Stick To The Schedule?

Today’s topic is routine and maintaining a schedule. Maybe you should get a cup of coffee or a red bull before we dive in.

Actually, this is a topic that I think about all the time. If you’ve read any type of self-help / get your life together type stuff you probably are familiar with the concept of positive habits, and stacking habits into routines. Why do so many profess to the virtues of routine? For one, it reduces the points in a day when you can make the wrong decision. If I’ve identified good activities, and drop them into a schedule, I don’t have to decide what to do next. And speaking only for myself here, when I have to make a decision as to what I’m going to do, chances are it’s going to be something immediately gratifying with little or no long term value. Aimlessly surf the internet, TV, or have a snack. And two, it reduces angst. Maybe this is also related to taking away the need to decide what to do. Even though it’s just a piece of paper (or the digital equivalent) with activities and time slots, it provides reassurance. There is a plan in place, don’t fear. As an aside, this reminds me of the work I used to do which involved writing business plans. I’m going to guess on the percentage, but I’d say that at least half the people who ever looked at these plans never looked at them in depth, thought about the underlying assumptions, etc. They were happy enough to have a plan they could refer to to check themselves, and also to field questions from others. So maybe it’s just the idea of having a plan that provides the reassurance that there is a plan, irrespective of what the plan actually is.

I was reading a lot of the type of self-help alluded to above, and my career involved writing plans, so I naturally gravitated towards the idea of scheduling. And in my defense, this idea does line up with the design your life philosophy, which involves not only determining what your priorities are, but also making sure you are spending your time on them. So I set my priorities, and then I scheduled them. And I continue to do so, a few years running now.

The results? Overall, pretty good! Let me give you the components of my daily routine now so this is a little less abstract.

  1. I want to be ready to start the day by 8 AM. This means that I’m awake, and my bed is made by 8 everyday, 7 days a week.
  2. I like to get in a 20 minute meditation session next, right after I wake up, to set the baseline before my mind starts to get frazzled by external inputs.
  3. I workout mid-morning. Somewhere between 45 Minutes and an hour. I like to listen to an album or a podcast while I exercise.
  4. I “work” after lunch. Reading, writing, business related research.
  5. 30 minutes up to an hour of reading. The Economist, Non-Fiction, Newsletters or other long forms.
  6. I write for my blog for an hour next, sometime between 1:30-3 PM
  7. I see my parents and have dinner with them. I get there a little early so I can help with the preparation.
  8. I write in my personal journal after dinner for 30 Minutes.
  9. I take in some video entertainment after dinner. If there is an interesting sporting event on, I’ll take that in, otherwise usually an hour or so on a streaming service.
  10. I try to be in bed by 10:30. Read for an hour before bed. A book or the New York Times
  11. Lights off around 11:30, rarely past midnight.

These events have become the structure of my day, 7 days a week. Rarely deviate. And if you look at this as these events, I think they are all pretty un-controversial. Maybe what’s missing is more controversial – when do you socialize you might be wondering? Good question. Can you read, write, exercise, see family, etc too much? I do believe that anything really good in life comes through compounding, which implies you have to put in the time, and be consistent.

But I do worry if I have become too dependent on living a routine, structured life. Usually it comes form of FOMO. Of course embedded in my routine are choices. And since my routine doesn’t shift, those choices stay locked in. When something causes my routine to become altered – holidays, my health, having to help out a family member, etc – it does rattle me. To use a ‘Talebism’, I am not anti-fragile to changes in my schedule. They affect me, in the form of anxiety, then resentment, and last usually anger at whoever or whatever I deem responsible for causing the change. And maybe obvious but I will list it for completeness, the routine greatly reduces spontaneity. The world is your oyster, there is so much I want to see and do. But here I am executing the same routine day-after-day. Allowing my fear of missing a step lead me to shut myself from the outside world. I’ve seen this specifically when it comes to travel. I used to love getting out there, but my fear of not being able to work out specifically has limited my ambition. Just writing that last sentence out made it clear how silly that fear is. Wow.

So I think I may have gone over the deep-end, kind of created my own prison through my inflexibility. How to resolve? For one, it’s useful to simply check in and see where you are. The example above. My stated fear isn’t really that sensible. Maybe there is a different, deeper, underlying fear I’m not surfacing, but that one above holds no water. And then you can flexible too. I don’t have to change my priorities, or even my time allocation, but the order and the way in which I pursue them can change. No access to weights, do a bodyweight workout, etc. This one again is pretty straight-forward.

One thing that is a little harder for me is knowing when to let go. For example, if I’ve been reading a book, started a project, etc I’m not really comfortable stopping until it’s completed, full-stop. A lot of the people I like and respect (from the internet world) have advocated for stopping at your first sense of hesitation. Don’t waste time, resources, capital on anything that you’re not all the way in on. And don’t be afraid to try a different approach too, this is another change that is really hard for me to make in real life. They would argue that your first try is rarely going to be the best bet, and as you get a better understanding with more information you need to adjust. Again, this makes complete sense to me conceptually. My fear is from cutting off the compounding, especially if it’s something I’ve been working on for a while. A strength training program for example. And how do I interpret my own internal signals – am I having a bed day when everything would feel like a waste of time, or is this really my guy telling me this is wrong. I am probably just looking for ways to give myself an out, this doesn’t seem that difficult. Maybe I just needed to write it out this whole time, would have saved me a lot of time!

I wonder if I would be willing to fly off somewhere tomorrow and start over completely. A completely new life with nothing tying me to where I am right now. But why am I even thinking this? I don’t think I want to change most of what I’m doing. At least 80% (there I go again guessing at percentages) seems to be working pretty well. What in my routine would I want to change legitimately? One, I am not sure if I am reading as much as I do for any other reason than compulsion, or bragging rights. Everyone else who’s ever been successful has been an avid reader, so I better follow suit if I want a chance at the same. And sometimes I wonder just how much of what I read I actually am able to retain. That’s a little harsh, all the way around. Maybe what I’m trying to say is that I’m looking for a less rigorous reading program. What about this writing? At times it does feel tedious, and I have to really force myself to get going with it. Should this be interpreted as my internal compass telling me this is a waste of my time, or am I just taking the expected lumps in getting it off the ground? Well, I don’t have to take any decisions on this for at least another two weeks, and hopefully I’ll have a better insight by then. Right now I honestly don’t know. And last, I think about ending my media consumption tracking. I should have listed this out in my routine, but I am not disciplined enough to do this everyday at the same time. I was planning to do this for a while to build out a database to try and populate a product prototype. That is a noble pursuit actually! I like how that looked on paper. Maybe the issue is I’ve been doing it with no firm timeline. I’m three months in, maybe I would feel better if I started to call out a timeframe of 6 months total? I’ll try it and report back. But other than that, I am pretty ok with the other aspects of my routine!

So what was the topic of this essay again? That’s right, can you become too dependent on a schedule. I think the answer there is yes you can. That’s not to say a schedule is not a very useful tool, but you can’t allow it from trying new things. That’s my top takeaway. My fear of missing a step in my schedule, which is coming from some weird desire to keep a perfect score, or maybe a sadder fear that if I miss something, I will automatically go all the way back down to zero, is keeping me from broadening my horizons. I have benefited greatly from having one, but it’s come at a cost. Everything is a trade-off, it’s proven to me over and over, even when I don’t want it to be the case.

One idea is to hack the schedule if it’s so pivotal to my day-to-day. I would not advocate removing it, but what it you could somehow schedule spontaneity? That sounds counter-intuitive, but you could maybe set a weekly target of spending x hours, or trying y new things in a week. I’ve come up with a new metric, look at that.

I don’t know, and I think I’ve rambled enough on this topic. Thanks for reading and I will speak with you again tomorrow. 45 Minutes. 1922 Words.

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