept of routine and scheduling to be successful. Babies may run on their own schedule at first, but they eventually run on a routine, and that routine can either sync with yours or yours can try to fit around theirs if you don’t put your baby on a routine that you’ve already made. College is so demanding that, if you don’t plan it all out, you’ll never get it all done and feel behind, burnt out and ready to drop out before Thanksgiving Break. If you plan to be a college parent, you have to get down the basics of creating and following routines, and the basics I can teach you.

Hopefully by this point, you’ve figured out what kind of planner works for you (if not, take a moment to go look at my post on finding the perfect planner). You’ll need that planner to get through this. My personal favorite is my phone, or rather my tech brain, so I’ll use that as a guide for how I structure my routines.


1. Figure out what you do every day. It goes without saying that this is what will make up your routine. It helps to write it all down first, which I do in an excel spreadsheet so that I can easily revise it later. Make sure to be specific; we all get ready in the morning, but do you brush your teeth or your hair first? That’s important information to know, and you’re going to want to write it all down. The good news is you only really have to do this once. Once you have it all down once, you can keep it to edit later. If you decide to start a workout routine, your school schedule drastically changes or kindergarten forces you to wake up earlier than before, you can easily make those changes in your schedule when those changes come up using this spreadsheet. It’s a real game-changer.

2. Unpack what you do every day by the amount of time that it takes you to finish that task. If you don’t know for sure, you can time it or just make your best guess. For example, I know it takes me about fifty minutes to get from home to school because I looked at the clock when I left home and again when I parked at school, while my teeth I estimate takes about two minutes because I generally listen to music while I do it, and it takes me about two-thirds of a three-minute song to do. Either way is fine, but try to be as concise as possible.

3. Add fluff or about one to five minutes to each task. This is a trick I learned at a previous job, where I had to create project schedules. That’s back in the day when I was consistently five to fifteen minutes late—thanks to my lack of routine! Anyway, my boss at the time would have me figure how much time something took, then figure how much time it would realistically take to get done when considering lunch-times, meeting-times, Facebook-time and other interruptions that would come up in that artist’s day. It took me about three years to apply this concept to my routine, but it has made all of the difference in my timeliness! Children can easily make you late, and you want to account for the amount of time it takes for your toddler to pick up every leaf on their way to the car or for that surprise poop that always happens right before you walk out the door. You don’t want to add so much time that it causes you to be ridiculously early (no one wants to be an hour early for class), but you want to be sure that if something comes up, you have about twenty minutes built into your day.

4. See where you can overlap or cut down time (if you want) so that you can sleep in or go to bed later. I separate them as active and passive actions. I know it takes about five minutes to make a cup of coffee (passive action), so I start the pot and go get in the shower (active action) so that it’s ready to pour by the time I’m done. You could highlight, star, or separate the passive actions from the active actions however you choose, but you’ll want an easy way to tell the two apart.

There may also be things that you can do at the same time, like listen to a textbook while you drive to class, or cut out entirely, like cooking breakfast or putting on a full-face of makeup, by either doing it the night before or not doing it at all. You’ll want to make sure that you look for these things, and be honest with yourself. Don’t say you won’t need time to put on makeup if you just can’t leave the house without at least mascara and lip-gloss, or you’ll make yourself late every morning. If you aren’t sure if you want to keep something in your routine, just put a line through it for now and see how you do without it, that way you can always easily add it back if you realize you need it.

5. Now that you have a map of your routine it’s time to fill in your planner. Add the time constraints to your planner, then put in your routine, backwards. For example, if you have class at 9:00am, then put that in your calendar and start putting in vague steps to get there backwards: the ten minutes it takes to leave daycare, find parking and walk to class, then the twenty minutes it takes to drive from home to daycare, then the hour it takes to get ready (I like to add the map of each detail to the notes of this one, but you don’t have to). Now you know what time to wake up in the morning. The only time that this isn’t beneficial is with the night routine. The night routine can start being added from the moment that you anticipate to be done with your day, and add everything up until you plan to go to bed (make sure you allow yourself a full 8 hours to sleep).

6. Set alarms for the major milestones, so you don’t miss the important parts of your routine. If you have to leave at 7:45 to get to class at 9:00, set an alarm for 7:45. You may set a ten or fifteen minute wrap-up warning alarm, so you can put on the finishing touches and head out the door (if your kid is anything like mine, you’re going to need every minute of that wrap up warning) to be on time. Some alarms can be temporary until you get the hang of your new routine, like night routines, but if they end up permanent alarms, that’s okay too.

7. Remember yourself, allow yourself free-days and keep at it! Routines, like exercise and everything else that’s hard in life, are going to falter. You may mess up sometimes, and it will take time to get it down. Stay persistent, even when you miss an alarm or the schedule seems impossible. It’ll get easier, you’ll feel better and your kid(s) will flourish when you both have the routines down. Also, while it’s a bit difficult, routines are malleable and up to change as much as you need them to! If you find that something isn’t working, or you’d like to add something to your schedule, you can do that pretty simply once you have a basic map of your routine. Also, don’t forget to add time for yourself! As a College Parent, it’s so easy to forget that you need self-care, but making sure that you set aside time in that map to meditate, jog or just watch your favorite show is extremely important. And, if you’re someone who detests routines, like me, then make sure that you allow yourself free days on the days you don’t have anything in particular going on, so you can breathe from the rigidity of alarms and schedules.

Are you someone who mastered routines a while ago or still struggle to keep up with basic time constraints? Are you time-oriented, deadline oriented (like me), or neither? How do you create and keep routines? Comment below and let us know about your routine rituals!

Have a productive week!



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