Setting Up New Routines

From daily hygiene to writing that next report, this week on the show Nikki Kinzer and Pete Wright take on the components of a great routine, and the mindset you’ll need to cultivate to make it stick.

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Sure, we’re in the middle of our back-to-school series. But whether you’re heading back to school or just getting ready for the seasons to change, there’s never a better time to review your routines.

From daily hygiene to writing that next report, this week on the show Nikki Kinzer and Pete Wright take on the components of a great routine, and the mindset you’ll need to cultivate to make it stick.

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Episode Transcript

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Pete: Hello, everybody, and welcome to Taking Control: The ADHD Podcast on trustory.fm. I’m Pete Wright, and right over there is Nikki Kinzer.

Nikki: Hello, Pete Wright. Hello, everyone. Welcome to the show.

Pete: How are you doing, Nikki? We haven’t… We’ve been talking for, like, 10 minutes. I didn’t even ask, how are you doing?

Nikki: I’m doing great.

Pete: Are you feeling good? Yeah.

Nikki: Yeah, I am. How are you doing?

Pete: Oh, summer’s wrapping up, and I’m starting to get all those emails, those back-to-school emails, like, verify your kid is coming to school again, and you have college visits.

Nikki: Yes.

Pete: And, oh, my goodness, it’s pretty stressful. And I have been thinking more and more as we wrap up our hiatus, and we’re getting back in the swing of things, about our topic today. I’m very excited about it. What a great opportunity to just reflect on something you already do, but try to make it better.

Nikki: That’s right. I love that.

Pete: Yeah.

Nikki: Great summary.

Pete: Yeah, me too. And that is checklists. We’re talking all about how to set up new routines and how to build them into your life in a substantial and productive way. Before we do that, head over to takecontroladhd.com. You can get to know us a little bit better. You can listen to the show right there on the website, or subscribe to the mailing list on the home page there, and we will email you with the latest episode each week. You can connect with us on Twitter or Facebook @takecontroladhd.

Today’s show is sponsored by Audible, your home to unbeatable audio books and exclusive productions for your ear holes. This week, we’re talking all about new routines, and what a better time to dig into one of my very favorite resources on the subject by way of an audio book. Atul Gawande is a surgeon who takes a thorough examination of the simple and thoughtfully constructed checklist, and how the application can dramatically improve the quality and volume of work.

He is an exceptional writer, but more than that, he’s directly impacted my own thinking and application of checklists in my work and life. And I’m sure you’re going to get something useful, if not completely transformative out of your reading of the book too. To get the book for free visit www.audibletrial.com/theadhdpodcast. Sign up for your new account. You’ll get one month free to browse the entire service and download the book of your choice on us.

Search for “The Checklist Manifesto” or anything else you might be interested in reading. At the end of the month, if you’re not satisfied, cancel your account, keep the book forever. If you’re anything like me, I don’t think you will. I’ve been a member for 16 years this year and I just love having access to all of these great books forever. Thanks so much to Audible for supporting the show at www.audibletrial.com/theadhdpodcast.

Nikki: So now I understand why you said checklists…

Pete: Yes.

Nikki: …because this is what’s on your mind.

Pete: Totally on my mind.

Nikki: Yes.

Pete: It’s big.

Nikki: I really like how you said ear holes. You really caught my attention when you said ear holes. I’m like, what?

Pete: Excellent. You know, two of the many holes in your head.

Nikki: Yeah. And that’s how you listen. So I love that.

Pete: That’s right.

Nikki: Good.

Pete: That’s right. So we’re talking about setting up new routines today Nikki Kinzer.

Nikki: Yes.

Pete: And you know, this is ostensibly, it’s part of our back-to-school season. But one of the things that really caught me is that this is not just for back to school.

Nikki: No.

Pete: Like, this is for everybody.

Nikki: This could be anybody, everybody. This is going back to school. This is just going to a job, maybe a new job, maybe your job you’ve been to, you know, for the last 20 years. It’s definitely a very universal subject. And it’s something that comes up a lot with my clients, and also, with my group coaching clients as well. This is definitely a topic that’s almost always talked about.

Pete: You know, it’s become, kind of, the invisible thing in my life. Like, I feel like I’ve gotten into the routine of routines, and I think it’s important to step back, and reflect on how we create a routine. Why do we need routines, right? What is a routine and why is it going to impact our lives?

Nikki: That’s exactly what we’re going to talk about today. I think, first of all, let’s, you know, break it down. What is a routine? It is basically a set of tasks or a set of action steps that you’re doing on a regular basis. And we have a lot of routines that we already do that we don’t even think of as a routine. There are those habits, right? If you’re getting up, and brushing your teeth, and getting dressed for the day, that is essentially a routine.

And it’s also a habit, because you’re doing the same things over and over again. What makes them helpful? I think, for everyone is, it’s a way to, kind of, ensure that you brush your teeth, get dressed and get out the door, right? I mean, it adds structure to everyone’s lives.

For ADHD, it really adds structure, because there’s a lot of different things that can happen between brushing your teeth and getting dressed in the morning. And a lot of distractions, and a lot, you know, internal and external, and a lot of things can happen. So this routine is giving you a tool basically to make sure that you are getting things done. It’s an anchor. It’s a plan.

And what it leads to, what we hope it leads to, is being a better time manager. Because one of the things that I’ve talked to…when I do talk to my clients about this, is routines are one of the easiest things you can actually start estimating time around because you really are doing them at the same time in the same order.

And so, when you’re looking at, how do I plan for the day? This is an area that you could really start tracking and estimating how long it really takes you. So this isn’t about what you think it should take, or how long you would like it to take. It really is about the real time, and then, you can start planning more effectively.

Pete: You know, and the beauty of it is that you can really…you practice, right? You get better at routines. And I think we can lose the sense of practice that comes with routines if you’re just looking at it as a checklist, right? The important part of doing a routine is to do it long enough that you get good at it, right?

Nikki: And it doesn’t become so hard to do, right? And when we first start out doing routines, they have to have our attention. And that’s where the checklist, I think, really come in handy, is because it’s an extra tool that you can use to not rely on your memory.

Pete: Right.

Nikki: But one of the things that I do want to address before we really get into how to create a new routine is asking the audience, you know, don’t just create one for the sake of creating one, because you think you should have one. Because I think there’s a lot of should around routines.

Pete: Yeah.

Nikki: And so, I would ask yourself, you know, before you start this process, is really clarify your purpose for the routine that you’re looking to do, and know your why. Why is this important to you?

Pete: I think part of that for me comes in solving and figuring out the problem I want to solve first.

Nikki: Exactly. That’s right.

Pete: If you back into it from, “Huh, I have a challenge getting out the door in the morning. I have a challenge, you know, making dinner at night. I have a challenge going to bed on time, you know,” then you can back into it by examining whether or not there is a routine that you can document that will help you address that.

Nikki: I really love…I love that approach. I’m glad that you bring that up, because… And that’s a really good place to start, is let’s not create routines for everything in your life. Let’s create a routine that really would mean something to you. So it could be about just meal planning and getting dinner on the table every week. Let’s just start with that, which we’re going to talk about next week, everyone.

Pete: That’s right.

Nikki: Right. That’s going to be fun. And so… But just starting with one thing. Like, okay, I’m always 10 minutes late. All right. Let’s look at that morning routine and figure out where are we losing that 10 minutes. But I really say I recommend starting in one area and really just focusing on that first, because then, you can start seeing the effects of it. Even laundry, cleaning your house can be a routine.

Pete: Right.

Nikki: But we got to break that down.

Pete: So should we talk about creating a new routine?

Nikki: Yeah, absolutely. So we’re choosing…

Pete: How do you go about it?

Nikki: …something that means something to us, right? We’re going to start, kind of, small, because I think that’s always the best way to do it. And so, you’ve chosen that area. And now we just need to brainstorm the tasks that need to be done. So what are the have tos? What are the things that are nice to have?

And I’m going to specifically talk about the morning routine. When you look at what has to happen in the morning verse, kind of, what would be nice to have happen, what you’re doing is, you’re allowing yourself some buffer time. We know that the have tos have to be, you know, getting dressed, maybe eating, maybe not. But it probably is feeding your animals, right? That’s a have to.

Pete: Right.

Nikki: But if you’re running late and you can’t eat breakfast, then maybe you just say, okay, I’ll get something on the way to the office, or I’ll get something at the office. Like, that isn’t necessarily a have to. Same thing with, like, making your lunch. If you’re running late, you don’t have to sit and make your lunch. You could do something else. You could have option B. So it’s nice to always, kind of, separate the have tos, and just sort of, the nice to haves, if you have time.

Pete: Right. Right. Like your animals. You could teach them to hunt.

Nikki: Yeah. But that’s…

Pete: You know, tell your cat, go get a mouse.

Nikki: Right.

Pete: Catch a bird. Pull your weight.

Nikki: Yeah. But that’s not nice, because that’s a cat. Meow and meow, and rub against you until you do give in.

Pete: Right.

Nikki: So…

Pete: That’s right. So, okay, fair enough.

Nikki: Now, this is where you… So you’re brainstorming these ideas and now we are making a checklist, and we’re organizing that list, right? What are the things that have to happen? What are the things that happen in a certain order? You may not get a chance to feed your cat as you’re leaving. You may have to do it first thing in the morning, right? Because that cat’s gonna tell you that that’s what you have to do.

So that’s what you’re trying to do, is you’re figuring out, okay, what’s everything that needs to be done and what is the order? Is there an order? Maybe there isn’t. So that’s where you can, kind of, play around with how much structure you really want. Structure is a funny word when it comes to ADHDers.

Pete: Why is that?

Nikki: They want it, but they resist it.

Pete: There’s a should buried in there. ADHDers feel like they should…

Nikki: Do it.

Pete: …live by structure, right?

Nikki: Yes.

Pete: But that leads to resentment.

Nikki: It does. And then at the opposite side of that, they know that when they have more structure in their lives, they thrive better. It is, it’s a really push and pull thing. And so, what I would love is, can you get a routine that has structure, but some flexibility to it too? And this is where that might happen. And that’s just having a checklist that isn’t in any particular order. You’re just…

Pete: Right.

Nikki: …going to check it…check it off as it’s getting done. And then, you’re using the checklist as really just a tool for memory.

Pete: I think there are… And this is I feel like a good enough opportunity to talk a little bit about some of my checklists. You know, I’m a digital checklist guy, but you don’t need to be a digital checklist person to do this. I mean, you could write out a checklist of a routine with little boxes that you could check off and make copies of it, or print out multiple copies of it and use paper. Like, there’s no reason that you have to use a digital tool. For me it’s just what I use.

And what I’ve learned is the most important aspect of a digital tool for me in maintaining and creating checklists, is that I can click on the top level, like, right click on the top level item in that checklist, and duplicate it, so that I can keep creating iterations, or essentially use one checklist as a template for future checklists.

So I currently use an application called Todoist and that allows me to do this. I have a little templates folder with all of my checklists and subtasks, and everything organized. I just right click on it, duplicate the podcast, for example, checklist, and then, I have all the tasks for every individual episode. And the reason I do this, you’d think I’d have it down by now, but because I have so many different, sort of, routines that I have to go through in my work life, I have many different podcasts each week, sometimes I forget what is the status of each one.

And by looking at those boxes that are checked versus unchecked, I can see how far I’ve gotten in each individual part of my checklist, or each individual routine that is running simultaneously that is the same, but it’s for different shows that I’m doing. And so, that’s one example of using a checklist over, and over, and over again, that I feel like it’s really important for repeating routines.

Nikki: Right. Yes, absolutely.

Pete: I don’t know. So Nikki, I feel, like, I was just, sort of, rambling there.

Nikki: No…

Pete: But I hope that made some sense.

Nikki: No. And that is definitely… I mean, there’s a couple things going on there. It’s that, I think, probably satisfaction of I’m able to check this off, and I’m able to go back and see where I’m at, and not get…

Pete: Every Monday morning, I can go in and open up each one…

Nikki: Right.

Pete: …and I’m looking at, and see where I am. What’s the first thing I have to do in the morning to keep my routines moving forward?

Nikki: Right. Absolutely. Yeah. Great, great example of a system that’s working. One of the things with routines as well, and you probably have this, I’m sure you do on your Todoist, are those reminders.

Pete: Yes.

Nikki: So whether you are doing reoccurring tasks, or routines, like Pete is on Todoist, or you just have a checklist that’s in front of you, we have to be reminded to do it. We can’t rely on our memory and that’s really an executive function challenge that you just can’t ignore. And so, what are the triggers that you can have, whether that’s a notification on your phone, or a sticky note, or something that’s going to remind you to do this routine, that this is important enough to try and to practice it, as we were saying before.

And it’s also a good time to practice and track the time, because again, I can’t emphasize enough that estimating time is really difficult to do. And this is one of those areas that it’s never a perfect science. I don’t want to make it sound like that.

Pete: Right.

Nikki: But it can definitely make you a better time manager if you know how long it takes to do these routines.

Pete: Well, and maybe this is a good enough time to talk a little bit about a back-to-school routine, and not necessarily back to school, but being in school, like for example, you go to class, and they assign you to write a paper, right? Writing a paper, a research paper is a perfect opportunity to create a routine. So you remember the steps and you can estimate time on each step, and start back scheduling from your due date.

Like, when is this thing due? What are the requirements of my time and my attention to actually meet that deadline? You know, you can build those in. I need to do a survey of research and that’s going to be done…you know, you can assign time to it if you want, but just building the routine.

You just say, “First, I have to do a survey of research. I have to figure out what the key questions are that I’m going to attempt to answer in this paper. I’m going to actually do the writing. I’m going to break down the writing into little pieces, so that I can actually accomplish it without feeling overwhelmed.” And then, you can finally do a final edit and assembly, and submit.

So you can build a routine around a given assignment. And then, make that repetitive, so that you remember across multiple classes, across multiple assignments, where you have…you know, how far you’ve gotten in your process. My kingdom for being a student again, I would crush college now knowing what I know. All right, who am I kidding? I would probably still be just as frustrated and distracted, but I would know why…

Nikki: Right.

Pete: …I’m frustrated and distracted, and that would be satisfying.

Nikki: That’s right. Absolutely. Well, and something else that we want to address here is, the mindset of going into a new routine. And most people that I have talked to when I asked them about routines that they’ve had in the past, or task managers that they’ve had in the past, whatever it is, most people refer back to that they weren’t consistent.

It didn’t work. For whatever reason it didn’t work. I can’t keep the routine. I forget about it. I don’t know where it goes. I don’t know. I don’t know what happened, right, is a really common answer. And I think that one of the things that are holding us back from trying is those limiting beliefs, and those patterns that we’ve seen in the past.

And so, I want to encourage you that when you’re starting a new routine, or trying to make a current one better, that you go into it with curiosity instead of judgment. Just be really curious about it. And that’s something to really actually hold true to anything that you’re trying. Be curious about it.

Don’t judge the outcome. Don’t judge how you’re doing. Don’t judge the routine, just be curious about it, and make the tweaks and the things that you need to do to make it work for you, because something can work for you. And that’s what you have to believe is, that there is a solution. There is something that’s going to work for Pete. It may not work for me.

Pete: Right.

Nikki: It may not work for somebody else that’s listening to the show right now, but everybody has things that will connect for them. They just have to keep practicing.

Pete: Well, here’s a hot tip for that, that comes to mind whenever I’m in a state of stress. Maybe don’t try to build your routine when you’re in the middle of high stress, like, feeling compromised that you’re late on a given thing, right?

Maybe building your morning routine when you’re running an hour late, and your dog ran away in the mud, and you have a flat tire is not the best day to actually start documenting how to make your morning better.

Nikki: That’s probably a really good point. Yeah, you can set up a little bit of space between the chaotic day…

Pete: Yes.

Nikki: …and what you would like to see tomorrow look like, yeah.

Pete: Don’t build your, you know, how do I write a paper routine when you’re late in delivering that paper. And let’s face it, with ADHD, you’re probably going to want to stop and build a routine when you’re already late for a paper.

Nikki: Totally. Right. Yeah.

Pete: Please try to force yourself not to do that, and take a step back, and just so to the point where you’re clear-headed, and mindful. And that you can really give it the attention that the routine itself deserves, not the specific outcome in this case.

Nikki: Which really for back-to-school folks, this is a great time to do that…

Pete: Yeah.

Nikki: …because you’re not in the middle of those chaotic mornings or afternoons yet.

Pete: It’s so much easier to tweak when you’re in stress than it is to build.

Nikki: Right. Oh, that’s a really good point. Yeah, we’re building. Yeah.

Pete: Yeah.

Nikki: So the consistency thing, we’ve got to talk about that. First of all, once you’ve practiced your routine for a little bit… And I need more than just like one or two days, right? We’re wanting you to really dig into this for a couple of weeks, and really figure out, you know, what’s going on? How’s it working?

So a few questions to ask yourself, you know, is the routine working on those days? Like, do you find yourself following it most of the time? If you’re not, what are you resisting, because there probably is something there that you’re avoiding, or you don’t like. So we got to figure out what’s getting in your way.

We also need to figure out what you like about the routine. We have to know how it is helping you and is it worth continuing? Is it worth something that you want to keep trying? And I hope it is, I really do, because if you’ve already figured out the purpose of it, and you’re clear about that purpose, then I hope that you find that some aspect of it is worth continuing.

And when we look at consistency, I really do not want that to be your measurement of success, because the reality of ADHD is that you’re probably not going to be consistent all the time. This is not a perfect science. You’re going to get distracted. Things are going to happen. Life is going to happen. Interruptions are going to happen. All of these things happen and it doesn’t mean that the routine doesn’t work. And it doesn’t mean that you’re doing anything wrong with your routine.

So the challenge is not using consistency as the base of your success, but really looking at, does it work? When I do do it, how did I feel? Was I in more control? Did I worry less about forgetting something? Was I in a better mood? Did the morning start off better? Did I feel more confident? Was I happier? Those are the things that we want to measure our success on, not if you did it every day. And so, that I think is just a really important clarification for people, to see if it is working or not.

Pete: Right. Right. Well, and that’s interesting, because sometimes you do want consistency to be the measure of success, right? Sometimes you do.

Nikki: It would be great. I mean, I think that is ideal, right? I mean, ideally we want to do this every day. But please, I guess, my message is more than just…it’s more about just don’t beat yourself up over it.

Pete: Right.

Nikki: It doesn’t mean that you can’t do it and it doesn’t mean that the routine is broken if it doesn’t happen every day.

Pete: And remember our earlier statement was, you want to do this long enough for you to get good at it, and consistency will be part of that.

Nikki: Right.

Pete: It will get easier when you are good at it, and you will be able to feel better about having done it, even if you don’t do it very well.

Nikki: Yes.

Pete: Right. Even if you make mistakes, it’s okay.

Nikki: Right.

Pete: It’s hard to start routines, and you can give yourself, you know, credit for both showing up, and for getting through it each day.

Nikki: Absolutely. Well, and just some words to put to this, because it is very easy to say, “I’m never consistent. I can’t do this,” you know, if you’re rephrasing what you’re seeing, “The routine works. I’m going to do it again tomorrow,” right? That’s a much nicer way to say this than beating yourself up over it, you know, because really what is the purpose of it making you feel bad? And what would you say to someone else?

You have to think about that. What would you say to your child, or your best friend, or your mother, or your father, or your sister, or best friend…best friend, I already said that. You know, you want to treat yourself the same way. You certainly wouldn’t get mad at somebody for not doing their routine every single day.

So what I want people to do is hopefully walk away today with looking at a routine that they can practice, think about some of these things that we’ve talked about, and maybe try a different approach than what you have before. And just really open yourself up to the possibilities that it has for you, and how it can make your life better.

Pete: It’s super useful and I hope just the conversation rekindles some interest in reviewing your routines. You know, figure out how they can work for you.

And thank you all for downloading and listening to this show this week. We appreciate your time and attention. If this show has ever touched you, or helped you make a change in your life for the better, if you’ve ever found that you understand your relationship with ADHD in a new way, we invite you to consider supporting the show directly through Patreon.

It’s listener-supported podcasting. With a few bucks a month, you can help guarantee that we continue to grow the show and join a community of others living with ADHD, open to supporting one another directly through our online community. Visit patreon.com/theadhdpodcast to learn more.

On behalf of Nikki Kinzer, I’m Pete Wright. We’ll catch you next time right here on the ADHD podcast.


Through Taking Control: The ADHD Podcast, Nikki Kinzer and Pete Wright strive to help listeners with support, life management strategies, and time and technology tips, dedicated to anyone looking to take control of their lives in the face ADHD.