Unleash the Power of Routine

Having trouble remembering the important things?

You know, the things that are important but not urgent; the things you really should be focusing on instead of checking your email over and over.

If you’re relying on your memory or some spontaneous event to remind you of those important things, you’re doing it wrong. Our minds are too easily distracted — that’s why we always do the urgent but not important things.

Our working memory is incredibly limited, which makes it near impossible to recall that one thing you meant to do when you should do it.

Successful people form healthy habits that guide a great deal of their focus. But that’s them. I could develop all the habits of Lebron James, but it wouldn’t help me in my life and my job.

Sure, you could try to follow all habits and routines of successful people mentioned on Medium. But the key is to form your own routine. (I did the math, if you add up all the Medium listicles, you get 9,217 habits.*)

Rather than habits, I prefer to focus on routine. Habits take a long time to form, but you can think of routine as good habits that you haven’t fully formed yet you follow because you set up reminders for yourself and can share it with others.

In my case, I have quarterly financial reporting for shareholders, quarterly employee reviews, monthly company surveys, weekly company updates, and daily stand-ups, to name a few.

If following a yearly, quarterly, monthly, weekly routine seems boring, well, that’s sort of the point. That’s how you give yourself the mental breathing room to focus on what matters.

If you want every day to be a new adventure and never do the same thing twice, quit reading immediately. This is for those of us who have plenty of excitement already and are looking for week after week of calm, cool, and collected focus on the important stuff.

Developing a good routine for yourself will help with the following:

A routine ensures you get to the important things that don’t scream at you to get done. Whether it’s changing your bed sheets or giving early performance feedback to an employee, a regular routine will make sure you do what needs to be done.

You don’t want to spend your time thinking, “Hmm, what needs to be done today? Oh, right. It’s been 2 months since I gave Chuck his performance feedback.” Make it your routine. Mid way through each quarter is early performance feedback time. Everybody knows it; everybody does it.

This is what makes routine especially powerful in an organization — it’s not just for you, it’s for everybody. People know what’s coming, and there are fewer surprises.

On our own we tend to bounce from neglect to obsession on a given thing. This isn’t healthy for you or those around you. Slow and steady wins the race. By plotting out a routine you can set the pace for yourself. In my own work life, I’ve got weekly company updates, monthly feedback surveys, quarterly reviews, and yearly salary adjustments, to name a few.

Cognitive load is a psychology term that refers to how much mental capacity you’re using at any given time. The key to good mental performance — whether problem solving or learning — is to reduce cognitive load imposed by extraneous items. This frees up your mental resources to work on the true task at hand.

How to get the most out of your routine

Your routine should ensure you spend time on important things, and ideally it helps you focus more and concentrate on those important things so you do better work and make better decisions.

Don’t let your routine take over everything you do. In other words, the routine should let you take your mind off of remembering when to do something, but not take your mind off of the actual thing you have to do.

If you find yourself just going through the paces of work, something has gone wrong. The routine tells you where to go, and when, but it should never tell you what to do when you get there.

Things change. What made sense a year ago might not work anymore. So re-evaluate your routine every quarter or 6 months to make sure it’s working for you.

Just because Elon Musk does something doesn’t mean you should. And just because you did something a year ago doesn’t mean you should keep doing it.

Which brings me to my last point…

Destroy your Anti-routine

Your anti-routine is all the things that are routine for you but shouldn’t be. You never made a conscious choice to make them routine, but they’re in there, and they are sucking up the hours of your day.

Television watching, eating that extra snack, the frequent Facebook and e-mail checks. You do them without thinking because they are routine.

Social media exploits our psychology to take way more of our time than it deserves.

List out the things you do regularly that you don’t want to do, and find a productive replacement for each one. Or at least find a way to redeem some of that time. If you can’t give up watching some news in the morning, at least do some push ups and sit ups at the same time.

Connect with me on Twitter @adamfeil.

*Ok, I didn’t do the math, but 9,217 habits of successful people seems about right.

Educational Psychology Ph.D., business analytics nerd, computer scientist, President @MakeStickers

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