When you lose your rhythm with a routine…

September 25, 2023

Reading Time: 9 minutes

The Art of Flexibility: How to Adapt Your Routines to Match the Rhythms of Life

Hot take: Routines don’t have to be rigid. In fact, you’re going to be MUCH more successful at sticking to your routines if they’re FLEXIBLE. In this episode, I’m talking about the benefits of building flexibility into your routines, how to spot the difference between rigid and flexible routines, and practical strategies for incorporating flexibility into your daily life.


how to create flexible routines

When you lose your rhythm with a routine…

Have you ever had a routine that seemed to be working… until it totally fell apart and you just couldn’t figure out how to get it back on track. Maybe your morning routine was awesome, and now you can’t get out the door on time. Or you went to sleep with your makeup on… yet again because you can’t get back into a good groove with your nighttime routine.

Now… imagine screwing up a routine in front of your whole town.

So when I was in high school, I was a member of the Toy Tiger Dance Line. Why we were called the Toy Tigers, I have no idea, I can only assume it was a play on Toy Poodles or something like that.

Anyway, the Toy Tigers were known for their football game, half time, kickline routines. The captain would blow her whistle and we’d march across the field, arm in arm – decked out in red and white sequins, bold red lipstick and high ponytails. The small town I grew up in is very Friday Night Lights. Football game Fridays are everything and the whole town shows up in support of the team.

I’ll never forget, there was this one halftime routine that included a TON of high kick sequences – more than any other performance we’d ever done as a team – and it was set to Sharp Dressed Man by ZZ Top. When the music started, everything seemed fine… we were kicking in sync, on beat… but then.. About halfway through, it all fell apart. Out of nowhere, it was as if every single dancer forgot the choreography. The field was a mess of random, kicking, sequined, chaos. One dancer, Lauren, down on the end just stood there with her hands on her hips and watched the madness as it unfolded. Some of the girls were laughing, some were crying, it was wild. Basically we couldn’t believe our worst nightmare was coming true in front of the entire town and the visiting team’s fans.

Eventually we all kind of got back in step, found the rhythm, and finished out the dance.

When you lose your rhythm with a routine, it can be really easy to just give up and start winging it. But, there’s a secret to making your routines work for the long haul, and it’s flexibility. Not something we often think of when it comes to routines. Routines can get a bad rap for being rigid and specific, and that’s exactly why in this episode we’re talking about!

So today, we’re talking about

  • Why we need to build flexibility into our routines
  • The difference between rigid routines and flexible routines
  • How to build flexibility into your routines with success
  • Three ways to incorporate flexibility into how you manage your time

Alright – when it comes to routines, a lot of yall have a love hate relationship with them. You know that having good routines is the solid foundation on which we build our days. A great morning routine kicks off a great day. An intentional evening routine helps you have a great night’s sleep – which then makes tomorrow’s morning routine even better. It’s the opposite of a vicious cycle… It’s an awesome cycle that sets you up for success to be your best self and live your best life.

Plus – with all of the decisions we make during the day, when even a small part of our day is “routine-ized” like with a simple system or a workflow, it reduces the number of decisions we have to make each day. Every time we make a decision, we use up a little bit of our limited decision making fuel. Little decisions, little bit of fuel. And big decisions are just a little more draining. And the thing about those little decisions is that they all add up. So that by the end of the way, we’re running on empty. Routines can help with that.

But the hate part of the love/hate relationship routines is usually the result of a big misconception about routines – and that’s that they have to be rigid in order to work. A lot of time when we think about routines, we imagine a set itinerary, or a schedule you have to follow perfectly for it to work. And if you’re more of a rebel, the very idea of following a routine makes you feel itchy and antsy.

But the secret to good routines – routines that last – isn’t rigidity at all. Instead, it’s all about flexibility.

So what exactly does flexibility mean when it comes to our routines? Interestingly enough, being flexible with your routines actually starts in your head – with your mindset.

Raise your hand if you’re a perfectionist, or a recovering perfectionist. About 10 years ago, I decided that I was going to revamp my life and I decided that I would start by creating the most amazing morning routine ever. I wrote it down on paper, step by step, and let me tell you it was beautiful…. On paper. It included going for a morning jog, doing some bible study, cooking myself breakfast and more. I appropriately named it, “My Perfect Morning.”

Yall I was so convinced that I had unlocked the secret to life with My Perfect Morning that I had started to daydream about writing a book about it and making it a whole movement. This is it – I’d figured it all out.

Guess how many times “My Perfect Morning” was actually perfect. Zero. It never happened. Not only was I overly ambitious and unrealistic about what I could accomplish in a single morning, but if one part of the routine went wrong, I abandoned the whole thing. It was very much an “All or Nothing” kind of mindset. So instead of getting some of the benefits of the routine I’d created… I got basically zero, and I felt ashamed for yet again being a failure. And if you’ve read Time Management Essentials, this whole “My Perfect Morning” thing happened during the same season that I got written up for being late 17 times in a six-month period.

It wasn’t until years later that I learned that a big reason why My Perfect Morning kept crashing and burning was my emphasis on it being Perfect.

If I’d approached my morning routine with an All or Something mindset, instead of All or Nothing, I bet my mornings would have actually been pretty good.

So – before we get into the different ways that you can build flexibility into your routines, I encourage you to examine your mindset around them first. Are you bringing an All or Nothing approach to your routines? Are you aiming for perfection instead of pretty good? Be honest with yourself – if you do find that your perfectionist tendencies are getting in the way of good routines, definitely keep listening, and pay special attention when I share the small tweaks you can make to create flexible routines that last.

So now that we’ve covered the mindset piece, and we’ve decided to bring “All or Something” to our routines, let’s talk specifically about what flexibility means with regard to routines.

First, here’s what being flexible doesn’t mean. It doesn’t mean winging it. And it doesn’t mean being a pushover. Being flexible isn’t the absence of structure, instead it’s finding the right balance of structure for your life and routines in the season you’re in.

When we think about flexibility and routines, flexibility means being adaptable and open to change, rather than rigidly sticking to your plans. You might have a routine that worked well in a different season of life – maybe before you had kids, or when you were working in a different role or for a different company. Now, in a different season with different circumstances, you’re struggling to stick to the routine that once worked for you. And it feels off… like trying to shove a square peg into a round hole.

Being flexible with your routines also means being willing to adjust your schedule, or the order of your routine when needed. I experience this a lot in the morning with my toddlers. Camilla and Elizabeth are 2 and 4, and even though I would prefer that they get dressed and get their hair fixed before breakfast, sometimes I’ve just got to be flexible to avoid total meltdowns and we eat breakfast first. This is a small example, but if you can rearrange your routine without losing your mind then you’re heading in the right direction.

The important question to ask here is – what’s the goal of the routine? Is it to do it in the perfect order every time? Or is the goal to facilitate a great start to the day. When you focus on the actual goal of the routine – in this case, that it’s a morning routine that sets us up for success – it doesn’t really matter what order they eat breakfast or get a bow in their hair – as long as both happen at some point.

Mastering the art of flexibility in your routines also looks like purposefully scheduling in some buffer time, especially during your more time crunched routines. We’ve used our morning routine as an example a few times here, but it’s just as applicable to your evening routine. If you know that you often get sidetracked while shutting down the house and getting ready for bed, and then you inevitably end up going to bed later than you’d planned – which then impacts how you feel the next day – planning to start a little earlier in the evening gives you some wiggle room if you’re prone to getting distracted.

Same thing in the mornings – if you know that you’re usually racing out the door, is there anything you could move to another time of day, or batch all at once during the week to give yourself some more wiggle to adapt if needed? For example – I pull 5 outfits for each of my girls on Sunday so it’s one less thing to do in the morning before school. This gives us a little more wiggle room if someone is having trouble getting out of bed, or if Camilla accidentally puts her shorts on backwards and it takes me a few minutes to convince her that that’s why her shorts fit funny and she needs to try again.

And one thing I know for sure is that my girls aren’t going to let me pick out their clothes forever, and when that day comes, we’ll need to adjust our routines. Knowing that a routine just won’t stay the same forever really helps me let go of my high hopes for perfectionism. Our lives are always changing and evolving, and our routines should, too. When your routines change, it doesn’t mean you’re a failure or that you didn’t set up your routine right the first time – it just means that life has changed – and that’s awesome. Life would be boring if it always stayed the same.

Now that we’re all on the same page about approaching our routines with some flexibility, here are 3 tips you can try to bring some flexibility to your routines:

  • Build in buffer time. Give yourself more time than you think you need. If you’re consistently cutting it close to complete your routines, see what you can remove in order to free up some wiggle room for yourself. Experiment with cutting some steps out completely, or try moving parts of your routine to other parts of the day or week.
  • Anticipate changes. We all know that the more things change, the more they stay the same. Next time a change is coming – whether it’s the kids going back to school, you’re starting a new job, a new construction project on the way to work is going to impact your commute, think about what you’ll need to change about your routines before the change is needed. This will make the transition so much smoother.
  • Have a Plan B Routine, or a Bare Minimum Routine. One thing that’s been especially common with my time management coaching clients who are also working moms with small kids is that sleep can be pretty inconsistent. Sleep regressions, potty training, bad dreams – some mornings you wake up feeling rested, and some mornings you wake up exhausted because you were up from midnight to 3AM with a toddler who didn’t want to settle down. Those two sleep scenarios don’t have a one size fits all morning routine, and this is where knowing your bare minimum is key. When you have a rough night, instead of feeling pressured to do your typical, full-out morning routine – just do the bare minimum instead. What do you absolutely have to do in order to get out the door? Do those things, and be okay with it. Know that the season of sleepless nights is just a season. It will pass – and for now, the best you can do is be gentle with yourself and flexible with your routines.

So there you have it, how to create flexible routines.

Being flexible with your routines isn’t just good for your time management, it’s good for your sanity. When your routines are adaptable and you’re ready to be flexible, you’re able to be more present and enjoy the moment rather than rushing to the next thing. Routines don’t have to be rigid, and flexibility doesn’t have to look like winging it. You can find the balance that works for you.

Build in buffer time, anticipate changes before they happen so you can be ready to adapt, and identify your Bare Minimum and you’ll be on your way to mastering the art of flexibility with your routines as the rhythms of your life change.

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