In Praise of Routines

The word “routine” is often used in a derogatory way to describe repetitive activities that do not delight or inspire. But I’m a big fan of establishing routines. They enable us to free up our brains to concentrate on other things.

After I finished graduate school, I moved into my first apartment and started a full-time job. During the first few months, I sometimes stopped myself on the way to the subway and went back home to make sure I had locked the door because I could not remember doing it. However, when I went back to check, it was always locked. Locking my front door was so routine that I did it unconsciously. I finally felt confident enough of this fact that I stopped going back to check.

I have many routines that I do every day, especially first thing in the morning when I’m not at my peak alertness. I find that if I do my routine out of order, it messes me up. For instance, after my shower, I put on deodorant, then moisturizer, then powder. If I vary the routine by putting on moisturizer first, I end up doing it twice, because after the deodorant, I automatically put on moisturizer. It takes too much concentration for me to break the routine.

Establishing a routine will free up your mind to concentrate on other things. I’ve seen figures that estimate that we have 50,000 – 70,000 thoughts per day. Even if that’s off by a huge number, it’s still a lot of thoughts! Routines allow us to focus on the thoughts that really need our attention. For example, if you’ve have a morning routine, you can focus your mind on how you are going to tackle a complex situation later in the day.

How can you establish a routine to help you save time and energy? Pick a process that you do nearly every day but that is taking you longer than you want it to. If you have trouble getting out of the house in the morning, getting started on your work, or getting to bed at night, these are good processes to turn into a routine. Figure out what needs to get done, in what order, and how long it will take. Write it down and follow the script for as long as it takes you to get the hang of it. At some point, you won’t need to consult the list anymore. You won’t have to stop and think what the next step is. You’ll become an efficient machine!

What parts of your day could benefit from being turned into routines?

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