When Routine Hampers Productivity

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When was the last time I posted on this blog?

The fact that I have to ask that question is proof enough that it’s been far too long. When I started this blog, it was an ambitious goal for me to post just once every other week. I’d started and abandoned two blogs before, so I launched Optimistic Teaching with a more than a little doubt that I’d be able to sustain it. In fact, I made it only several posts in before I took an unscheduled hiatus from updating this site that would go on to last over a year. Blogging simply wasn’t a priority, and when you have a heap of items on your plate and you have to cut back, it’s the lowest priorities that go first.

Determined to return to blogging this year, I had to evaluate why I had failed to keep going the last time. What was the flaw in my plan that I’d have to avoid this time? I could say it was a lack of purpose or passion, but I had those. My purpose was threefold and clear to me from the beginning: I wanted to have a place to reflect on my teaching, I wanted to enter into a digital professional world and discussion by sharing my experiences in the classroom publically, and I wanted to establish a professional presence online. Moreover, I was passionate about these goals; they mattered to me. They still do.

No, it wasn’t a lack of purpose or passion that led to my failure. I’ve realized it was something much more utilitarian, much less profound. It was rigid devotion to routine.

I know this sounds crazy, but let me explain. I had planned to give myself a specific time each week in which to write. I wanted to publish my blog posts every Monday morning, when teachers were going back to work. That meant I would write every Sunday afternoon. The problem was that every Sunday afternoon was something different. Some Sunday afternoons were those classic lazy Sundays alluded to in the title of the 1990 collection of Calvin and Hobbes Sunday comics. Those days were great for writing. Some Sundays, however, I was enjoying the weekend with friends. Other times, I was travelling. And more Sundays than I’d care to admit were devoted to grading, lesson planning, and, if I was lucky, squeezing in a workout or a run.

On those busier days, I missed my writing time, and I didn’t publish on Monday. Then, a slave to the routine, I wouldn’t write any other day–I would wait until the next Sunday to try again. If that Sunday was busy, I would put it off until the next Sunday. The accumulating weeks with no blog posts caused anxiety, which further discouraged me from thinking about trying to catch up. This cycle quickly turned into months of inactivity on my blog, and here we are today.

So here’s my new goal: I will write for this blog when the opportunity presents itself. I will write when the Olympics are on in the background. I will write when I’m waiting for a phone call to come. I will write alongside my students when they are composing an essay in class. I will write whenever I can, and I won’t worry about what day of the week it is or when I last wrote.

Routine works for some, but it doesn’t work for me. So forget routine. I will seize opportunity instead.

I’d love to hear your stories and tips! What keeps you from sticking to a routine? What impedes your productivity? What have you done to keep up a hobby or build a routine? Successful bloggers out there: I’d especially love to hear from you!

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