Breaking Routine

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(Personal photo 09-11-2017. Click for larger image.)

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You’ve heard me wax eloquent on the importance of having a routine. Something that ensures you get done everything that needs doing, especially your writing. But today I want to talk about the importance of breaking routines as well as keeping them.

Usually when we talk about breaking routine, it’s a bad thing. We mean to complete certain tasks, but something unexpected throws a monkey-wrench into the careful plans of mice and men. And then we talk about the struggle to get back into a routine once it’s been broken.

However, there are two very good reasons to break routine on purpose:

The first is that it’s important to know how to handle free time. Right now I’m on my long-awaited staycation, and I noticed that this looming mass of free time seemed oddly… intimidating. What was I going to do during the eight hours I’m normally at work? There was simultaneously too much to do (all of the projects around the house that have been pushed to the back burner), and nothing to do at all (because I often don’t want to do those things.) I’ve learned that, unless I’m having a particularly good day, I usually only have one to two hours of good writing work in me before I start getting jittery and bored. Maybe that’s a failing on my part, but I think it’s because my day job has trained me to squeeze all of my mental processes into that one hour because that’s all I normally have. Granted, I wouldn’t mind having some more time on a daily basis to write, but 12+ hours seems a little excessive. Writing all day every day isn’t exactly the most interesting or exciting prospect in the world, but I don’t want to waste my time laying around surfing Facebook or some other equally useless task. There’s only so much “relaxing” I can do before I start feeling guilty rather than rejuvenated.

That’s both sad and scary. I normally seize free time with the jealousy of a starving woman, scrabbling for whatever I can get. But when faced with plenty, my mind goes blank. I don’t want to be a vegetable that always requires a stream of exterior motivation in the form of work or scheduling in order to function. And I don’t want to waste my time on this planet being inoculated with mindless entertainment.

So what’s the solution?

Well, that brings us to our second reason to break routine: to throw some novelty into your life. Something to jump-start your brain, to make you wake up, break the monotony, and get the creative juices flowing. Some people choose to do extreme things like travel or sky-diving. Others who aren’t interested in the adrenaline high of risking life and limb, or who are a little less monetarily secure, can find other ways to shake up routine. Go to a restaurant you’ve never tried out. Go to a park you haven’t seen in years. Take a hike, a swim, or a short day trip. Have a picnic. Explore a part of your hometown you’ve never been to. Visit a historical site or important local landmark. Stop at that farmer’s market or that little mom-and-pop store that you drive by ever day but have never actually checked out. Take some time to stop at those places you “keep meaning” to see. It’s far too easy to just put those small but important things off for when you “have time.” News flash: you will never have time so you might as well do it now.

And I’m doing just that. Today, I hiked in a park I haven’t visited for at least ten years. Granted, it wasn’t a particularly long or difficult hike, but it was different. It still stretched my physical and mental muscles, and I spent four glorious hours out in nature, much of which was in complete silence. Later this week, I plan to go to a local historical landmark and then the zoo. I’ll also write and take care of some bigger chores around the house, like cleaning out my closet and putting up insulation in the attic. I’ll do quiet things like sitting on the porch with my cats, drinking tea, and reading or just quietly listening to the forest. And, of course, I’ll do some lazy things, like binge-watching The Expanse and rewatching Star Wars Rebels.

The bottom line is that breaking routine is fine as long as you do so deliberately. You must insure your routine has time set aside to break that same routine. Keep a list of things you’d like to do and when you have some time coming up, don’t just fill it with the grown-up “responsible” tasks. Be sure to try something out of the ordinary, no matter how humble it may appear.

Those times are what keep us alive.

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