Why And How To Build Good Routines

What comes to mind when you think of routines?
Boring? Mundane? Regular? Non-spontaneous? Repetitive?
This is exactly how I used to think of routines.

This is how I think about routines now; Discipline. Productive. Efficient. Predictable. Repeatable. The formula for success.
So what changed?
I actually made a workable routine and stuck with it and then I saw transformation happen in and around me.

And in this current climate of uncertainty, working from home, schooling from home, it is even more important to create some certainty in the day by building good routines.

What happens when there is no routine?

Here is a list of some of the things I suffered when I didn’t have a good routine in place:

  • Stress / Anxiety – Having no routine meant that I was constantly thinking about all the things I needed to get done yet had no systems in place to actually getting them done.
  • Poor sleep – I have suffered from bad sleep for the longest time. Waking up tired, not having enough energy during the day. Albeit a lack of routine was not the only cause, there were other factors like a lack of exercise, poor diet etc. but a lack of fixed sleep and wakeup time was a major contributor.
    (For anyone wanting to understand and improve their sleep I highly recommend; Why We Sleep: Unlocking the Power of Sleep and Dreams by Matthew Walker)
  • Poor diet – Without having a system to plan meals, buy groceries and plan ahead the easiest option (i.e: Junk food) becomes the next best option.
  • Poor physical condition – Working out usually requires some advance planning and a good routine. In the absence of both, I was in a poor physical condition.
  • Poor time management – No routine means I used to simply run out of time, leaving things undone and not making the most of my time. Feeling unproductive.

It is a vicious cycle. Going to sleep feeling unproductive, unhealthy and worthless and waking up the next morning feeling tired and void of energy to do it all over again.

Benefits of having a routine

Having a good routine can be the formula for success.

It can be applied to any kind of work by any kind of a person. Building and maintaining a good routine is the most important thing you can do for yourself.

After studying some of the greatest artists, novelists, poets, playwrights, painters, philosophers, scientists, and mathematicians through the ages including Frederic Chopin, Benjamin Franklin, Karl Marx, and Ernest Hemingway. Mason Currey reached this conclusion:

“In the right hands, [a routine] can be a finely calibrated mechanism for taking advantage of a range of limited resources: time (the most limited resource of all) as well as willpower, self-discipline, optimism. A solid routine fosters a well-worn groove for one’s mental energies and helps stave off the tyranny of moods.”

Daily Rituals: How Artists Work by Mason Currey

Here are some benefits of building and maintaining a good routine:

  • Routine makes us efficient – A daily routine reduces the need to make repeated decisions every day. We know what needs to be done, when it needs to be done and what to move onto next without thinking every time.
  • Routine creates structure – Once we know all the things that need to be done in a day/week/month, we can create a logical sequence of tasks to derive a structure for our days and for our lives.
  • Routine changes habits – We are what we repeat. So, anything done repeatedly becomes a habit; good or bad. Having a good routine with repeated tasks like exercise, meditation, eating healthy will lead to good habits and at the same time breaking the bad habits of unhealthy eating, not moving enough and so on.
    “Good habits are hard to form but easy to live with. Bad habits are easy to form but hard to live with.” — Brian Tracy
  • Routine sets priority – When we identify our daily and weekly tasks based on our goals and aspirations, we know what is most important to us and what isn’t. For me, exercise and meditation is a priority, I schedule it early in the day and have no excuse for missing it.
  • Routine reduces decision fatigue – I don’t need to decide every morning whether I should go to the gym or what time I should go to the gym. It is predetermined by me as a high priority task that needs to be done at a specific time every day – no negotiations, no questions. So I save my decision making every day as that one decision has already been made.
  • Routine reduces emotional decisions – With defined tasks and routines the tendency of overriding those decisions with emotional ones, in the moment, is very low. For example, eating a doughnut for a snack instead of carrots and hummus or sleeping an extra hour instead of going to the gym because we feel hungry/tired/sleepy/emotional.
  • Routine reduces procrastination – When we have specific tasks that need to be done at certain times throughout the day, there isn’t much time to procrastinate. A lack of planning is one of the primary forces that lead to procrastination.
  • Routine builds momentum – When you do the same things repeatedly, it becomes muscle memory, so to speak. It builds momentum, making it easier to continue.

How to build a good routine

So what exactly is a routine?
According to Merriam Webster “A habitual or mechanical performance of an established procedure”
The keyword here is established. So how do you establish a routine?

  • Make a list – Write down everything you need to get done daily for a week. Think of this as a brain dump at this point. All your recurring tasks.
  • Look at patterns & repetitions – Are there things you are doing regularly over the week? Can they be done together at the beginning/middle/end of the week? Example; Cooking, Ironing, Grocery shopping etc.
  • Structure Your Day – Think about when you work best, and group your tasks into the time of day that makes the most sense for when you and have a logical sequence of tasks that can be done together in a batch.
  • Be realistic – Don’t over commit. In the beginning, you do not want to end up with tasks leftover from a day as they will carry over to the next day, and the next and the next… and soon everything will fall apart. This will hurt your self-confidence in the beginning. Start slow, start small.
  • Allow room for flexibility – Don’t be too rigid. Things don’t always go to plan. Some things have a tendency to run over. Allow room for this. Leave time between tasks and meeting in case something runs longer than planned.
  • Try it out – Now you are ready to try your new routine for a period of four weeks. Stick with it and give it a fair chance.

If something doesn’t feel right or isn’t working for you, try not to force it.
Don’t follow a routine just because Tony Robbins or Elon Musk does it or Steve Jobs used to do it. Do it because it works for you, enhances your lifestyle and feels natural.
If after four weeks you feel something doesn’t feel right, iterate, move things around, it might take some time to get things right and might involve a fair bit of trial and error.
There is no one magical routine that will work for everyone.
Everyone is different and needs a routine to complement their own lifestyle.

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