Last year, it wasn't enough to just have a nine-to-five job. You also needed a five-to-nine. That's the routine that comes before or after work and bookends a productive and successful day – going to the gym, prepping a healthy meal, doing a skincare routine – preferably filmed and shared on social media (the hashtag #5to9 has more than 80 million views on TikTok).
The quest for perfectionism and optimization hasn't been confined to morning routines – consider the 75 Hard Challenge and the rise of 10-step skincare routines. It's also provided a boost for brands that can align with these aspirational routines – think organizational tools and activewear sets.
While the underlying trends that had people clamoring for a routine aren't set to change, there's an increasing backlash against the perfectionism that dominated last year – and, for brands that want to stay linked to those hard-earned habits, it means a shift is necessary.
Back to reality
While people have long been obsessed with the idea of the perfect routine, it hit new heights as people sought to have a little bit of control in an uncertain world. ‘We live at a time when institutional trust is really low,’ says Helen Jambunathan, associate insight director at insights agency Canvas8. ‘Societies are more polarized and more fragmented than ever. People feel quite isolated. And anything that provides a vision of order in the everyday is really, really attractive.
However, if last year was the year where people sought to escape reality through carefully controlled days, this is the year when reality will sink in, Helen says. Consider the related ‘that girl’ trend – a TikTok vlogging style that shows off a perfectly organized life – which bubbled up in popularity earlier this year but has since been replaced by more realistic routines. It rang hollow with those who recognized it as a lifestyle construct, rather than an attainable reality. But that doesn't mean there's no way to reach this audience – Helen points to podcast and meme account Sea Moss Girlies for having a more grounded approach to self-care; and breakfast bar brand Perkier, which recently poked fun at over-the-top wellness routines like cold-water plunges and juice cleanses.
Brands built differently
For brands in the routine space, it means a pared-back approach. June Tess Van Veer co-founded habits app Peppl in response to the post-Covid mental-health crisis and inspired by her journey trying to build a routine that created a positive impact, rather than promoting an unattainable lifestyle: ‘There are so many techniques out there – how can we make [it] quick and easy and snackable, but in a way that people would still be working on their mental wellbeing?’
With Peppl's platform, users get a QR code sticker that they can place somewhere connected to a pre-existing routine (such as a skincare product) and scan to start a short behavioral-science-backed audio exercise. It's up to the user to decide when they want to fit these short practices into their routine – a feature that was purposefully designed to counteract trends like five-to-nine and ‘a day in the life’.
‘These can be very demotivating because it seems like everyone is doing it perfectly [and that] everyone has a great routine every day. That's something we don't want to emphasize,’ says June. ‘It's something we want to work on during the exercises, that maybe you're not as productive every day and maybe you're not doing it the same way every day… It's not about being that perfect person; it's more about being the best you can.’