The secret behind routines
Years ago I lacked routines. In fact, I viewed people who had disciplined habits with disdain because I felt that such routines were a hinderance to the creative process. Wouldn’t daily patterns lock me up? I was wrong.
Nature itself works in patterns: days and nights, summers and winters, flowers and butterflies, mountains and rains and so on. These patterns don’t tire themselves out – in fact, they sustain all of earth through their repeatability. It’s these very patterns that allow creativity to blossom around us in countless ways.
Examine your life or business. Every area that’s lacking has an associated routine that’s missing.
If your health is held together by pills, you have a missing routine in exercise and food habits. If you’re bored with your job, you don’t have a routine to generate ideas or help others around you proactively. If you’re emotionally messed up through anger or angst, you don’t have a spiritual routine whether that’s through prayer or meditation or simply being thankful everyday for what you already have.
Whenever there are conflicts within teams, complaints from clients or slip-ups in projects, look under the hood and examine the team’s routines. You will find missing huddles and reviews. You will find people working without knowing what’s expected of them. Unresolved bitterness bubbles on for days because people avoid each other. The lack of rhythm ultimately translates to problems that clients perceive in the form of broken technology or shaky operations.
Routines keep you and your team emotionally balanced and physically energized. Ignore them and you can be sure to be bothered at the wrong times.
When you’re deep into designing a new product, someone will bother you about taxes. In between a marketing promotion, you will be dragged into an unexpected outburst by someone on the team. If you’re coughing and sneezing with a headache, you can forget about handling creative challenges – you just want to feel better. With unbalanced finances, you would be trigger-shy to approve even a modest training budget. You get the picture.
My routines started with myself and then moved to my work.
A few years ago when I was in every kind of issue from health to finances to finding emotional balance, I wrote an email to myself to stop worrying about what I didn’t want and instead focus on what I wanted. I wrote a series of routines that could potentially help me everyday. I wrote about things that I might want to do at least once a year such as going outdoors for a few days. I wrote about things that I always wanted to learn – even random things such as sculpture. At that time, it seemed impossible for any of that to happen.
Looking back I realize that every transformation started with a simple daily routine. I started exercising and meditating for just a few minutes. It helped. Then I stopped eating junk food. It helped. When I was able to fix a day, it became easier to fix a week and eventually a month. I added disciplines like not-complaining and removed patterns like having a drink after a stressful day. The good routines added up and made me feel good about myself. I also didn’t have to make repeated decisions about what I knew I had to do regularly. Then I brought those disciplines to work.
In my company we were trying to bring predictability to our processes but without routines, I realized we would never be able to do that. We started with simple habits of huddling for 10 minutes everyday across all teams and then reviewing our collective progress for an hour every week. By bringing financial discipline every month, we began managing cashflows better. In the beginning, it seemed painful because it seemed like I was losing my freedom. But the good habits added up giving us the freedom to pursue projects during non-routine time – usually 80% of our work time. People stopped interrupting each other with ad-hoc meetings or requests. We became more methodical in our operations.
Routines bring much needed predictability to areas that don’t need to wobble, such as your finances or health. They are the pillars on which you can stand on and develop yourself and your organization. It’s only after sustained effort that routines reveal their secret – they create the space you need to get on with your life’s work.