On Routine

Remember those bullshit personality tests you had to take in high school that were meant to help you learn more about yourself? And they had five or so personality ‘types’ and those were basically: the madcap adventurer, the dreamy creative, the supersmart genius, the popular social bee, and then, like, the efficient, rule-following accountant?  

And you could tell by the questions which way things were going — everybody had their own inclinations of who they wanted to be, but everyone, from nerds to jocks to theater geeks, were all agreed that they most definitely did not want to be the efficient, rule-following accountant. So nobody was ever in that group.

Although really guys? In all honesty? The vast majority of us are essentially efficient, rule-following accountants, let’s face it.

Which brings me to routine. I am an extremely routine-oriented person. I hate to admit that about myself and I struggled against it for a long time, because few things sound less sexy and interesting than ‘lover of routine.’ But it’s true. I have pretty much always had a very rigid routine for myself, and as an introvert, I get irrationally angry when anything disrupts it.

My exact routine changes really frequently. I have found that, like diets and deodorants, the same routine will only work for you for awhile, and then you have to change it up to trick yourself into following it again (most of the time, the true purpose of a routine is to work towards a goal that your superego very much wants to accomplish but that your id absolutely never wants to spend any time working on). But regardless of the current shape of my routine, I always have one, because if I do not, I am a person who watches fourteen hours of television a day and sleeps twelve hours a night.

Yes, I realize that’s 26 hours. Somehow I still manage it. My laziness is a great wizard; it bends the rules of space and time to its (incredibly passive) will.

I also love to travel and I get to travel a lot for work. But travel is the ultimate disruption in routine. And the problem I have with that is not so much the travel itself, but that because of the way that I am, the lazy wizard takes over for about a week leading up to any travel and about a week leading away from it. Which means that, because I travel for about a week out of every month, I am not working towards my goals for three out of four weeks.

I’m really good at fighting with my own personality. I’ve spent most of my life doing it, and the General in me has become a master tactician in this rather niche form of warfare. I win about 7/10 of the battles I wage against myself for my own good, which I think is decent, especially considering that my opponent has no morals at all and cannot be predicted.

But this, this using travel as an excuse to let things go completely to pot, is one thing about myself I cannot seem to work around. I have tried all kinds of tricks to fool myself into thinking that the weeks leading up to and away from travel are just like any other weeks (since they are). I’ve told myself I’m not allowed to think about the travel until the night before it’s time to get on the plane. I’ve tried sleeping for a full day when I got back, with the understanding that the day after that, it would be back to business as usual. I’ve tried keeping to my usual routine to the extent that I can while traveling, to try to divorce my efficiency from my location.

But nothing works. I still let everything go to pieces before I travel because I’m just about to take a week off from this shit anyway, so what’s the point, and then it still takes a week to whip myself back into doing those things I don’t want to do after having had a week off.

I don’t want to stop traveling, but I’m really ready to make faster progress on these personal goals I have for myself that my routine is supposed to be serving. And to do that, I need to seriously work on them more than one week per month.

I know a lot of artists of varying kinds are like this — that’s why we have writer’s retreats, and residencies, and movies about people holing up in abandoned hotels to concentrate and then murdering their families. And I know that I work with a lot of fellow introverts who also love to travel, and who are also trying to make themselves work steadily toward goals they only abstractly want to be working on (like running marathons).

So, I’m asking for advice:  Does anyone with a similar temperament to mine have any tricks I could try?


  1. It’s like swimming upstream. I have accepted that getting thrown off routine IS my routine and it takes me a long time to get productive again, much like your inactivity around travel. My goal is just to be a little bit better during those fallow times, instead of trying to change my nature. I make myself do something useful or productive during the day. Sometimes it leads to more productivity, sometimes it leads me back to Netflix. Either way, I’m a step ahead of where I’d normally be. That whole “a journey of a thousand miles begins with one step”. Sometimes the step is all you can manage.
    I really enjoyed this post!


  2. Mara Eastern says:

    I actually do want to be the efficient, rule-following accountant. Except it doesn’t work. So I’m a dreamy, creative, supersmart genius 😉


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