In Something from the Oven, there is a report of an experiment done in the 1950s or ’60s, a time when the food industry was valiantly but largely unsuccessfully trying to get people to buy convenience foods.

They showed women one of two shopping lists and asked them to describe the woman who had made the list. The two lists were identical, except that one included Nescafe.

The woman who had Nescafe on her list was, the women said, “sloppy.” She slept late, didn’t take time to do her make up, and was probably an old maid. Also a slattern and a spendthrift.

I have to confess that I haven’t been taking time to do my make up in the morning. Thank goodness I haven’t sunk to the level of instant coffee.

My morning and evening routines are in pretty good shape, lack of make up notwithstanding. Oh, it’s part of my routine. I just haven’t been doing it. And snacking in the evening is not part of my routine, but I have been doing that. I am getting things back on track in those areas.

But I also decided to pay attention to my workday. Here’s what I think is my workday routine:

  • Start work at 8:00 a.m. and work steadily at highest priority items till 1:00.
  • Take lunch break with fish and salad for lunch.
  • Return to work between 1:30 and 2:00. Work solidly till 6:00.

Yesterday didn’t look like that.

Here’s what happened instead:

  • Starting my workday at 8:12
  • Multiple tech issues which I solved for clients, or which I needed solved for myself. (Quadrant 1)
  • Multiple communications from clients. (Quadrant 1)
  • Multiple calls from my kids. (Quadrant 1? 2?)
  • My taking time to do things like pay bills, check bank account, etc. (Quadrant 2)
  • My taking time to check news reports brought to my attention, social networking, etc. (Q4)
  • Checking email (Q3)
  • A hotdog for lunch
  • A lunchtime nap (Q4)
  • Ending my workday late

My RescueTime productivity score: 69.

That’s a lot lower than usual. I worked for more than nine hours (9 hours and 11 minutes, so I guess I made up for that late start). I didn’t get as much done as I should, and I went to choir with a swipe of lipstick and mascara and no more.

I’m laughing about the women in the experiment who leapt from instant coffee to character deficiencies, but keeping to routines allows for a more civilized and balanced life, greater productivity, and greater creativity since we’re not shackled by the lower quality of life that naturally goes with a dependence on instant coffee.

In my life, I have an ongoing tension between my desire for order and excellence on the one hand and my natural squiggliness on the other. I have to keep working at my good habits, and the edifice of my excellent life falls down regularly and has to be built back up. That’s just how it is.