Cheat on Your Routine

Sometimes you need to shake things up

Ximena Vengoechea
5 min readMar 15, 2023

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Photo by Robert Katzki on Unsplash

Last summer, we moved to a new city. After a series of unknowns (housing, school, housing again, a little career confusion for good measure), we’ve finally settled into a routine. We have a school we like for our kiddo, we’re regulars at our local coffee shop, and even have a few favorite restaurants we happily return to again and again. We’ve got some local babysitters for when we are in a pinch, and a dog boarding spot, too. There is still much to explore — we’ve barely put a dent in our local museums, bookstores, cinemas, and theaters — but the shape of our day-to-day life is firmly in place.

After so much uncertainty, settling in feels really good — enviable even. Routines are wonderful: they help you do things more efficiently, thereby giving you time back for the things that matter most. They are predictable, and create a sense of stability in an otherwise often uncertain life. It can be comforting to know what comes next (just ask any toddler).

But for all their stability and assurance, routines can also be limiting and, well, boring. At best, routines can make you feel a little stir crazy. At their most extreme, they may be a sign that a dramatic change is needed.

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Lately, the routines I craved when we first moved have started to feel a little stifling — personally and creatively. As a writer, my work is equal parts hard work and inspiration. You have to show up at your notebook or laptop, but you also have to find something to say. Good work can’t be willed to the page on its own — you need a seed of something to put that sweat and grit into.

That’s where having even just a hint of inspiration can help. That seed can come from anywhere: you can eavesdrop on conversations at a coffee shop, be inspired by the colors in a bouquet of flowers, or clear your head on a walk around the block. Sometimes your routine can help, but sometimes it’s the opposite of what’s needed. You have to live a little to inspire your work.

Of course, it’s not just creatives who seek — or need inspiration. Who doesn’t get tired of their jobs from time to time, whether that’s clocking in at a traditional corporate office or being a stay at home parent? It’s normal to feel boredom and fatigue sometimes.

What starts the fire up again? You have to shake things up. Cheat on your routine every now and then. Here are three ways you can get out of a routine rut.

Visit a new place

What I love about traveling is that it gives me something new to take in, try out, eat, explore, observe, and understand. Travel can sharpen our observation skills, pique our curiosity, and inspire us to try new things or consider things differently. Explore someplace new and make note of everything: the customs, culture, geography, transportation, weather, language, art, fashion, and food. Learn something new about yourself — your tastes, your interests, likes, dislikes, talents, aptitudes, and skills (along with what might be missing, too). There’s something life-affirming about getting to know yourself in a new place, warts and all.

Adventure locally

You don’t have to hop on a plane to shake up your routine. Be a tourist in your own city or try a new nearby campground and adventure locally. Take an even smaller adventure, like getting off the metro one stop earlier to walk through a different part of your neighborhood on your way home from work. Try a new take-out spot instead of falling back on your old standby. Take the scenic route back from school pick-up. Shaking up your routine doesn’t always mean big adventures or massive changes. Even small changes can create positive ripple effects and help you break out of your routine rut.

Get lost in art

One thing that reliably inspires me is to get lost in someone else’s world, often through art of some kind; seeing things through someone else’s eyes is always a helpful reset. Try reading books and magazines about far-flung places that transport you in time and place. Learn about other cultures and travel vicariously through museum exhibitions, television, foreign films, and documentaries. Pay attention to art you normally wouldn’t look at. Check out abstract work if you normally beeline toward the realists and naturalists in the museum. Read a romance novel for once instead of your usual historical biography. Explore new creative territory and see what happens.

How do you like to shake things up? Where do you like to go? What settings, company, books, etc do you find inspiring?

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  • 🎧 Listen Like You Mean It is on the pod beat again: Here are two great conversations I had recently about user research, listening, and connecting, from the fine folks at Meetup and Safi Media
  • 📖 What I’m reading: I just wrapped up Either/Or, the sequel to The Idiot. It’s a coming of age story about Selin, a first generation American who is in the literature program at Harvard and in the process of finding herself. It was hard for me to not find parallels in my own life while reading it: I, too, am a first gen American who was in the lit program at Harvard, and those were formative years for me, too. (Although my experience was way less heady/intellectual, and far more prudish. Also, we had gmail and AIM by then.) This book transported me back to a specific time in my life, and all the feelings and uncertainties that came along with it. Selin is funny and perceptive and weird and smart in ways everyone can appreciate. You can see more of what I’m reading here.

💌 As always, the best thing you can do for me is share this edition of the newsletter, or others you enjoy, with your friends and coworkers. Thanks for being here and for sharing the love. 💌

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Ximena Vengoechea

Writer, UX Researcher, Author of The Life Audit ('24), Rest Easy ('23), Listen Like You Mean It ('21). ximenavengoechea.com/books