Ramps v. Ruts

We sometimes feel like we’re stuck in a rut, enslaved in a routine that is dragging us down. When asked how’s it going?, we respond, “OK, same old same old, nothing new.” Or, “you know, just trying to keep my head down and put one foot in front of the other.” Or we criticize those we see adhering to some kind of routine as being rigid and lacking flexibility. We compliment ourselves for hating routines by saying we embrace spontaneity.

In a 2011 study, it was determined that only 1/3 of American adults start the day with a written schedule. Think about this for a moment… If true, this would mean that two thirds of adults start each day like leaves in the breeze. They are starting with the sole intent of being in react mode. My plan is to not plan. My plan is to wait and see what’s in store for me at work and respond to what comes up. They are winging it, free wheeling, open to whatever comes their way. Does that sound groovy dude? Is that chill? Or does it sound stress inducing?

Let’s consider two individuals’ Time Calendar for a day:

Sammy Snooze Button leads of his day languishing under the covers:

7:45 am – Alarm goes off.

8:10 am – After hitting snooze 5 times, grudgingly and grumpily gets out of bed, rushes to get ready.

8:30 – 9:00 am – Commutes to Office.

9:00 – 9:15 am – During commute stops at Tim Hortons to get coffee and donut to start day.

9:15 – 9:30 am – Skulks into office late, grunts good morning.

9:30 – 11:00 am – Checks emails, hits refresh every couple of minutes, distracted by texts on phone.

11:00 to 11:30 am – With an email lull, wanders the office chatting about last night’s games he saw on TV and how he’s crushing his fantasy NHL pool.

11:30 to noon – Deals with a phone call from a customer asking if Sammy’s taken care of the request made last week.

Noon to 1pm. Lunch.

1:15 to 2:30 pm. – Late back from lunch and disrupts team meeting. Sammy sits and contributes nothing to the conversation.

2:30 to 4:30 pm – Back to the Inbox.

4:30 to 5:00 pm – Shuffles papers, “organizes” desk, and “gets ready” for tomorrow.

5:00 to 5:30 pm – Commute Home.

5:30 to 11:45 – On the couch with TV and beer in hand.

While, Greta Go-Getter gets up and after it.

5:05 am Alarm goes off.

5:05 am Greta Gets out of bed, makes bed, gets dressed, saddles up to computer (with wifi turned off) and does some creative work for 45 minutes.

5:50 am Greta makes coffee.

6:00 -7:00 am Greta does some yoga in her family room.

7:00 – 8:30 am Greta gets ready for work, has breakfast, family time, and gets kids off to school.

8:30 – 9:00 am Commutes to Office. Leaves Phone in Car.

9:00 – 11:00 am Greta blocks time for customer development work.

11:00 – Noon Greta blocks time for internal meeting(s) with team or as needed.

Noon to 1:00 pm Lunch. Greta tries to get out for a walk and have a nutritious meal.

1:00 – 3:00 pm Greta responds to emails/phone calls. Scheduled reactive time.

3:00 – 5:00 pm Greta schedules face to face customer meetings.

5:00 – 5:30 pm Commute Home.

5:30 – 6:30 pm Prepares dinner, checks in with kids.

6:30 – 8:30 pm Family time, kids activities.

8:30 – 10:00 pm Relax, read, catch a TV show.

There are more similarities than differences in both of their schedules. They both have the same number of hours in the day. They both are going to 9-5 jobs. They both have similar commutes. They both seem to sleep the same amounts. Yet, one seems to be bringing a bit more intention to their days. If we follow each of these characters and their routines/schedules for a few days, weeks, months, years, where will they each be down the road relative to the same starting point? Are they likely to be on two completely different tracks? Is one likely to be on an upwards trajectory, a ramp? Is the other more likely to be stuck in a rut, deteriorating? Which is likely to be happier, more successful, more useful? Formalizing a routine in the form of a schedule is a proactive act. It implies some kind of plan which suggests thought, direction, and vision are present. One has taken the time to think of where they want to go and try to clarify how they are going to get there. Nothing in that sounds bad, does it?

What if we graph their projected paths on learning, exercise, work progress? The graphs would likely look similar and show Greta surging and Sammy sinking. Perhaps, their respective trajectories will represent the Capabilities Chasm?

Is it possible that not having a routine or a schedule to adhere to is an indication that we’re lacking direction? Could not having a schedule reflect that we’re wandering aimlessly? Is this how we really want to be spending our limited time? Instead of worrying about the negative connotation of what a routine is, we could review and reflect upon what it is we are actually doing on a daily basis. This will tell us more. The activities will be a reflection of what we consider to be of value.

A schedule defends from chaos and whim. It is a net for catching days.” – Annie Dillard-

What has happened to our routines since mid-March? Have they improved or been blown to pieces? The routine of each member of our families was likely deeply disrupted in mid-March. Rapid transitions to working from home coupled with school closures created headaches. Trying to coordinate pockets of productivity amongst family members sharing space has been tough. Hopefully, we’re settling into a routine which is both calming and constructive.

Having a reduced travel schedule has freed up considerable time for me. After floundering for a few weeks earlier in the Spring, I have locked into a consistent day in and day out routine since April that is now automatic. Starting my days consistently fuels me. I feel great knowing that I am being useful, productive, and demonstrating several of my core values. No matter what else happens during the day, I have several things to look back on favorably as “wins”. I reinforce my belief in self discipline, learning, and being helpful to my children. Making this routine automatic is one of the most worthwhile things I have done this year. It is something for which I’m grateful to have done. None of it feels like a sacrifice. These first hours of the day are the parts of the day in which I am most happy. From 5.30 am to 8.30 am, I’ve gotten things done. I’ve reinforced my core values for myself. I’ve been useful. I’ve done things which give me more energy as opposed to taking anything away.

Alarm set 5:30 am

Sit up, put feed on the ground. Clothes are on ground besides bed. Put on shirt.

After I put on shirt, I say to myself that life is a get to, not a have to. I get to get up when I choose. I get to get my day started in my way. I then feel gratitude for the amount of get to in my life.

Put on pants/shorts. No suits these days. Another get to.

Fluff pillow on bed.

Make bed.

Go to bathroom.

Go downstairs.

Open Snoop’s crate.

We greet each other.

Take Snoop outside.

Either take Snoop inside and feed him, or

Put Snoop in back of truck and take son to work.

5.45 – 6.30 am Enjoy coffee and read.

6.30 am Put book down and go to office.

Read readwise highlights.

After I read readwise highlights, I do forearm exercises.

Clean up email inbox.

Write for half hour.

7.15 am. Go upstairs to bedroom.

Brush teeth.

Rinse with mouthwash and do wrist curls (concurrently).

Kettle bell swings (55 at 35lb).

Go downstairs. Put on socks. Put on runners.

7.25 am Go outside.

Walk dog for an hour

Home by 8.30 to 8.45. Greet balance of family. Refreshed and ready to work by 9am.

Having a reliable routine is relaxing. It reduces anxiety by eliminating decisions. One isn’t left wondering what to do. Our routines can guide us to our goals. How we start our days has a lot to do with how the balance of our day goes. If our routine is reactive, then we’re on our heels and our routine can become a rut. Planning a proactive routine at the start of the day puts you on a positive path. Our routines don’t need to begin with when we get out of bed. We can consider crafting one for when we begin our work. Are we intentional about how we approach our daily responsibilities? Do you see your schedule as something that is chosen for you, that you have to do? Or is it something you are actively choosing, that you get to do? What view are you likely to have of your schedule based on whether you see it as something you get to do versus something you have to do? Perhaps, a distinction between Sammy and Greta is Greta feels like she gets to do her morning while Sammy sees his morning as happening to him. I certainly feel good about my schedule. I get to choose each piece of it. Is your daily routine a ramp or a rut? Is it an engine or an anchor? Does it lift you up or pull you down? Which choice would be more helpful for you? If we view our schedule as both a reflection of what we value and a choice we get to make, perhaps we can get a bit more excited about setting a schedule.