Routine, Comfort, Transition, and Change

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I’ve been going through a transition period with my work routines lately, and it’s had me thinking about my routines, my comfort levels, transition periods, and the inevitability of change.  So today, I’m going to take some time to think and reflect on all those things and what they’ve meant to me over the past few years and what I foresee in my near future.

This may tangentially touch on some pandemic related topics like work from home and transitions to and from that, but I won’t be talking directly about the causes, just my individual routines and experience, so I haven’t flagged this post like my other more focused pandemic related ones.  Still, take good care of yourself and skip the read if you need to.

Routine:

I live and die by my routines.

If I had my way, I’d get up at the same time every day, go to bed at the same time every day, and eat all my meals and snacks at the same time every day.  My morning routine is so regular that I can actually forget to do parts of it when I get interrupted or off track.  It doesn’t help that I’m usually half asleep for most of it.

There are advantages and disadvantages to this.  On the one hand, when I have a routine down, I can settle into a task with the routine of getting started and immediately fall into the mental space for that task.  On the other hand, when my routine is disrupted, it can disrupt everything else too.  This isn’t to say that I can’t go with the flow or that I don’t change tasks when life or work demands it, just that I’m at my best when my routines are running smoothly.

Routines come in all sizes.  I have some big ones, like the routine for getting out of bed, through my physical therapy, into the shower, ready for my day, and out of the door.  I also have some very small ones, like getting on the bus and settling into the mental space to write.  This was a slightly accidental routine, but I’ve come to appreciate it.  It’s so simple, board bus, sit, situate backpack, get out laptop, open, and sign in.  That’s it.  Well, sometimes put on a sweater (when summer AC is on full blast) or unbutton coat (when winter heat is on full blast) is added in after situating the backpack, but that’s not a big add.  And that simple little routine usually leaves me in a mental space expecting to write.

These smaller routines are what I heard someone refer to as a “mental commute” once.  When you’re physically going to work, you commute, and that physical travel helps your mind prepare to be at work.  You can recreate that mental preparation with a mental commute.  Maybe it’s for work and it’s signing into all your systems first thing, even if you don’t need them right away.  Maybe it’s for writing and it’s turning on your pretty lamp and lighting a candle or putting on a specific playlist.  Maybe it’s for making, and it’s laying out all the tools and materials you’ll need for the project, so it’s organized all and in easy reach.

These sorts of small routines can be so helpful.  I find them especially so and I use them to support myself during transitions.

Transitions:

There were some pretty big transitions in my life the last few years.  Transitioning to work from home and then transitioning back to working in the office being the biggest ones.  It took me six months to settle into my routines (it took a few tries to find ones that really worked) when I started working from home.  I had to construct very specific mental commute routines to keep the boundaries in place between work and my home life since it was all taking place in the same spaces. 

Now that I’m transitioning back, I’m struggling to find those routines that work all over again.  It’s not quite the same as how my work commute and routines were before the pandemic, and there’s just enough difference to matter for my mental commute.  Getting on the bus these days involves wearing a mask and far fewer people on the bus, and that seems to have disrupted the easy routine that got me into my writing headspace.  I’m taking a different bus home than I used to, which has changed my evening schedule from what it was before and shifted it drastically from what it was during work from home.  I’m eating dinner about two hours later than before my return to the office.

The change in routine makes the transition harder for me.  Until I solidify the new routine things feel off and my general stress levels are higher.  Unfortunately settling into a routine takes time, and I still have to function in the meantime, which often translates into taking comfort in less than healthy ways.

Comfort:

Comfort comes in many forms, but the one I tend to turn to most is food.  Treating myself with ice cream, chocolate, cheesecake, cookies, or whatever other dessert strikes my fancy is one of the ways I reward myself but also one of the ways I comfort myself.  Comfort food can also take the form of something that reminds me of childhood, like macaroni and cheese.  In moderation, there’s nothing wrong with any of that.  But when I’m stressed (and transitions, routine disruption, and many types of change cause me stress) I tend to overindulge and that can get unhealthy fast.  Especially for someone with a lot of family history if Type II Diabetes.  I work hard to keep things in moderation, or at least up my exercise time if I don’t.

There are other ways to take comfort, like a soft pair of flannel pants or my favorite cozy fleece hoodie.  I take comfort in people, like hugging my husband, having a zoom call with friends or family, or catching up with my crafting and writing communities online.  I take comfort in writing.  It’s always been an emotional outlet for me.  I take comfort in my cats too.  Supposedly, petting them can even lower my blood pressure.

My routines are another kind of comfort too.  Being able to stay in my routine is comfortable.  I can relax into it and go through the routine without having to think too much about it.  There’s a lot of comfort to be found there.  But routines only work when at least some things are stable.  And you know what they say about change.

Change:

Change is inevitable.

This is a fact that I know is true but still sometimes want to push back against.  I want things to stay the same, to stay comfortable and familiar.  But I also love things that are new and different sometimes, so I have to accept that change is here to stay.

What I wish I had the ability to do is change management for my life.  I hear change management used most often as a term related to software and other IT or process related updates.  Change management is about communicating what the change will be, how and when it will happen, and how to get help.  If I had that kind of support for every change, life would be significantly better.

Unfortunately, that’s not how life works.  Change happens.  Sometimes you have notice, like when we got a new employee in my department early last year, or when our dean retires at the end of the academic year.  Sometimes you don’t, like back in March 2020.  All you can really do is roll with the change and either make the best of it, or when needed, fight against it.

Change isn’t always bad.  There can be good change, like updating a policy or a system so it’s more universally accessible and less discriminatory.  That’s a good change.  Changing my hair color can be very exciting.  Getting a new team member who is going to add value and expertise is usually pretty amazing.

But change can be scary.  Change brings with it the unknown.

Looking Forward:

A lot of the change in my recent life and my projected future is expected.  We had three months notice about when we needed to return to working in the office.  We have nine months notice that my dean is going to retire (and he warned us a couple years ago).  We’ve been working on the roll out for the new curriculum that will be effective this coming fall for five years now.  All of that is expected change, but it doesn’t always make the transition any easier.

I’m trying to give myself grace through all this.  It took me six months to settle into a routine after the transition to work from home.  It may take six months or longer to transition back to working in the office.  There has been more disruption to my routine than not since I came back, which makes it harder to establish the new routines.

My dean is older and fully deserving of his retirement after 40 years of service to the university.  I’m hopeful that the dean above him and our director will be able to find someone to replace him that will be just as compassionate but also a little more teach savvy and able to keep up with the process side of the job.  This could be a really great change, but right now, it’s just a scary unknown.  I work closely with this particular dean on several committees, tasks, and projects, and a new dean with a different philosophy could really upset all the routines surrounding those.

I’m excited about our new curriculum.  It makes me wish I was still a student and could experience all the wonderful classes that make it up.  But it also means four years of handling questions about two different curricula, systems running concurrently for both, and all sorts of other small (and large) changes I’m probably not thinking about.  And the change management has been hard.  My office is heavily involved in the implementation, even if I’m not directly, and sometimes it’s hard to get others on campus to agree to the solution that makes the most logistical sense or one that is more student focused.  There are still ways that this new curriculum could disrupt my routines, but I’m more excited than not about it.

There are so many other ways and places change can come.  There’s personal spaces and work spaces.  There’s relationship change and personal change.  I sometimes struggle with negatively anticipating change, but I’m trying to focus on the positives right now and not get down just because I know there are changes coming.  There are always changes coming.  That’s nothing new or different.  That’s just life.

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