The Power of Routines

Do you think of the word routine only as an adjective?  A word used to describe something dull and boring?  The office worker who starts every day by plodding into the building with his styrofoam cup of swill, joining the same five people in the elevator to travel up to his desk where he picks up his battered pencil and starts work on the same old thing?

I bet you dream of being the free spirit who breezes into the building greeting strangers and sparking smiles.  The leader who is always working on new exciting projects – who never has a dull moment.

How about your actual life?  Is it one bordering on chaos?  Are you the harried looking person rushing through the lobby with papers sticking out of your bag?  Do you spend your day putting out fires only to realize at the end of the day that you STILL have not made progress on any of your goals?

The Power of Routines

What a routine really is

Routine is also a noun.  The first definition of routine in Merriam Webster is “a regular course of procedure.”  Which in non dictionary words means – a group of actions that you take on a regular basis.

Before you scoff at the thought of doing the same thing every day, consider what routines you already have in your day.  What are the first few things you do every morning when you wake up?  Whatever they are, it’s your routine. Even if it’s not something that is a productivity guru’s mantra, it’s still your routine.  If you make the dreaded time sucking move of checking your phone as you roll out of bed, that’s your routine.

Routines don’t make your life boring.  Boring routines make your life boring.

If you pay attention to your routines, and even plan them, they can be very powerful ways to accomplish what you want to accomplish with your life.  They can ensure you make progress on what you want to – even while fighting all those fires.

If you are still not convinced here are 6 ways routines make life better:

6 ways routines make life easier

6 ways routines make life better

1 – Reduce anxiety

Routines reduce anxiety by giving you control of the structure of your days.  Just like a consistent route to work makes it possible to know that you will get there in time, routines give you predictability. 

Teachers in the classroom use routine to help children feel safer.  They can also make you feel safer and are good for your mental health. Even if you have extremely busy days, you can have routines in place at certain times of day that you can depend on in the midst of the chaos.

2 – Reduce giant messes

 If you establish routines in your life to deal with things that must be dealt with on a regular basis you can avoid giant messes.  I’m sure you’ve had to plow through a sink full of dirty dishes and wished that you, and everyone else in the house, had just done each dish as it was made instead of letting them build up. Getting up from the table and opening the dishwasher is a simple routine that would help immensely!  

The same thing can apply to paying the bills, doing the laundry, or even spending quality time with your children.  If you spend a little time regularly with your children you will find out about small issues before they become giant messes.

3 – Build determination

A good set of routines reduces the need for willpower.  If you already know that after dinner you do the dishes, you don’t have to decide to do the dishes, you just do them.  The dishes will just get done without you thinking about it.

In fact, great artists usually have routines that help them stay determined in the midst of their creative ups and downs:

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.

-Mason Currey, Daily Rituals: How Artists Work

Having a routine can make determination possible.

4 – Reduce planning time

The power of routines comes from doing the thinking before so you don’t have to think during.

If you have thought about and created routines to take care of the things that are most important to you you won’t have to make sure that those things are being prioritized every day when you sit down to plan.  You can just look at the things that change.  

For example, I know that I want to write every day.  I have time set aside in my daily routine that is specifically when I write. All I have to decide each week is what topics I am going to write about. 

5 – Create more truly free time

Have you ever decided to ‘finally get organized’ and then sat down and scheduled in every moment of your day?  That is not routines, that’s self torture.

Routines are having plans for getting the basics done so that you already know when and how they will get done.  A routine is doing the laundry every Saturday so you know that you don’t have to worry about it for the rest of the week.  A routine is taking a shower every morning so you can leave the house whenever you have to without worrying if you are presentable. 

Routines make it possible to know all those ‘things’ are taken care of, so when you have a free moment you don’t have to run around figuring out what you should do next, you know that this time is actually free. 

It’s so nice to sit down with a cup of tea guilt free, right?

6 – Create or break habits

Routines are really a series of habits.  If you develop a routine that starts with an already established habit you can build more habits.  You already get out of bed in the morning, and brush your teeth.  If you want to start stretching every morning you could decide to stretch after you roll out of bed and before you brush your teeth.  You could even decide to stretch instead of picking up your phone!

Having routines means not having to remember every single habit. If you don’t have to remember, that takes one giant step out of the process!

You'll never change your life until you change something you do daily.  The secret of your success is found in your daily routine. - John Maxwell

Are you ready to add more routines to your life?

How to build a powerful routine

Build it slowly

Often we make grand decisions to ‘change’ our lives and then try to do everything at once.  The power of a routine is using small incremental changes over time to make big changes, just like the power of compound interest in building your bank account.  

So don’t try to establish all those habits at once.  Build a routine one small habit at a time.  Pick one habit, get it really cemented in your behavior and then add another one.    

If you’ve never had success in building habits before, check out Atomic Habits by James Clear.  He has a clear explanation of habits and the science behind them that will help you establish the habits you want, and get rid of the habits you don’t. If you click on the link below and buy, I may earn a small commission.

Make it personal

There are plenty of recommendations out there for routines that will change your life.  There are plenty of people for whom a routine has changed their lives. When you read these stories it’s hard not to think that if you just followed their routine you will become just like them.  Perhaps you would.  But you are not meant to be them.  You are meant to be you.  You need to think about what is important in your life and establish routines in your life that support what is important to you, not what’s important to someone else. 

When you consider building a new routine, examine each thing that you want to do and make sure it makes sense to you and your life, and it’s not just the latest fad.  It’s hard not to jump on every self improvement bandwagon. I know, I’ve been there.  Enjoy hearing these stories, jot down a few ideas for later, and then if after some time one of these ideas seems like it might be helpful to what you want to do, then go for it.

Make it purposeful

If brushing your teeth every day didn’t help you keep all those teeth and have fresh breath would you still do it?  It’s very easy to allow things into your routine because you always have done something a certain way, or because someone told you that this was the best way to do something.  

It’s a good idea to examine your routines periodically to make sure every bit of what you are doing has a purpose.  Notice what you are habitually doing – like waking up and picking up your phone.  Make those routines you have already established in your life work towards what you want your life to be.

Nothing can be more exciting that working towards what you want your life to be.

Routines don't make your life boring.  Boring routines make your life boring.

What routines do you have in your life? 

Are you going to change any of them?  The peace you can find by building powerful routines can turn you into that person who strolls into work on time with a smile for everyone and time in her schedule to take on new and exciting adventures.

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

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