On Forming a Habit When You Don’t Have a Routine


There are a lot of facets of the online travel community that I find bemusing – in particular is the air of hostility surrounding the 9-5 lifestyle. Ditch your cubicle life! Break free from the shackles that chain you to your desk! Revel in the joy of not having to participate in the daily commute!

You know. That kinda thing.

Well. I’ve been a shift worker for the majority of my adult life, bar four blissful months spent working in a production house in Australia. I could go to the gym before or after work, slept through the night and hung out with my friends every weekend. It was wicked.

What I would do now for normal working hours… trust me – you don’t want to know!

I’ll admit that freelancing as an expat does play out in my favour. It allows me the freedom to travel whenever I wish and if I work like a maniac for eight to nine months of the year, I can take around three off to do whatever I please. It’s a pretty sweet deal.

Yet as with anything in life, there are positives and negatives with working shifts. While I’ll take the freedom and extended holidays for now, the fact remains that as a shift worker, I don’t and possibly will never have a routine.

The trouble that this causes has been made evident during my quest to become fluent in German. My first few weeks into this project were essentially a dismal failure, as I struggled to find the time, energy and inclination to achieve my daily goal.

My whacky and lengthy hours of employment have worked as a very convenient excuse over the last six years, when it comes time to reflect on why I still wasn’t achieving the goals I set myself, time and time again.

In the last year however, I decided to concentrate on one task. I wanted to make writing a habit. It was something that I have come back to, time and time again over the course of my life. Even when I wasn’t writing seriously, I have dutifully kept a journal since the age of 15 – although I can’t yet stomach reading the contents of these particular diaries!

And you know what?

I succeeded. To the point now where if I don’t write for a couple of days, I get very irritated and frustrated. The need to piece words together to form coherent sentences has ingrained itself once again into my everyday life.

The best part is that this was achieved while travelling prolifically and working up to 80 hour weeks. I can’t even begin to tell you how satisfying that feels.

Now I have a formula that I believe works, I’m hoping to use it to kick my butt into gear where learning German is concerned. This is how I plan to do it.

Make it a Priority

You’ve got to absolutely want to implement this habit into your daily life. No matter what it is. No more day dreaming, thinking about how it would be really nice to become an accomplished guitar player some day. You’ve got to find the drive to pick up that instrument on a regular basis and give it your all. Again, and again, and again.

Funnily enough, the best method I’ve found in achieving this, was to acknowledge that fact, then push it from the forefront of my mind. I would think: Gee, I would really like to get into my writing again. Maybe even get paid for doing it! I then stopped focusing on the bigger picture. The goal was to do some sort of writing every day – a few sentences scribbled in a notebook, an entry in a journal, adding to the novel I will quite probably never finish or a post on this blog. It didn’t matter. Just a little bit each day – which at first consisted largely of staring at a blank screen, not knowing how to say what it was I wanted to say.


Over time, the dam burst and the words started flowing freely through my fingers, onto the page.

And they haven’t stopped since then.

Put Every Available Second Towards Achieving Your Goal

When I started writing, I stopped watching television. If I was in serious need of downtime, I’d read a book instead. Literature helped improved my vocabulary, spiked my imagination and inspired me to keep going. Watching TV on the other hand, just seemed like wasted time.

I’m not saying giving up TV is going to help you implement a new habit. What I do suggest is that you take a look at how you spend your free time. If it’s largely directed towards activities that aren’t really doing you any favours in the long run, it might be worth considering reevaluating what your priorities are and acting accordingly.

Eliminate Distractions

Mobile phone, I am looking at you! Oh, how I have come to both love and hate this device since I became an expat. As a readily available link to my friends and family scattered around the globe, I have come to rely on it far too heavily over the course of the last sixteen months.

When it was time to write, I would either turn it off, or at the very least, leave it face down and on silent in my bedroom, while I moved my laptop to another room.

Not that the laptop is any better. THE ENTIRE INTERNET IS ON THERE!


If you’re like me and have zero self control when it comes to spending large amounts of time staring longingly at pictures of German Shepherd puppies online, consider installing an extension such as StayFocusd. It limits how long you can spend looking at just about any website, at your discretion.

Not sure if it works for Google image searches.

Look After Your Health

I know I’ve been guilty of sacrificing sleep, healthy eating and exercise for, oh just about every pursuit under the sun. It doesn’t really get you anywhere. I learned this from nights where I put sleep second while trying to keep up with posting on this blog. I’d wake up the next morning after a lengthy lie in, read what I’d written and think what on earth is this crap?

Pursuing something until you burn out won’t do you any favours. Try as much as possible to priotise your health and everything else will start to fall into place around it.

Don’t Let Your Social Life Get in the Way

I like to think I had a lot of friends in Australia. My social life was definitely pumping, even around the mad shifts I worked there. Moving to London, where I knew next to no one was a massive wake up call. It was lonely at first, but over time I came to really enjoy my own company. Although I miss my friends back at home, I have realised that I am far more prolific over on this side of the world, due largely to having less social distractions.

I’m not saying you should adopt the lifestyle of a hermit by shutting yourself in your flat, taking your pants off and refusing to ever leave. Just consider toning it down a bit – at least while you’re working to ingrain this habit into your every day life.

Tackle one Item on the List at a Time

We live in a world of instant gratification – we want it all and we want it now.

Consider this – You can’t have it all.

But you can work towards that one goal. And you will achieve, if you work hard enough.

Once this practice is habit, look to the next goal and concentrate wholly on that.

I want to get better at yoga (or at least be able to touch my damn toes at long last). I’d love to learn how to grow plants and herbs off my balcony. I miss cooking all my meals and experimenting with food. I long to take up a musical instrument again. I spend a lot of time thinking about how I should get back into drawing. And I really want to transition into living a waste free lifestyle.


Never actually finished that book. Zero regrets.


The reality is – I don’t have enough time to dedicate to all these tasks. I can however, break it down and work on implementing them into my schedule, one by one.

I’m writing now and I want to write. It’s become as necessary to me as breathing.

Next on the list is speaking German. Language learning needs to become a habit. But having done it once in the last year, I’m feeling far more confident in regards to achieving my goal.

Don’t Give up

You’ll feel as if you’re constantly failing. There will be times when you can’t be bothered – all you’ll want to do is eat pizza in your pjs and veg mindlessly in front of the TV. Don’t worry. We all have days like this. Tomorrow is a clean slate.

As my favourite author, who herself is a perfect example of overcoming constant setbacks to achieve success states:

It is impossible to live without failing at something, unless you live so cautiously that you might as well not have lived at all, in which case you have failed by default.

– J. K. Rowling

Wishing you the best of luck, in each of your life’s pursuits.

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  1. I had a similar bumpy ride with making running a habit. Something though, that I might add to the list: do it because of how it makes you feel. When I told people about this and my quest for running they looked at me a bit strange: sweating a lot, feeling tired, running no matter the weather… what the? But running, the actual movement, the endorphins (those babies are real), and the sense of accomplishment out-wayed every other stress that came with it. To the point now that if I don’t run at least twice a week, I feel out of sorts and annoyed.

  2. I think for a lot of us the idea of routine is considered monotous and boring and non-adventurous. But sometimes routine is important and can be really valuable. We also probably adopt routine and patterns even while travelling and without knowing it. There is the routine we might have for packing our bag, getting ready to take a flight, arriving in a hostel etc.

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