I write often about how strong my affinity for routine is. I like diurnal rituals, yearly traditions, seasonal rites. My attraction to daily practices is one thing that makes it relatively easy for me to carry out a resolution to run a mile or more every day of the year – a resolution I’ve held now for two years and nine months. Writing one thousand words in my journal is another daily practice that my love of maintaining habits makes it easy for me to stick with.
But even for me – okay, probably especially for me – it’s good to shake up the usual once in a while. Ever since the school year started in September, I’ve been taking my daily run on weekdays at about 11 AM, after spending two hours at my desk. In many ways, it’s an ideal time to go: I’ve made some headway into the day’s writing assignments or other work-related tasks, the sun is high and warm (which in New England is an advantage all but about two months out of the year, when I’m better off waiting for the cooler hours close to dusk), it renews my mental energy for another three or four hours of work when I return from the run, and traffic on the roadways is at a minimum.
But for the past two days I’ve done something different and run right after my seven-year-old climbs onto the school bus. The first time it was because I had a late-morning appointment that would interfere with my usual run, but the second time I just decided there were advantages to this new schedule. There was a sense of energetic continuity in taking Holly out to the bus stop and then just launching right from there, as if Holly and I were both soaring into the crux of our day at the same time. There were loads of people to wave to in passing cars, since I run past the school and so many of my friends drive their kids up to campus in the morning. I even passed a couple of people I knew along the footpath as I ran by; they had parked their cars up at school after dropping their kids off and were taking their dogs for a walk.
I also found that the sense of having my whole work day still ahead of me once I returned home was very motivating. Sometimes when I leave for a run in the late morning, it feels like an interruption; other times when I get back I feel like the day is practically over, even with nearly three hours left before the kids get home from school. Yesterday I really appreciated the feeling at nine o’clock that my run was over and I had almost six hours of uninterrupted desk time ahead. It gave me a good sense of immersion into my work.
Still, I know if I followed that schedule every day, I’d need a break from it. Any regular schedule is good to alter once in a while. When I worked at the American Meteorological Society, one of the scientists described a study in which the light bulbs in the office that housed a group of clerical workers were changed in some small way. The clerical workers’ productivity increased by a measurable amount after that, proving—the researchers thought—that the new light bulbs created a better working environment. But then six months later they changed the light bulbs back to the original ones, and again there was a rise in productivity. It turned out it was the change, and not the bulbs, that energized the workers.
I remind myself of that whenever I get too set in any work or household routine. Running in the late morning is great, but I’m glad I discovered the benefits of running first thing once in a while. I try to read a different newspaper some mornings. I do my work in a different order sometimes.
For some people, routine is never an option: due to the nature of their work or the hardships of their lives, change, as the expression goes, is the only constant. For those of us like me who are fortunate enough to have quite a lot of control over our daily environment, a small shift in our micro-universe is a positive thing, even when we have to push ourselves into it.