Noah Brier | May 16, 2024

The Routines Edition

On cardboard shredding, panic, and showing up.

Occasionally we like to play with the format when we see interesting stuff from friends. Today’s edition is an excerpt from Rick Webb’s Good Morning. Hello. How are you? (GMHHAY) newsletter, which he publishes daily and covers quite literally whatever he’s thinking about that day. Rick is an old friend of WITI, has written a few editions for us, and is a big part of how many of us in the community know each other (he co-founded The Barbarian Group, which was an important presence in the lives of lots of NYC internet/marketing/tech people in the early-2000s). Anyway, I love it when creative people share their habits and processes, and when I read Rick’s latest email asked if he’d be all alright with us re-running it. - Noah 

Rick here. Today I give you: a Q&A I did with a reader of GMHHAY, Anne, about my daily habits. Is this the second day in a row I have “half-assed” GMHHAY by doing something other than writing a 2,000 word essay in an hour? Maybe. But I swear it is because I thought they were both good ideas, not because, you know, I’m lazy and slacking on my daily habit. Honest.

Anne: How do you feel about [your] routines? 

Rick: I love them and hate them but I am ridiculously proud of the results and I hated myself when I was lazy so mostly I am thankful for them, even when they embarrass me and I gotta say lunatic things like "I'm sorry I can't go to that meeting i have to put away the dishes" or something.

Do you dread them?

Only when I skip them, BUT I very much put them in the morning so I DON'T have to dread them. Like, I have tried in the past to do them in the afternoon and it doesn't work as well. There is something so GREAT about being DONE with them and having a whole day where you know that if you don't get anything done, you still got a ton done that day, and it's only, like, 9:30. Really is amazing.

Do you look forward to them?

Almost never, no.

Do you ever get bored?

NEVER. I think this is a... I think it's like all about how people's minds are wired? Like I am just completely happy doing some dumb task, repetitive, rote, monotonous, but necessary and productive. My happiest job ever was being a dishwasher.

When I am overwhelmed with things to do, the routines and easy tasks are hugely helpful because I can do one or two of those, even when paralyzed by panic of how much I have to do, knock one or two things off the list (mental or physical) and I have made the first steps of progress. Everything else is easier once I am... moving? Doing? Producing? It's pure inertia. When I'm still I want to do nothing. When I'm moving I want to keep moving. So a couple really easy routine tasks in the morning is just the ticket. Except email. Never make email your first task: it’s too depressing. But we're parents so there's no risk of that.

Is it a conscious decision to add a new routine?  Or do they happen on their own over time?

Both? I started a new one today. Nothing major, just another tab in a browser to check every morning. But it clicked about six nights ago that doing this would make my evening reading experience better (long complicated explanation about ereader document management). And when I realized a 2-second daily routine would produce such a result, I got really excited, wrote it down, and implemented it today.

Other ones, like the covid stats or the bank balance checking, were started out of necessity but have stuck around because I've realized their utility.

Is the routine of it all soothing?  Or - corollary - do you get anxious if you *don't* do the routines?

Yes and yes. Incredibly soothing. And incredibly anxious if I don't do them. But, then, I think I was anxious anyway and the routine soothes. And if I had NO routines, I'd be anxious in the exact same way, so I only view the routines as net positive.

Did you have to train yourself to get into the routines?  Or has it always felt natural?

I had to train myself. Oh! Also! I take weekends off from almost all of them, I used to not do that. It felt weak. But it is MUCH easier and works better if I have a weekend, just like a job. Plus, you know, I have my daughter on weekend mornings. It was insanity trying to do them with her around. You really gotta be alone. But yeah, this was all learned. I did not push myself too hard or anything. Hold on lemme check. I started 750 words in December 2009 and it was January 2011 before I completed the words every day for a month. So it took more than a year. I was like this with quitting smoking too. Just don't beat yourself up for failure, let it go and try again. Over and over. Eventually it sticks.

I was just reading about habits, which are often described as cue-routine-reward.  For you, what's the reward from your routines?

In the short term, lack of anxiety and satisfaction that my day was productive by 10 AM or so. In the long term, the results: the body of work, the new skill, the thing to look at, the increased knowledge. After a year or two those become... just so immense and amazing.

How much time do the routines take?

Depends on what you include, but my day is all routine based from getting out of bed at 6:30 till about 9:30 or 10 ish. That includes daughter/school stuff, though. The me stuff, it’s from about 7:45 to 10 ish after I get home. Some days 750 words, especially, is REALLY HARD after already doing GMHHAY. It’s there because I have learned in the past I need an outlet for personal stuff that doesn’t make it into GMHHAY, but that need isn’t every day, so the other days, well. It can be rough. The email to you solved that problem today. ;)

Friday has the whole out-of-house errands thing which takes about 90 minutes. If the week’s been nuts, there could be an hour of cardboard shredding. The cardboard shredding is the one thing that doesn’t have a fixed time, which means it doesn’t always get done. Which leads to….

Does the time change each day, or is it pretty fixed (given life constraints and unpredictability, etc?)

Fixed time is key. It’s not a “routine” really if it doesn’t have a fixed time. I am a CEO but in a lot of ways I’m in a normal grunt job. I work fixed hours mostly, and so it’s easy to schedule in an hour in the morning where I am alone, and work hasn’t “started” yet (it officially starts at 10). Obviously if some work thing comes up it can throw things off, but that early, it’s rare. (RW)

Thanks for reading,

Noah (NRB) & Colin (CJN) & Rick (RW)

Why is this interesting? is a daily email from Noah Brier & Colin Nagy (and friends!) with editing help from Louis Cheslaw about interesting things. If you’ve enjoyed this edition, please consider forwarding it to a friend. If you’re reading it for the first time, consider subscribing.

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