Let’s Talk About: Routine

This is a post about Routine and how it plays a significant role in streamlining your week. I talk about Morning Routine, Daily Routine, Work Routine, Social Routine and How to Create a Routine. This post is part of the Let’s Talk About series. I am by no means an expert on time management, and what works for me may not work for you, particularly considering everyone has their own methods of weaving repeatable tasks into their day-to-day lives.

It’s important to start off by debunking the myth that routine is planning every moment of your life ad nauseum. It’s simply not true. Many more myths of routine exist, but this is the most important to dispel early on in this post. It’s more than possible, even encouraged, to make spontaneity part of your routine, as is documented well by John Cleese in his talk on Creativity which can be seen here: https://vimeo.com/89936101

There is a myth that routine is planning every moment of your life ad nauseum. It’s simply not true.

As soon as something becomes part of your routine, it becomes part of who you are, be that for better or for worse!

“Routine, in an intelligent man, is a sign of ambition.” – W.H. Auden

However, from your minds perspective, it hardly even happens. For example, how many times per day do you exhale? You don’t even think about it. This is what happens when you embrace a task as part of your routine. There are many different kinds of routine, and if you are looking to change your behaviour, routine is nearly always the best way to do it. Routine can change a person from being lazy and disinterested into a go-getter! This can be incredibly challenging for some of us to comprehend, because it’s hard to see how someone can do all those things with such little effort. I’ll let you in to a little secret, routine is key to success.

Routine is King.

  

Consider your morning routine. You may not even think you have one, but you most certainly do. Most people get out of bed, hop in the shower, put on their clothes and eat breakfast. If that happens more often than not, it’s a routine! The trick is to quantify these actions as part of your routine. I recently evaluated exactly what I did in the morning, to discover what is part of my routine, and what I think I do as opposed to what I actually do.

Here’s an excerpt from my recent post on “My Morning Routine“.

  1. I wake up at the perfect time because I use Sleep Cycle. Sleep Cycle is an application that monitors your sleeping patterns and wakes you up when you’re coming out of REM. This makes sure you wake up in a non-groggy state, and ready for the day’s challenges! My room is normally at a moderate temperature at this time, because during winter the room heats up right before I wake up, and the rest of the year I sleep with a window open in order to not get too hot ( I can’t sleep when it’s too hot! )
  2. I get a daily dose of creativity and news. I don’t have a TV in my apartment, just a really large computer monitor, so I have limited exposure to worldly news. This is a good thing because most news is sensationalist nonsense, and the rest is depressing. Just think about it, does watching the news add value to your day? I get just enough news from Twitter to add value, and not enough to waste time (in fact, i get the important news sooner), I then get a flurry of artistic and creative content on Instagram to inspire me to work better, and create great things during the day.
  3. I put on the rest of my clothes for the day, which is a simple task because I choose my outfit a day in advance of the event. Even if the event is simply another day at work. I am already wearing my regular jewellery, since I sleep wearing my vintage watch and my necklace. Selecting tomorrow’s outfit the night before is absolutely key to ensuring your mind has plenty of bandwidth to think about the day’s activities. This keeps you focused on the important things, and cuts out the cruft. I have a liberal dress code in work, but I limit my work wardrobe to a handful of items. This totally removes the potential fiasco involved with selecting an outfit each day.

In that post, I mention that I pre-select my clothes for the next day at night-time. This is one of the easiest ways of saving time in the morning. At night time, you’re already awake and can spend two minutes on a task that will take five, or ten, minutes in the morning. This leaves plenty of time for thinking about the day’s tasks in the morning.

Routine is liberating, it makes you feel in control. – Carol Shields

The astute observer will recognise that I didn’t list “reading my emails” as part of my morning routine. That’s because reading emails in the morning is an anti-pattern, since some emails will take longer to process than others. I work off inbox-zero (although not by using Mailstrom), so for my work email I have mail filter rules which automatically move unimportant email into a folder and then into an archive, i unsubscribe from nearly everything I can, so I only get content I actually want. Everything which remains in my email inbox is essentially a to-do list. Ideally, I’d work sans-email with an awesome product like Slack, but the culture at work doesn’t facilitate such behaviour. The other thing on that list which may surprise you is that I don’t watch the news. Watching the news is generally a waste of time. Not because of the content, but because you’re watching. More on that when I get to social routine.

“The human spirit lives on creativity and dies in conformity and routine.” – Vilayat Inayat Khan

  

This leads me to my work routine. Some kinds of work facilitate a routine, and some don’t. Some stifle creativity, and other foster innovation. Lots of knowledge workers find it really difficult to get any work done after lunch, and thus, I recommend reading emails right after lunch. It’s busy work, and the act of filtering emails down can be done passively as your body prepares for the oncoming energy release from lunch! I eat at nearly the same time every day. Lunch is always a big meal for me, since it’s not in the middle of my day, but rather closer to the start! I breakfast about 3 hours after waking, lunch about three hours after that, and then dinner around 6 hours after that. This schedule means that i don’t have heaps of food hanging around my body during the night, and I maintain a reasonable level of energy throughout the day (supplemented by a massive amount of coffee). ☕️¯\_(ツ)_/¯ 

Make down-time and creativity, part of your routine.

Down time is of crucial importance. And should be a mandatory part of every knowledge worker’s day. Foosball, table tennis, coffee, tea, a jog, chess, a walk outside; these are all great ways to catch a breather, energise your body and shake up the later part of your day. When you’re mentally exhausted, physical exertion works wonders on energising your entire body back to workable levels! I find a quick bout of table tennis increases my productivity immensely. The key to productivity is to avoid fool’s work, maintain a good output:outcome ratio, keep ourselves motivated, and stay refreshed. All of these things combined make for a healthy work routine. I’ve also got a general rule (which has been broken on occasion!). The rule is that I never bring my laptop home after a day’s work. I can stay late, go in early and that’s fine, but continuing work at home isn’t being productive, it’s being busy. There are exceptions to every rule, of course! I used to work from home and found it very beneficial to leave the house, walk around the block, and then arrive “at work” a few minutes later. Which is a trick I picked up from the great animator Simon Cottee (which he alludes to in his stellar vlog on YouTube http://youtu.be/oSpMdR3FS4I) It tricks yourself into thinking that it’s time for work, and acts as a good physical barrier between work and non-work scenarios. This is so powerful when working from home. 

  

It’s super important to maintain a level of learning throughout your career. Many people think that once you’re finished university, that’s when the learning can stop and you can finally start living. Wrong. Continuous learning is the only way to progress at your career, be that by reading articles on a less well known area of your field, or by actively engaging with a predefined curriculum. What’s important is that you keep learning; without a consistent stream of knowledge you’ll find it pretty difficult to be a knowledge worker.

Habits are defined as “behaviours done with little or no thought” – Nir Eyal

Similarly, it’s also very important to maintain good social routine. For me, this normally manifests itself in the form of after work startup drinks on Fridays. Every Friday, I organise drinks and chats with the other great organisers over at @drinkaboutDub, the Dublin chapter of Silicon Drinkabout. It’s a really great way to relax after a hard weeks work, and a good opportunity to learn about all the new stuff happening in the Irish startup scene. The drinkabout has become a sort of home-from-home for me, where I can chill with some friends, to-be-friends, and members of the extended Drinkabout Global Family. We talk about tech, business, new startups and disruption in a variety of industries (we’re not just focussed on the webtech side of things!). We’re a group of people who like to apply technology to everyday tasks to make them either more fun, or beneficial in some way!

  

Maintaining a good social network is of critical importance. We must make the distinction between active and passively participating in a conversation. Passively participating in a conversation is much the same as watching TV, which I touched on earlier: you may as well not be there. Engage your friends and it will lead to more interesting  social relationships. There might be interest there, but we’re not engaged. Instead, listening and asking questions is a solid way of truly getting to know the people in the conversation. It’s through these kind of communications that great friendships blossom, and can even pave the way for business connections. Always focus on the person you’re talking with at the time, for it will certainly pay dividends. Laugh often and deeply, surround yourself in an aura of positivity. There can never be too much.

  
Now that I’ve spoken about some good routines, you may be thinking: “well how do I make a routine that will stick?“. The trick is to start. Everyone thinks the hardest bit is to keep it up, so then they get dismayed and don’t even try. Trust me, this is not the way to start a routine. It’s easy to do something once, and then again. Just keep going, then try structuring the time between iterations. Then look at the length of time taken to revisit the action: the more often the actions haopen, the more likely to create a routine. This short feedback cycle is important, and spoken about buy Nir Eyal in the book “hooked”. 

The Hook Model describes an experience designed to connect the user’s problem to a solution frequently enough to form a habit. – Nir Eyal

In the book, Eyal talks at great length about habits and the benefits of creating a product which elicits a routine based reward system. It’s a great read for more information on routine and habit! 

How have you benefitted from creating a routine? Which habits do you find the best? Let’s talk in the comments! 😄 

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3 thoughts on “Let’s Talk About: Routine

  1. Perhaps my only good habit is a recent one, of doing a few press-ups before bed. Do just enough each day to push yourself, and the effort will totally clear your mind of all the rubbish, as you’re too busy panting and whinging to be thinking about anything. A clear head = a good sleep.

    The only two things I’ve found that can switch my brain off are vigorous exercise and alcohol, and I don’t think it’d be such a good idea to get drunk every night…

    • That’s a great idea Noah! I’m currently doing something similar, but with handstands! I do a handstand for a short while each night (since I rarely do any lifting or upper body work) and eventually I’ll get to a point where I can do a handstand without using the wall for support! 🙂 you’re right about the sleep though! A bit of exercise is really great for getting a good nighttime rest!

      • Handstands are a bit random, but the same idea. This is the only upper body work I do (and on some rainy days the only physical exercise I get at all) but I’ve got a similar goal. I started with 10 push-ups a night, now I’m on 21… And it’s all uphill from here. Maybe we can have a hand-walking competition sometime.

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