Routines Are Overrated

    Prioritizing small acts of delight can set a positive tone for the day and make even the most challenging tasks easier to tackle.

    enJuly 25, 2022

    About this Episode

    You struggle with being productive. So you decide you need to establish a routine for yourself. You get real gung-ho about this routine — this is going to be the thing that changes everything! But then you fail to stick to it. So you flagellate yourself for that failure and decide what you need is a different routine. But then you don’t stick with that routine either. The cycle then repeats itself, leaving you no more productive than you were at the start.

    My guest, Madeleine Dore, found herself stuck in this cycle. So she decided to start interviewing successful creative types to get their secrets to an optimal routine. Yet these folks would confide to her a different secret: they actually didn’t have a routine either.

    Madeleine has come to believe something that I’ve discovered too: routines aren’t all they’re cracked up to be and you can actually still be very creative and productive even if you go about each day in a looser, more ad-hoc fashion.

    Today on the show, I talk to Madeleine, who’s the author of I Didn’t Do the Thing Today: Letting Go of Productivity Guilt, about how the all-or-nothing thinking which surrounds routines can actually sabotage our effectiveness. We then discuss alternatives to keeping a strict routine that still allow you to get stuff done, including moving to a “portable routine,” taking advantage of “splodge time,” and embracing cycles and seasons in your work. We also discuss other ways to let go of unuseful productivity guilt, including setting realistic expectations and not eating the frog first.

    Resources Related to the Podcast

    Connect With Madeleine Dore

    🔑 Key Takeaways

    • Let go of rigid routines and embrace flexibility. Incorporate portable routines, utilize "splodge" time, and embrace cycles and seasons in your work. Set realistic expectations and let go of unproductive guilt.
    • By accepting our natural tendencies and adapting our routines based on our needs, we can find ease and enjoyment in daily life. Experiment, be inspired, and find what works best for you.
    • Finding a balance between routine and flexibility is essential for a fulfilling life, as it allows us to adapt to distractions, appreciate surprises, and embrace the beauty of life's variances.
    • Recognize the value of lessons learned from feeling stuck and find new routines that bring vibrancy and fulfillment through diversifying sources of well-being.
    • Focus on four key activities in any order, maintain flexibility and achievable goals for consistency, and avoid over-ambition to avoid self-sabotage and delay in life.
    • Instead of waiting for ideal circumstances, use the small moments of time available to work towards goals and gradually build progress.
    • Embracing moments of reflection and incubation can lead to creative breakthroughs and enhance productivity, but it's essential to strike a balance and avoid mindless activities that hinder personal growth.
    • Embracing the value of both rest and action allows for a more fulfilling life, as moments of stillness and relaxation are just as nourishing as productivity and busyness.
    • Find value in every phase of life by embracing the natural cycles of change, being patient with ourselves, and finding a balance between motivation and unrealistic expectations.
    • By defining what is enough for ourselves, delegating when necessary, and approaching discipline as a practice, we can enjoy a more productive and enjoyable journey towards our goals.
    • Prioritizing small acts of delight can set a positive tone for the day and make even the most challenging tasks easier to tackle.

    📝 Podcast Summary

    Embracing Flexibility for Productivity and Creativity

    Routines are not necessary for productivity and creativity. Many of us believe that having a strict routine is the key to success, but it often leads to feelings of guilt and being behind. Madeleine Dore, the author of "I Didn't Do The Thing Today: Letting Go of Productivity Guilt," initially started interviewing successful individuals in the hopes of discovering their secret routines. However, she soon realized that even these accomplished people didn't have a fixed routine. The pressure to adhere to a rigid schedule was actually counterproductive. Instead, she emphasizes the importance of embracing a more flexible approach, incorporating portable routines, taking advantage of "splodge" time, and embracing cycles and seasons in our work. Letting go of unproductive guilt and setting realistic expectations are also crucial in promoting productivity and creativity.

    Embracing Flexibility: Letting Go of Strict Routines

    Finding the perfect routine doesn't always lead to success. Both Madeleine Dore and Brett McKay share their struggles with trying to adhere to strict routines and how it often resulted in disappointment and self-criticism when things didn't go as planned. Instead, they have learned to accept their natural tendencies and embrace a more flexible approach to their day. They have realized that it's important to listen to their bodies and give themselves the freedom to adapt their routines based on their needs and circumstances. Rather than seeking an instruction manual from others, they encourage individuals to experiment, be inspired, and ultimately find what works best for themselves. By letting go of the pressure to be perfectly consistent, they have found a greater sense of ease and enjoyment in their daily lives.

    Embracing Imperfection for a Fulfilling Life

    Embracing imperfection and allowing for flexibility in our routines can lead to a more fulfilling and balanced life. While routines can provide structure and support, striving for perfection in our daily lives can be detrimental and set us up for disappointment. By accepting that our routines will never be complete and that there will always be distractions and interruptions, we can approach each day with a sense of adaptability and openness. This allows us to appreciate the beautiful variances and surprises that life brings, rather than becoming stuck in monotonous routines or using them as excuses for a bad day. It's important to find a balance between the benefits of routine and the need for spontaneity and novelty in our lives.

    Breaking free from restrictive routines and embracing change for personal growth.

    Routines can be both supportive and restrictive. When we find ourselves feeling uninspired or stuck in a rut, it can be a sign that our routine no longer serves us. This can happen as we outgrow certain parts of ourselves or our circumstances change. Instead of trying to force our way out of the rut, it is important to have patience and recognize the value of the lessons it holds for us. Moving forward from the rut requires finding a new rhythm or routine that brings vibrancy back into our lives. It's also important to diversify our sources of well-being and not rely solely on one component, such as work, to find fulfillment. By embracing change and incorporating different aspects of life, we can break free from ruts and continue to grow.

    Embrace a flexible routine for a well-spent day

    Having a flexible checklist of things you'd like to get done in a day can provide structure and help you accomplish necessary tasks without the strictness of a routine. It's important to strike a balance between being too spontaneous and having no schedule at all, as both extremes can lead to anxiety and issues. Embracing a portable routine, like the one mentioned by Austin Kleon, can be helpful. By focusing on four key activities that can be done in any order and not necessarily every day, you can have markers of a well-spent day. It's essential to have in-built flexibility and achievable goals to maintain momentum and consistency over time. Lowering the bar and changing expectations can lead to more consistency, which is more important than perfection. Keeping the checklist manageable and avoiding over-ambition is crucial to avoid self-sabotage and delay in life.

    Embracing Imperfect Time for Productivity

    Viewing time as "splodge time" can be a healthier and more flexible approach than rigidly sticking to a linear sense of time. When we try to pin our schedules to the perfect clock time, interruptions and shifting priorities can throw us off track. Instead of waiting for the perfect moment or allocating specific blocks of time, we can seize the imperfect parts of time and make the most of them. Taking inspiration from artists and historical figures, we can use the little splodges of time in front of us to work towards our goals, rather than waiting for ideal circumstances. It's about embracing the small moments and gradually building progress bit by bit, rather than relying on grand routines or perfect conditions.

    Rethinking Time: Embracing Incubation and Productive Reflection

    We should rethink our perception of wasting time and embrace the value of incubation and thinking. We often associate wasting time with unproductive activities, but in reality, giving ourselves space to think and mull over ideas can lead to creative breakthroughs. Just like the distinct stages of the creative process, where preparation and incubation precede the illumination and verification stages, our lives also require time for reflection and contemplation. By recognizing the importance of these "incubation" moments, we can avoid mistakes, enhance efficiency, and ultimately be more productive. However, it's crucial to strike a balance. Mindlessly engaging in unfruitful activities like excessive Netflix or social media consumption can hinder our growth. We should aim for purposeful reflection and creative thinking to truly make the most of our time.

    The Importance of Balancing Rest and Action

    It is important to recognize the value and necessity of both rest and action in our lives. Often, we find ourselves feeling guilty or anxious for not constantly being productive or busy. However, it's crucial to understand that moments of stillness and relaxation are equally nourishing and important. Instead of striving for perfect balance, which can lead to stagnation, we should focus on actively balancing our lives. We are naturally inconsistent and contradictory, and that is what makes us interesting. Like a sponge, we need time to absorb, rest, and think, but we must also engage in action and outpouring of ideas. Both stages have value and inform each other. By embracing this concept and understanding the stories we tell ourselves about perfection and worth, we can lead more fulfilling lives.

    Embracing the Cycles of Life

    Life is a constant cycle of change and growth, much like the changing seasons. Just as farmers have different seasons for planting, harvesting, and resting, our lives also have different phases. We may go through busy periods, or "harvest seasons," where we need to work hard and be productive. But it's important to remember that these seasons will eventually come to an end, and we can take time to relax and recharge. Patience is key during the fallow periods, where it may seem like nothing is happening. Embracing these cycles and being patient with ourselves allows us to find value in every phase of life and avoid the trap of constantly striving for perfection and unrealistic expectations. Expectations can both motivate and hinder us, so finding a balance is crucial.

    Setting realistic expectations and embracing discipline as a skill for greater productivity and fulfillment.

    Setting realistic expectations and viewing discipline as a skill can lead to greater productivity and fulfillment. Instead of overwhelming ourselves with overly ambitious to-do lists and unattainable deadlines, we should be expectation realists. This means defining what is enough for ourselves, delegating when necessary, and being okay with carrying unfinished tasks over to the next day. Rather than striving for perfection and punishing ourselves for not meeting expectations, we should approach discipline as a practice. By finding fascination and interest in our work, we can develop motivation and create a delightful approach to discipline. The reward is not solely in the outcome, but in the process itself. Embracing this perspective can lead to a more productive and enjoyable journey towards our goals.

    Finding Delight in the Small Things

    We have the power to shape our days by finding delight in the small things. Instead of approaching our tasks with dread, we can start our day with something that brings us joy, no matter how mundane it may seem. Whether it's enjoying a dollop of clotted cream on our porridge, taking a walk, or answering emails first thing in the morning, these small acts of delight can set a positive tone for the day ahead. By breaking down the hard tasks into smaller, more manageable steps and focusing on the easiest thing we can do, we can build momentum and make even the most challenging tasks easier to tackle. So, let's prioritize delight and bring a good mood into our days, one small and delightful step at a time.

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