Can Changing Your Routine Change the Way You Work?

Mary Lorenz

Roughly a year ago, a few CareerBuilder employees embarked on various workplace challenges to see what would happen when they stopped being polite and started being real  changed up their usual routines and tried something new for a week. Would messing with the status quo affect their workplace productivity, mood or overall success? Would anything change at all? Would everything change? These are their stories.

Challenge 1: A Night Owl Tries Morning Workouts

On a normal day, writer Matt Tarpey has to set four different alarms to make sure he gets up in time for work. So when he vowed to get up every morning for a week to work out before work, he had no idea if he would be able to pull it off.

The verdict: Prior to the challenge, Matt was well aware of the supposed benefits of morning workouts – from increased energy to a better mood – but after putting it to the test himself, what Matt mostly felt was…tired. “Perhaps a week isn’t long enough for a habit to really take hold,” Matt pondered at the time. “Perhaps it would have gone better if I hadn’t gone five days in a row right off the bat…but one thing is for certain – I’m definitely not going to keep working out in the mornings before work. At least not every day.” I recently caught up with Matt to see if he’s changed his tune in the last year. Here’s what he had to say.

Other than waking up early, what was the hardest thing for you with the challenge? I wish I had come up with a better system to chart my progress during the week. I should have scheduled more mental check-ins throughout each day to get a more accurate picture of what was happening to my mind.

Was there anything you liked about the challenge? On the days I rode my bike to work I really looked forward to riding home rather than cramming into a crowded train car. My normal commute is entirely subway, so that extra little bit of sun on the way to and from the office was always a nice change of pace.

Did you at least enjoy having your nights free? It was nice to have exercise already out of the way every evening. Early in the week I went out with friends a few times and caught up on some reading. It also gave me one less excuse to work on some personal projects I had been letting simmer on the back burner for a while.

Would you do this challenge again? If so, what would you do differently? There’s a good chance I’ll come to regret saying this, but I would be open to trying this challenge again. One big change I’d want to make is in scheduling. If I were to try getting into morning workouts like this again, I would want to spread it out over two weeks and give myself a couple of mornings off. I’m still doubtful that it would create any lasting change in my sleeping or exercise habits, but I’m still a little curious. At the very least it might be funny to see me try to function on extremely low sleep.

Did completing this challenge inspire you to challenge yourself in other ways? I have been waking up earlier on weekends than I used to. I can’t say for certain whether this challenge played a part in that change, but it’s certainly possible.

Have you worked out in the morning at all since the challenge ended? Not even once.

Challenge 2: Getting Rosetta Stoned

In preparation for an upcoming trip to Paris, social media manager Greg Miller attempted to channel his inner Gerard Depardieu by learning to speak French – in just a week.

The verdict: After a short-lived fling with Rosetta Stone, Greg found an app called Duolingo, which made learning much easier and more. A week later, he was already 8 percent fluent in French, which he decided was good enough to get him around Paris just like a lazy American. So is Greg still living la vie en rose about his chances of becoming fluent in French? Here’s what he had to say:

Other than your trip to Paris, were there other reasons you chose to learn French? It definitely started by planning to go to Paris, but I have always wanted to learn more languages. Like most American kids I learned Spanish when I was too young to appreciate it. Now I am jealous of multi-lingual people, and strive to learn any language I can to make myself more adaptable in any situation. Since my role at CareerBuilder is global, I have tried to pick up as much as I can in a few different languages. I have found that people are much friendlier and willing to listen if they see that I am trying to relate to them by saying a few words in their language, especially the French.

Did you continue trying to learn French once the challenge was over? I did for a while. I have let it go lately mostly because I am busy, but since I have very little chance to practice it, I may move on to something else.

What was the hardest part of the challenge? Sticking with it, by far. Before the challenge, I was learning a little every week, but trying to do it every day began to feel like a chore really quick. I had a hard time staying motivated.

Was there anything about the challenge you particularly enjoyed? I did enjoy the feeling of accomplishment that Duolingo created.  I kind of felt cool being able to say that I was a certain percentage fluent in a language via LinkedIn.

Did doing the challenge inspire you to test yourself in other ways? It definitely made me think about my professional and life goals.  I think I have accomplished a lot in my career so far, and I have reached a point where I need to create even bigger goals for myself. I haven’t figured out what all of those are yet, but I think that experience will stick with me and drive me to keep pushing.

Challenge 3: Guess Who’s Cooking for Dinner?

It’s not that senior writer Deanna Hartley can’t cook (she makes a mean out-of-the-box mac and cheese), it’s just that her busy schedule left her little time or energy to plan a Rachel Ray-worthy meal every night (that is, unless she was willing to give up her weeknight TV addiction first). So when it came time for her challenge, the choice was obvious: cook dinner every weeknight for a week.

The verdict: There were definitely a few hiccups along the way—marital disagreements over the menu, a botched Peapod order, etc. – but in the end, Deanna pulled through and completed the challenge. She even found she sort of enjoyed cooking…just not as much as a good “Dancing with the Stars” finale.

Will she be giving Rachel Ray a run for her money any time soon? Here’s what I found out:

Was there anything about the challenge you liked? I enjoyed attempting to take on something outside of my comfort zone and to challenge myself to keep going after the initial one-week period. You know that saying “I like to have written”? I guess I like to have cooked because it was very satisfying to sit down at the dinner table each night, exhausted as I was. And my husband helped out with the dishes, so that was a win.

What was the hardest part of the challenge? I hadn’t anticipated the prep portion/meal planning being the hardest part, but it was. It took a lot longer than I had anticipated and once I had nailed down the plan down to the last detail, it became a bit easier. It was also challenging to try to accommodate two very different diets and tastes while trying to keep it to a minimum number of dishes. I also paid so much attention to the entrees while planning that I totally forgot about side dishes, so I had to go back and re-think some of my original plans.

Did anything stick with you? Did anything surprise you about the challenge – good or bad? It definitely taught me to be flexible – not only in terms of compromising on certain meals, but also to have back-up plans because something will always go wrong. In this case, my Peapod delivery was a few hours later than I had anticipated, so I had to figure out a different meal to make that day with the ingredients I already had handy (it was between that or starting to cook at 9 and I chose the former).

Have you tried to cook anything since? I do actually enjoy cooking over the weekend when I have some downtime and there isn’t pressure to get everything done by a certain time. But since then, I haven’t ever cooked on a weeknight.

Did doing this challenge inspire you to challenge yourself in other ways? I guess it showed me that even if I despised doing something, I could still stick with it if I set a goal for myself.

Challenge 4: Taking the ‘Comfort’ Out of ‘Comfort Zone’

For his challenge, editorial manager Anthony Balderrama chose a “beer flight for the soul,” opting to embark on five smaller challenges – as opposed to one big one – throughout the week that would force him outside of his comfort zone. Day one: dressing in business attire; day two: hugging people (don’t tell HR); day three: drinking coffee; day four: foregoing social media; day five: no listening to music.

The verdict: If a week of pushing his boundaries taught him anything, it’s this: “I can do these things and survive. I can also fall down a flight of stairs and survive. It doesn’t mean I should ever do either on purpose.”

When I caught up with Anthony to find out if he had any residual PTSD, here’s what he had to say:

What did you hate most about the challenge?  Waking up every day and thinking, “Ugh, I have to do something else terrible today.” I felt a bit like Sisyphus rolling the boulder where I’d get through one day and feel accomplished and then remember I had to start all over again.

Did wearing a suit (or your version of it) make you feel more professional or productive at all? It really didn’t have an effect on my actual work. More than anything I spent more time explaining to people why I was “so dressed up” than anything else.

Did you feel you got a lot more done not being on social media? Do you check social media less now? Initially I didn’t do much extra work because I was repeatedly going to check my phone or my social accounts—and had to stop myself. After a couple hours of that, I was able to focus more on work. By the end of the day I didn’t miss social all that much. I did feel very out of touch with current events since I’m used to constantly getting news from Twitter. Since the project I have occasionally forced myself to avoid social media for at least a couple hours at a time just to remind myself I can do it. I should probably do it more, really.

What was the supposed benefit of giving up music for a day? Were you more distracted without noise around you? Because I listen to music all the time (at home, commuting, at work) I thought maybe I was letting it distract me from work—similar to my theory about social media. That’s definitely not the case. I really do get distracted when there’s nearby noise. Everything from people talking to office doors opening and closing. Plus, when I would try to edit articles or write, I had a hard time focusing. Of all the challenges, that’s the one that left me feeling defeated at the end of the day.

Was there anything you liked about the challenge? Aside from the joy it brought my co-workers as I suffered on a daily basis, I did like testing my limits. It was satisfying to think that these little mental crutches aren’t necessary for me to do my job well or get through the day. I also hate repetition, so I enjoyed the simplicity of just doing something new, which isn’t always easy when you work in a 9-5/cubicle job.

Did doing the challenge inspire you to challenge yourself in other ways? When there’s some small annoyance I have to do—like go to a dinner party where I hardly know people or if I leave my headphones at the office over the weekend—I do find myself randomly thinking, “Don’t be a baby—you can do this. You drank coffee and hugged people—that’s about as bad as it can get.” I realize it’s a pretty low threshold of suffering in the grand scheme of things, but it’s a quick way to get myself to shut up and stop whining.


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