Routines: When nothing’s routine… and everything is!

We’re all living day-to-day, week-to-week now. The distant future is out of our control. We know things are changing around us, the world is moving forward fluidly, and we know transition is always on the horizon… we just don’t know when.

What do you do when the routines you trusted are thrown into chaos? It’s all about bookends and anchors. Now isn’t the time to be the most productive you’ve ever been in your life. It’s time to build new and resilient routines and patterns into your days to keep you moving, and moving forward. This week on the show, Nikki and Pete walk through the tools you need to build momentum into your life in times of chaos and feel confident that even in uncertainty, you can continue to contribute.

Links & Notes


Episode Transcript

Brought to you by The ADHD Podcast Community on Patreon

Pete Wright:
Hello everybody and welcome to Taking Control: The ADHD Podcast on Rash Pixel FM. I am Pete Wright and I am here with Nikki Kinzer. [crosstalk 00:00:14].

Nikki Kinzer:
Hello everyone. Hello Pete.

Pete Wright:
Happy Monday.

Nikki Kinzer:
Happy Monday. Actually it will be Tuesday when people hear this. So happy Tuesday.

Pete Wright:
That’s right. It is happy Tuesday. We are doing this whole podcast thing. We are talking today about routines and I’m telling you, I saw that you wanted to talk about routines and I thought, what a fantastic topic. How do you deal with routines when both nothing is routine and everything is? And the word routine just exploded in my head with all of the different sorts of emotional attachments I have to routine. And so-

Nikki Kinzer:
Well, I think you’re not the only one. I think that word in general is probably a pretty dirty word in a lot of people’s vocabulary just because there is so much attached to it, especially emotionally and past experiences and everything else. So yeah.

Pete Wright:
Truly. Well, so I’m excited to talk about this and talk about some of the feedback that we’ve got from our fantastic community online. They’ve been highly participatory in this conversation. It sounds like a lot of people are dealing with this stuff, so this is going to be great. Before we dig in, however, 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 and we will send you an email each time a new episode is released. And in this time, if you find yourself struggling with how to make it through the day, how to make it through your own routines, you might consider checking out the ADHD community.

Pete Wright:
To access the community, the easiest way to do that is just become a patron at patreon.com/theadhdpodcast and you’ll get access to happy hours where you can come hang out with me and Nikki. You’ll get access to happy hours when you could just hang out with each other. The community is starting all kinds of fancy happy hours. Even better, you’ll get access to the accountability group and the accountability group has really taken off with our study halls, study halls where if you just need an accountability buddy to come hang out with you and to help you focus and get stuff done, if you’re ready to start working in sprints and start accomplishing things that you have on your list, if you want somebody to help you focus to get work done, we have all kinds of study halls that are going on.

Pete Wright:
At any given moment, there is probably a study hall that you could jump into and-

Nikki Kinzer:
And a lot more lately than there has been because I think people are really relying on that, which we will actually talk about in the show.

Pete Wright:
Fantastic. So we’re going to talk all about that and it has just become a cherished part of this podcast is the group that goes along with it and I’m not going to lie to you, the monetary support that comes from this listener supported podcast at patreon.com/theadhdpodcast, your monetary support helps us continue to grow this show, continue to research, continue to do new things. In fact, the transcriptions, the transcripts that you get are a direct result of our patrons. And that is thanks to you all who have decided to become members that we’re able to do that. And we have more things on the way as we continue to grow and help subsidize the work that we do here.

Pete Wright:
So thank you everybody. Again, patreon.com/theadhdpodcast, we hope to see you over there. Routines, Nikki Kinzer.

Nikki Kinzer:
Yes.

Pete Wright:
Talk about where this came from.

Nikki Kinzer:
Well, lots of inspiration in the last few weeks because everybody has had to really redesign the routine that they were used to with the shelters in place and having kids at home and working from home and having kids at home. I mean, everything has just changed for so many people. And I have noticed that almost all of my conversations with clients have been around how to create a new routine at home. And if anything, at least adjusting to the existing one. And all of the old rules really don’t apply right now. So we have to figure out what those new rules are, what does a person need? It’s interesting because my clients, all of them come from such a diverse background and so there’re some who are living by themselves who are working from home.

Nikki Kinzer:
There are some who have young children and they’re working from home or they are just dealing with having the children home. And then you’ve got the professionals who are still, some of them are still working from home, but now they have to be their students’ teacher. Some people have been laid off. I mean, the whole thing is just… everybody is in a different situation, but we’re all dealing with the same thing of having our routines just be blown up.

Pete Wright:
Blown up and blown up in new and different ways every single week. Right?

Nikki Kinzer:
Right.

Pete Wright:
There’s so much change happening every week, as we go on a month or more with the stay at home orders, we’re seeing more and more people feeling a different kind of pain every week.

Nikki Kinzer:
Well, and I’ll tell you the biggest pain that I’m seeing right now, and it’s different than a couple of weeks ago because a couple of weeks ago, it was all about the coronavirus and the numbers and where it was spreading and there was always this new information every day about something that was going to be put in place. And what I’m finding now is that there’s less of that because we all have had to accept that this is where we are. It is the unknown of not being able to plan anything. It’s the fear of we don’t know when this is going to be over. We understand what’s going on, but we don’t know when it’s going to be over. And so you can’t make any plans. You can’t think about the summer.

Nikki Kinzer:
We don’t know if our students are going to be going back to school in the fall in a building. There’s so much unknown. It drives me crazy, and it’s driving my clients crazy because they’re depending on me to help them plan and we have nothing that we can even work with. So it’s just really dealing with the day to day and the week to week.

Pete Wright:
At some point I feel like you realize that I can only plan that which I can control. And I know that like my foresight is no longer three months down the road. It might be three days.

Nikki Kinzer:
Yes.

Pete Wright:
But it feels to me like once I get to the point and it’s taken a month. Right?

Nikki Kinzer:
Right.

Pete Wright:
It’s taken a month. But once I get to that point of acceptance and not denial, it becomes easier to establish some even short run patterns. It becomes easier to accept that I can control tomorrow, I can control later today. I can even control this week. And so I’m wondering, what is it that helps make that transition from the, oh my God, I can’t control anything and it’s making me crazy, to, you know what, I have to grab what I can, whatever I can.

Nikki Kinzer:
And I’m glad you bring that up because I think that’s really where we’re going to start with talking about routines. And this is something else I’ve been noticing with clients and people that I’ve been talking to, is that you do kind of fall into a routine naturally. And what I’m finding is that it makes people feel better. So where people were two or three weeks ago is not the same as where they are right now. I think they’re more calm. They’re a little bit more sure that they can get through this. A lot of my college students are actually really doing well. They’ve adjusted really well. But-

Pete Wright:
Well, I want to stop you there. What is it do you think that helps your college students adapt? What is it that makes them equipped that we might be able to learn from?

Nikki Kinzer:
I’m not really sure because I had a Zoom call yesterday with some family and my nephew is a student at Colorado where you went to school, Boulder. And he hates it. He was like, “I hate it. It’s the worst thing ever.” So you’ve got that end where he absolutely hated it and he has ADHD as well. But I think that part of the fear that I was seeing with my students is that when it switched from going to campus and going to online, there was a fear of the routine being lost. They had already had a habit. They already had transition time built in. They already knew when they were going to study. And fortunately, most of the students that I was working with or working with were doing really well. They had really strong semesters.

Nikki Kinzer:
And so they were scared too that all of a sudden these good grades were going to go down because they couldn’t adjust to the online. But what they found is that after about a week or so, they actually, with my help, because it was something that we had to talk about, we’re okay with having recorded lectures rather than live lectures. And what we would do when we work together is making sure that everything is being done within that week. So even though there was some flexibility of when they could do the lecture, they’re accountable to me to make sure that everything’s getting done and taken care of. So they did have some accountability in place, and as a coach, of course, I’m helping them plan and doing that. But it’s within the week.

Nikki Kinzer:
So they just felt like, okay, I can do this. This isn’t as bad as I thought it was going to be. In fact, the hardest transition I think for a lot of them is moving back home. Because they’re used to being on their own and now they’re with mom and dad.

Pete Wright:
Right, right, right. Dealing with the change and just freedoms and liberties and privacy-

Nikki Kinzer:
Exactly.

Pete Wright:
… and space. I think that’s a really important thing to note that the thing that equips college students is the frequency or the volume of short term anchors, assignments, discussions, papers, tests that are now, I think they’re building some new sort of, well, we’ll say routines, but they’re able to keep those in view. And I think we can learn from that. For those of us who are not in college, establishing the short term, canonizing the short term goals can help us keep a weather eye on the horizon.

Nikki Kinzer:
I am so glad you said that because I think that anchors is a good way of saying it. I say bookends, like when I start talking to somebody about their schedule for the day, let’s talk about the bookends. When do you want to get up in the morning and when do you want to go to bed at night? And then let’s talk about what happens in the middle. And if you can have some kind of structure and it’s got to be realistic. We talked about this last week. Now is not necessarily the time to be the most productive that you have ever been. So be realistic. Set two to three goals that you want to get done that day. And if you can think about, okay, I want to get up at this time, I’m going to take a shower, I’m going to stick to this routine that I had before, I know I need to be able to do these two to three things.

Nikki Kinzer:
Try to add where are you going to exercise. Because once you start doing this, you’ll see a routine. So I had a person that I work with who’s in Florida and she’s by herself. So she has on just a piece of paper Monday through Sunday. And she has her AM walk, she has to run an errand to the pharmacy. She has to plan the week, this is on Monday, write out the deadlines for the week, finish her proposal, do discussion questions, she’s going to have a walk, she’s going to work out and her day’s done. And then on Tuesday she has an AM walk. So she has her AM walk or PM walk, her workout. All of those things are set in stone and those are those anchors. And then in the middle of the day you can figure out, okay, a couple hours or whatever.

Nikki Kinzer:
Now I know some people have to work an eight a day, but if that’s the case, that’s even better because then you try to stick to your regular routine, but instead of going to the office, you are going into your own office. I had another client today who said, “Before I went to work,” and I loved that she said that. Because she was able to separate that this is what I’m doing right now and then I’m going to work, which happens to be in a different room.

Pete Wright:
This is conditioning. Right?

Nikki Kinzer:
Yes.

Pete Wright:
It’s not conditioning necessarily your family, it’s conditioning yourself. But there is a reality that I exist in and just because I’m here, place does not always have to define identity.

Nikki Kinzer:
Absolutely.

Pete Wright:
Just because I’m at home doesn’t mean I’m not at work.

Nikki Kinzer:
And all we’re doing is giving you somewhat of a guide because I think that one of the most frustrating things when we don’t have a routine is we don’t know what to do and we’re scrambling and we end up working on the wrong things or we don’t do anything and then we get mad about that too. What it does is it sets a precedence for the day of what possibly could get done with being flexible. And it’s not about just the to do list. It’s not about just crossing things off. All it is is it’s a guide. So don’t get mad at yourself if you didn’t get everything done on that list.

Pete Wright:
Right, right. I think that’s really important. And I feel like those anchors or those bookends, actually, they don’t just put a stake in the ground for just a reality check. They pull you forward to the next thing. And I think that’s important for me too. It’s just this idea that there is a sense of momentum in my day of intentionality and I’m-

Nikki Kinzer:
Perfect way to put it.

Pete Wright:
Yeah. And I’m allowed to just move through the week knowing that I am able to produce and ship. We’re like, “What did I ship today?” I know we do that sometimes at our family dinner table. But what did you ship today? What did you deliver to a teacher? What paper did you write and submit? What podcasts did you publish? And we just go around the table and talk about like, how did you contribute to the world outside of the house?

Nikki Kinzer:
Well, and I think it’s important with our kids who are in school, because mine just started today. So it’s a brand new thing in our house. But man, I mean, they’re looking forward to this. It’s like they already now have… top of their bookend is that they’re going to be in school at nine o’clock in the morning and they will spend their time in school for as long as it takes and then they’ll have homework to do. And it’s like it gives them back that sense of normalcy even though it’s not normal. But I’ll tell you, the last month has not been, there hasn’t been any normal to it. And so at least now they can feel a little bit more connected to what their life is supposed to be right now.

Pete Wright:
Again, finding those anchors. Finding something to ground them.

Nikki Kinzer:
Yeah, those anchors. Absolutely. I think a couple of things too just to add is that checklists are really great. Again, just keep them very small, but I think that there is just this adrenaline, dopamine hit on crossing something off.

Pete Wright:
Check marks. Yeah, totally.

Nikki Kinzer:
We all feel it. So it’s like gosh, do it. Now’s the time to do it. The other thing I want to talk about, and I know we’re jumping the gun a little bit, but it’s really important I think that we talk about accountability because I’m finding this to be really important. We have it in Discord and Pete, you mentioned at the very beginning that there’s almost always sometime during the day that our accountability groups are getting together and I’m hosting a Thursday afternoon accountability study hall as well. And so for people to know what that is is for $10 a week, you can come and join my study hall on Thursdays for a four hour block. It’s 1:00 to 5:00 Pacific and I always get the Eastern wrong. It’s four o’clock Eastern to eight o’clock.

Nikki Kinzer:
We did the first one last week. It was amazing. We had several people come. I had one person who actually said to me, “I thought this was going to be stupid, like why do I need to pay to get work done?” And she said, but I got more work done in that four hour period of time than she has gotten done in so long and realized how magical it really is. Now the service that I do on Thursday afternoons is free for the supreme members of our Patreon. So that’s just another benefit that our supreme members get. Our deluxe members do get the community accountability Zoom groups. And if you can’t be a part of our community, which is fine, I mean, I just want to have you understand how important it is to have a study group.

Nikki Kinzer:
With students, if you can find a couple of other people to study with, make that part of your day. Same thing with anybody that’s working or has… I mean, even chores. I was telling people on Thursday, you don’t have to stay at your desk, file paper, clean up kitchen, do whatever you need to do. But there’s this magic about having a body double. And I really want to emphasize that because I think at a time like this, we all need it and it’s so helpful and I just really want to encourage people to find who their body doubles are.

Pete Wright:
Well, and if you can’t make it to the Thursday, just DM Discord Mom in Discord, she really is behind a lot of the infrastructure of those study halls in the accountability group at the deluxe level and supreme level alike. And so again, we’ve got a lot of them. But we also encourage, if you need one, if you have one, post it in accountability and people will show up. We found a real kind of… I think speaking of momentum, it has taken on its own personality and I just love that those exist.

Nikki Kinzer:
Oh, man, I can’t tell you how much I get done because I will go do something else, especially if I don’t really want to do what I need to do. And so just knowing that they’re there, I get stuff done. It’s really amazing. So anyway, put that in between the anchors if you can.

Pete Wright:
There’s, I think it was a Stephen Covey thing, which was the big rocks and the little rocks and the sand. You start with the big rocks in the glass and then you put in the little rocks and they fill in those spaces and then you can fill in more spaces with sand and eventually your day can be full. Your cup can be full. But if you start out with all the sand, then you can’t even fit any big rocks in it if you fill it with sand. So I really like having those anchors, the big rocks in there. I wanted to talk a little bit about routines and rituals. Because I think that approaching certain routines as ritual is important. It’s important for you, your micro community that might be your family or close friends if you do regular Zoom happy hours.

Pete Wright:
We’ve seen people do with their friends and communities that are taking this to new places. And so I just wanted to reflect a little bit on the act of ritual. Because I think a lot of people hear the word ritual and they think that it is a spiritual practice. Some think it’s a church practice. Absolutely, that’s it. But also-

Nikki Kinzer:
Tradition. Like some kind of tradition.

Pete Wright:
Right, tradition. Wikipedia. I just went straight to Wikipedia because it’s Wikipedia.

Nikki Kinzer:
Why not?

Pete Wright:
A ritual is a sequence of events involving gestures, words, actions or objects performed in a sequestered place and according to a set sequence, rituals may be prescribed by the traditions of a community, including a religious community. Rituals are characterized but not defined by formalism, traditionalism, invariants, rule governance, sacred symbolism, and performance. Okay. So you take some of that and think about what you are doing to create the sort of ritual for your own community. And so we were asking folks what are they doing to build their routines. And some of their responses were particularly captured in ritual.

Pete Wright:
Joseph says, “Trying to have Zoom happy hours with different people and taking note of them in my bullet journal so I can remember who I talked to and when. It has a note of ritual to it, of practice, something that is special, that is unique, that is cherished.” Tracy said, “Oh and last night I pulled up a table into the family room for a different atmosphere. I threw on a tablecloth, pulled up some chairs, turned some music on our Google Home and ordered food delivery so we could have a restaurant date night.”

Nikki Kinzer:
Oh I love that.

Pete Wright:
Again, it’s that air of ritual, of something that is special, that is important.

Nikki Kinzer:
So we started a ritual, my daughter and I, by taking walks after I’m done with work.

Pete Wright:
There you go.

Nikki Kinzer:
So at around 5:30 or so, maybe 6:00, my daughter and I go and take a walk.

Pete Wright:
It’s beautiful.

Nikki Kinzer:
Man, I can tell you, we wouldn’t have been doing that if it wasn’t for where we are right now

Pete Wright:
You’re creating something that is special. And most important for me, it’s something that I miss when we don’t have it. And it can be really banal too. You can create a ritual out of something that otherwise isn’t a ritual for us. I was thinking about it because Discord Mom, Melissa posted a picture of her daily whiteboard and I just, I love that so much. That picture in the community and I think about, our own ritual is preparing the whiteboard for the day or the week and we do it as a family and if we miss it, it is missed. Somebody is going to complain that we didn’t do it and we missed something. And so I think that’s really special.

Pete Wright:
We do one week a month on… sorry, one day a week, they all blend together anyway.

Nikki Kinzer:
They do, they really do.

Pete Wright:
We’ve taken to doing a DoorDash order for dinner, for family dinner and we go all in and we go to a local restaurant and they bring it to us and we eat it together. And we’ve been spending so much time together that some of our meals have gotten a little bit sloppy. We have things that go on throughout the day. Sometimes two of us eat together, three of us maybe and we move in and out of the kitchen.

Nikki Kinzer:
I tend to do my puzzle while I’m eating.

Pete Wright:
While you’re eating? Okay. See that’s our problem. We do too.

Nikki Kinzer:
So I have to stop doing that.

Pete Wright:
Our puzzle table is our dining table. And so that’s kind of hard.

Nikki Kinzer:
Ours is too.

Pete Wright:
But I think it’s funny that one thing, that one DoorDash dinner, whatever it’s going to be, first, we eat out now once a week more than we ever had before. That sort of frequency feels good that we’re doing something for our local restaurants, our local economy, and we’re all sitting together, guaranteed. And that has become a thing of ritual. Tonight it’s our local Thai place and we can’t wait for it. We’re already talking about that event today.

Nikki Kinzer:
I want you to say something. I want you to read what Melissa said about her whiteboard, about not every day is perfect but it has made all the difference. Do you want to read that?

Pete Wright:
Sure. I thought this was a wonderful passage this morning. That is a perfect thing to remember, not every day will be perfect. In fact, none of these days are perfect. They weren’t designed to be. The stay at home order is designed to be inconvenient to everyone, but also the safest and best to keeping everyone healthy. So while we all want to feel like we’re slaying the quarantine, the only thing that you’re slaying is staying home. Anything you are able to accomplish on any given day beyond that is great and some days you have to learn to be okay with that. Not every day is perfect, but it has made all the difference.

Nikki Kinzer:
I think that’s great.

Pete Wright:
Great, great, great words.

Nikki Kinzer:
Words of wisdom.

Pete Wright:
Yep. Absolutely.

Nikki Kinzer:
Yes. Absolutely. So going back, we’re going to flip flop here. Perfect ADHD conversation. Right?

Pete Wright:
Sure.

Nikki Kinzer:
So we’ve been eating more in than we’ve been eating out. And one of the things that I’ve noticed is that I have to be really on top of what we need and what we’re going to be eating just so that I don’t have to make the number of grocery store visits. So there has been sort of this routine, forced routine of okay, what do we have, what do we need? And if we don’t have one ingredient, then we don’t eat that. We eat something else that we have the ingredients in. So there’s sort of a twist there too that before we could just go down and get eggs or whatever, but now we can’t do that and there’s no guarantee that they’re going to be there anyway. So lots of adjustment with that.

Pete Wright:
We also are navigating the grocery delivery services and we have one that we’re always looking out a week or two weeks when we can get the next slot. And I found that we end up with a lot more stuff than we normally would have. We have more cereal boxes than I know what to do with because cereal seems to always be on our list and we don’t… like now our cup runneth over with cereal. But again, we have like eggs, those are a struggle. Anyhow, I do want to mention this, Ellie said something that I think got me thinking too about the negative reinforcement of rituals because I think sometimes we can take things that are ultimately damaging or sort of whittle away at us and make those rituals too.

Pete Wright:
And I think we need to work on our muscles to notice when that’s happening. She said, “I’ve cut way back on my news consumption and limited myself to just the major headlines. There are many journalists doing great work right now, but I don’t need to read all of it constantly or it just makes me more anxious.” So this highlights two things for me. We take our negative reinforcement routines too far. I know that when I’m at my worst, it’s when I pick up my phone before I’m even out of my bed in the morning and I’m looking at the news headlines, right? It sets my day up ritually for just a negative tone.

Pete Wright:
The other thing is we can actually make our shared ritual of not checking the news. That can be something we can do together. I can help my wife not look at the phone first thing too or we can look at replacing negative activities with positive ones. What are some things that we can do together in the morning that help us get out of bed and get the day started, turn on the right music or whatever?

Nikki Kinzer:
You bet. My daughter has a positive affirmation app, so every morning she gets a affirmation that she gets to read, much better way to wake up-

Pete Wright:
Totally. Totally.

Nikki Kinzer:
… than to see the news.

Pete Wright:
Absolutely. So all good stuff. Routines and rituals-

Nikki Kinzer:
It’s great.

Pete Wright:
… when everything’s routine and nothing is.

Nikki Kinzer:
Thank you for everyone who contributed in Discord too. We really appreciate it.

Pete Wright:
Absolutely. Thank you everybody for contributing, and thank you even more for downloading and listening to this show. We appreciate your time and your attention. On behalf of Nikki Kinzer, I’m Pete Wright. We’ll catch you next time right here on Taking Control: The ADHD Podcast.