I am a creature of routine.
Some of my friends tease me about this, and I can appreciate their point, to an extent. Routines can trap us, and the word itself doesn’t spark much in the way of creative process. But for me, and I suspect for many, routines can actually free us.
When I wrote about Evernote
and my own set-up using it, I shared that my system is drawn in no small part from David Allen’s Getting Things Done (GTD) System
. One particular piece of the GTD system that appeals to me most is “your mind is for having ideas, not holding them.” This doesn’t just apply to emails and to do lists. A routine, for me, puts me into autopilot for the menial, everyday tasks, and frees my mind to be creative, or allows me to focus on the tasks at hand, without worrying I’m forgetting something important.
Routine doesn’t have to be a dirty word – we all have routines. I’m sure you don’t do laundry by staring at your dirty clothes and wondering where to start. No. You sort, load the washer, add detergent, start the washer. The washer’s done, and you move the clothes to the dryer. That’s a routine, and one you don’t put much thought into. Why?
- You know what steps you have to take – sorting clothes can prevent the dreaded “all my clothes are pink now because I accidentally washed a red sock with whites” disaster.
- You keep what you need to do laundry near the washer – I have yet to meet anyone who claims to store laundry detergent under the kitchen sink.
- We don’t get stalled for too long; we move the clothes to the dryer because we know what happens when they’re left in the washer too long.
So, how do you create a routine?
There’s varied arguments as to how long it takes to form a habit (here’s an article
from Examined Existence that breaks down some theories). I think we can all agree, however, that creating a habit is easier not only when they’re easy to implement, but when their immediate benefits are obvious to us.
With that in mind, here are the three steps you can apply to any routine you’re looking to create:
What do you need to get done, and what do you need to do it? Further – why are you doing it? Make life easier? Get ready faster in the morning? Assure yourself you’re not neglecting something?
Set it up.
When doing so, make it easy on yourself. Back to the laundry example – you keep laundry stuff by the machines, right? If you have to go looking for something, you won’t use it, and if you need it for your routine, you won’t do it. Allow yourself time to do each of the things in your routine. Identify the tasks that you can remove to streamline the process.
The only thing left to do now is to make like Nike and just do it. You can evaluate and set-up a routine all day, but if you don’t, you know, DO IT, you waste your time.
Routines aren’t always foolproof, and I don’t recommend living life on autopilot.
Stop and smell the roses, even when its not part of your routine. Routines are important, but stepping outside your routine can also boost creativity and make memories. And, don’t be afraid to “do nothing” as part of your routine – in fact, one of my favorite routines is a day of rest. Tasks and projects aren’t the only possible routines – routines can provide a way to carve self-care into your schedule.