Monotony Breeds Creativity

“Two turkey wraps, no cheese, with lettuce, tomato, banana peppers, black olives and a little bit of mustard. No chips, no drink, just the wraps please”

I say this nearly everyday around 11am. I say it to the same girl at the same Subway on the lobby level of our building. I eat one immediately upon returning to my desk, and the other around 2pm (I generally eat 5–6 small meals a day). There are two reasons for this. First; it’s a healthy lunch. Second; and more importantly, by eliminating the debate over what’s for lunch it frees me to think about other more important stuff.

People have said Albert Einstein did this too. He had 5 sets of identical clothes in his wardrobe, that way he didn’t have to think about what he was going to wear. The writers of The Fly alluded to this in their portrayal of Dr. Brundle. I’m certainly not comparing myself to Einstein, but he did have a point. By taking things that are not top priority and ‘monotonizing’ them, it frees more time to think about the things that are.

Most of us do this already without noticing. We take the same route to work or the gym, get our haircut at the same place, and use the same ATM machine; all without thinking. Whether we realize it or not, most people bathe with the exact same routine every day. Perhaps it’s no coincidence that we do our best thinking in the shower, or on the way to work. Our mind is in a relaxed state due to the low level of effort needed for the task. It has been monotonized.

My point is that when we find ourselves stressing out, or spinning our wheels on the same thing time and time again, we should try to find a simple solution that we can live with 90% of the time and repeat it. Every time. This way our minds can relax about the things that don’t matter, and work creatively on the things that do.

Originally published at jcornelius.com on October 3, 2007.