Sophie Mackintosh on finding a routine

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One of the most beneficial parts about coming to Gladstone’s is the opportunity to be far away from your usual daily routine. It’s amazing how much energy and brain-space is freed up when you take away so many parts of every day life - cooking, cleaning, commuting, and even having a television. Suddenly hours and hours are unlocked, whether you’re working or relaxing. Everyone here has different experiences and aims, but this pleasant shock out of routine is one that links us all. 

Even just being in such a different space, calm, quiet, and out of the usual order of your life, has a beneficial effect. I know that at home I have a tendency to go on autopilot, either rushing 100 miles an hour or getting into bad procrastination and working patterns due to habit or tiredness. Being in a new physical space, however, is a novelty that opens up the opportunity to form new habits - whether lowering time spent on phones, pinpointing unhealthy social media habits, or being honest about habits of online consumption. 

It also gives us the opportunity to find a routine that really works for us, as a nine-to-five schedule, while being the one that we’re most used to, isn’t necessarily the one that works for our body clocks. The world is made up of larks, night owls, and everything in between, and figuring out when we really do our best work is exhilarating, if a little trial and error. Where better though to experiment than in such peaceful surroundings, where real life is left behind temporarily? 

To get me into the spirit of discovering my ultimate productive routine, I found a copy of Daily Rituals by Mason Currey in the library. This book collects together dozens and dozens of daily routines by writers, artists and musicians, from the outlandish to the ascetic. Anthony Trollope, for example, wrote industriously between the hours of 5.30 and 8.30 every day, 250 words per quarter hour, before heading to his job as a postal clerk; while Proust rose sometime in the afternoon and rang for his coffee, croissant and opium, before writing in bed, lying down. It made me think about the patterns we impose upon our own work, and the pressure of productivity. What if through my time at Gladstone’s I could find a way to work more efficiently, a way that I could use not just now, but going forward on my return? 

The one thing they had in common, largely, is that a routine was in place - a cue that told the body to get to work. Luckily that’s something much easier to stick to at the Library than in daily life, and so I got on with experimenting. 

The results, after nearly four weeks here? It seems that, surprisingly to myself (and no doubt my family), I am very much a morning person. My ideal routine seems to be getting up as early as possible, working until lunchtime, after which I’m useless for several hours, until getting my second wind before dinner - and then sometimes a third wind too, late at night, enjoying the library at its quietest and most secret. 

This is all great information for when I’m here, merrily getting as much done as possible. But I’m wondering about the return - and is it possible to integrate your own antisocial ideal schedules into lives full of other people, children, pets, jobs and unpredictability, even if the results are so good? In fact, would you even want to? 

The happy news is, for my work and my social life, is that I believe it doesn’t have to be all or nothing. The best bits of our routines and habits made here are things we can take home. It turns out that the long-term benefits of getting our of our routine and consciously making different choices go way beyond a relaxing stay - they actually help our productivity long-term, giving us a better understanding of ourself and our working patterns.

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 By Sophie Mackintosh, February 2019 Writer in Residence