How to (Not) Make Every Day Feel the Same

by Alexander Heyne · 5 comments

” When each day is the same as the next, it’s because people fail to recognize the good things that happen in their lives every day that the sun rises.”

-The Alchemist

Take a new route from time to time

A Society in Dire Need of Variety

Routines really suck sometimes.  When I got my first desk job, my routine looked like this:

  • 6:30 – wake up
  • 8:00 – Leave for work
  • 3:30 – Leave work
  • 4:00 – Get home
  • 5:00 – Gym
  • 6:00 – Free time (read, internet, misc time wasters)
  • 7:00 – Dinner and cleanup
  • 8:30 – Prepare for next day
  • 10:00 – Read and sleep
The days and weeks went by pretty quickly, often fusing into each other.  The days weren’t bad necessarily, but that feeling of time evaporating terrified me.  I suspect your schedule is pretty predictable and repeatable like my own.

There’s Nothing Inherently Wrong With the Same Routine

I’m a huge lover of routine.  In fact, without routine and tasks put into nice little bite-size boxes, I tend to freak out.  I’m a little type A.  The big problem is that whole “time-evaporation” thing.  It’s great when you want the weekend to hurry up, but it sure does suck when you realize 3 years have evaporated and you aren’t quite sure if you’ve done anything in that time.

In The Alchemist the boy talks about not paying attention to the little miracles that happen every day regarding the origins of the feeling of time flying by.  I agree, but I’ll give you more concrete ideas based upon what I’ve noticed.

The Origins of Time Evaporation Syndrome

Over the years, I’ve thought through a couple theories as to why time evaporates.  Here are the two main conclusions that I’ve come to:

  1. You do the exact same thing every day, and thus tend to zone out and run on autopilot.  Nothing is fresh and nothing is new that the brain finds worth paying attention to.  Check back on my earlier post regarding kids loving life and finding everything fascinating, while later on we become less curious by life since there are fewer new experiences.
  2. You are in the same few locations every day (Work ==> Home).  This is the main factor relating to the perceived speed of time.

The Remedy

The remedy to the first theory is obvious – vary your schedule.  Change little (or big things) every day.  For example:

  1. Add a morning routine.  Have a tea or coffee and just look out the window.  At least 20 minutes. Do some morning stretching or yoga.  Walk the dogs in the cool morning air.  Work in the garden.
  2. Take a new route to work or class. Take a new route home. Take a new route through town.  Put on some driving music and just explore areas you hadn’t seen before. You’ll be surprised at some of the places your intuition can take you.
  3. Change the places where you regularly eat.  Find a new restaurant.  Or, if you usually eat out, start cooking at home.
Changing locations can be fun…

The Time-Location Relationship

Here’s a little thing that staying out late at night can teach you: if you change multiple locations in one day, or one night, it can cause the illusion of having spent a large amount of time.

Changing location 4-5 times in one outing can give the feeling that it has been a long productive day and that your time has been used wisely.

Think about it. You go to visit some family friends at their house, then you guys go to a museum, then you bring the kids to the zoo, and then go out to a nice restaurant at night.  And then you drive home.  Long day, right? That’s the idea. And, ideally, if you have been in 4-5 different locations you have used your time wisely.

The other time-related concept is simply activity.  Activities that are flow-producing will make time fly by – but again, if you engage yourself in multiple activities throughout the day it will give a stronger impression of more time used efficiently.

Your Sphere of Influence is Always Contagious

Another really fun way to break out of routine is to involve other people.  Here is the fun part: try cultivating a relationship (however momentary) with a stranger.

High Five Challenge

For example: When you go into your local coffee shop one day, high five the person serving you once you get your drink.  Seriously, don’t be a chicken.  It will guaranteed make them smile (physical contact has a way of doing that), and it will change the routine both for you and for them.  Honestly, it will probably be the thing they remember most that day.

This was a staple of my routine in China with waitresses and waiters in any cafe I went to.  Eventually, they became close friends I’d talk to about random things, and they took a liking to me (and that included preferential treatment!).

If you have a cleaning lady or any sort of service person you run into on a semi-daily basis, deliberately start a conversation with them about something of value.

Awkward elevator moments?  Try starting an honest conversation with one of the people inside, without talking about the weather.

Begin with the intent of varying routine, and you’ll be surprised that some very unique friendships may evolve.

Share Your Secret

What’s your trick for breaking out of routine?  Do you interact regularly with the service people around you, who have that blank tv-screen look on their faces?  Do you consciously try to introduce variety into your own life and those around you?

Do share…

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{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

Timo August 3, 2011 at 10:26 am

High Five Challenge :D
Works in Asia for sure, i’ll try in Europe ;)


afheyne August 3, 2011 at 12:56 pm

Haha, good times in Beijing


Rebecca April 7, 2013 at 6:57 pm

I start conversations with other cyclists / pedestrians at traffic lights. I have a shiny helmet which is a good conversation starter. I started to do this because I realised how little I smiled or talked to other people in a day, even when I was having a good day! That made me sad for myself and how wrapped up in my own stuff I’d become. Thanks for the post :-)


Kashif Ansari November 10, 2013 at 2:55 pm

stop and smell the roses. find everything interesting out of sheer curiosity. even if it is as embarrassing as the smell of your shit, be enthusiastic and truly individualistic about your life. you have to be 100% authentic about everything you say at least if not about what you do. at least say what is on your mind a la radical honesty.


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