Routines


Slightly off-topic for this blog, but distantly related to mental patterns.  Something I have been struggling with recently.  Notes mostly to myself, but may be of interest to others.

What are Routines?

Some tasks need to be done periodically, at certain times of the day or the week. These tasks form routines. For instance, a morning routine may consist of brushing the teeth, making the bed, and having a breakfast. An evening routine may consist of having a dinner, cleaning up, preparing for the next day, and reading a book. If the garbage truck comes on Tuesday mornings in your neighborhood, every Monday night you must empty all garbage cans and recycling bins in your house and set the garbage containers at the curb, and so on.

Routines are Important

Routines are the backbone of the daily life. They are the framework around which the rest of the day is built. By following routines, we make sure that our daily needs are met. If we do not follow routines, the rest of our life becomes difficult or impossible. For instance, if we don’t do laundry, we won’t have clothes to go to work or to the gym. Without routines, the most mundane tasks, such as laundry or cleaning, become major projects, taking a lot more time and mental energy than they deserve. Without routines, instead of following a predetermined plan on predetermined schedule, we must schedule these boring tasks every time, and making decisions is the most stressful activity I know.

Routines are Powerful

Suppose you have a dreaded project. For instance, you want to declutter your garage full of “precious” items that piled up there over the course of the last ten years. You know it can’t be done in one day. Instead of dedicating several weekends to this dreaded task, spend 30 minutes each day for 30 days. You may wake up 30 minutes earlier or do it right after coming home from work every day or sacrifice your daily news reading. But consider this. In 30 days you would have spent a total of 15 hours on the task, likely more than you would have spent if you had dedicated two full weekends to the project. Regular experiences and activities change the structure of our brain or so the neurologists say [citation needed]. Habits become our second nature.

Having no Routines is Impossible

When intentional useful routines are absent, unintentional and often harmful ones take their place. We can habitually watch TV or browse social networks at night instead of cleaning up and preparing for the next day. Then we will habitually lack sleep and habitually struggle to leave on time and be late every morning. Ironically, having no habitual routines is a habit and a routine of its own. Clearly, having intentional useful routines is better than having unintentional harmful ones.

Routine Creativity

There is an opinion that routines are boring. Some say routines kill creativity. It is not so. If done right, routines optimize the mundane tasks, make them automatic, stressless, and, ultimately, take them off our minds, freeing time and mental energy for more fun and creative activity. One can also routinely schedule uninterrupted dedicated time for creative activity such as painting, writing, or business development. Often “being busy” is used as an excuse for not doing these things. And “being busy” often means planning and scheduling small boring things over and over again. We should not spend time scheduling or planning laundry. Laundry should be scheduled and planned once.

How to Make Routines Easy

Routines should be easy to follow and free of stress. To achieve this, do not even think whether you want to do them or not, now or later. Just asking these questions creates a chance not to follow the routine. And that should never be an option. Once you decide to do something as a routine at a certain time, just do it. That’s it. As I said, decision-making is the most stressful activity I know. So, taking the decision-making out of the daily routines makes life much easier. There are plenty of important things to decide. And whether to do laundry or not does not seem like one of them. Just as not following routines is a habit, following them is a habit too. We may call it a meta-habit.

Keep routines simple, stick to the essence. Routines should include the bare minimum. Routines that are too elaborate or complicated will not be followed. For instance, if you want to lose weight, don’t follow complicated diets or fitness programs. Instead, just eat less and run a certain distance each day or do 10 push-ups daily, if you like. What exactly you do is not important. The key word is daily.

Keep Routines Outside of Your Main Planning System

If you are an organized person, you would have a system to track your projects, tasks, commitments, and appointments. In my experience, routines must be kept off the main task list. Routines tend to clutter the planning system. Checking off dozens of completed trivial daily items, such as brushing teeth or having breakfast takes an unreasonable amount of time. It seems like busywork that does not accomplish much. Although I find having a list for each routine useful so that I don’t forget, for instance, to prepare my gym bag in the evening, it’s best to keep routines separate from the rest of the planning system.

Set up Routine Reminders

It’s best to set an alarm or a reminder to start a routine with a list of tasks for each routine attached to the reminder. Having a reminder for the whole routine is better than setting up reminders for each individual task in the routine. The tasks in the list must be easy to check off on the phone. Getting twenty notifications on my phone at 6 pm every evening does not excite me. But a single reminder signaling to start the whole routine is useful.

For me, Google Keep application fits the bill. It’s good for making simple lists, allows setting recurring reminders, is endemic to Android, and is easily accessible both on my phone or in a browser.