Why Finding and Following a Strict Routine Has Been My Greatest Tool Right Now

Meet my new obsession: phone alarms.
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As early as three days into sheltering in place, time began to feel different. As a "non-essential" worker, the most responsible thing I can do is stay in my house, but without the structure of after-work plans or a commute into an office, I found myself completely losing track of time. One day, I looked at the clock and could barely believe that it said 2 PM. I hadn't even eaten breakfast yet, let alone lunch. Days bled into the next until I realized I had to create my own structure if I'm going to stay sane in all of this. 

I've always taken an enormous amount of comfort in having a routine and following a schedule. The first purchase I ever made, with money from my tooth fairy, was a planner from Limited Too (at $12.99, it cost me seven teeth). Each morning, I wrote my schedule for that day and followed it sometimes down to the pre-scheduled bathroom breaks. By the time I reached high school and then college, I'd dropped the scheduled bathroom breaks, but fully adopted the habit of a well-scheduled day. 

Last Sunday evening, before heading into the week, I took a cue from my eight-year-old self and created a schedule on my phone by way of alarms

All in all, there are seven alarms, which may seem a bit extreme, but they replace the cues that a regular routine offers, replacing workout classes, plans with friends, and meal breaks with an artificial cue so that this new reality can feel as close to normal as possible (remember "normal"?). 

This morning marks twenty days of sheltering in place and ten since I began using the alarms. While they change slightly, taking into account what I need that day as well as safety (since writing this post, I'm only going outside on a "need to" basis), they remain more or less the same. Here's an example of what a day looked like last week:

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Mornings are one of the few things that haven't changed since I began sheltering in place, and I appreciate them now more than ever. After waking up at 6:05 AM (maintaining a consistent sleep routine is as important as ever), I make a cup of Bulletproof coffee and sit down to do a combination of creative writing and reading. My only rule for the mornings is: No screens.

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At 9 AM, I head into the kitchen to make breakfast and sit down for work with a cup of tea. Generally, I use this time to dive into my most difficult work, so I don't end up pushing the hard things off for the afternoon!

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When I first began sheltering in place, I got into the routine of running every day (with guided Speed Runs on the Nike Run Club app), but have since adapted my routine to be more indoor-focused, since my West Hollywood neighborhood is so dense that it's difficult to maintain six feet from people while running. If I'm desperate for fresh air, I head out, but otherwise, I stick to an indoor cardio workout I can do, like a dance class on Obé

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After exercising and showering, I make some lunch (often leftovers, a sandwich, or smoothie from Daily Harvest) and do deep work from 1 PM until 2 PM, when we have our daily company check-in over Google Hangouts. 

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Although my 3 PM reminder says "take a walk," I only go outside if I really need it. Usually, instead of an afternoon dose of fresh air, I open the windows in our guest room and do an easy workout like pilates or yoga on the Melissa Wood app for 30 to 45 minutes, before heading back to work! 

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After work, Jonah and I each take thirty minutes to ourselves to take time to just unwind or do whatever we need in that moment. Sometimes I do a meditation, but most often I pour myself a glass of wine and Facetime with a friend or sit down with whatever book I'm reading. 

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I often experience the peak of my Coronavirus anxiety in the evenings, so Jonah and I make a point of comforting ourselves through cooking. We balance nutrient-dense recipes that have easy-to-source ingredients with bigger projects, like pork dumplings. This evening, we made a recipe from Alison Roman's cookbook Nothing Fancy while making calls to family.

My 6:30 PM alarm is my last of the day. After that, I use the time to do whatever I need to feel better. We've gotten into the habit of watching an episode of The Office while we eat, followed by an evening of reading, puzzling, board games, or another show! 

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