I’m very open about how boring I am, and how much I love routine. People often find this hard to reconcile with the fact that my wife and I travelled almost non-stop for seven years, and go away for long stints even now.
There’s a contradiction on the face of it, but it’s given rise to a balance that works perfectly for me: strong routines, changed often.
When people hear “travel”, they think of endless exploration where every day is new and different.
Not the case for us. We base ourselves in the same place for at least a month – more commonly around three months – and within those stays, have an exceptionally consistent daily routine.
Wake at the same time. Same exercise. Same breakfast. Same working patterns, from the same cafes. Same grocery order every week.
I need routine to be productive, and to be happy. During the first week in a new place, I get much less done and feel constantly slightly rattled. As soon as the new routine is established, I go back to normal.
At our peak we were switching cities every two weeks, which was a bit much. On average we were probably outside the UK for about nine months of the year, and visiting three to four countries during our time away.
Now the pattern has reversed and we’re in London about three-quarters of the time. But we don’t want to lose the “new experiences” part – so we rent where we live, and move to a new part of town every year or two.
For me, this is a magical combination: a strong routine, but with the periodic requirement to make big changes. I’m always tweaking my routine to see how it could be better, but there are big changes you could never get to by tweaking alone and require a sudden outside stimulus.
When my routines stopped helping me
For example, for years I’ve had the belief that I couldn’t concentrate when working from home and needed to be at a co-working space or cafe. At some point, I’m sure it was true – but it stopped being true, and I only noticed when I was forced to.
It happened when we were living in Seville – a city with a serious lack of co-working spaces – in an Airbnb that happened to have a home office. I found that I actually loved it, and as a result I now have a home office in London where I work from a lot of the time.
Further back, I had a belief that I “wasn’t a morning person” and was naturally more creative at night, so I set up my routine for long evenings of work. Then I started living with someone who was an early riser, and now I’m more likely to see 4.30am from the other side.
Point is: a strong routine is beneficial for almost everyone, yet the one you have right now is unlikely to be perfect. You either fell into it, or it’s been diluted over time, or it’s based on assumptions that were true but have now changed.
Making small optimisations to your routine is always worthwhile, but sometimes giving the whole etch-a-sketch a giant shake is the best way to let things settle on what’s really best.