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Embracing structure

Embracing structure

When I wake up in the morning, I kind of just slip into my day. I don’t have much of a routine, aside from making coffee for my wife and me.

I used to have a morning routine. That was back in community college when I didn’t have enough of a social life to keep me distracted from my existential angst. Back then I woke up at 4:30 AM and ran 3 miles before cooking myself a chicken and spinach omelette (I was on the paleo diet) and writing in my journal, all in time for an early class.

Post-college, life has magically become structured. No more shirking responsibilities to enjoy a hockey game with friends. No more late night Taco Bell runs with roommates. No more lounging around in sweatpants, letting the dormitory life do my socializing for me. Instead I find myself waking up and jumping into a day where others rely on me. My wife relies on me for coffee before she drives off to work. My coworkers in earlier timezones rely on me to wake up and answer questions or respond to situations that popped up overnight. The world relies on me to wake up and get moving.

The “unstructured time” mirage

I already have so much structure in my life, I need unstructured time to keep my life balanced. At least, this is what my subconscious began whispering to me about 2 years ago. I verbalized this logic to my loving wife on weekends when I just wanted to have some time “for whatever”. At the beginning, I used this unstructured time to explore new topics I was studying, write side projects, and watch YouTube videos. Lots of YouTube videos.

Then a pandemic hit. On lockdown, YouTube videos became a lifestyle. I watched my weekly screen-time notifications rise from 3 hours per day to 5 hours per day, 6 hours, 9 hours… YouTube is a bottomless vortex where unsuspecting partakers of “unstructured time” go to waste away all of their off-days. Unstructured time morphed from “spontaneously exploring and building things” time to “laying sideways on a screen” time. For me, “unstructured time” has turned out to be non-productive time in disguise.

The “irresponsibility” illusion

A morning routine feels transgressive. Like an extra piece of 82% dark chocolate. It feels selfish to set about personal tasks when I have Slack messages waiting on me, hotfixes that need to be written, PRs to review and merge… and here I am running around my neighborhood, taking a cold shower, reading, praying, enjoying the porch, or whatever else I might do to take advantage of the morning. Setting in place a hard and fast rule, like a morning routine, seems irresponsible in light of the pressing issues that invade my consciousness when I wake up in the morning. This rule, the morning routine, dictates that I suspend important things (that I honestly want to do) until I’ve completed some set of tasks which don’t feel all that urgent in comparison.

But a morning routine is responsible. Sure, my bonus doesn’t directly depend on whether I engage in a morning routine. However, the benefits of a morning routine may well set me on the path toward greater productivity during the day. Health of body, mind, spirit, and habits will affect my work at some point. So, a morning routine is an investment in my ability to live properly.

Truths about myself

As to the “unstructured time” mirage, the truth is that I’m not entitled to non-productivity. Likewise, regarding the “irresponsibility” illusion, the truth is that I need to impose structure upon myself to maintain health in my life.

Others depend on me, so I should foster dependability in my life from the beginning of each day.