Breaking the Routine Rather Than Adding to It

Andy Coffin
7 min readOct 19, 2020


A cartoon of a man moving from a mouse wheel towards a few unique items. Obtained from the Association for Entrepreneurship USA.

For the last few weeks, I have been staying in an apartment, only leaving when I must and reading How to Do Nothing amongst other suggested readings. Recently, the scare of COVID-19 faded for me. Maybe I was never scared of getting sick. Which would mean that something else is keeping me inside, something else that other people do not have. Because while other university students long to return to campus and parents wish to return to work, I find myself satisfied whether the situation continues or moves on. The want for normalcy is natural for many people, and Jenny Odell wants people to fight against mind-numbing routine. After reading How to Do Nothing, I have started to question whether routine is good or bad and have tried to explore the idea myself. And I found that Odell says that we should change some of our time in our routine from doing something to doing nothing, but in this essay, I will show that everyone should break from their routine to enrich their lives.

I have also found that many people search for normalcy, even when the result is knowledgably giving up emotions that could make the experience better. Even Odell’s recognizes this idea a few times. Seeing “that there is no escaping the political fabric of the world,” Odell shows readers that there is some justification for aligning with the reality of the world (Odell, 61). A world that rewards those that work hard and strive to connect themselves with the attention economy. By creating routine and going with the flow, many can hold onto what is most valuable. Friendships and relationships are not stretched beyond their limits and broken. Life is balanced between joy and work and routine guarantees both without the risk of losing either. When growing up surrounded by this idea, the concept of deviating from it can seem drastic.

But Odell does not want readers to radically change their lives. She strives for readers to pause and realize the world around them. And by doing nothing, readers can improve their lives. To improve their lives, readers need to look at the world around them in a different way. One of Odell’s best illustrations of the attention economy is when she suggests that “social media often feels like firecrackers setting off other firecrackers in a very small room that soon gets filled with smoke,” as if everyone on social media is making more and more noise until no one can see what is really happening beneath the smoke (Odell, 60). To solve this suffocation, Odell shows readers that there have been other philosophers and visionaries in the past who have strived to avoid being blinded by the smoke generated by the attention economy.

After the beginning of chapter three Odell refers to Diogenes again and again. Diogenes was a philosopher who strove to oppose the general concepts of life at the time. He acted against the norms of the society he was in on purpose to show that “by refusing or subverting an unspoken custom, revealed its often-fragile contours”(Odell, 67). And while Diogenes is known for his many performances, he is not known as an entertainer but a philosopher. Diogenes did not want people to laugh at him, he wanted them to compare themselves to him so that they could see how blind they were to the fact that their routine is holding them back from having a better life. Back in the middle of the first millennium BC, the time that he was alive, Diogenes was proving my idea that everyone needs to break from their routine. Diogenes was showing the idea by his actions.

Let me show you one of my personal experiences that exemplifies the idea of the benefits of breaking from our routine. After school, in my house, and with all my work done for the day, I would try to keep myself entertained, normally by playing video games by myself or with friends. But on one day, for no reason, I chose to lie in bed and simply stare at the ceiling. Next thing I knew I was thinking about where I was. Lying in bed, thinking about how the air felt stale and dry, I was not hot or cold and I could not figure out why I did not care before or why I suddenly started to care. It was as if I were sleeping walking until now and I could finally distinguish myself from the rest of the world. I became self-conscious. This moment was significant for changing my perspective on my life, but also was sudden and unplanned. If I had thought to myself: “I’m ready to be me. My own person,” the moment would not have the same impact. This unplanned event showed me that I did not have to be only one thing, I did not have to be another person on this planet. And if I had normalized this experience, said that this was just another part of our routine and how to show that we have grown up, I might not have chosen to get up from the bed. By breaking from my routine, I was able to enrich my life, a goal that I believe Odell is trying to achieve.

I believe that Odell is close to my idea about how everyone should spend their time. Life is about experiencing emotions as an individual, like spending time in a garden. These moments allow us to feel free from our daily lives. So, I say that rather than incorporating down time into our lives, we should make separate time for some moments of thinking rather than making those moments an everyday or every week activity. The moments of “doing nothing” should be special. Odell wants readers to see the same scenery in a different light, but I say that to reserve time in our lives to do nothing, we should go to places and try to experience feelings that separate us from our normal feeling during routine where we experience the same scenery over and over again. Looking for a transition here

Many people can search for a guide, teacher, or shepherd to show to path to follow. That goal for a guide can be found in Odell’s How to Do Nothing. Both How to Do Nothing and the many noted creative minded references in it are educators that everyone should listen to or see once in their life. And I believe that this mentor will help their pupil to experience and learn more without having to spend nearly as much time learning. And I think that is why Odell references so many people and organizations like Diogenes in Greece, Audre Lorde’s books and speeches, Apple starting up in Cupertino, and many more. Readers can explore any or all these references throughout How to Do Nothing to gain knowledge on a variety of topics.

And I find that if readers take nothing else from How to Do Nothing, there are many sources in the book that are interesting but are not covered so deeply that they cannot be explored further. These topics can help readers to experience topics that they would not find during their routine. Like Thomas Merton’s statement on the time that a person lives:

“If I had no choice about the age in which I was to live, I nevertheless have a choice about the attitude I take and about the way and extend of my participation in its living ongoing events. To choose the world is … an acceptance of a task and a vocation in the world, in history and in time. In my time which is the present” (Odell, 59).

Here, Odell goes on to say that Merton is trying to say that we should not run away and deny our current situation. Odell wants readers to back and forth between the attention economy and “doing nothing” occasionally. However, I think that Merton is trying to simply inspire readers to choose what they want for themselves outside of what they cannot control. So, if a reader is a student with classes and work during the week, they should find something or someplace to explore that is different from classes and work to distract them from their routine.

Routine can be a helpful tool to make some constant in a chaotic life. However, a life of doing the same things over and over is not worth living. People sometimes spend their entire lives searching for the topic that interests them. And when the idea is found, they spend the rest of their lives exploring that one concept. Odell claims that while exploring those topics and ideas, everyone should spend time to realize their surroundings, to understand their situation and rejoice. I do not wish to crush either of these models, rather I have spent this time exploring them hoping to decide whether I agree with either. However, I wish to further Odell’s idea. Odell wants readers to see the same places in a different light. I think that people need to experience unique and different situations and emotions from their normal life so that they know how they feel about different topics and not simply take a break occasionally. When thinking more about why we are choosing How to Do Nothing, I believe that education goes a long way to further my argument. Through grade school and on students are introduced to many topics and can explore those that they choose. But ultimately, the students choose their future and can choose what is their normal. And I think that when they choose their path, that should not mean that all other paths are closed.

In this essay, I explained the idea that everyone should break from their routine to enhance their lives. I have acknowledged Odell’s ideas and her topic’s counter argument. But I have found that while I am still young, I will continue to choose for myself, right or wrong, so that I may become more experienced and feel more accomplished knowing I made the choices on my own. However, one of the greatest lessons that I think should be taught is that a good person learns from their mistakes, but a smart person learns from the mistakes of others. So, as long as Odell and other innovative people know that at any time I might say “I would rather not,” then I will listen because I know that I have many mistakes still left to learn from.



Andy Coffin