Routines increase your effectiveness. We make hundreds of decisions a day, but if you pre-decide the things you do over and over again, you will conserve a lot of energy you could devote to other things, you will not suffer as much from decision fatigue, and you will more efficiently get your work done. Then you can rest better and get to some of the things that recharge you.
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Can’t Get Your Work Done? Routines Increase Effectiveness
Routines sound boring. They are the things we do over and over again. Routines are the actions that contribute to our lives, give us forward movement toward vision fulfillment, and keep us disciplined to the things we need to accomplish.
One of my new difficulties is working from home. I love my study accessed only through a doorway off of our master bedroom. Through the years, I have loved getting out of bed and just moving into my study for my morning routines of prayer, study, and journaling. When the house is hectic, my study feels a bit like the Holy of Holies in the Old Testament tabernacle. You have to go through the outer court, the inner court, and the holy place to gain access. No back doors.
So, what’s the difficulty with working from home? Things run together. I have always loved working from home when I had specific tasks to do that I did best at home, but now, other than our many meetings offsite, our administrative and creative work is all done at home, and much of it in my study, off of our bedroom.
I can take a break and get involved in something else. I am finding it more difficult to observe quiet time without transitioning into the activities of the day. I am finding sabbath (a day off) a challenge for the first time in a long time, because the days run together and it is easy to jump in the study to take care of one small thing and emerge a few hours later.
So, I am rebooting some of my established ways and looking for new ways to maximize time, get things done, be effective, and separate work and rest.
Why Are Routines Important?
Routines are the pieces of our schedule we do over and over again. Usually in the same place, at the same time, and in the same way. Routines define our day and keep us on track. So, lets take a look at the value of routines to our effectiveness… yes, we are going to talk about time management and schedules today — because, if what you are doing is important, time is too valuable to leave undirected.
Routines Create a “Dripping Water” Effect
Routines keep us hammering away at important things over a long period of time. Most really significant projects will not be accomplished unless we “hammer” at them over a long period of time. Dripping water over thousands of years will bore through solid rock. Routines keep us coming back at the same challenge over, and over, and over again until it is finished. The routines of our lives add up over time, developing skills, competencies, capacities, and even character in our lives. In fact, most of our character is developed through routined disciplines carried out over a long period of time.
Stone work, like Mount Rushmore, fascinates me because of the commitment it takes. It took 14 years to carve Mount Rushmore, and it was never finished, because the original plan was to carve each presidential figure down to the waist. They ran out of funding after 14 years, and it is what it is.
Chipping away at granite for 14 years. What a way to spend your life. When the guy in charge died, his son (who’s name happened to be Lincoln) took over.
I’ve said it before, but it deserves repeating: We overestimate what we can do over a short period of time, but we greatly underestimate what we can accomplish over a long period of time.
Routines Make Decisions For Us
This is the greatest value habits and routines give. We don’t have to think about what we are going to do, we’ve already decided. For me, it starts with the first task of the day, making the bed. I don’t have to decide if I’m going to make the bed I just do.
President Barak Obama often eats the same thing and always wears either a gray or a navy suit. In an interview with Vanity Fair, he stated he had enough decisions to make, he didn’t need to thing about what he was going to eat or wear. Steve Jobs wore a black shirt most every day for the same reason. There is a long list of well known people who do similar things.
In the book Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance, Angela Duckworth quotes William James in saying, “There is no more miserable human being than the one for whom the beginning of every bit of work must be decided anew every day.” Duckworth writes about the power of deliberate practice and practicing until we come to a place of “flow” where the action has become effortless.
In Grit, the story of Charles Schultz routine is told. Schultz ate breakfast at the same time every morning with his children, drove them to school, went directly to his studio where he worked through lunch every day eating a ham sandwich with a glass of milk, and finished his day when his children got out of school.
I think of a couple of people I’ve observed. One is my brother-in-law, who has been a music director at large churches for over 30 years. When he is at work he works hard and pushes hard. On Fridays, he plays golf.
Another leader I worked with for 10 years, the former leader of our network rarely came up for air during the work day. In my observation of his routine, it seemed every Tuesday night he stayed at the office late and that’s when he communicated with leaders and board members who worked during the days and were unavailable. On Fridays, to my knowledge, most of the time he played golf.
When you have your schedule laid out, when you have a routine, when you know what you need to do, how you will start, and how you will do it, you don’t waste time, you jump into your system, your routine, and you get it done.
What are the tasks I need to do that I need to decide beforehand that I will do them and how I will do them?
A Routine Week
I have a thing I’ve used for many years to bring order to my life — an “Ideal Week.” The “Ideal Week” is a spreadsheet laying out a pattern for the week, the way the week would go if everything went as planned, which it often does not. An ideal-week plan decides how blocks of time will be spent and gives a track to run on.
(Look for a link in the Calibrate360 Weekly Resource Update.)
The ideal-week plan doesn’t really work for me like it used to because my schedule is so erratic with travel and every changing tasks. So, how can we establish routines when our schedule is all over the place?
Establishing Routines When Your Schedule is Erratic
This is my challenge lately. My well worn paths and routines have changed. I have to find a new rhythm. I have to honor sabbath and take a day off once a week. I have to accomplish routine things and random things.
When your schedule is erratic, fly a little higher and look at your schedule month by month rather than week by week. You may have to chunk actions together and find blocks for them on your monthly calendar, but don’t just leave them undone because they got bumped out of an atypical week.
Dr. Richard Swenson wrote an entire book on adding margin to your life. Here’s a link to the book. If you don’t want to take a short-cut, send me the $15 and I will tell you the bottom line of the 200+ pages… put margin in your schedule.
Margin is the blank space on the border of a page. Leave some blank space in your calendar. There will ALWAYS be unforeseen opportunities and challenges. Anticipate the unforeseen, leave space in your calendar for things you will need to fit in.
If you don’t put margin in your calendar, you will forfeit your day off, almost every week.
The Vision Funnel
I have a tool called the vision funnel that we will talk about next week. This is a framework for moving vision into reality. It relates to routine because it translates the strategic all the way down into the routine.
Routines can become ruts if we are inflexible. Back in the days of the wooden wagon wheel, when the ground was soft or wet, the wheels would dig deep in the mud on the road, and when the mud dried, ruts were left behind. If you’ve ever driven in a rut, you know it is easy to fall in the rut and to follow the rut, but very difficult to get out of the rut.
When I think of a “rut” I think of something that NEEDS to change, but we don’t change it because it is comfortable to keep doing it in the same way. A routine serves us. It’s an effective way to do something we must do over and over again without expending more energy than is necessary.
The difference between a rut and a routine is our intention. A routine becomes a rut when we mindlessly follow it, sometimes against our will simply because it is comfortable and too difficult to get out of it. A routine, in the context of this discussion, serves us and helps us be more effective.
Calibration Tools… Calibrating Our Lives and Lifting Those We Love and Lead
- Identify the kinds of things you must do over and over again. If your schedule is stable, where in your weekly schedule will you anchor those tasks? If your schedule is ever changing, then once a week or once a month block those routines into your schedule. Identify the routine then find a place for it rather than thinking of it as random individual tasks.
- What are some things you can pre-decide? Decide how you will do certain tasks and then just do them the same way every time so you don’t have to think about it, until you need to change up, of course.
- How are you at margin? Margin is very important. Look at your weekly or monthly schedule, chart your rest days (sabbath), and build in spaces in your weeks to take on the unforeseen.
- Can you identify any ruts that need to be changed up? These are the routines that need to be refocused.
- Consider your work tasks, but also consider your personal goals and personal development. A decision to be healthy also requires establishing some non-negotiable routines… always!
Many of us like being a free wheel, just moving from one thing to the next at will without being confined by a rigid schedule; yet, so much of our work and our lives are based upon things we must do over and over.
We make hundreds of decisions a day, but if you will pre-decide the things you have to do over and over again, you will conserve a lot of energy you could devote to other things, you will not suffer as much from decision fatigue, and you will more efficiently get your work done… so you can rest better and get to some of the things that recharge you.