Productivity gurus swear by routine. Craft the perfect daily habits and you'll get more done with less stress, they insist.

Not everyone agrees. A host of critics insist we are actually overdosing on familiarity.

Economist Tyler Cowen, for instance, recently wrote a book arguing that Americans are losing their dynamism and segregating themselves into like-minded bubbles. After the election, plenty of pundits blamed the same phenomenon for our insane levels of polarization and political dysfunction. And creativity experts say always doing the same things robs the mind of essential stimulus needed to come up with fresh ideas.

All of which is fascinating, but kind of abstract. What does excessive routine feel like on a personal level? And what can you practically do about it?

Just ask Max Hawkins.

How to break out of your bubble, tech edition

As a Google engineer with an enviable job and an active social life, Hawkins' life certainly didn't seem troubled from the outside. In fact, it appeared like the model of modern success. But he confesses in a recent profile on NPR, he had the nagging suspicion that life was somehow passing him by.

"There was something ... that just made me feel trapped. Like I was reading a story that I'd read before or I was playing out someone else's script," he told NPR's Alix Spiegel.

Faced this this vague disquiet and a suspicion that his comfortable routine was to blame, Hawkins decided to do what any good engineer would: build an app. What would the new addition to his phone's home screen do? In short, it scrambled his life. Spiegel reports:

Max started small, with an app that integrated Uber. It starts like a regular ride-hailing app: He would press a button in the app and a car would arrive. But then, a twist: He couldn't select a drop-off location; the app would choose a spot within a range without disclosing it. The only thing the rider had to do was enjoy the journey -- and hope for a good destination.

From there, Max's applications became more complex. He built an app that used a Facebook search function for public events to find ones near him. Then the app would randomly choose which event Max would attend.

The joys of life outside the bubble

The result was a series of unexpected (sometimes wacky) encounters you can read about in Spiegel's entertaining article. You might think that crashing everything from acrobatic yoga (apparently this is a thing) to community center pancake breakfasts might be a touch awkward, but Hawkins claims his experiment in randomness was more inspirational than uncomfortable.

Hawkins was mostly welcomed with open arms (the fact that he was a thoroughly non-threatening, geeky white guy certainly didn't hurt, he acknowledges), and the experience helped him break out of his bubble and kill the feeling of hollowness and inauthenticity that has been haunting him.

"He was suddenly seeing the world in a whole new way, and he really liked it," Spiegel sums up.

This sort of radical lifestyle overhaul is clearly not for everyone, but Hawkins is betting that he's not the only one who feels more deadened by routine than energized by it. He's planning on releasing versions of his life randomization apps to the public in the coming months so others can experiment with breaking out of their bubbles too.

Would you consider giving these apps a try?

Published on: Jun 14, 2017