In French there is a saying: metro, boulot, dodo, which loosely translates into subway, work, sleep. These three little words are used to describe how we can get trapped in a mind-numbing work routine which makes us feel like we’re on a gerbil wheel, spinning our days away. I’ve been there. In my first job as a junior designer in London, England, my daily routine became so automated that one day on the Undergound I changed trains on Baker Street and couldn’t quite remember how I got there. I started looking for a new job that afternoon.
However, not all routines are bad for you. You may do all your writing first thing in the morning, because that’s when your mind is sharpest, or grab your guitar every night after you come home to help you unwind. There is a difference between routine and ritual. Rituals help you activate your creativity, routines kill it. Rituals are self-constructed, routines are often imposed on us.
While routines and structures at work are a great way to make sure that work gets done, it’s also a death knell to creativity. You can’t innovate when you’re in a rut.
Rituals help you activate your creativity, routines kill it.
I’ve come up with a few tasks which you can use to let go of the auto pilot. Try this with me, and let me know how it works for you.
Don’t take the same route to work today. Even if it’s the most efficient, time-saving trajectory, go out of your way. Take a back-street. Use a different bus line. Make a small detour.
Take a mental note of everything new you notice. Write it down when you get to work.
Activated: your sense of exploration and discovery
Whatever the first thing is you usually do at work – don’t do it. Do the opposite. If you usually read emails, go write a postcard. If you make calls to clients, sit in a busy place and just listen to every sound you hear. Try to think of a way to put your habit on its head. Fifteen minutes is all you need.
Activated: a change of perspective
The end of the day is when we switch off, but instead of flicking on the TV, try this: make a detailed inventory of something mundane. For example, at the intersection closest to your place, make a list of everyone you see and count how many people walk their dog, how many people go hand in hand, if people walk in groups or alone, how many bags they carry. Or walk through your home and list every smell you detect. Or take an inventory of everything in your possession which can document time. Go beyond the obvious.
Activated: your awareness and attention to detail
Getting you out of your routine forces you to be more in the moment. If you’ve ever done meditation, you’ll be familiar with the term mindfulness. That’s what you’re doing when you pry yourself out of a routine. You notice the details that you normally overlook, you are more present, you become better at paying attention.
If you’ve ever done meditation, you’ll be familiar with the term mindfulness. That’s what you’re doing.
You don’t have to do this every day. Just once in a while, take a day and dedicate it to be your routine-buster.
Let me know how you get on, if you have any unusual inventories to share, or if there’s anything you noticed that you weren’t aware of before.
Most of all: have fun.
For French lovers, the expression metro, boulot, dodo is inspired by the poem Couleurs d’usine by French author Pierre Béarn:
Au déboulé garçon pointe ton numéro
Pour gagner ainsi le salaire
D’un morne jour utilitaire
Métro, boulot, bistro, mégots, dodo, zéro