What if you could get 1,575 hours worth of life experience distilled, for free?

I worked as a live-in direct care assistant at L’Arche DC for two years. During that time, I averaged 6.5 house routines per week. (When people with intellectual disabilities are home, an assistant is guiding them in daily life routines.)

Taking vacations and assistant shortages into account, and incorporating additional routines I’ve done in the last 2 years, I have completed more than 350 daily-life routines for other people. Given that each routine lasts an average of 4.5 hours, this lends me approximately 1,575 hours of experience in completing daily-life routines.

Streamlining your routines will allow you to move through your life gently and attentively. If you have a part of your daily routine that’s usually stressful and harried, you’ve come to the right place.

There are 4 daily routines at L’Arche:  morning, afternoon, evening and overnight. (Overnight is primarily for those with limited mobility.) Here, we’ll focus on evening, morning and afternoon weekday routines.

Evening Routine


Why begin with evening routine, when the day begins in the morning? In Jewish tradition, the day begins as the sun sets, rather than as it rises. I’ve found a lot of wisdom in treating evenings as the beginning of the new day.

5 Practicalities

-Set a bedtime and stick to it. There’s a bit more leeway on weekend nights, but generally speaking, people go to bed by 10pm at L’Arche, and they reap the benefits. I’ve been trying for a 10:30pm bedtime, and I feel an increase in my energy when I stick to it. When we don’t get enough sleep, we rob ourselves of the energy we could bring to our work and our lives the next day.

-Remember to contribute. Do your chores and complete your household responsibilities. Your sleep will be sounder, and your housemates will like you more. It’s hard to fall asleep thinking about a mound of dishes in the sink.

-Make your lunch, lay out your clothes and gather all necessary items for the next morning. The evening is a time for thoughtful preparation. Mentally run through the next days’ morning and afternoon routines, and think about the things you’ll need to make them go smoothly. Put these things in easy reach.

-Be faithful about self-care. I wouldn’t dream of saying to another person at L’Arche, “I’m just too tired to help you floss tonight.” Yet many of us do this to ourselves on a regular basis. As a wise woman once told me, “You’ll be tired at the end of evening routine. You may have helped 5 people brush their teeth. But, you still have to brush your teeth.”

-Make time to unwind. This will look different for each person. Your ‘unwind’ may mean reading in bed with a book, or doing some gentle yoga stretches, or stacking toilet paper rolls (that’s true for my friend Pedro*.) You’ll find it easier to relax and fall asleep if you’ve done something pleasurable and relaxing.

Morning Routine


Mornings can be the most challenging of all routines, because you typically have the least amount of time to work with. Thus, it’s essential to focus on the important, and give yourself time to move through unexpected hitches.

5 Practicalities

-Set your alarm for half-hour earlier than you have been. Why? To live your dreams, you need to get up earlier. For me, rising early means having time to read, pray and write creatively. When your alarm goes off, get out of bed, no snooze-button. It destroys your credibility (didn’t you set that alarm?!) If you went to bed early (see above), you can do it.

-Have a breakfast you can count on ready to go. Every night, I prep oats for my oatmeal, place a teabag into a mug and fill the water pitcher. Why? I know how I like to feel the next morning:  as though a good fairy visited during the night. (No matter that it was actually me who did it the night before.) In the morning, a well-prepared kitchen always feels like a gift.

-Consolidate motion. This is an important idea, one that most people overlook. When you’re working with people with physical disabilities, you learn to group like tasks together to minimize unnecessary transfers. When you’re in the kitchen area, finish up breakfast tasks. When you’re in the bathroom area, finish up hygiene tasks. Running back and forth wastes time and energy.

-Focus on the important.  Say you’re running behind, getting out of the shower at 8:20 when you need to leave by 8:30. It’s tempting to think you have time to dry your hair, dress, do skincare, choose jewelry, return a call, do the dishes, make a grocery list, check Twitter, leave a note for your family and lock up. Your mind is lying to you. You need to focus on the important.

-Expect the unexpected, and build in time for emergencies. Inevitably, someone will need to change clothes for some reason. Someone (maybe you) will take too long in the shower. If you haven’t given yourself a 15-minute cushion for your routine, you will get unnecessarily stressed out. I also recommend wearing a watch. (It makes harder to say, “I have plenty of time…”)

Afternoon Routine


Afternoon routine is a evening/morning hybrid. There should be time for relaxation, but also time to get things done.

5 Practicalities

-Have a snack. Whether you’re at work or at home, be sure to eat a healthy snack in the afternoon. (Think apples, boiled eggs, whole-grain toast.) Your mood and your productivity will tank if you haven’t nourished yourself.

-Connect with people. While the mid-morning can be a great time for solitary work, it’s important to build in some relational time in the afternoon. A great way to do this is to…

-Incorporate exercise. It doesn’t have to be complex. Get a friend to join you on your walk, or to meet you at a yoga class. This will boost your mood and your energy, and can also help you to…

-Think about your personal goals. The afternoon is a good time to take pause and ask yourself:  have I focused on the important things today? Is there an important person or project that I’ve neglected? By thinking about this in the afternoon, you give yourself a chance to make some progress before your work day ends. If healthy eating is your goal, it’s a good idea to…

-Start preparing supper. When I’m cooking for myself, I often fall into the trap of grazing on whatever is easiest (hello, PB&J.) When I’m cooking at L’Arche, I know I’ll be preparing supper for 10+ people, and so I start early. I select ingredients carefully, and I put more thought into the meal. Try treating yourself with the same consideration you’d show to others.

Once you’ve incorporated these ideas:  Write down your current routine. On paper, in 15-minute increments. Once you have your current routine down, log any changes you can make to allow your evening, morning and afternoon routines to flow. Writing it down helps you problem-solve more effectively, and it creates a template you can modify in the future.

Remember, the point of all this is to allow your life to be simpler, more beautiful and more delicious.

Today, take time to consider how your daily routine habits impact your attitude and your choices. May you discover a daily routine that gives you more than just ‘getting by.’ I wish for you a routine that gives you room to live.



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  1. Tanya March 4, 2011 at 9:28 PM - Reply

    Carrie, I’ve been behind on reading your blog, so I just sat down and read through the last five…when I finished reading this post I literally said “Wow” out loud! ha I think part 4 was written for me! You have touched my soul with your words of wisdom and beautiful honesty over the past several months! Keep writing…through it you are allowing yourself to be God’s gift to this world. I love you!

    • cari313 March 4, 2011 at 10:49 PM - Reply

      Oh Tanya, thank you for this! It came just when I needed it.
      I’m going to write down what you said here, and keep it close- it’s a wonderful encouragement to keep writing.
      I love you too! 🙂

  2. Tara March 4, 2011 at 9:57 PM - Reply

    I stumbled across your blog a few days ago and I have to leave a comment to tell you how much I’m enjoying everything here.
    Looking forward to reading more!

    • cari313 March 4, 2011 at 10:50 PM - Reply

      Thank you Tara! I appreciate the feedback, and I’m glad you’re here.

  3. Mike March 5, 2011 at 3:48 PM - Reply

    Caroline: “Consolodate your motion.” LOVE it! As a father of triplet boys, each on the autism spectrum, I have found our morning routines are much less stressful when I consolodate my motions. Thank you for all that you do!

    • cari313 March 5, 2011 at 7:19 PM - Reply

      Wow! Sounds like you know quite a bit about the challenge of getting out the door on time 🙂 Thank you for the affirmation as well!

  4. Véronique March 6, 2011 at 2:27 AM - Reply

    Hello Caroline! I really liked what you wrote about the “morning routine”. My son can get into a bad anxiety attack when he feels rushed. Getting up earlier and focusing on what is important really makes a difference. and preparing the night before is really helpful too.
    I am enjoying your posts tremendously – thank you!

    • cari313 March 6, 2011 at 2:33 AM - Reply

      Thank you Veronique~ always good to hear from you 🙂 Sounds like you’ve seen the powerful difference between a rushed routine and a focused one. I’m glad you found the post valuable (and enjoyable)!

  5. Brooke March 16, 2011 at 4:41 PM - Reply

    Hey Cari, I took the suggestion to wake up earlier to heart. I’ve been waking up and doing my writing in the morning, and it has made a huge difference. I finished an assignment that usually takes two weeks in eight days. When I write in the morning I have more energy all day! (Though I don’t think I’ll ever get up at 3:30am like Peter Shankar says in his blog.) Thanks.

    • Caroline McGraw March 16, 2011 at 6:34 PM - Reply

      My dear Brooke ~ So happy to hear that the post / post suggestion struck a chord! 🙂 Even happier to hear that it has made a difference in your days (& particularly in your writing.)

  6. Katie March 19, 2011 at 12:19 AM - Reply

    This is a stunningly beautiful and simple post with clear, practical, yet somehow truly soulful advice. I quite love it, Caroline. I love how you suggest that evenings can be the beginning, that helping others doesn’t negate helping yourself. All of it just flows like a gentle reminder that life can be about so much more that just getting by and it is often our routines that are most worth paying attention to — they make up our life. Thank you for linking to my blog, I am honoured to share in this lovely post.

    • Caroline McGraw March 19, 2011 at 12:40 AM - Reply

      Thank you Katie! Thrilled to see you here 🙂 Love how you sum it up: “…our routines…are most worth paying attention to– they make up our life.” In turn, I’m honored by your comment, and happy to link to momentumgathering.com.

  7. joanne March 21, 2011 at 10:24 AM - Reply

    Love your posts. I’ve just subscribed. If you interested pls check my blog at wordpress. Keep up the good work!

    • Caroline McGraw March 21, 2011 at 1:19 PM - Reply

      Thanks Joanne ~ so glad you like the site! I checked out your blog and appreciate the courage it takes to write what you feel. May it be a healing practice for you.

  8. […] McGraw presents The Ultimate Guide to Streamlining Daily Routines posted at A wish come clear: how to see disability as opportunity. Caroline creates a guide to […]

  9. Martianne July 19, 2011 at 5:04 PM - Reply

    I keep falling our of my routines and rhythms, but when I get into a groove again and, thus, have a bit more “me” time around child care, therapy for my son, hoemschooling, etc., I ant to come back and ready more of what you have here on your blog. It looks fabulous and oh so helpful. Thank you!

    I have become a subscriber to give myself a “tickler” to read when I can.

    • Caroline McGraw July 19, 2011 at 5:19 PM - Reply

      Thank you, Martianne; welcome to A Wish Come Clear!
      I know just what you mean, as my morning routine ‘fell out’ today … I’m learning as I go 🙂

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