Brain Injury Blog
The Importance of Routine
by Janelle Breese Biagioni
Routines are important for everyone, including business people, children, entrepreneurs, artists and writers, parents and individuals in rehabilitation. Everyone resists routines at some time or other – that’s part of the human experience. This happens because a person feels like he or she is in a rut or that they just need a break from the daily hustle bustle. Nonetheless, they return to a routine, albeit one that may be varied or altered from the previous one.
Why are routines important? A routine provides structure and helps us to not forget steps, which may be necessary to follow every day (e.g. taking medications). Routines also help us to accomplish more in a day, reduce anxiety and stress, and teach others (and ourselves) to respect our time.
As a self-employed contractor, it is important for me to stay in a routine. I juggle many projects and in order for me to not forget where I am at, or when I need to have something completed, I have to keep an ongoing list, which is called a “Critical Path.” Essentially, this is my routine mapped out for weeks at a time documenting what topic I am writing about, for whom I am writing it, and on what day it is to be written. My critical path is on a calendar and it sits on my desk. Each day I look at what project(s) that I am to work on and that’s what I do. It also requires that I have a no-budge policy around it. That isn’t to say that I don’t allow myself some flexibility or that I abandon my loved ones in an emergency. I do build in breaks and downtime and if something comes up that I absolutely must tend to, I do. But it also means that I pick up where I left off at and that unless there is a VERY good reason to vary the routine, I don’t. People ask me all the time, “How do you do all that you do?” This is the answer… routine. If I didn’t use this system, I would/could procrastinate in the same way that anyone else does.
Establishing routines for an individual who has sustained a brain injury is very important in their rehabilitation. Challenges that survivors often struggle to cope with include: short term memory loss, sequencing and multi-tasking and follow through. Putting routines on a calendar and/or check list gives the person visual cues as to what is going to happen now, where they should be and even how to do it. Routines around morning, meals, chores, bed, holidays and day-to-day business build structure into a person’s day and offers the repetitiveness often needed to relearn what they may have lost following a brain injury.
To create routines, prepare a list of steps that are needed to be completed in order to establish structure into the person’s day. The following routines could be used to develop task lists:
Morning Routine (brush teeth, comb hair, get dressed, make coffee and breakfast, review calendar and appointments, take meat from freezer for tonight’s dinner and place in the refrigerator).
Meal Routine (set table, prepare food, clear and wash dishes, clean kitchen counter, sweep floor).
Chore Routine (dust furniture, clean bathroom, make bed, wash clothes, vacuum).
Personal Business Routine (phone calls, make appointments, pay bills, file paperwork).
Don’t assume that if you put brush teeth that the individual can sequence all the steps involved accurately. Observe them first and when you develop the routine include all the steps needed for that particular person (e.g. put toothpaste on toothbrush). As the routine becomes second nature the steps could be omitted and just the action listed (e.g. brush teeth).
Add other actions to these categories and/or create other categories that are meaningful to the person. Don’t overwhelm them with list after list of routines when they first come home from hospital. This is a slow process and working on one or two routines (i.e. morning and bed routines) at first is more likely to be successful than trying to add all the routines in at once.
Offer encouragement and acknowledge successes as the person moves towards independence. Rehabilitation is hard work and often the individual doesn’t see their personal gains or successes. Pointing out what they can do today that they couldn’t do two or three months ago can inspire and help to keep a person motivated.