Capsule routines and transitory spaces
Throughout the entire pandemic, I’ve kept a steady daily routine. If I’ve set a goal to do something daily, or weekly, I don’t miss, and I don’t skip.
Even when I went to live with my family for several months, I was able to maintain a “capsule” version of my routine, without missing a single day of my habits (apart from when I’m literally on a plane). I even maintained blog writing, weekly.
I think routines are something we pick up and carry with us, not something that’s completely controlled by the environment (e.g. “can’t study today, too noisy outside”). People have routines fall apart because they don’t kick it off with a daily commute due to working remotely.
I believe that a routine is an easy way to ensure I don’t expense much brain power on things that will happen anyway, and is one of the biggest factors that contribute to being able to succeed at many endeavours.
It does not mean being rigid, as in, I won’t skip a social event due to it overlapping with an exercise block. But the fact that I can say that I have done things every day means that things are flexible, as long as they are done within the day.
Picking the habits for a travel-friendly “capsule” routine
I’ve written about my daily routine, which hasn’t changed that much since writing.
It was easy to maintain it for so long, in part due to having a lot of personal space where I usually live, which I acknowledge.
However, when I decided to move in with family for a while, I had to adjust, and quickly.
I picked a few daily habits to keep.
- Morning coffee (instant drip coffee instead of Mocha pot…)
- Core exercises, cardio for 15 minutes
- Eating around the same time (to be adjusted after observing for one week, coordinated with family’s schedule)
I also kept the weekly habit of writing a blog post a week.
Everything else would be at the whims of my family and myself. My full-time work hours took the same duration of each day.
Habits I paused during living with my family
- Daily journaling - gasp!
- Weekly blocks of focus work for game development
- Weekly or regular social groups and online events. I still did public speaking (e.g. PyCon US), which I prepared for on an ad-hoc basis.
That’s the main difference between my routines, really. But after 3 months, I’ve resumed journalling daily as if I had never paused it at all. I haven’t missed a single day since I resumed.
I think it’s the same for a lot of habits. For example, if I aim for a daily block to study something, I can pause it and pick it up as soon as life circumstances allow me to resume.
The key: having a few essential, non-compromisable habits that I enjoy each day (e.g. I don’t skip coffee!) and anchoring another, usually less enjoyable, habit on it.
e.g. “After coffee, I do
x. After dinner, I do
The main difference with living with family, is that I had decided to invest a lot of social time, hence why I axed all hose focus blocks.
It was also difficult since I needed to jostle around my daily and weekly habits much more. For example, if we went out and the drive home took longer than expected, then I’d move my daily exercise blocks around.
Meals also took much longer, which is why I only was able to settle down on a rhythm after a week or so of observing my daily cadences.
With this increased variability compared to when I had full control over my schedule, I actually owe being able to maintain my routine to one additional component: “transitory spaces”.
This is setting up an activity to transition my brainspace from socializing to focus work, and vice versa. For me, this was doing the dishes. No dishwashers.
I’d just stand for roughly 20 minutes after a meal, doing the dishes. This was a time where people didn’t tend to chat with me, and I think served the same as how people might use commute time to empty their minds for the upcoming evening after work. (I suppose some people call these things “rituals”.)
My transitory space when I worked in an office was the bus ride home; when I was living myself for most of the pandemic, it was sitting on the couch after a day of work and watching videos on the TV. To transit to the weekend, I would relax and have a beer or two that I order on a regular cadence from local breweries.
In the absence of our normal “transitory spaces” during the pandemic, it is possible for pre-existing habits to fall apart. With family, I didn’t have a purposely designed “transitory space” either, but I “assigned” the act of doing dishes, to serve that purpose.
Namely, what I learned was:
- There’s no excuse for me to let go of my habits and daily/weekly goals, even when travelling. This is accomplished by building a “capsule” routine, picking the most important anchors.
- When there’s an environment shift such as travelling and living with people that require more social time, observe for a week and pen down an optimally adjusted schedule.
- Anchoring routines on transitory spaces / rituals help a ton for maintaining and building habits.
I hope that by sharing some of these thoughts, it can help you with your own routine, especially as it’s in flux with the global situation.
You can also read about my usual daily routine, which explains how I use a routine to maintain high productivity on my day to day work.