Your inability to form a routine is a warning sign that something deeper is wrong

Feeling dead inside?
Feeling dead inside?
Image: Reuters/Navesh Chitrakar
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This question originally appeared on Quora: How did you overcome your work routine? Don’t you feel that your life is just one infinitely repeated day? Answer by Michael Kilcoyne.

This was my routine before work:

  • Wake up at 2am in a complete panic.
  • Fail to go back to sleep for another two or three hours.
  • Force myself to get out of bed at around 6:30-7ish, because I had to.

During the subway ride in:

  • Run through all of the worst-case scenarios that were slowly playing out in my mind about what would happen if I got fired today/tomorrow.
  • Imagine all of my potential sales calls ending in: STOP CALLING ME! PLEASE DIE!
  • Have an utterly crippling sense of dread overcome me before I even step into the office and make a single call.

Throughout the day:

  • Fight the urge to vomit onto my desk due to sheer panic.
  • Force self to make calls because if I don’t I will get fired.
  • Make some calls. Eventually, talk to somebody who sounds like they’re ready to buy.
  • Completely whiff the opportunity, slam the phone down on your desk, yell out (or, at least, emote), storm out of the salesroom, head into the bathroom, and break down emotionally.
  • Get back out there, make some more calls. At some point, convince someone to buy something from you behind this mask of bravado and confidence, even though you’re completely panicking.
  • By the end of the day, settle into a sense of calm because I’ve essentially done my job and feel less scared about tomorrow.

Rinse, repeat. Do that for at least 20-days out of the month. Repeat, month-to-month. Never feel totally safe or secure. It wasn’t exactly a winning formula for a healthy lifestyle.

Routines are only soul-sucking when you hate what you’re doing

If you’re building things every day and you feel secure and satisfied with your work, I think it’s only natural (and healthy) to settle into a routine. (And hopefully that routine doesn’t involve panic-attacks.)

And, in fact, having a routine is extremely critical to creating success. As Charles Druhigg, author of The Power of Habit, writes:

Almost every single species that has survived has the ability to take routines and make them automatic. That way you have cognitive power to invent spears and fire and video games.

So, if you want to create the next Overwatch because you’re overwhelmingly passionate about video games, having a design or development routine will only enable you to do so by clearing all of the bullshit out of your head and getting you to focus on the important things: building that next app, writing that next chapter, or recording that next awesome piece of video for your big web-project.

Still, if you like what you’re doing, that routine will only enable you to be more creative. And you can always create better ones, too.

How to create routines that don’t suck

1. Don’t force it

Sunni Brown runs a creative agency for a living, and even then, she says that she’s only creative for about four hours every day, max, not including the nap that she throws in there. She doesn’t force it, either. When she doesn’t feel creative at 6am in the morning, she doesn’t force herself into that routine. Sometimes that happens at 6pm.

2. Get outside and away from people

I’m generally the most productive when I’m away from people and outside. Sometimes it’s too hot and I sweat a lot, so I’ll find a coffee shop far away from everyone and hang out there. It’s tough to find a good rhythm and routine and break out of your comfort zone if you’re constantly stuck in the office. Carve out some time during lunch, or early-morning, or late-afternoon to just be by yourself and focus on shit that matters to do. It’s what some writers call “fertile solitude.”

3. Do one thing different, every day

If we’re constantly shuttling ourselves from home to work, work to home, doing the same monotonous bullshit, it becomes increasingly difficult for us to do real, creative work that doesn’t slowly eat away at our souls. One simple trick for changing this is to simply implement some sort of change into your daily routine: eat something different for lunch, go to work differently, try a salsa/cooking class at night, anything. If you keep doing the same shit over and over again, and you’re slowly starting to hate yourself, that’s bad and you need to change it.

Routines help us to automate our lives, so that we can focus our mental energies on real, creative, and important work.

Still, if you hate your job, and your daily routine sucks, and you feel like you’re slowly getting swallowed up by life, don’t blame it on your environment. Because you can change that, too.

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