The Focus Course

A Case for Routine

With summer coming to a close and fall quickly approaching, what I’m most excited about is getting back into predictable rhythms.

I’m not one of those overly exuberant summer people that live for the season like people live for black Friday, but I can appreciate the long days of sunlight and spontaneous trips for ice cream.

My boys are not old enough for school which means it doesn’t change a lot for our family schedule. Even still, here in the midwest, the world slows down through the summer months. Family and friends go on vacation. Last minute invitations pop up to join friends at the park. We spend hot days at the zoo with packed lunches. Summer is adventure.

But usually by the first or second week of August I’m ready for fall. More than just the cooler temps and autumn colors, I’m ready for routine. Some people love routine and others hate it.

Even if you’re not a big routine person, here are a few reasons to embrace it.

1. Routine is Predictable

There’s a certain ease that comes with knowing what a day holds. Routine is predictable. You know what to expect, and if you know what to expect, you’ll know what is required of you.

When you slide into a routine of doing the same thing week over week, you no longer have to spend time thinking through how things are going to play out. Monday morning rolls around again and you know exactly what needs to happen to get going. Kids fed and dressed, lunches made, coffee in hand, out the door, etc.

We crave stability, but more on that later.

2. Routines Reduce Decision Fatigue

Back to our Monday morning example. When a routine is in place, it removes the need to process every possible decision option. Reducing decision fatigue for things that are of minor importance, like what to eat in the morning or pack for lunches.

The more we can automate an established routine, the more mental energy we save for things that really matter. Like catching up with your spouse after a long day, being present with your kids, crushing that important work project, or working on your passion project.

Routines are like railroad tracks. They keep us moving in a certain direction without having to consider every possible option every moment of everyday. We can keep our energy focused on continuing to move, instead of wondering if we’re headed the right way. (Another topic for another day.)

3. Routine aids in Better Decision Making

Speaking of heading in the right direction, the right routines help us make smarter / healthier choices.

  • Packing a daily lunch saves money and helps maintain a balanced diet.
  • Weekly fitness classes keep you from wondering when you’ll get to the gym next because it’s already on the calendar.
  • Date night ensures not too much time goes by without getting quality time with the person you love.
  • A startup routine at work helps you identify and work on what’s truly important instead of what may seem urgent.

I know that when I’m tired, hungry, or lonely, the quality of my decision-making goes down, but when I have a routine in place that keeps me from being faced with a decision, I default to the routine. The routine keeps me on track.

4. Routine Brings Stability

With three boys three and under, stability is a key factor in the Smith house. Nothing speaks stability to little people like routine.

The truth is, as a slightly larger human, stability plays a big role in my emotional stability, and leaning on a handful of routines helps a great deal in this department.

It’s back to that predictable thing. When I know what is coming and have a general expectation of what it will require of me, it most certainly injects a dose of stability to my little world.

My wife and I spent a six-month period in southeast Asia. It was part of a post-graduate program and an amazing experience, but not without its challenges. Culture shock, a language barrier, and living on the other side of the world was definitely overwhelming at times, but there was so something so reassuring about walking into Starbucks and having the exact experience as the Starbucks down the road back home in Kansas City. It was a tiny slice of stability in our international experience.

Routine helps us feel a sense of normalcy and safety as people.

5. Routine helps with Flow

As I alluded to earlier, a startup routine at work (professional or personal) can help us stay focused on truly important work, versus being distracted by the seemingly urgent.

Taking it a step further, when we create a routine around doing our most important work, it can help us enter flow more quickly and with greater consistency.

Excellence is a matter of steps. — Ryan Holiday, The Obstacle is the Way

If excellence is a matter of doing the right things repeatedly, then excellence can be routinized. Doing your best work doesn’t need to be left to chance. Implementing simple routines to help protect and nurture your best work is within reach.

Getting to flow may be as simple as creating a routine around doing your most important work.

* * *

I realize that the concept of routine may sound incredibly dull for some.

There are definitely some personalities that naturally thrive with repetition and structure, but even for the most spontaneous and adventurous among us, creativity thrives under constraint. Routine sets a framework from which to work and ultimately a platform from which to launch.

When we get into a routine of daily and weekly life that aligns with our values, we can rest easy knowing the things we care for deeply are being taken care of, and we can give our full attention to the important things right in front of us.

Photo by Jeff Sheldon via Unsplash.

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