Breaking Routine

I have a love/hate relationship with routines. On one hand, routines enable a level of seamless productivity through all of life’s daily and weekly brief burdens that are so easily forgotten if not part of a routine. As adults, all of us have numerous tasks and chores that simply need doing, and if they’re not done, it causes chaos until normalcy is restored. For example, just think about how you’d feel in the morning without your nice breakfast and cup of coffee. You may very well leave the house without your work computer in your work bag because you had been up late the previous night tending to an urgent deliverable – only to realize this once your get to work, sit down, and open the empty bag.

With established daily routines, we have almost an autopilot mode for them to be performed without requiring too much of the valuable cognitive energy that is 95% focused on bringing all the necessary documents and models to the 9am meeting, trying to remember to call the Hyundai shop over lunch, and deciding whether we should drive or Lyft to the networking event at 5:30pm. With all that to worry about, routines allow you to never worry about what you’re going to eat for breakfast, know exactly which slacks and button-down to wear, and remember exactly where you left your keys and wallet. They are an essential part of leading a productive life.

This past weekend was a great reminder of this. At Blackbaud, on the prior Wednesday, our VP of Product Management came to me with a surprise project that I was forced to commit 10-12 hour days to. Additionally, I took off Friday morning to go down to Orlando where Clemson was playing in the ACC Championship game. I had an amazing time seeing a friend from Clemson and watching our Tigers win the game, but after driving all day Friday and Sunday and the whirlwind of site-seeing and football on Saturday, I returned to Charleston Sunday evening and could feel the exhaustion in my bones.  Grocery shopping, cleaning, laundry, blogging and all the other weekend chores had been neglected. I’d have to catch up on those during the week. And oh yeah, that pet project for my VP was only about half way done. And he needed its by EOD Tuesday.

That may not sound like an overwhelming inconvenience, but relative to what has become my routine Saturdays and Sundays, I was very much out of sorts. And I got to thinking, why was that? Anybody that knows my background would guess that I’d be ready to jump on a plane and fly to Western Europe or Eastern Asia or Central Africa tomorrow with even the smallest hint of adventure. Part of me likes to think that is still true, but having a meaningful career requires commitment and routine, however unexciting that may be.

The most terrifying verity lodged in the back of my mind is that routines make it far easier for weeks, months, and years to fly by without any exceptional events to have taken place. I’m now one month away from having lived in Charleston for a full year. It has been a great year, but I’m no longer the perpetual newcomer. I’m now a ‘local’ in this town, however weird that seems. And I’m deathly afraid that I’m slowly losing the appreciation for novelty and uncommonness that has characterized my last decade of life. Why is that? Why do genuinely curious and productive people past the the glorious university years lose the drive for discovery? The only reasons I can think of are simply because it takes an uncomfortable amount of time, it takes effort and reminders to step back and away, and it takes breaking routine.

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