In search of a 2024 routine

by Jennifer Smart - Jan 24, 2024

It’s that shucking time of year. Those who operate by the Gregorian calendar – and have the freedom, time and means to do so – are assessing their lives with fresh, hopeful eyes and casting off the bits they don’t need.

I’ve read that beginning a new habit is easiest at a natural turning point: first thing when you wake up, on a Monday, the first of the month or the start of a new season. These fresh beginnings that coincide with the calendar are a neat opportunity to break with the status quo, and create the forward momentum required to make a change.

That explains why ideas of self-improvement are baked into our January rituals. “This will be the year of x,” we declare. Or “it’s high time I stopped y”. “I’m going to be a z type of person.” Every new year I objectively watch myself decide to start something, and every year I laugh at my own naivety.

A few things here and there have stuck longer than others, like the year I decided to stop scoffing every meal like it was my last (going well) or when I resolved to be a person with very good posture (feedback always welcome). But nothing of consequence like strengthening my core properly, taking fish oil every day or actually sticking to a budget has really taken hold after a January change.

I am proud to chalk up one early-January win though – I finally researched power providers and switched to a cheaper one. Everyone should do this immediately because the difference was outrageous. I should have known that no power retailer was going to reach out after five years and ask me for less money, right? Lesson learned.

Actually, make that two January wins: I also went to the dentist. I am a person who makes regular visits to the dental hygienist now.

For those of us who were able to take our holidays over late December, and many people in Queenstown can’t – somebody has to keep the visitor machine ticking over and staff essential services – the passage between endless lazy afternoons and having to do actual work again can be a tough one to navigate. What would really help me, I’ve decided, is a routine.

That’s because for 12 years I lived my work days beholden to a school timetable. I moved, ate and went to the toilet by those bells, totally institutionalised to working intensively in blocks of 60 or 90 minutes. And I could squeeze the most amazing amount of admin into the gaps between.

Now, however, there are no bells in our home office, so I can make a decent coffee when I feel like it, go to a midday yoga class if I want and pee whenever I need to. The kidneys are grateful. There’s also no need to wait until the school holidays to go to the post office or get a WOF – and therein lies the problem. I am much better off when someone else organises my time.

This stings a little, but I think I need the bells back. Squeezing everything around times where I absolutely had to be somewhere with something to say actually gave me an awful lot of freedom. It was much easier to forget the stuff that didn’t matter and apply full focus to the stuff that did.

And routines are more than a productivity hack, despite what the dude-bro podcasters tell you (yep, I am a person who consumes content about time optimization now). Some kind of timetable can be incredibly helpful during all of life’s twists. A friend who knows some things about depression once said that no matter how bad things are, always make your bed in the morning. Then you have accomplished a task and can use the momentum to maybe do one more thing that day.

Retirement is another time of life where people seem to get lost at sea. A special person I know replaced 35 years of early morning starts with a peaceful walk up the same hill each day. It gives her somewhere to be each day, and walking the same route each day lets her appreciate small changes to the quotidian: weather patterns rolling in, the flowering of rātā, juvenile seagulls leaving the nest, and occasionally a new visitor to the beach who has decided to be the kind of person who swims in the sea each morning.

So I have written myself a daily timetable divided into chunks of time (no bells yet) and I have followed it exactly twice in the last two weeks. The problem is, while I look back with a rose tint on my regimented workdays, when everyone moved in the same rhythm, I also remember that sometimes there’s nothing better than breaking with routine. Isn’t it refreshing to bust out of your timetable? To do the supermarket shop late at night or cycle down Glenda Drive on a Saturday morning when all the industry is at a standstill? There’s something disarming about seeing a space you ritually visit at different times of day.

I used to change up the way I travelled to work, particularly in winter when things can feel a bit heavy, just to see new sides of the same 10-kilometre trip to Frankton. You’d be surprised at how many different ways you can find to get to the same place when you really try.


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