When the exceptions to your routines become the rule

Sometimes there are those intense, out-of-the-ordinary work seasons. Something comes up that’s big, and urgent, and just has to be done. And so sometimes, when that happens, you just make it work. You work nights, and weekends, and you just get. it. done. It might be a few days, a few weeks, or maybe even a few months. And that’s fine. That happens.

The challenge, though, becomes re-installing balance once the big, urgent thing is, in fact, done. Making sure that this exception to your routines doesn’t become your new normal. Closing the emails and walking away. Resisting the temptation to tend to a few things over the next weekend too.

How do you make sure your exceptions don’t become your rule?

It’s shockingly easy how quickly and imperceptibly our ‘exceptions’ – in work/life balance, study disciplines, exercise routines, prioritisation of relationships, or anything else that matters – can become our rules. And we don’t even recognise it.

Recognising the shift in routines

I distinctly remember a conversation with someone during uni that made me realise how powerful the disconnect can be between our perceptions of our own rules and exceptions.

This girl and I had only been doing the same courses that year, so I didn’t have any background to her approach to study before that. So one time, she was about to ask for another extension on an assignment, and she was talking to me about it, and she kept saying something like ‘This just so isn’t me. I always finish assignments on time. I always meet deadlines. This is so out of the ordinary – I never have to ask for extensions.”

I didn’t know what to say. Because what I was thinking was, ‘What are you talking about? You almost NEVER finish assignments on time. You have asked for extensions on almost every assignment we’ve had. You routinely do exactly this.”

Somewhere back in another time, clearly, not meeting deadlines had been an exception to the rule of this girl’s life. But without her realising, somewhere, her exception had become her rule, and her perception of her own habits hadn’t caught up with reality.

Now I’m not knocking her or anyone else for needing extensions on assignments. Life happens, and health gives out, and all kinds of everything, so that’s not the issue.

A disconnect between the ‘rule’ and reality of our routines

The point is, we can have all kinds of healthy ‘rules’ of life – ideas about the way we routinely live.

‘I turn up on time.’

‘I make time for my friends.’

‘I meet deadlines.’

‘I don’t work through the weekend.’

‘I don’t check my emails unnecessarily.’

‘I eat well.’

‘I work out.’

‘I go to church.’

But then you get busy, and you get out of the habit, and first it’s the one-off exception, and then the exception becomes the norm… and then it becomes the rule.  Sometimes, without us even realising that this is our new normal!


Recalibrating our routines

A deliberate life – one that honours the things that really matter to us; that makes time for the important and not just the urgent; that invests in the things that will help us become the people we truly want to be – that kind of life is a constant recalibration.

It’s not about never allowing ourselves the exceptions or never cutting ourselves some slack. That’s just life. But it is then deliberately rebalancing.

Reinvesting in that discipline.

Cutting back our commitments.

And walking away from the laptop.