These strategies can help you think about your routine in a new way, and can support you in keeping to them more consistently
Going back to the usual, normal daily grind after the Christmas break, probably means you have heard a lot about routines lately. It’s ostensibly good to get back into the routine of things, to get up and get going again with the usual mundane elements of life as we know it.
The chances are that if you are Autistic - and/or if you have another condition/disability under the umbrella heading of Neurodivergence - you will like a routine, and will probably stick to it rigorously. You might carry out the exact same activities each day, to the second - but, can we all be honest about something? Sometimes it can be difficult to stick to a routine, or even begin to initiate one. This is really common and it may be down to executive functioning, for example. With that in mind, here are 5 different strategies to incorporate to your every day life, to aid in keeping a routine.
Transitions are a part of life - those in between, in transit moments that have to happen in order that a task is able to be completed. However, transitions take time - enough so that we need to put time aside to complete them, but they do have an impact when there is not enough time to finish off properly. Think about every time you leave the house: time needs to be set aside to put your shoes on, put your things in your pockets, check you have a wallet/purse if you’re shopping, as well as to assemble your mask (unless exempt) and to put it on, which can be a faff if you are a glasses wearer or find it to be a sensory issue.
Think about transitions and the impact they can have on a routine; sometimes they need preparation (more on that in a minute), such as if you are studying in person. Packing a bag the night before - i.e with your exercise books, lunch, etc - means you’re less likely to forget anything. This may also potentially be an executive functioning issue in not necessarily knowing how to sequence the timing for this. Building in time to transition between activities in a routine is therefore a ‘must’.
Productivity has become a very loaded word, thanks in part due to the internet and expectations that we place upon ourselves. (Repeat after me: your worth is not defined by productivity, your worth is not defined by productivity.) However, if you are Neurodivergent, this can sometimes take on a whole other meaning - especially when it comes to the execution of tasks, as well as balancing this against the need to recharge.
Having a method that you use when completing tasks could be useful - i.e such as having a timetable, completing things in 15 blocks, using the Pomodoro technique, using a timer, having 3 main tasks per day, etc. If the method works, completing tasks will become easier - and therefore, you’d be more likely to stick to your routine! Try experimenting with different methods to see what works for you.
Sometimes routines need an extra step of preparation - i.e if you need to bring a particular object to a task in order to complete it. In essence, it ensures you can carry out the routine. Sometimes preparation is needed - and there is no shame in that. Having or setting aside time to plan is crucial to help all key components of a routine go off without a hitch - and could prevent delays/being late, for example. If you need to, make a list! (I do this every time I go away somewhere for more than a weekend away.)
Can we all be honest about this? Sometimes we all need a little help, or even just a small degree of prompting - regardless of where you may sit on the spectrum. Visual aids are useful in managing routine things. If you don’t have a place to hold all the important extra details of your day, it becomes hard to carry out your routine because a part of you always suspects that you are missing out on an important part of the picture, or you end up spending time worrying about what needs to happen later.
For example, when I plan, I have my weekly appointments plotted out, as well as deadlines, any phone calls that I may need to make, Zoom appointments, and any other potential reminders of what I may need to do. (I also use it to meal plan.) I’d be lost without my visual aid planner, and without it enabling my routine, nothing would be completed. Ever. Visual aids like this can help us all stick to and keep to a routine - and they have the secondary function of acting as another memory function, too.
Because we are all more likely to work better when we feel like we are in a nice condition, right?! Across the board, various studies have suggested that we will work and/or perform better when the conditions are right - i.e we are adequately hydrated, we have had enough sleep, feeling okay, etc.
Now, we know this is not always possible - because life can get in the way sometimes, and life is not perfect by any means, generally. For this reason, we would like to suggest adding in an element of self care to your routine on a regular basis - to ensure you’re looking after yourself, as well as being able to carry out your routine fully. This can be anything from scheduling in regular breaks and setting reminders to drink often, to something more elaborate and pampering.
Hopefully these 5 strategies can help you think about your routine in a new way, and can support you in keeping to them more consistently. We are also keen to hear from you! If you are Autistic and are good at sticking to your routines, please share your own routine strategies in the comments on our post.
Lydia is an Autistic UK-based journalist. She is particularly passionate about disability and social justice issues. She is also the author of the Autism Friendly cook book which will be out in November 2022. You can find her blog and newsletter here