Friday, January 9, 2015

What's your routine?

You can be successful at what you do and sleep a lot. Edgar is.
Do you do the same thing every day, or is your life spontaneous (or chaotic)? One of my favourite vets told me he gets up at 3.30am, has breakky (I think it’s Crunchy Nut Cornflakes), gets his email out of the way at an hour when he’s not likely to be flooded with replies, heads into work, checks all his patients and starts surgery at 7am.

Another colleague told me that a neurology specialist used to wake up, have breakfast, sneak into the teaching hospital at the University he was based at and perform a neurological examination in every single patient (I am suspecting with the exception of critical or aggressive animals). Then he would leave a little note on the cage for the residents (I imagine, something along the lines of, this animal has delayed proprioception or you might want to check that nystagmus, or maybe even this cat has multifocal neurological signs) and then spirit away again. He must have been highly skilled at neurological exams.

My routine starts with putting the guinea pigs out for a run. This is an old photo showing Cornflake (mum) pictured with Osler (left)(named after the great William Osler) and Cushing (right)(named after Harvey Cushing). Spooky - I just realised that each of these names is related, somehow, to someone with a very structured daily routine. I wonder what my subconscious is trying to tell me here?
Physician William Osler went to bed around 10pm and spent an hour each night reading.

Charles Darwin made sure the dog was walked every day (I wonder if he cleaned up after the dog?).

A physics lecturer I know writes a to do list then simply does the biggest tasks first. He says he imagines filling a jar with rocks, and the jar gets fuller quicker if you stick the big rocks in first and then the little ones around those. But its hard to structure a day around tasks alone.

I came across this page where someone, clearly a bit obsessed with the routines of others (in particular how much they sleep vs how much they work) created a table based on information gleaned about the lives of creative geniuses. You can check it out here.

Computer scientist Cal Newport, author of the study hacks blog, plans every minute of this day (read about it on this blogpost).

I had a crack at this the other day and it worked wonders – except I forgot to plan the following day and the rest of the week has been less than optimally structured (which is code for "something of a dog's breakfast"). That's partly because I'm doing a project that has involved much skyping of people in the Northern Hemisphere, which isn't normally a multi-daily occurrence.

One thing I have found talking to students and new graduates is that most don’t have a routine and tend to roll with the punches, often with a bit of a sleep debt building up. (One notable exception is the sporty types. Anyone who also has to juggle training and sport seems to be more specific in planning their day).

Many vets and academics I know (though there are plenty of exceptions) have very structured routines. Maybe rituals and routines are a good way to manage stress. Certainly there is some research suggesting this (for example, see this article summarising a study).

How do you structure your day, if at all? Where do companion animals fit in? Do you schedule any protected time without interruptions for “deep work”?


  1. Hmmm, not enough exercise in most creative peoples routines!

  2. Nice. I wish I can get a waking up early routine. Although I tried a lot, but until now I always wake up late. But after reading your post, I think I should try one more time. Thank you a lot


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