Navigating the Holiday Haze: Routines, Systems, and the Return to Productivity

The Podcasting Store
3 min readJan 5, 2024

by Drew Holmes

It was still dark outside when I opened my eyes. Looking at my phone it was barely 8:00 a.m. Looking out the window at the head of the bed I immediately realized I was on the second floor.

“That’s weird,” I thought, “our bedroom is on the first floor.”

Then I remembered. Not only were we not at our house we were also not in Colorado. Traveling for the winter break to visit Jamie’s family in Kentucky, I was in a holiday haze, not certain what day it was or what activities we had planned. Long winter days can be disorienting, even at home, and I initially chalked up today’s confusion to time changes and environment.

The real culprit, however, was a lack of routine. The boys’ customary bedtime was suspended in favor of cousin visits. Dinners were later than usual and not at a predictable time each evening. Waking up each morning was at everyone’s own pace. In short, it was sweet holiday anarchy.

During our daily lives, we mentally separate tasks into two different categories. Originally proposed by psychologists Keith Stanovich and Richard West, these categories are known as System 1 and System 2. These systems function as follows:

System 1 — Tasks that are automatic. Things like simple math, mowing the lawn, or walking to school.

System 2 — Tasks that require active thought. Things like solving a crossword puzzle, balancing a checkbook, or choosing a meal at a restaurant.

System 1 is fast while System 2 is deliberate which, evolutionarily speaking, makes perfect sense. System 2 thinking requires much more energy and intense focus. System 1 thinking allows us to get through our repetitive routines while conserving energy and saving brain space for deeper thinking.

These systems have profound implications not just in daily life but also in music making. A predictable routine makes much of regular practice a System 1 activity. Scheduling the same time of day, using the same warmup exercises, and practicing in the same location are all great ways to do this. The added brain capacity can then be devoted to things like tone quality, articulation, and general musicianship (all System 2 pursuits) the rest of the session. The routine creates the freedom to innovate and expand.

Returning home after the break and getting back to the usual routine has been a productivity booster. While we were away, I had my computer but making time amidst the chaos each day to sit down and work was a challenge. With no designated space or set business hours while the sun was up, it was catch as catch can after the boys were asleep.

Being out of a familiar environment naturally heightens awareness and makes everyday tasks like making breakfast or doing laundry System 2 activities. Now, back in familiar surroundings those tasks have shifted back to System 1 and the freed up brain space has led to all sorts of creative ideas and solutions to long-term problems. Now if I can only find the time to do any of them…

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