In Praise of the Simple Routine


Welcome. I’ve been measuring the progression of days by the ripeness of my neighbor’s tomatoes. They have a solitary Roma tomato plant on their patio whose fruits look perfect, plump and pale orange, not ready for plucking, but soon.

In the absence of a lot of outside stimulus, the tiniest things take on meaning. Waving to the man on his porch you always pass when you drive to the supermarket. The pigeons returning to the window ledge each evening, dusk again.

This week, Tauni writes:

Any tips for those who have difficulty (me) creating structure for their days? I like structure but find it hard to create on my own at the moment.

Rather than trying to effect a grand structure on the unruliness of a day, why not start with a few of the day’s discrete elements and build up a routine slowly?

This approach may sound elementary, but we’re still learning how to manage our time, and while some of us are acing this whole structure thing, I know from our mail that not having established a regular schedule is distressing to many. My colleague Jahaan Singh finds that starting every day by showering and getting dressed for the day helps set her mood. Another member of the At Home team, Jaspal Riyait, finds that cool showers each morning invigorate her. I’ve taken to exercising during lunch and taking a shower afterward. It’s something to look forward to and helps clear my head for the afternoons, when I typically start to flag. I had resisted exercising in the middle of the day because I thought for whatever reason that one couldn’t shower then! It turns out, you can shower any time you like, and if you do it at roughly the same time each day, you have the nucleus of a routine.

You can start to hang the whole day on that one small, set feature. What’s yours? Maybe you’re doing as a friend of mine does and walking (or cycling or driving) to a local spot to pick up coffee before the rest of the family is up. She says this helps her to connect with people first thing and makes the rest of the day seem less lonely. Or you’re eating a ripe peach over the sink each day at 11 for your regular mid-morning snack. Maybe you’re just setting aside a few minutes each day to check on the neighbor’s tomatoes.

Once you have one or two constants, you can add on. It’s tempting to expect a routine to immediately evidence productivity, but I don’t think that’s the point. Productivity can be a byproduct of having just a few things in place. We’re used to work and school providing a sometimes-uncomfortable armature to our days. Your “routine” doesn’t have to be punishing or packed with to-dos. It can be compassionate, it can be non-goal-oriented, it can be simple.

I wrote earlier in the week about how music has been soothing me, and so many of you generously sent in your own quarantine soundtracks. Thank you! I’m hungrily listening my way through them. Some great recommendations so far: “Watching the World Go by With You,” by Michael Franti; “Manhattan,” by Cat Power; “I Wish I Knew How It Would Feel to Be Free,” by Nina Simone; Lila Downs’s “Tiny Desk Concert,”; “And It’s Still Alright,” by Nathaniel Rateliff.

What tiny things do you do every day to create a routine? Let us know: athome@nytimes.com. We’re At Home. We’ll read every letter sent. As always, more ideas for living a good life at home and near it appear below.


  • As parents contend with the prospect of distance learning this fall, our Parenting team delved into the experience of home-schooling. They asked what it means to home-school and spoke with families who have opted in to educating their kids outside of traditional classrooms. And the writer Lyz Lenz interviewed her parents and five of her siblings about their hybrid home-school/public school experiences.

  • If you’re thinking about air travel any time soon, you’ll want to find out if the airline you’re flying is blocking the sale of middle seats to aid in social distancing and what the latest research says about virus transmission on planes. Among those who’ve decided to fly are digital nomads who have relocated to countries that offer visas allowing foreign nationals to live and work.

  • And Gretchen Reynolds looked at two new studies and concludes that e-bikes are safe and provide decent exercise, as long as you are cognizant of the ways in which they differ from standard bikes, put some time into learning how to ride and are careful to practice road safety.


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