Changed my routine, changed my life


It's amazing what far-reaching implications a subtle change in my routine can have on my life...

I'm a routine-oriented guy. Any of my friends will attest to that. I like to have a set time for everything that needs to happen on a daily basis, such as meals, commuting to and from work, gym, shower, etc. I'm a follower of Zen Habits and the like, which encourages a routine to simplify life. Lately though, I've found that my routine has taken a toll on me, so I've decided to change it...

The thinking behind my previous routine was that I needed to avoid traffic. This meant getting up early in the morning (5h30), so that I could be at the office by around 6h15. I could then work my 8 hours and have a bit of web surfing time, leave the office at 15h00, get home by 15h30, and have most of the afternoon and evening for personal time (which includes gymming at home). Even this was tweaked over time as traffic patterns changed - I initially left home at about 6h45, and left the office at 16h00. Having found a good balance between commuting time, work hours, and personal time, I happily adopted this routine for the last 5 years.

Recently I realised that, despite the healthy amount of personal time in the work day, I felt like I had very little of what I like to call Personal Productivity Time (PPT). This is time I can use to do tasks that usually require me to be alone or have low SAF (Spouse Acceptance Factor), for example: read a book, practise guitar, play some heavy metal loudly on my hifi, meditate, etc. Having spent most of my single years living alone and hence having an abundance of PPT, changing to a routine that had almost no PPT was a pretty big problem for me, causing me stress that spilled through into my marriage.

Another big problem was that this routine is very inflexible - the times are fixed and cannot be changed, unless I fancied sitting in my car pumping the clutch pedal for an hour and a half non-stop. I *had* to leave work at 15h00, even if production servers were falling over. I *had* to be in bed by 21h30 or else getting up at 5h30 would be a problem. I *had* to leave home by 6h00 for fear of another marathon clutch-pumping session. My life was ruled by the clock.

It took me a really long time to realise this, but it was time for a change - something I am thankfully not resistant to. I found the solution in a simple yet profound change to my routine: work a later shift. Amazingly enough, the solution was found quite by accident: one day I got up a bit later and decided that I'd like to get up later every day. In order to facilitate traffic avoidance, I decided to get to work much later, and leave work much later. I hadn't considered this option before, due to it's low SAF, but since it became necessary for mental and marital health, SAF was vastly improved.

The consequences are quite unexpected. Suddenly I am far more flexible with time. If I get to work late because of traffic, I just work a bit later. If a meeting runs late, no problem - I have to wait for peak traffic to end anyway before I can go home. I have some PPT in the morning since I have to wait till after peak traffic to leave home. This also gives me a few hours of PPT after work, albeit not at home. This is a good thing, as it forces me to discover new things to do (such as joining a gym), and allows me to do things that I don't need to be at home for, such as writing this blog at Mugg & Bean over a bottomless coffee. So I still sleep for 8 hours, work for 8 hours, mostly avoid traffic, and yet I have a lot more PPT!

There are downsides to this, of course. Most obviously, I have less time at home, and less time with the wife (although this time is now better spent). I don't get to cook with my wife as I'm not home at that time. I also end up getting stuck in bad traffic more often than previously, as traffic is highly unpredictable and varies a lot on a daily basis. Luckily, MTN's JamCams help with monitoring traffic on the highways, and I can always throw in an early shift like before when I feel the need.

Change is often good, and sometimes it's worth just trying something different when you feel that things are boring, routine, or frustrating. Even the smallest of changes can have the biggest impact on your life. I am sure my new routine won't keep me happy forever, so the best I can do is to recognise when it stops working, and then try something different. For now though, I am enjoying the freedom from the shackles of the clock that I have endured for too long!