Building A Routine For Mental Health

January 19, 2024
written by:Claire Brandon, M.D.

Studies have recently been showing that people who stick with and find value in a routine can find more meaning in their lives. This often translates into a more positive perspective in life and outcomes that result in a higher quality of life. It stands to reason that if routine can build a better life, it might be beneficial to use in our mental health goals. 

Examples of Mental Health Goals

Find your “peak hours.” 

Peak hours are when you feel the most focused and most able to get things done. Peak hours shouldn’t be used for routine or mundane tasks that don’t require a significant amount of your brain’s attention. I’ll use myself as an example. My peak hours happen to be quite early in the morning (5:30-7:30am) for 2 reasons. First, it’s extremely quiet at 5:30am. When there isn’t a ton going on, such as emails or phone calls, focus doesn’t get diminished as quickly. Once those emails start, it’s tough to find time for ourselves and by evening, I’ve used a ton of my brain energy capacity. Second, I have created a routine where I enjoy my coffee while doing things like writing podcasts, books, or reading for my continued education. 

Make lists. 

Don’t just write out everything you need to do in broad strokes. Break it down into manageable items in order to make more traction on it. Let’s look at an example. If you are tasked with writing up a proposal on a product you’ll be pitching to your executive team, writing down “do Project X” will generally result in feeling overwhelmed. You don’t know where to start. Instead try breaking down “Project X” into larger pieces. 1. Outline, 2. Competitive research on current landscape of similar products, 3. The Why of investing in this product, 4. The slide deck. These get broken down even further. What places will you search for research on the landscape. Where will content for visuals come from for your presentation, etc. Doing it in a small bites approach makes it much easier to get started, because you can do one thing and start to build momentum. 

Triage that list. 

Once you develop your list, you also need to triage it. We use the word triage in medicine a lot. It means figure out what is most urgent and do that first. This is especially true in the emergency room. We have criteria for how we need to triage certain patients and how much time we have to get that done. If we apply this idea to personal life and work, consider what time line you’re looking at and what is actually urgent. For example, do you have a due date for something tomorrow? Then don’t clean the bathroom that you might be able to do another time. You also need to triage what you’re actually capable of doing in the time period you have at any given time. You don’t want to commit to 17 hours of work in a day if that’s not going to happen and then feel like you let yourself down when it wasn’t realistic in the first place. 

Reflect. 

Reflect on the hard work you’ve put into the work you’ve done over the day, week, month. Reminding yourself about what you’ve accomplished helps to predict your future success and keeps your mind focused on being able to successfully accomplish your goals rather than focusing on the things that don’t go perfectly. 

Everyone uses routines differently, find one that works for you and try to put it into practice for a few weeks to see how it impacts your view on life. 

Claire Brandon, M.D.

Dr. Brandon is a dual board-certified psychiatrist in both adult psychiatry and consultation-liaison psychiatry (treatment of psychiatric illness in medically ill adults). She completed her residency and fellowship training at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City and did a second fellowship in public psychiatry at New York University in New York City

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