What Does a Structured Life Mean & Look Like?
If you create structure in your life, what would you say that looks like if I were to ask you? Having a structured life doesn’t mean having every little detail planned out in your life with no room for spontaneity. Everyone’s definition of having structure might be different. My meaning would probably look different from yours, and that’s ok.
In general, a structured life is keeping a schedule or routine, which includes making time for yourself and activities that bring you joy. Cambridge University defines “structure” as planning, organizing, or arranging the parts of something.(1)
Why Should We Create Structure?
Implementing structure into our daily life can have a significant positive impact on our mental health. It can improve things like bipolar disorder, help prevent substance abuse, and manage anxiety and depression. Research has shown that people in good health engage in more routine behaviors, such as maintaining a healthy food plan, engaging in frequent exercise, and not skipping meals. The same study shows that having a bedtime routine will help improve sleep habits.
Benefits of Structure
Are you a person who thinks they perform better when waiting until the last minute to complete a project, causing stress, and worrying about finding time to complete tasks that you may have neglected? Many of us convince ourselves that this is when we do some of our best work, me included. This was especially true when it involved any schoolwork. Research has shown that people who lack structure may be more likely to suffer from stress, poor sleep, poor eating, and even worsening physical conditions.
Having a routine and structured schedule allows for better time management throughout the day while helping us complete many mundane tasks, giving us more personal time for enjoyment, or allowing extra tasks to get done. It also helps us increase our productivity throughout the day while ending procrastination.
What is a Routine & How Does it Work?
Before we get into five ways to help you create structure in your life, we must know what a “routine” is and how it works. Routines are repetitive patterns of interactions and have been described as the organizational analog of individual habits. These individual habits are each stored in a procedural memory.
Scholars have also explored the idea that routines result from the interlinking of individual habits, reflecting connections between individual learning and organizational routines. As the routine forms, the initially distinct action dispositions of individuals tend to intermingle into a cohesive whole, such that the way in entirety represents a collective arrangement.(2)
Two Types of Routines
Two principles help guide the sustainment of daily routines. The first principle is “primary routines,” which consist of having a regular healthy diet, sleep, and personal hygiene. These primary routines should be prioritized over “secondary routines.” This includes dealing with leisure and social activities, exercising, and work/study.(3)
Collin’s Fab 5 for Creating Structure
1.) Establish a Healthy Morning & Bedtime Routine
Who doesn’t like getting up in the morning and thinking to yourself, now that was a solid night of sleep! Having a structured routine in the morning and before bedtime can and will significantly impact your day. For example, a morning routine can include waking up to feed your dogs and cat, taking them out on a nice walk for them to do their business, and checking your stocks. Exercise and meditation are other activities that can be incorporated into a healthy morning routine.
A good bedtime routine means trying to go to bed at a similar time each night. Brushing your teeth, taking a shower, and doing other activities can help you unwind before sleeping, such as reading a book or meditation. Evidence shows that having a good bedtime routine can improve your quality of rest, positively affecting your mental sharpness, performance, emotional well-being, and energy level.
2.) Make a “To-Do” List
The most crucial tip for myself from the “Fab 5” is to make a list of things you want and need to get done the next day, in the order with the top priority being written down first and the least important being last.
Doing this will help you prioritize and manage your time. I am a bit old-school, so I like writing my list down on a yellow sticky note and placing it on my bathroom mirror. Your list might be on your phone under the reminders tab, or it may be on a whiteboard that’s hanging on your fridge. The most important thing is that your list is placed somewhere that you can see it first thing in the morning and throughout the day if needed.
3.) Plan Your Meals
Having planned meals adds a layer of structure to your life. It can help improve your overall health, reduce the stress of deciding on your next meal, and help you save time, which will allow you to add more time for fun activities that you might not have planned or scheduled in your original routine.
Not to mention, it can save you a boatload of money! I typically use my Sundays to cook for my upcoming week. You can experiment to find out what works best for you.
4.) Make Time for Self-Care & Activities That You Enjoy
Sometimes when we create structure in our life, we can neglect to add the enjoyable activities that make us who we are and truly make us happy. Always set aside time to do the activities or things you love that make you happy. This will help improve your overall quality of life.
For some, that might mean going to the movies, playing a particular instrument, or hanging out with friends. Whatever it may be, set time aside for whatever it is, and you will see a significant difference in your overall mental & physical health.
5.) Make Sure Your Routine Suits You & ONLY YOU.
Last but certainly not least, and arguably the most important thing, is ensuring that the structure you implement suits YOU and YOUR life. Your life is unique, and the structure that helps you may not suit me or anyone else. There are no rules when creating a structure that works for you. As long as your structured routines are implemented with healthy habits that serve you and help you maintain a balanced life, keep doing what you’re doing!
1.) Cambridge Advanced Learners Dictionary & Thesaurus, Book, 2023. https://dictionary.cambridge.org/us/dictionary/english/structure Accessed 19 January, 2023
2.) The Multiplicity of Habit: Implications for Routines Research, Journal, 2016. https://www.researchgate.net/publication/286775239_The_multiplicity_of_habit_Implications_for_routines_research Accessed 15 January, 2023
3.) Regularizing Daily Routines for Mental Health During and After the COVID-19 Pandemic, Journal, 2020. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7535346/ Accessed 19 January, 2023