Your guide to creating a schedule that will actually work ...

Your guide to creating a schedule that will actually work ...

Today the majority of kids are back to school in the UK and many of us are feeling that pull back to routine and structure. I love this time of year. I love the promise of a fresh start; the cooler weather; the smart school uniforms; the cosiness of the colder months; that feeling of a new school bag and new stationary! Oh my, I love new stationary!

I also love a schedule and will spend so long hyper focusing on the minute details of this new super-amazing-will-never-need-another-solution-to-all-my-procrastinating-problems routine. It will be a beautiful work of art; colour coded; highlighted; cross referenced masterpiece. This amazing new routine that will encapsulate all of those positive habits I know I need to practice.

It will also last a week.

I will have spent longer creating it than I spend living it.

I get the excitement of this season, the potential of this fresh start. I also get the overwhelm of all of those plans and the inevitable crushing feeling that comes from not being able to live up to my own expectations. The frustration at another Grand Plan, cast aside and not coming to fruition.

I could berate myself and frame myself as not good enough. But, goodness, isn't that exhausting? I am a square peg and I embrace myself as such. It might be me or it might be the rigid round hole the world expects me to squash myself into. I encourage you to embrace yourself too - your perfectly imperfect, still figuring it all out, self.

If you can identify with this want for a routine and better habits but the struggle is real, I have some ideas for you.

If you are wondering why it's so hard for you, it could be because you are neurodivergent; are struggling with anxiety or depression; or have executive functioning difficulties for another reason.

Whatever the reason is, know that it is valid.

You are valid.

You do not owe anyone functioning to their expectation.

If you are wanting to make ALL the plans and do ALL the things, don't let me rain on your parade! But do let me offer you an umbrella if it turns into a torrential downpour ...

I'm going to ask you to look at your plan and ask yourself the following questions:

  • Will it keep you engaged?
  • Are you making one change at a time?
  • Are you prioritising?
  • Can you start smaller?
  • Are you setting yourself up for success?
  • Do you need to reframe that?
  • Have you planned to fail?
  • Can you plan for the unplannable?
  • Have you given yourself a break?
  • Have you added reviews to this super-amazing-will-never-need-another-solution-to-all-my-procrastinating-problems routine?
Your guide to creating a schedule that will actually work ...

Will it keep you engaged?
You know yourself better than me (and if you don't stay turned to my blog because I'll be writing about that soon), can you realistically stick to the plan you have created? Is it going to keep giving you that buzzy dopamine hit day after day? Do you have something that is asking for your frequent engagement with the plan? Engagement can look like:

  • Tick lists
  • Highlighting the completed events
  • Colouring a square for each task you complete
  • A reward at the end of each week or every few days
  • Competition with an engaged other
  • An app that rewards you when you complete your tasks (such as growing a plant)

If you have something that keeps you engaged in this new routine, you are much more likely to keep going with it.

Are you making one change at a time?
I know I would read this question and scoff!

Of course I'm not! (Insert eye roll here.)

Why make one change when you can do them all? Making one change requires you to decide which one is the priority and frankly it feels like they all are! When you try and break it down it seems like everything is interwoven and frankly if we can't do it all perfectly why bother?

Well, I'd encourage you to bother with the less dopamine enticing one or two changes because they are more likely to stick, and real lasting change is much more likely to occur.

I know, I know!

This is not what you want to hear, but it is true. Let's pick one or two things that you can work on for the next few weeks (I'll get to that ...) and see what happens? If you try to do it all, it's likely to become so overwhelming you don't keep up with it - no matter how beautiful the spreadsheet is.

Your guide to creating a schedule that will actually work ...

Are you prioritising?
It is hard to know where to start when you feel so overwhelmed and desperately want to make positive changes. This is something you can talk over with someone you trust and someone that truly gets what you are going through. If you don't have that person in your life looking to an informed therapist or coach could be just what you need. Don't talk to those people that tell you to "just" do anything - they do not get where you are coming from.

Everyone's priorities and needs are different, but I would encourage you to check in with the elements listed below and how they feel in your life. I have listed them in the priority order I think is important, you may prefer a different order. They all support and interlink with each other. If you don't have a healthy sleep pattern, you will struggle with the rest, and so on.

1. Sleep
This doesn't have to look like good sleep for anyone else. The average is 7 hours but work with yourself to find the optimum sleep for you. If you are struggling with sleep naps are not recommended but then many people credit their afternoon naps with their success.

2. Emotional Regulation
Everyone gets emotionally dysregulated at times, the key is to notice when you are as soon as you can and to learn what helps you to become re-regulated.

3. Environment
Aah the clutter and piles of doom, they are impacting your wellbeing. Decluttering and letting go of all that 'stuff' is so good for us. It doesn't help you to see all the things you started and didn't finish, or the things that you keep meaning to fix or put away. Let go of that stuff as much as you can.

4. Movement / Nutrition
I'm sure many people won't like that I have put these two together, but I think they are just as important as each other and I think they interplay with each other. When you treat your body well and nourish it, it will want to move. When you move your body in ways that feel good you will be inclined to feed it food that supports it.

5. Connection
Humans are a co-regulating species. We need others. The degree to which we need connection and the way in which we need connection varies massively but we do need to visit the mainland of humanity sometimes, in some way.

6. Meaning
We need some meaning in our lives, something that is bigger than us. For some that is a form of spirituality or religion; for others it is the service they offer their communities; or for some it is their families. Some people may describe it as a higher purpose. Whatever it is for you, spending time on your meaning is important.

Can you start smaller?
No smaller than that ... smaller still ...

So, let's say you've read the above and know that your sleep isn't where you want it to be, and you know that impacts your nutritional goals because everyone makes poorer choices when they are tired. With sleep in mind your routine involves you being in bed by 10pm and asleep by 11pm. This is great but do you need to start with not being on your phone for the last few hours before you go to bed? Do you need to put your phone away somewhere from 8pm? Because let's face it, you can disable as many apps as you want but we both know how quick it is to bypass that ... What would support you to put your phone away by 8pm? Do you need to finish work on time at 5pm so you can use your commute to browse Facebook or Instagram? Do you need to set a reminder on your phone for all of those things you don't normally remember to do until bedtime? Like pay for that thing? Or book that thing? Or order that other thing? Can you set a reminder for 6pm, so you have time to do it? After examining this more you may decide that leaving work on time is actually the first small step to getting to bed on time?

Your guide to creating a schedule that will actually work ...

Are you setting yourself up for success?
We are essentially looking at habits and one of the best ways to create a new habit is to add it to an existing one. Do you want to remember to take your vitamins every morning? Find something you do every or nearly every morning and put your vitamins next to that thing. If you make a cup of tea every morning, position your vitamins next to the kettle or the teabags. You will remind yourself to take the vitamins by placing them someone you know you will be every day and you are extending an existing habit, setting yourself up for success.

Do you need to reframe that?
When we tell ourselves we need to do something that we don't really want to do we can unintentionally frame it as this difficult, boring, hard thing. I do not naturally enjoy paperwork. It has very a little dopamine hit for me but there is some I need to do in my role as a Psychotherapist and Clinical Supervisor. I have recently reframed this for myself as a gift I am offering myself when I complete it. I offer myself the peace of mind that it is done; I give myself the gift of knowing I can and have completed something I didn't much want to do; I am gifting future me the joy of not having to do it. I also don't call my chores 'chores'. They are little gifts to myself and my family. The gift of a clean house; or a meal; or clean washing.

Would it help to reframe the new habits on your fantastic new schedule?

Your guide to creating a schedule that will actually work ...

Have you planned to fail?
I don't want to be the bearer of bad news but this new plan of yours, while beautifully colour-coded, it isn't going to work out. Not every single day, in every single way you intended. There is no fool-proof plan because we are human, and things happen. A ball is going to get dropped somewhere and thinking about how to deal with this now before it happens means that you are giving yourself the best chance of not throwing in the towel at the first difficulty.

A way of dealing with this is to consider a Plan B and a Plan C and even a Plan D! I sometimes talk my clients through a Best, Better and Good plan. Your shiny new plan is the 'Best'; it's what you want to happen - let's say that's going for a run in the morning before work. If something comes up and you can't do that what would be better than nothing? A walk at lunchtime? That's your 'Better' plan. Now let's say lunchtime rolls round and your boss dumps lots more work on you and you can't take that walk at lunchtime? Perhaps you decide that 5 star jumps when you get home will meet your movement goal for the week and is all you can fit in around all your other commitments - that is your 'Good' plan. You didn't give up totally on the goal to move but you accommodated the unseen events that prevented your first plan.

What would your Best, Better, Good look like?

Can you plan for the unplannable?
Similarly, to above, things happen that we can't always plan for. Let's say you catch a cold and feel too ill to do the washing up every night after dinner? What will be the narrative that you tell yourself?

"I'm rubbish! I never stick to what I say I will do!"
"I'm respecting my need to rest today and will check in with myself tomorrow about how much I can do then."

I know which one I'd rather hear. Can you plan now for what you will tell yourself if you really can't meet this new schedule? Will you offer yourself respect and grace? Will you talk to yourself like a friend?

Have you given yourself a break?
Plan for the breaks and rest you will need in this new schedule. You are allowed to be non-productive for a proportion of your week, and I would suggest this proportion is directly related to how much capacity you have available to you. Section off sometime each week for 'nothing'. For scrolling Instagram or Facebook; for binge watching Netflix or Amazon Prime; playing Wordle; or catching up with the latest TikTok trend. In moderation these activities can help you to re-regulate when you need to.

And please remember, you do not owe anyone your productivity.

Have you added reviews to this super-amazing-will-never-need-another-solution-to-all-my-procrastinating-problems routine?
I'd guess that this new fancy plan you have is all laid out up until Christmas, right? It makes sense. We are a few months away, it's the next big event we collectively look to, even if you don't really celebrate it! But what if you followed this plan for just 6 weeks? Or even 3? What if after 3 or 6 weeks you reviewed how this plan has worked for you? You would then get to tweak it, mould it, shape it, adapt it. (Think of all the dopamine!) If you have a plan that just adds in small changes and you do those for 3 to 6 weeks, you could really work on making them solid habits before adding in another small change.

If you made one small change every 6 weeks, you could have changed 8 things in a year ... I wonder how you would feel then with so many good new habits that support you to live the life you want? Knowing that you have succeeded? It may not seem like much, but I bet it would make all the difference.

How do all these ideas sit with you? Do you think using these guides would help you create a workable realistic plan? Let me know your thoughts and how you might use this.