Principles in Practice
The Value of Routines


The old military rule "divide and conquer" applies to time management as well. Paradoxically, establishing routines--segmenting our days--produces greater freedom and flexibility than just taking life as it comes. Routines give us control over our time and our lives.

It makes sense to develop routines for recurring tasks. Routines form a structure for our days, and we fill in the rest of our time around them.
Establishing routines produces peace by clarifying how much time is available for other activities. Knowing how much time you have free helps you to say "yes" to the things you should say "yes" to and "no" to the things that you should say "no" to. You will avoid overcommitment and gain the assurance that you are spending your time as God wants you to.

Getting the Big Picture

To establish routines, first focus on the big picture. For now we will say the big picture is a week. Each week is broken down into days and each day into organized, predictable segments.

Sound boring? Not at all. Actually, it is being at the mercy of whatever happens next, not following routines, that produces greater pain. The real problem is not boredom but finding the discipline to do the hard work of setting up routines.
Ask God to encourage and motivate you to replace old bad habits of letting life happen to you with new good habits of taking charge of your time. Decide to establish new routines consciously instead of forming more bad routines unconsciously. Seize control of your life, your habits and your routines. Change them a few at a time, and relish the change. Converting a few old habits into new routines will encourage you to change more.

Partitioning Your Day

Begin by assuming that each weekday will be the same. It will not be, but assume for a moment that it will. Think of your day in six segments: 1) early morning, 2) late morning, 3) mid-day, 4) afternoon, 5) dinner and 6) evening.

Early morning begins when you get up and ends when you leave home for work or school or whatever. If you are a homemaker, it ends when everyone who is going to leave the house has left.

The second time period, late morning, starts when you leave home (or for a homemaker, when everyone else does) and ends at your mid-day break. The third part, the mid-day break, may last from 15 minutes to two hours.
The fourth segment, the afternoon, is the time between the mid-day break and the time you return home or until a homemaker begins to prepare dinner. The fifth part of the day encompasses dinner, from arrival home (or beginning food preparation) to finishing the meal. And the sixth part of the day runs from after dinner (including cleanup) until bedtime.

Focusing on a six-part day brings predictability to your life. To divide your day this way, it is critical to establish regular times to get up and to go to bed. You must set a regular time for your mid-day break and for dinner. Plus, if you are married, your spouse needs to be in agreement.

Establishing these four routines--rising time, break time, dinner time and bedtime is the foundation of gaining control over your time and your life. By following these routines, you will be able to find time for everything you should do and everything you really want to do. Then, get ready to live the life God has designed for you.

Working Through a Six-Part Day

Early morning may be devoted to grooming, eating breakfast and spending quiet time with the Lord. You might consider leaving earlier to decrease your commuting time and doing things at your work location that you usually do at home--perhaps having your quiet time, planning your day or even shining your shoes.

Early morning is the most critical part of the day and your life each day. How you spend your early morning sets the stage for the rest of your day. If you establish a routine for spending your early morning as God wants you to, you will have taken a giant step toward spending the rest of your life as God wants you to.

The second most important part of the day is your evening. This is family time, if you are married, to spend time with your family you must be home well before bedtime. How you spend your evening also determines how you spend your early mornings. Without a consistent bed time and sufficient sleep, you will not be refreshed to begin your early morning.

The next highest priority routine for the family is dinner time. If there are children at home, having Mom and Dad and all children together should be a very high priority. It is important for communication, for relationships, for discipline and for spiritual growth and development to bring family members together daily. Dinner time is often the only time available.

The mid-day break is next. What you do during that time is not especially important, but dividing the morning from the afternoon is. You may even continue the same activity after the mid-day break. But you will have better control of the morning and afternoon's activities if you enforce a mid-day break.

Now we have the morning and the afternoon to schedule. If you have developed a routine for early morning, evening, dinner time, and the mid-day break, your mornings and afternoons should be a piece of cake. You could begin your mornings by planning and organizing, if you did not do this in the early morning. Plan to do the most important (which are often the least fun) things first and work toward the more fun things in the afternoon.

End your afternoon with a "cleanup and get ready to start again" time. Clear your desk or organize your tools or whatever, and do it early enough so that you can leave on time to keep your evening routine on schedule.

Now you have a system to structure your day. There is still plenty of time for spontaneity. Yet by planning for routine activities, you ensure these tasks will not interfere with all those other things that you really want to do.


NOTE:  All articles © copyright 1997-2007 by Christian Stewardship Ministries. Any portion of the Principles in Practice articles may be downloaded, quoted or reproduced without further permission, provided excerpts are in context, by adding the following credit line: "Reprinted from Christian Stewardship Ministries' Principles in Practice, Fairfax, Virginia," and furnishing a copy to: CSM, 10523 Main Street, Fairfax, Virginia 22030 Phone: (703) 591-5000.

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