One of the reasons we enjoy taking time off and going on vacation is that we get to temporarily step outside of our normal routines. But we often get to the end of that holiday, thinking: “I’m looking forward to getting back into a good routine”.
Right off the bat, I’m going to say “Yes, it’s good to have routine”. But I thought it would be worth discussing the pros and cons of following a routine and whether there’s any benefit to breaking routine altogether.
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The #1 benefit of routines is that routines create efficiency, they help us to build consistency and enforces good habits.
Routines by their nature allow us to go on autopilot where we don’t have to think or make decisions. We just DO. This can create huge time savings and efficiency.
Another benefit is that routines support good habits.
For example, you’re more likely to maintain a habit if you do it at the same time every day. For example, say you want to meditate for 10 minutes a day. If you do this every day right after you take a shower, it becomes an almost automatic response and you’re more likely to make this a consistent habit.
Author Charles Duhigg articulates this perfectly in his book, The Power of Habit:
Studies of people who have successfully started new exercise routines, for instance, show they are more likely to stick with a workout plan if they choose a specific cue, such as running as soon as they get home from work
In his book, The Miracle Morning, author Hal Elrod argues that sustaining a morning routine is the most effective way to create the lifestyle you’ve always dreamed of. In fact, his book is a step-by-step guide on how to create consistent and powerful morning routines.Routines: Good > they create consistency and efficiency. Bad > they reduce creativity and are boring!Click To Tweet
On the flip side, a major downside to having a consistent routine is that routines restrict us and can become stale and boring.
Because routines put us on autopilot, we switch off and become less creative or engaged in what we’re doing.
And I don’t know about you, but after weeks or months of following the same daily routine, these actions start to feel pretty mundane and boring.
Going back to the meditation example above, I’ve meditated at the same time consistently for a few months only for it to become, well, “routine” and boring. And I really feel that the “routine-ness” of this action is the main reason I seem to go through meditation “sprints” where I meditate for a while (until it gets boring) and then I start up again.
Duhigg highlights an important consequence of routines:
When a habit emerges, the brain stops fully participating in decision making.
My view is that because you’re not actively making the decision to do something (because it’s become so automated), that thing becomes just a normal part of your day and thus a little bit boring.
So, what’s the solution?
One solution is to mix things up to keep things interesting while maintaining overall consistency.
Don’t reinvent your entire routine at once. But experiment with changing up parts of your routine to keep things interesting.
- Start your day earlier or later than normal.
- Work from somewhere new (if possible).
- Go for walks at different times of the day.
- Eat lunch somewhere different or with someone new.
- Instead of watching Netflix every evening, take up a new sport or hobby to break up your week.
- Instead of starting your day with email, try working on something fun before getting bogged down by messages.
Let’s say you're currently meditating in the morning. Great! Keep this going for a few weeks then mix things up and start meditating while taking a midday walk (this is what got me back into meditation). Once you get comfortable with that, try meditating in the evening before bed. While it takes extra effort to keep changing your habits, this may help contribute to long-term consistency.
Sometimes Hayley and I get bored with leaving home at the same time each day to go and sit at the same desks in the same coworking space each day. We now mix things up and a few times a week will go in later or spend the day at home so that we can enjoy a change of scenery.
What’s your take on routines? Do you like the consistency or do you like to mix things up? Let me know in the comments!