I’ve changed my mind about routines lately. Since my 20’s, I have been a student of the idea that “routines numb the senses.” A thought I attributed to the American Transcendentalists, specifically Thoreau. His writing greatly affected me in my early 20s. But now, nearly 30 years later, I realize that routines are the way to stick to your positive habits, and move your life forward. I’ve struggled to write regularly for 30 years. Now that I have a morning routine that starts with writing, I’ve been able to write every single day (except one) since January 1st, 2018, at least 500 words. My average is more than 1000, and that doesn’t count the days I’m really on a roll and don’t put the muse aside for work.
But it hasn’t just been the writing, I have found that the whole morning routine is what helps me set the day in the right direction. I get up, brush my teeth, make coffee (which is a 20-minute process using a pour-over filter and glass carafe) and start writing. On days when I am traveling (more than 100 nights last year) I find that if I can stick to the schedule on the road, I have a good day. Those days where I can’t stick to the routine, like when I have to get up, shower and get right to the airport, I seem to struggle all day to get focus.
The routine is the vessel to success
It’s the sense of accomplishment and forward movement toward my goals that make the day a success. It’s the routine that helps me get that accomplishment. The other day, when I got home around 2 PM from my morning travel home, I found myself craving the security and structure of the morning routine. I was looking forward to the next morning. My wife asked if we were sleeping in, and I said, unfortunately, no, I really wanted to get started early. When I am able to do my own work in the morning, before the world decides to bother me, I am happy. By 7 AM, my phone has started to ring, my email inbox starts to fill up, and generally, I have work demands that need attention. But not at 4:30. At 4:30, everyone is still asleep. My dogs don’t even want out that early. So I can sit and write about whatever I feel like and not be bothered. Once I have a daily word count, I can go on to working on posts, editing, finding pictures, finding ideas for other mornings, etc.
Some days I get 3 hours of work towards my goals, some days only 20 or 30 minutes, but the feeling of accomplishment doesn’t vary. Sure, the three-hour days are better because I can accomplish a lot in three focused hours, especially if I get into a rhythm and find the pictures I need for posts. I can easily edit several posts. That helps because I’ve taken to only posting twice per week (except for this week), and I can schedule posts. Three hours could give me three week’s worth of posting.
So what is it about routines that help us so much? I spent so much of my life fighting “the routine” that I’m almost embarrassed to be writing in favor of them now. I never wanted to have routines because I wanted to live intentionally. I wanted to experience life around me actively, and I believed that routines were against this experience. Now, I know that routines are the guidelines to help us get to where we want to go. I think that especially in this age, we need to build our own routines to keep our focus. It’s so easy to get distracted and lose hours on social media. We’ve all done it. Wake up early with good intentions, only to lose the whole morning on Facebook or Instagram because we saw something that really piqued our interest. The productive time gone, we’re left with a feeling of emptiness afterward. I would even be angry at myself for not being able to stop.
Enter the routine. When I have a routine that I stick to, each day I focus instead of wander, it gets easier than the previous day. I rarely look at Facebook most days now, and Instagram isn’t even on my phone anymore. Until I need to use those platforms to gather audiences for my work, they are luxuries that I am not allowing myself. Instagram doesn’t really care that I leave it alone. Facebook gets more and more aggressive the less I use it. I now get emails that say “did you see this post from…” about close friends that I normally would spend time lurking over. Someone over there is a really brilliant psychologist. It’s tough not to just open the email and look at one little post. “But it’s wafer-thin.” I’m reminded of the classic Monty Python scene. Or the common drug dealer – just a taste. OK, so maybe their psychologist isn’t so brilliant, just really good at what they do. Either way, it’s effective and you have to make a concerted effort to pull away. I don’t want to delete my account, but I may be forced to at some point to stop the badgering.
You have to find your groove
The challenge, of course, is finding a routine that works for you. I’ve written about what I ran into while trying to create my daily writing habit and I will give it away in exchange for a wee email address. Finding your routine takes time and effort as well. Some things work for us, some things do not, and you have to navigate that line between what works and what might work. But it has to be something you can stick to each day. Lofty goals aren’t always the best here. For me, that’s getting up early. I hate it. Every fiber of my being fights me when the alarm goes off at 4 AM. Not only that but in order for me to get enough sleep so I’m not a zombie during the day, I have to be in bed when it’s light out starting in the spring.
Fortunately, I find that I’m tired enough by 8 or 9 that I can go to sleep pretty easily. But I only get up at 4 because I manage a team of sales managers across the US, so my days start East Coast time and end in Pacific time. It makes for very long days that start early. By 7 AM my time, it’s 8 in NY, and people are chomping at the bit to get going. I can hold them off until 7. But that means that when I started getting up at 5, I could only get an hour of work per day solid. And I just don’t have the creative energy at the end of the day to be productive, plus, that’s my reading time. I really understand how geniuses have taken menial jobs while they do their best work. I would love to be in a place financially where I could take a lesser job that only required 8 hours a day from me so I could focus on my writing. All I’d need is a base salary and insurance coverage these days.
But that’s the long-term goal, and something I’m working on, day by day, word by word, debt by debt. I have years of work to do to reduce my financial needs, and I’m getting there, slowly but surely. The morning routine helps keep me pointed in the right direction. I’m not going to tell you that you can’t be successful without one, just like you don’t need a map to find where you need to be. It just makes it much more simple to get there from here, that’s all. If you find yourself like I was for 30 years – wanting to write, but never sticking to it, the routine is the way forward.
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