Getting Back Into a Routine When You've Gotten Off Track

Getting Back Into a Routine When You’ve Gotten Off Track

mossy train bridge

Here’s how it usually happens: We go through a busy or hard season of life and I get off track of my usual routines, become disorganized, and things feel generally chaotic. So, I spend time putting together an elaborate routine, making all these amazing plans of how I will be more on the ball, more disciplined, more structured, and I will get our home, kids and myself back on track.

Anyone want to guess what happens mere weeks (or even days) after I try to implement all of this amazingness? Putter. Cough. Pfftt. I run out of steam before I barely even get going and I give up on my grandiose, but highly unachievable, plans.

The issue isn’t with what I’ve planned or the very thoughtful routines and ideas I’ve come up with. The problem is with me. I try to tackle it all at once, expecting myself to go from fly-by-the-seat-of-my-pants toΒ seamlessly-executing-intricate-routines-with-precision. In exactly 2.7 seconds. Ready, set… fail.

There has to be a better way.

And there is. I’ve been resistant to it for so very long, but over the course of this past month or two, as I gradually recover from burn out and fatigue, this little gem of wisdom has become my friend.

Long term change happens one small step at a time.

The ability to follow a routine requires more than just self-discipline and determination, I’m learning. It requires the establishment of habits. We need to get into the habit of waking up at a certain time, following through with our morning routine, leaving the kitchen clean after each meal, andΒ completing our most important tasks for the day before we move on to others, before we can expect our desired routine to become a reality.

Habits are not acquired simply because we decide that they’re good and valuable and we want them to have a place in our lives. Habits required time, effort, purposefulness and persistance in order to become consistent.

meadow through the trees

Giving myself room to develop habits.

After more than 6 months of feeling insanely busy, scattered and constantly tired, I have been spending the past month or so with a focus on rest, recuperation, time with the Lord, my children, my husband, my friends. Miracle of miracles, I am learning how to slow down (seriously, if you knew me in real life, you’d know how much of a miracle that really is).

Now that I’m beginning to feel so much more like myself again (happy, energetic, less frazzled, motivated) I have some goals I’d like to put into place. Waking up at a certain time, having consistent devotional times, making homeschool a priority once again, keeping my house a bit more kept up, working on some heart and character issues in my kids that popped up while I was struggling.

I have proof (a nicely drawn-up flexible daily routine) that informs me I have sufficient time to accomplish all of these things and more. Previously, I would have ran full force towards these goals, expecting myself to be able to accomplish them in record time, and then feeling discouraged and incompetent when I couldn’t.

Thankfully, I’m learning a few lessons in my getting-older age (I did just hit an age milestone this year… surely that comes with at least just a teensy bit more wisdom?).

Lesson 1

Work on one new habit at a time. This includes retraining myself to get back into old habits. Once that habit is more or less established, then I can begin to add something else.

My first priorities have been decent meals and regular mealtimes. Next, doing at least the homeschooling basics (math and language arts) every day. Then implementing a morning routine, bit by bit. Staying caught up on the laundry. Tackling a few organization projects. When I feel like I’m making progress is one area, I begin to slowly move on to the next thing.

Lesson 2

Simplify at first and start small. Ultimately, I would like my morning routine to include getting up extra early to do devotions, exercise, start a load of laundry, get ready for the day, plan my day, and start breakfast.

I’m taking a bare bones approach to begin with- waking just early enough to manage devotions, getting ready for the day, and starting breakfast. Just this week I added back in taking 5 minutes to plan my day. Baby steps…

Lesson 3

Give yourself grace. Lots of grace. Because no, you won’t succeed in making all the changes that you want to right from the start. You’ll have days where you slip up, days where you accomplish part of something but not all, and then days where you feel genuinely successful about the habits you’re trying to form. Celebrate your victories, and don’t berate yourself for your failures. Tomorrow is a new day.

Anyone else feeling off track? What helps you to re-establish good routines?

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  1. I do the same thing–grandiose, unachievable plans! Grrr…it’s so frustrating! πŸ™‚
    *Flexible* routine has been a lifesaver for me these past couple of weeks–I have a plan for the day, but when discipline issues or other interferences throw it off, it’s OK–it’s flexible. That was a hard one to learn for me, but it is definitely making the days easier.
    Thanks for the great tips.

  2. That is so true. ‘Little steps at a time’ is the only way to make lasting changes. Some changes, though, aren’t worth making. For example, some of us aren’t the organized type; scheduling drove me down the burnout path so quickly! But we’ve always functioned well with a routine.

    I’m so glad you’re feeling better again!

    Annie Kate

  3. thank you. Its good to read that I’m not failing in some way by doing a little-by-little approach.

    I sometimes feel like life is getting on top of me with a demanding 4yr old and a baby, and I felt a failure because I couldn’t keep on top of the housework. I even ‘failed’ with the flylady steps because managing the kids or getting some shut-eye was more important than whether I got dressed or did the washing up in the evening.

    Now I’ve started to set myself one small goal for the day and anything else that gets done is a bonus. I concentrate on the things that affect my mood or interfere with daily life most, like clearing the kids toys away to vacuum the floor, or getting a couple of loads of laundry done, making meal plans and cooking healthy food.

    I’m gradually building more structure into our day and week, and starting to feel like I’m keeping on top of things a bit better, rather than struggling to keep my head above water.

    1. @rachel, I used to try flylady stuff but also felt like a failure. Your “one goal a day” idea is also what got me going, and was wisdom given to me by an older woman whose kids are now teens. I also think you are on the right track!

  4. This year one of my goals or ‘resolutions’ was to start ‘saying no’ more frequently than I say ‘yes’ (a bad habit for me!) and to re-learn what grace meant. It’s been a good goal so far and having never grown up with the idea of Grace (in it’s many, many meanings!), it’s been very challenging, but rewarding. I am my own worst critic.
    Sarah M

  5. I love this! I’m a Flylady follower ( and at the end of every email (or note, if you follow on Facebook), it says something about how you are not behind, just jump in where you are!

    It’s really helped me when I’ve fallen off my routines and habits. I just pick one back up at a time …

  6. Thanks for breaking this down into thought out, manageable steps. I’ve think I’ve given up on even trying to get out of this depressive slump cause it seems like I keep getting dragged back into it. I too often feel that if I can’t come leaping out of the pit to tackle the world, then how on earth do I get started? Maybe this next week, I’ll take on a baby step or two.

  7. I’m actually stepping off the track, on purpose, right now. So I don’t burn out. We’re moving out of the country in three months and starting a whole new life – daddy at home, home/internet based employment, downsizing, the whole works. I’m cutting myself a little slack right now and keeping up the most important of habits and routines and letting the rest go (like homeschool).

    My most important priority is a home life that is joyful, loving, and nourishing even during an intense season of life.

    I just wrote about that this week actually:

    1. @renee @ FIMBY, I love that comment at the end: your most important priority is a home that is joyful, loving, and nourishing even during an intense season of life” I think I am going to copy that down! Its not worth having a grumpy home atmosphere just to get things done and complete specific routines or goals.

  8. I LOOOVE your blog. LOVE. With a two year old and a two month old, I was considering an ‘easy’ board position in my awesome Mothers and More group. A wise friend heard my angst and stress adapting to two Petites in our home and said, “The skill you have will still be there for you to share in a year, or three, when you feel more ready to add to your load!” BRILLIANT! Right now I’m focusing on staying peaceful, relaxed, under-scheduled and loving my girls well and offering my hubby a relaxed inviting home to come home to each day. May I also suggest great approaches to maintaining your house (and having your kids help) at http://www.flylady,com. I do a lot of it already, but find lots of help here.
    God blesses your life!


  9. I am with you on this, girl! Fatigue, illness and burnout is a constant in my life due to having Fibro. I am also learning how to get back on track, and little steps at a time that can be implemented more permanently.

    These are great words of encouragement. Thank you!

  10. You spoke the truth here Stephanie! I tend to be a bit on an “all or nothing” person and it can really hamper the progress of getting back on track.

    I probably wouldn’t get off track so often if I could let go of the all-or-nothingness. Just because part of the routine wasn’t accomplished, doesn’t mean the entire day is done for! Know what I mean? That’s something I struggle with anyway.

  11. One thing that really helps me is to realize that even if I have realistic plans for the day (and that alone is a struggle, most often my plans are unrealistic) that things will still come up. People are more important than things. I get SO frustrated with my kids for interfering in my “realistic flexible routines” but they are supposed to fill my time and sometimes be “interuppting” that is what my main job is!

    It really helps me to do a little of things each day. Like do a little laundry each day. A little decluttering. A little meal prep at a time. That way its not overwhelming. Its also nice to use a timer to get done those most disliked things. Also, if I were to try to do all the laundry on one day, or even a few different days (like Mon, Wed, Fri for example) then it all falls apart when I am sick on one of those days (which happens since I am dealing with chronic illness) or someone else is sick, or I have to do something else. This way, I do a little at a time, and then the days I can’t, it doesn’t matter.

  12. When I’m swirling in a sea of over-whelmed-ness….I try to tell myself to just do the next right thing I can think of. The worst place to be is stuck in a frozen panic of “where to start”.

  13. Thanks for the reminders. They are always needed and helpful. Have you ever heard of ? It’s all about organizing your home, health, life, family all through giving up perfectionism and taking babysteps. I’ve been listening to Marla for almost 10 years now through her daily reminders and she’s very helpful.

  14. Wow, that beginning scenario has described me many times! This year, thought I have decided to take a different approach. I wrote a blog post about my goals, both long term and short term here:

    My current plan is to take a step back. Decide where I want to be in life, break that down into yearly and maybe even daily goals. Then, I can begin to establish small goals that will eventually build up and take me where I want to be long term.

    One thing nice about a goal as opposed to a resolution or strict schedule is that a goal is to be worked towards. A goal allows room for growth and failure. That has given me so much freedom this year! I have set goals for myself, but I have room to “grow into” my goals.

    Right now, I am quite content with getting laundry done, generally having clean dishes, spending (mostly regular) time with the Lord, working in some exercise and enjoying my family.

  15. “Off track” is just the tip of the iceberg. I have 6 amazing children ages: 20(doesn’t live at home anymore), 10, 7, 5, 1, & 2 months & counting. I am blessed to be able to stay at home with them. This our first year homeschooling and I just had a God-Inspired Vba4c at home. What a year!!! No complaints, it’s been so awesome.

    However, awesome as it is, I am so off track with my daily routines. I don’t know if I ever had a great routine in before homeschooling and 2 children under 1. I know now that I am in desperate need of schedule, routine or what ever will help me establish times to meet my goals for the day. And I am talking basic goals, not the biggies like organizing the garage, or linen closet ;). I just want to get my personal time with Jesus, homemaking, homeschooling and of course time to nurture my marriage more scheduled. Lately, I have been making a lot of “to-do” lists, menu lists, grocery lists… you get the picture. I chuckle as I write this next line: unfortunately, I keep miss placing them, or my 1 year old literally eats them. Why does she still eat paper? πŸ™‚

    I appreciated reading this post because it has shown me that I don’t need to start big. I just need to start. Seems so simple, maybe because life has become so complicated so quickly. I really could use a dose of “simple solutions”. Thank you for this post and your honesty.

  16. I am so off track that I can’t even see how to get back on! My daily routine is NOT the one I want – it’s full of time fillers and energy wasters. Thanks for this post – it’s just what I needed to hear!

  17. Grace, what an incredible word and, it seems, we give others grace but are so sparing with grace toward ourselves. Dave was diagnosed with terminal lung cancer and giving myself grace has been a major adjustment. Our routine has been turned upside down, inside out and we’re still struggling to find our balance. It’s amazing how simple gifts…someone comes over and empties the dishwasher… become amazingly huge and able to bring me to tears.
    Routines are good and useful but best used when they are flexible. Forgetting the goal of what lies before us as well as the simplicity of living in the “now” are far more important than set routines.

    1. @Sandra, I’m so sorry for what you are going through. My husband also had cancer (though not terminal) and I understand both the need to live in the now, and also the beauty of those simple gifts of service from others. Even today, I was at the birthday party of a friend’s daughter. My friend is walking through Stage 4 breast cancer, and goes back in for more chemo tomorrow, and yet she wanted to just stop and really live it up for this precious birthday for her daughter. It was a wonderful time. πŸ™‚

  18. Thanks it is so good to know I am not alone in this cycle of getting or just being off track making a great plan to then be hit with despair for not getting it all done or for the fact that life takes place and there are just some things that happen.

    I needed to hear and know that it is okay to take baby steps and not feel like I have to tackle the world all at once.

  19. Oh, this speaks to me greatly. I am so frazzled and need so much change in my life. Things started unraveling 2 years ago when DH lost his job. It has been 2 years of heartache and finally he is back to work. Our work schedules are much later and everything is so thrown out of whack. My job is undergoing so much change and I am not sure for the good, family time is stressed, finances are shambles, DH and my relationship is ragged from the last 2 years. Spiritually, I need an overhaul. Every direction I am sinking. I need change everywhere and I want change now. I need to figure out where to start. Everything seems so urgent.

    1. @AmyMpls, It’s hard when every area seems to be screaming for change. One thing that helped me recently was to realize that since I couldn’t address every area at once, to pick the top few areas. Then in each of those areas, I brainstormed one major goal that would improve how that area was going. Then I used this concept of baby steps to work towards those goals. The result is that I’ve made slow but steady progress towards things that are actually making a difference. As the stress reduces in some of those really important areas, it helps me to deal better with everything else.

    2. @AmyMpls,
      I definitely agree with Stephanie.
      I feel for you- I have been in those times too- and your heart just aches!
      I agree- pick the top two most important areas (might I suggest your marriage relationship and your relationship with God) and then try not to worry about everything else. You could lightly outline a plan- once your top two goals are steadily underway, then pick two more, and two more- etc….
      I often find when everything is overwhelming- if I write it all down, prioritize, make a plan (gentle and light- don’t get ahead of yourself!) and then do just ONE thing consistently to work towards the most important goal- then you know that you are on the correct path, and you can be at peace about not working on everything else.
      My husband’s favorite expression is “the difference between a dream and an accomplishment is a plan”
      I love that man!
      i have prayed for you and your marriage- seek out others to pray for it as well!

  20. ahhh thank you for this!
    We have gotten way off track in scheduling and meal planning- and I have done in the past just what you described- and then failed utterly. It was also ruining my husband’s trust and confidence in me- because I would confidently say “starting NOW everything is going to be different”- which it would be- for a week, or two- then slide right back. He now has no faith that I can follow through with my grandiose plans.
    At the beginning of this year- I too scaled back and said “no” to everything but taking care of my husband, home, little boys, and my pregnant self. We got back into meal planning (although i still need to make more meals ahead for those “oops” days) and have done a VERY basic weekly schedule. But even that seems overwhelming/too hard sometimes- and I think that your one goal at a time, baby steps idea is even better than implementing a whole schedule at once, no matter how simple.
    My first goal is joy and peace in the home, every day. No more scrambling to catch up- yelling grumpily at the boys because they can’t keep up with my frenzied pace. Once that is done- I will move on to the morning routine!!!
    Thank you so much for the encouragement.

  21. i really needed to read this today… thank you! i was just thinking this morning that i need to be patient with myself and not expect everything to come at once. i love your point about grace. so true and so important!

    i have big plans and dreams for the future – for the first time in my life, i have a clear direction of where i want to go and who i want to become. yet i realized while reflecting this morning that i can spend so much time thinking about the future, that i’ll miss out on the present. then my future won’t be complete because i’ll have regret. i’ll regret not enjoying these precious moments with my young children.

    so i too am going to slow down, savor these moments, and take things one step at a time. thank you for the inspiration!

    1. @stacey, Yep, slow down, enjoy the moments and don’t forget… lots of grace for yourself. I so hear you about having big plans and dreams, but I have to often force myself to realize that there is still so much time for all of those things, but these moments right now with my children are only once. I can be a nutritionist, a herbalist, an author, a ______ (whatever!) down the road, but today only I can be my children’s mommy. πŸ™‚

  22. great post. I work in baby steps too. I started getting up just 15 minutes earlier and saw the benefits and the doability (is that a word) of that. Now, I wake up an hour earlier. Do I always stick to this? No, somedays, I have an “off day”. I just shake it and go on.

    I also started implementing a bit of exercise a day. I made myself promise “no computer time until I do my 20 minute workout.” Well, it worked for me…finally something that stuck!

  23. this was perfect for me to read today! balancing my husband and i running a full time ministry and having 4 young boys to raise 7-7mos is so stretching at times. my husband and i were just talking this morning about how we have slacked in teaching our kids to “work” and chores and servanthood lately and need to get back on track. life just got too busy and i started doing everything for them again instead of teaching them how to do everything with me. thanks for being real and sharing your story and encouraging others to keep going on a little at a time.

  24. So very true, thank you for this. After years (like 10) of feeling like I’m chasing my own tail constantly, and failing constantly, I’ve undertaken a very similar system, starting at the beginning of this year. I’ve already accomplished more than I did in all of last year. πŸ™‚ It’s wonderful to (mostly, haha!) control my days, and not have them control me. Also, I think that learning to forgive myself for my “fail” days has been the biggest and best lesson that I’ve focused on… (haven’t completely achieved, to be clear…) simply because I can wake up the next day, and not feel failure, but feel new opportunity.

  25. I could have written this post myself! I’ve been feeling the same way as I crawl out of the hole of depression. I’ve decided to take one habit at a time and try to work on it for two weeks, then I add another habit. The hard part is not beating myself up when I don’t accomplish my habit one day. What can I say, I’m a work in progress. But it’s easier once I admit to myself that I’m not perfect (and neither is anyone else).

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