One of the most important skills I've picked up from my years in school is cultivating a routine.
Routines help us organize our lives in a way that balances school, work and our personal affairs. They allow us to develop a rhythm in our lives which become ingrained and easy to follow once we get used to them, but this doesn't come without its downsides.
It can be easy to get so accustomed to your own routine that you don't realize you're no longer consciously thinking about how you spend your time. This can cause your progress to stagnate – you start living your life on autopilot.
It's important you include time in your routine for self-reflection and spontaneity. Doing the same thing week after week can be dulling and may negatively affect your physical and mental wellbeing. If you make time to try new things and explore new interests, this practice allows you to adjust your routine to better fit your lifestyle as your goals and aspirations change.
When I first came to college, I was told countless times by advisors, professors, even friends and family that it's important you develop a routine so you can focus on the things important to you. But what they left out is how to determine when I should change my routine and break the swing of my aging rhythm.
It's easy to get stuck in the day-to-day agenda of things and forget about the bigger picture. I got so used to the same old practice of planning classes for my next semester, building a routine to complete assignments, study for exams and move onto the next that I would often forget about all of the other fun and exciting opportunities college had to offer.
It wasn't until my junior year that I had really started setting time aside to explore things that were interesting to me. This was partly because COVID-19 and lockdown had eviscerated the transition into my new major and my overall college experience, but this also compounded my now-even-more-dull routine.
It was this isolating experience that made me realize how much of a rut I was in, a feeling I'm sure many came to terms with. I decided I wasn't going to get stuck in this situation again. I needed to find a balance between keeping a structured schedule and finding time to be creative and try new things.
I started writing and doing research to apply the things I learned in class, something I think everyone should try if they're able. I started learning new instruments, visiting new places around town and exploring new ways to get involved in the local community.
All of these different experiences allowed me to look at the things I was doing from a new perspective. It made me reassess what I'm doing with my life and pursue new goals, which have added tremendous value to my life.
Routines are important, yes, but don't forget: it's not the routine which dictates your life. It's only you who decides how you spend your time, so don't forget to throw something new in there from time-to-time, and above all else, don't live your life on autopilot.
Sean Gilley (he/him) is a senior studying political science and economics with a certificate in informatics.