The Financial Times recently launched a new series on “Rebooting the Workplace,” which consists of essays by various invited experts on different aspects of the future of work in a post-COVID (or still-ongoing-COVID) era.

As part of the series, I explain “How better routines create happier workers“:

Is there a word less likely to quicken the blood or stir the soul than “routine”? Routines are dull, familiar, mechanical, uninspiring. We get “trapped” in routines at work, and “break out” of them when we go on holiday. If routines were people, they’d be Mary Bennet or Charles Musgrove. But as the pandemic has shown us, routines are actually essential if we’re to have good lives, be productive, and be fulfilled. As we return to something more akin to normal, we have a chance to create new routines, not just return to the old ones.

For many of us, pre-pandemic life was shaped by our work schedules and deadlines, school calendars, spouses’ commitments, pets’ needs, holidays, et al ad infinitum. Keeping all this running is essential for having anything resembling work-life balance. But too often it didn’t work. Even at the best of times, a huge amount of labor was required to patch the gaps between school, child care, work, and home, while also playing the role of ideal worker. No wonder burnout and stress were at epidemic levels before the lockdown, or than more than 90% of workers want the option to continue working from home in the future, even though 90% struggle with aspects of remote work.

For our own good, we shouldn’t go back to business as usual. So what makes for better routines?

Of course I go on to talk about the 4-day week, but it’s not just a gloss on Shorter and my subsequent work on shorter hours; assignments like these offer a chance to take a new look at familiar material, and to try to extract something new from it.