In defence of the daily routine

Words by Ruby Goss
Illustration by Paul Thalmeier

When writing a novel, Haruki Murakami wakes each morning at 4:00am to begin his work. J. Crew’s Jenna Lyons eats the same lunch every single weekday. Artist Ken Done naps each afternoon. There’s something to be said for having a routine.

Consider also the following by author Annie Dillard, “How we spend our days is of course how we spend our lives”. These are the same words that inspired Melbourne-based writer Madeleine Dore to found the interview project Extraordinary Routines. In our climate of productivity hacks, her aim is to share how people really get through their days by interviewing creatives about the highs and lows of their daily grind. Alongside these are her own reflections, whether it’s testing out different morning routines or her year-long experiment to meet one stranger a week, she lives by the first piece of routine advice she shares with us – experiment!

And so, we turn to Madeleine to explain how figuring out a few automated actions can free up time for greatness. It’s well and truly time to get out of bed.

The comfort of being a creature of habit

“On the one hand, many habits stem from necessity – when daily processes like brushing our teeth or driving become automatic, our mind can rest or focus on more important things. The creative process is not dissimilar – when you automate part of your routine such as doing all your washing on a Sunday, or showing up at your desk at the same time each day to work, you take away the decision making or the mundane processes to make room for new ideas.”

Slipping up from routines is normal. Here’s how to deal…

“We slip up when we set unrealistic expectations – I’m fond of drafting an overly ambitious to-do list for the week on a Sunday, only to miss the mark most days. I’m learning not to feel completely derailed when I don’t finish everything on my list each day, instead I see it for what it is – something to strive for, but okay if you miss because you’re still a little further along than if you didn’t reach to begin with.”

On the sleep routines of successful people

“Everyone has very different approaches to sleep, but I think one common theme is that being an early riser seems to be idolised. Most late-risers admit to feeling guilty for waking up late – even if it’s because they’re night owls who have been working till two or three in the morning. But it’s really about working to your own rhythm – it’s the same amount of hours, just at different times of the day.”

Why you shouldn’t cut sleep when life gets busy

“The attitude that associates sleep with laziness needs to change and instead be replaced by the acknowledgement of how recharging and energising it can be – even more so when we are busy. I’m in favour of the afternoon nap – Winston Churchill once wrote: “Don’t think you will be doing less work because you sleep during the day. That’s a foolish notion held by people who have no imaginations. You will be able to accomplish more. You get two days in one – well, at least one and a half.” Sleep really can give us a fresh start and reboot our mind for creative work.”

You do you

“I think the most important thing to do is to establish how you want to live, and then build a routine around that if it so fits. For some people who want to live spontaneous and varied lives, a strict routine might not be so rewarding. For me, I want to write each day and through experimenting I’ve found I write clearest in the morning – making the time I wake and the sleep I get crucial.”

Routine resources

The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg

Zen Habits blog

The Productivity Project by Chris Bailey

Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World by Cal Newport

Visit Extraordinary Routines to delve into creative routines and find inspiring words on Instagram.


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