Like cats, people like us with health issues tend to have lots of routines. These are perfected over time and when done right, they make the basic drudge tasks of our lives more efficient so we can save our energy for things we enjoy. On a really bad day, our routines can help us power through by reducing it to a process we simply repeat without having to think.

Routines can have a dark side too. We can become so entrenched in the way we do things that we don’t think about it anymore and we may cling to habits that no longer serve us. Or we may not recognize the things right in front of us that we could do better.

A few days ago, as I bent over in the early morning to remove the locking bar from the track of my sliding glass door, I fumbled to pull out the dowel that had fallen all the way down into the track. Usually I have it tipped up slightly so it’s easy to grab. It’s more secure when the bar is all the way down in the track, and suddenly it occurred to me that I could loop duct tape around the bar and double it at the end so it forms a “tag” I can grab to pull it out easily. I can shove the bar down deep into the track every night and simply grab the tag in the morning to extract it. It took me 11 years to think of that (slapping myself upside the head now).

I love my routines; I’m a cat lady and cat people rejoice in set routines. The cats love the structure and they will natter at you if you don’t do the routine right. I have lots of great routines for my housework chores that make things faster and easier, like cleaning my shower—I no longer avoid that task since I bought a car wash brush with a long handle. The large brush surface makes short work of scrubbing, and I rinse the stall down after with my handheld shower head. I have a system for every task.

This week my friend Jill came from Oregon to stay for a few days. This is, as well as a pleasant surprise, a complete disruption to my routine. A part of me clings anxiously to the routines I can maintain while she’s here, but I recognize too how important it is to have your routines disrupted once in a while. Only by breaking routine can you go back and recognize what still works and what no longer serves you. If it weren’t for the occasional disruption, we would never critically evaluate our routines and make necessary changes.

I also think about the routines I hide from my friend—why do I not share this? Is it just silly and embarrassing, or is it something unhealthy that I know better than do in front of another person, and therefore should maybe not do at all? When you live alone, it’s healthy to check once in a while and see just how far from the pack you’ve strayed.

Jill and I are sharing our life hacks, exchanging ideas that will result in improvements to both our routines when we are back in our normal daily lives. I’m pushing myself past my regular activity boundaries and I had a really long day out yesterday. Today a few body parts are unhappy with me, so we’re doing a movie to keep me off my knee for a few hours.

Meanwhile, it is lovely to see my friend and we are having adventures and making memories. These special times are the best of life for me. I can’t keep up this level of activity every day, but it’s so important to test those boundaries every now and then and see if my baseline is higher than I think. After Jill goes home, I’ll actually notice each routine I do. If something could be changed for the better, that’s when the idea will come.

The practice of routines is best done in a yin-yang cycle, with an occasional shakeup to keep it fresh and make sure your practices serve you well. Routines should be comforting and even exuberant.

What are your favorite routines (that aren’t too embarrassing to share)?