I’m not gonna lie: it was a helluva week around our household last week. Those of you who get my weekly email letter already know this, but it was our first week of school (I’m included there, since I teach high school once a week), I was blindsided with two rather big, unexpected bits of personal and professional news, and our kids had a bit of a public transportation snafu on the way to school one day, which ended in me as a proud mama, but not before I was a panicking mama on pins and needles. I also operated on way, way too little sleep in order to meet a writing deadline.
And oh yeah, I turned 42 at the start of it all.
It’s in weeks like these that I’m reminded of what keeps me grounded every week, stressful or not: my bookends.
Not the ones on my shelves, the ones in my day — the first waking hour of the day, and the last hour. They’re the ones where I perform the small, ordinary, almost perfunctory tasks that make or break my days. And they’re what I cling to when life is nuts.
My morning and evening routines are nothing special. Heck, they may very well look a lot like yours. But they’re special to me, I’ve done them so often they’re routine, and their rhythmic ordinariness help me feel like I’m still in control of my life, even if everything in between those bookends is chaos.
My Morning Routine
I wake up to a simple, battery-operated alarm clock on my nightstand because several years ago, I made it imperative that I not sleep next to my phone. I don’t need any more screen time than I already get when I’m vertical; having it within reach in bed is just too tempting.
1. I drink 24 ounces of water while I wait for the kettle to boil.* I poured this water the night before, and because it’s lidded with a metal straw, it’s not gross — I simply start sipping it the second after I turn off my alarm. We get dehydrated while we sleep, so this is my no-brainer way to make sure I start replenishing my fluids right away.
*Okay, between the alarm and starting the kettle I also hit the bathroom.
2. I make coffee. We’ve used a French press for so long, I’ve nearly forgotten how to use a coffee maker. I’ll pour my first cup of coffee only after I’ve finished my first jar of water. Sometimes I’ll make it black, sometimes I’ll bulletproof it.
3. While it’s percolating, I do super-quick yoga. I’m talking ten minutes. I used to unintentionally subscribe to the idea that unless I could work out a solid hour, it wasn’t worth doing at all. Lies, I tell you. For a year now, I’ve started almost every day with morning yoga, and I can tell a big difference in my day when it doesn’t happen.
4. I’ll then pour my coffee and read (and occasionally journal). I don’t make this a Big Thing, like I used to feel like I was “supposed” to do growing up a Christian. I grew to love the Book of Common Prayer about a decade before I was confirmed Anglican a few years ago, and its Daily Office Lectionary has been my go-to reading “plan” ever since (if you read it all, you’ll read the whole Bible in two years — I’m doing more like the 3-4 year plan).
I have this simple app on my phone, so while I prefer reading on paper, it’s a nice resource when I’m traveling.
5. Finally, I open my Bullet Journal, and look at what I’ve chosen as my top three tasks for today (more on this in my evening routine). I also decide from our weekly menu plan what we’ll have for dinner tonight, and will add it to my day’s agenda in my BuJo. (I’ll also pull out from the freezer anything that needs thawing.)
This is my typical routine, seven mornings a week. It takes about 30 minutes, and I get it in before the kids awake, even on school days. It is my day-starting sanity saver, because it helps me own my day. I’m waking up for my day, not to it already happening.
My Evening Routine
Working backwards is key here, and I talk about this more in this week’s upcoming podcast episode. For now, know that because I’m a morning person, I have to force myself to go to bed early enough for my morning routine to happen. I need sleep, and if I go to bed too late, it’s all janked up.
1. I get the kids to bed. I include this as part of my own evening routine, because it kickstarts my brain into recognizing the day’s end. They’re older now, so they get themselves ready (which includes readying their stuff for school the next day). While they do this, I lower the lights and keep only table lamps lit. We do family story time (even with a teenager), prayer, and everyone heads to bed. Older kids read in bed for a few more minutes.
2. I grind tomorrow morning’s coffee and pour my water. While I’m there, I’ll wipe down kitchen counters and the sink. I don’t bother making the kitchen picture-perfect, but I feel more settled knowing things are more-or-less as they should be.
3. I do my own going-to-bed routine: face, teeth, and vitamins. If I didn’t work out in the middle of the day (my preferred exercise time), and therefore take a midday shower, I’ll also shower at night.
4. I check how I fared in the day’s agenda, per my Bullet Journal, and I use that info to determine tomorrow’s first plan. I’ll get into this more in this week’s podcast, but instead of jotting down anything that comes to mind on tomorrow’s to-do list, I brain-dump everything to a master monthly list. Then from that last, I’ll choose my top three items for tomorrow. Only three.
5. Finally, I end my day with calming yoga stretches — again, only ten minutes or so. I used to follow a few videos, but since I don’t want my eyeballs on screens this time of night, I’ve whipped up my own routine. It’s nothing fancy, just a few favorite moves that I can do in bed. Yep — I do these in bed.
Except for reading to the kids, my evening routine also takes about half an hour. After I’m done, I pull back the covers, set the alarm, and settle in with a current novel. Depending on where I am in the book, and depending on the day I had, I’ll either read a sentence or a chapter before passing out.
These bookends are my sanity, crazy day or not. They’re the predictable routines that have helped me be the boss of my own day, even if the middle was entirely commandeered by the demands other people (work deadlines, kids’ activities, and community responsibilities).
When my kids were younger, my bookends were about 5-10 minutes, and I craved longer time. But I still did what I could, even if it was one or two things that were just for me. Those few minutes were gold.
Even if you have five minutes, tops, you’re worth doing something just for you first thing. Even if it’s ordinary.
• Listen to the podcast episode about this post.