The Power of Routines

(This is the first of two posts on Routines.)

What do you think of when you hear the word routine? Does it sound bland, pallid, or even monotonous? I’m here to suggest that having the right routines can do wonders for you. I think routines are something that most of us don’t take advantage of, while other times routines are perceived as dull and boring.

The Oxford Dictionary of English defines “routine” as:

A sequence of actions regularly followed.

We already have so much to think about. Should we do X, or should we do Y? Why not eliminate some of the choice by establishing a routine? Why not use the power of routines to make it easier to do the difficult?

It sounds so simple, but it’s often the simple things in life that are the most difficult. Simple doesn’t always equate to easy, and complicated doesn’t always equate to difficult.

Routines can also be thought of as “bookending your day” in the form of morning and evening routines “to start and close out your day”.

As the English poet, William Blake said:

Think in the morning, act in the noon, read in the evening, and sleep at night.

Having routines can help us in a few ways.

Having an effective morning routine sets you up for a productive day, while having an evening routine sets you up for the following day. It brings closure to your day.

As the Anglo-American poet, W.H. Auden said:

Routine, in an intelligent man, is a sign of ambition.

Routines can help us reduce decision fatigue, especially when tied to essential things. Decision Fatigue is: the more choices we are forced to make in a given day, the more the quality of our decisions deteriorates. The less you have to think about doing something, the more you’ll actually do it. So, it makes sense that you routinize the essential things in your life.

We can all use routines to optimize our work, sleep, and eating habits. Artists in the creative arts use strict routines to optimize their work. Also, over 40% of our daily habits are unconscious, so it makes sense to have our most important habits as part of our routines.

Creating effective work routines frees our mental space to do other things that require our attention.

The best artists/performers in the world keep consistent work routines — this is what enables them to do their best work. They show up every day and practice regardless of how they feel. That is also part of being a pro. They do the work without thinking about when they will do it. In some ways, their habits have taken over their work lives, which frees them to do other things. Having effective routines not only works for these performers in the creative arts, but also for the rest of us.

When I have decided that I’m going to do creative work every morning from 9:00 to noon, I don’t have to think about when I’m doing that work or if I’m doing that work at all. I just show up and do the work. Showing up to do that work is the process that determines the outcome of producing good work, and it frees up my mind from other things. By already committing to my work in my calendar, I’ve removed that decision of how to spend that time for the rest of my life.

This not only applies to working, but also to sleeping and eating as well. When you know you’re going to sleep and wake up at the same time every day, it frees your mind to do other things.

Because you’ve eliminated the mental cost involved in planning your work time, you can focus on the actual creative problem-solving.

Routines keep you grounded. They give you just enough order/discipline in your life in order for you to be creative. Only when you have some semblance of order in your life can you have the space to be creative.

As Aristotle has said:

We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.

We only need two things: one is to have the ability to focus intensely on one thing with no distractions, and second is to step back and randomly reflect.

When you have routines (especially morning and evening) in place, it tells you that no matter what happens during the day, you can come back to those routines to help you renew yourself before you start the following day. So, in that sense, having routines in terms of book-ending your day act as a source of renewal.

Routines give you a sense of control over your life — especially when things get chaotic. It ensures that the important things get done in the midst of that chaos; for more on this, I suggest reading Doing What Matters.

Use the power of routines to make the execution of doing the essential things easy.

Once you figure out effective routines for yourself, it makes doing the essential easy over time. It also frees up mental space that you can use to do other things. You’ll see the positive effects of creating routines in a longer timeframe.

There is tremendous power in having routines. It makes doing the mundane sublime. It creates momentum in the long-term. Having routines is like a process that determines the outcome in terms of getting results you want.

In the next post, I wrote about building effective routines for yourself.

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