Family & Education

Routine or Spontaneity? Finding Balance Between the Established and the Unexpected

BY Jeff Minick TIMEJanuary 21, 2022 PRINT

I’m a creature of habit and routine.

That routine has long depended on my work and my personal circumstances. For the past three years, I’ve generally woken up before dawn, poured a cup of coffee, scouted out some different sites online, and then settled into a couple of hours of writing.

The rest of the day I divide into segments: cleaning and tidying the house, more writing, some seasonal yard work, trips to town four and five times per week to shop or to write in a coffee shop or at the public library, answering emails and addressing business affairs, and enjoying wine and a movie or book in the evening.

Sounds dull as dead grass, right?

But having a routine is how I—and millions of others—get things done in this world.

Google “the value of routine,” and you’ll discover all sorts of advantages granted by organizing and blocking out the day. Some of these sites stress the mental health benefits of following a schedule, while others cite physical benefits, such as exercise, a healthy diet, and better sleep. Some of them tout the productivity created by routine and habit.

Such a daily timetable can also strengthen family life. In an article in the American Journal of Lifestyle Medicine, “The Importance of Creating Habits and Routine,” Katherine Arlinghaus and Craig Johnston take a broad look at the advantages bestowed by routine.

“Routine is consistently found to be important for children,” the article reads. “A bedtime routine is associated with increased family functioning and improved sleeping habits. Family routines have been linked to the development of social skills and academic success, and adherence to family routines has been identified as important for family resilience during times of crisis.”

Of course, routine, particularly when we rigidly follow a schedule day after day, can sometimes deaden our mind and spirit. If we plod along fulfilling our obligations while ignoring the people and events around us, we run the risk of becoming sleepwalkers. In “Why It’s Important to Break Routines,” Lisa Firestone wrote that blindly following a routine can dull our creativity and our perceptions and can close off “our sense of awe, curiosity, or excitement.” Firestone remains an advocate of routine, but wisely noted that when we adhere too tightly to our habits we risk losing “a child’s sense of wonder about the world.”

As in so much of life, balance is key. We can stick to an established regimen while at the same time allowing not just for unwanted intrusions, but welcoming unexpected opportunities to enhance the day. These can be small things—taking a break from supper preparation to read “Curious George” to your 4-year-old, inviting your spouse to go on a walk after supper, and putting aside your phone and talking with your teenage daughter about her day.

And sometimes a longer respite from our daily schedule offers welcome and necessary gifts. We vacation at the beach in large part to break out of our routine, to spend some days just hanging out and enjoying some sunshine and seafood (Here, I’m smiling at myself, as I spent five days at my daughter’s house over Christmas. For the first 48 hours, I felt restless and at loose ends, drifting around without the helm of my routine to guide me. Clearly, I needed a break from my daily schedule.).

Routine allows us to shape our days. An openness to adventure, interruptions, and unexpected gifts adds zest to that schedule.

When we work it right, this combination offers us the best of both worlds.

Jeff Minick
Jeff Minick has four children and a growing platoon of grandchildren. For 20 years, he taught history, literature, and Latin to seminars of homeschooling students in Asheville, N.C. He is the author of two novels, “Amanda Bell” and “Dust on Their Wings,” and two works of non-fiction, “Learning as I Go” and “Movies Make the Man.” Today, he lives and writes in Front Royal, Va. See to follow his blog.
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