How to Break your Routine and Why it Matters

I couldn’t do it. I just couldn’t do it. The 5:40 alarm had gone off, Stacia was ready to get out the door, but I just couldn’t bring myself to budge out of bed. I knew that this was our routine, and it was, in some ways, the foundation of what keeps me moving forward week to week. But this day, I couldn’t stick to it.

I believe in the power of habit and routine. It’s all about conserving your willpower to allow you to focus on what matters most to you. But on that day, for some reason, I couldn’t bring myself to stay with it. I had committed to this schedule. I had been doing it for months, yet that morning something felt different.

I had a choice: force myself to get up and go to do my usual workout, or get more rest. I don’t know why it felt so difficult that morning — lack of sleep, over exertion, who knows — but I couldn’t do it.

I have been traveling a lot over the last few weeks— visiting family and catching up with old friends. Now that I’m back home, it’s time to get back on that routine and schedule. I really like wide open space on my calendar and sometime resist being scheduled, but I’ve learned how much it helps to have structure and intention in the hours of the day. It helps me get things done, and some days — like today — I could use some more of that!

When I didn’t have it in me to get up that morning, I decided that it was ok to rest a little longer. It felt like forcing myself to move would have been unkind. Maybe that morning I needed kindness more than I needed consistency.

One of the great parts of having a routine is being able to break your routine.

A routine keeps you on task and keeps you moving when things are hard (which can be often). It also gives you space and a structure to work within. And it gives you a structure to break when it makes sense. There has to be a balance here— if you always break your routine, then it’s not a routine — but sometimes breaking your routine is exactly what you need.

A routine is a lot like music and art theory— it provides a structure to work within.

Whether or not a musician actively studies theory, their work (if it’s good) works within that structure. And, similar to a routine, their work breaks that structure from time to time. If they didn’t abide by the “rules” of theory, their music would not make sense (the rules give us guidelines to what we should expect), but if they abide by all the rules, what they make is boring. By breaking the rules — carefully and intentionally — artists can create something new, different, and surprising.

It’s the same way with your routine.

Keep the routine because it will make your life work for you, and then break your routine when it needs to be broken.

Sometimes breaking your routine is really important. Sometimes life, energy, and creativity are found outside of your usual routine.

In the comments, how does a routine help and when does it hinder your work and your creativity? What happens when you break it? Or just tell us what you think! Click here to comment.

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  1. stacia January 7, 2014 at 3:01 pm

    I think you’ve taught me a lot about the value of this. I tend to be rather robotic with my routines even when it would probably be helpful to stop or make a change. Good words, Dan!

  2. Mallory Joy Larsen January 7, 2014 at 4:26 pm

    I needed this one, Dan. It’s like permission I didn’t know I needed, but it’s time to grant it to myself. Thank you.

  3. Dean January 8, 2014 at 6:46 am

    Reading this on the bus. I just saw another bus go by with the advertisement, “In a Van, I Can”. I think it’s a carpool ad or something, you’ve seen it. Anyway, I thought “Reading Dan, I Can”. I don’t need no stinkin’ Van! I need practical insight on how to utilize a routine! Thanks again, loving this.

    1. Dan Cumberland January 8, 2014 at 10:47 am

      Thanks Dean. That’s a great new slogan!

  4. Lacy January 8, 2014 at 4:47 pm

    Though I had a pretty good routine in the fall, once the final stages of the book were in full swing mixed with a lot of quick design work, I left my routine behind. As I pick up things again in the New Year, I’m finding the value of returning to my routine, but as I do I’ll also be remembering your words, “Keep the routine because it will make your life work for you, and then break your routine when it needs to be broken.” So helpful, on both accounts.

    1. Lacy January 8, 2014 at 4:47 pm

      And PS: I think 5:40 is too early, though. Definitely break that routine.

      1. Dan Cumberland January 8, 2014 at 5:02 pm

        This made me laugh. Thanks Lacy. Maybe I’ll keep breaking that early routine 😉

  5. aldous moro September 5, 2014 at 2:32 am

    I just started reading on articles similar to this. I saw your photo on top. I am not sure if it is a big deal, but the photo focus on PM not AM. Just letting you know.



    1. Dan Cumberland September 5, 2014 at 9:12 am

      Thanks for the thought, Aldous. That is my actual alarm clock (isn’t it lovely?) and it has a little light that turns on next to where it says “PM”, so this is what I see at 5:40AM 🙂

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