Planning Your Day: Routine vs. Schedule

person writing in a planner with a cell phone in hand

It's probably safe to say we all feel a little out of wack these days! Our world has changed drastically, yet it's in our nature to try to make order out of chaos. This post was written pre-Pandemic, but I feel like we need structure MORE now than ever.  If you are an essential worker you are still on a schedule and if you are working from home, perhaps you have now added teaching school as one of your daily duties.  Furloughed? Maybe you have found more open ended free time than ever before.  

Are you or your family members feeling anxious, depressed, on edge? Totally normal responses to the unprecedented times we are in.  The good news is that creating a daily routine or schedule will help make your days have structure, meaning and predictability.  Something we could ALL use right now! 

It’s important to distinguish whether you need a schedule or a routine. Routines are the order in which you perform certain tasks and a schedule is the order you perform those tasks with a time assigned to each of them. 


A schedule requires things to be done at a certain time (usually the same time) day after day. Getting kids to school, going to work and appointments are examples that require a schedule. Does the bulk of your day fall into activities that revolve around a schedule? If so, you’ll want to schedule other activities even if they normally don't require a specific time. This way they don't end up derailing your day or never getting done (which probably happens if you allow them to fit in “whenever”).
Examples of this are walking the dog, showering, making time with friends, working on passion projects, chores, meal planning, shopping, etc.


If you find your day is much less scheduled or often unpredictable, you might want to lay out a routine of things you do and the order you do them, but without as strict of a time line. This is especially helpful for people such as the empty nester, someone with health issues that dictate how the day will proceed and those with small children or babies who have a knack for throwing a schedule off track. A routine is something that can be done at any time of day, but don’t be fooled into thinking you won’t need to ever look at the clock. You’ll want to have looser, more flexible boundaries, but still work within reasonable timelines.
For example, your routine might start off with waking, coffee and shower, but you’ll want to set a time by which you will be up each day and a deadline for being showered (say by 10am). A routine allows you to know what you’ll accomplish each day, but doesn’t have to be as strict a time schedule. Over time you may very well find that your routine naturally falls into a schedule. If you realize that you NEED the structure of a schedule it is easy enough to change your routine over.
As a side note for those of you with young children and babies; a routine allows you to begin to predict what will happen next. If you get too stuck on a schedule a teething baby or toddler making developmental milestones is SURE to throw that schedule off. This can lead to tears and frustration for both of you. You can have a goal of nap time or bedtime at a certain time each day, but you’ll have much better luck if you follow the same routine each time without stressing that it is now “3 minutes past bedtime.” I fully appreciate how difficult and frustrating it can be to run a business with small children or when being the caretaker of another person. Be kind to yourself and establish a routine. 

Which To Use?

The goal here is to find what works best for you and will allow you to get things done with plenty of time for those things that make you feel guilty right now: naps, a walk with a friend, spending the entire morning playing with the kids, taking the day off to (fill in the blank).
The Pareto Principle states that 20% of your input creates 80% of your results. Focus on the 20% that will get you the results you want. This also means that 80% of your time is likely spent in time wasting activity or distraction. 20% of your customers represent 80% of your sales. You can substitute team members in there as well.